Warramiri Yolŋu Cosmology: An introduction

Ben Van Gelderen, Kathy Guthadjaka, Linda Ford, James Wäluŋ Bukulatjpi, Chloe Ford, Emily Ford, Bettina Danganbar, Pawinee Yuhun, Ruth A. Wagstaff

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Even within the western academic tradition, cosmology is a complex and contested domain; fields of science, philosophy and anthropology all utilise the term in particular ways, to highlight specific concerns. Interactions with Indigenous cosmological theories and practices further stretch and challenge any attempt at an inclusive definition. For present purposes, we have positioned this introduction to Warramiri Yolŋu cosmology in the metaphysical realm of definitions, interacting with systems of ontology (reality, what/how of existence), epistemology (truth, what/how of knowing) and axiology (ethics, what/how of value). Regarding Indigenous cosmologies, Keen offers a helpful distinction: ‘‘Cosmology’ means the body of concepts and doctrines about the origins and properties of the world and its inhabitants. ‘Cosmogony’ refers specifically to doctrines about the origins of things’ (Keen, 2004, p. 210). Whilst clarifying the definitional sphere of the term for this paper, it becomes readily apparent that cosmology is still a very broad concept, covering the origin of all matter and its inherent properties and relationships. By this understanding, almost all ethnographic terms utilised by twentieth century Balanda (white) researchers such as kinship, creation ‘mythology’, totemism etc. can potentially be incorporated into a discussion of Aboriginal cosmology. However, this paper is located within a specific research project, namely ‘Aboriginal Cosmology: what this means for women and gender public policy’ and functions as both an initial literature review for the project and a forerunner for the methodological principles pursued throughout. Furthermore, to ensure meaningful, generative outcomes, the small Warramiri community at Gäwa was chosen to situate the research project, thus very broad issues of cosmology have been given a specific locale as a focus. Overall, in honouring the commitment to transdisciplinary and ‘bothways’ research methodologies in Yolŋu communities, we focus on local perspectives and narratives from the homeland community at Gäwa to outline an introduction to Warramiri cosmology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-79
Number of pages24
JournalLearning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social contexts
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


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