Iwaidja people

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The Iwaidja are an indigenous Australian people of the Northern Territory.


Norman Tindale states that the name is based on their word for 'no' (ii).[1]


Iwaidja is one of the Iwaidjan languages of the Cobourg Peninsula, all of which are non-Pama–Nyungan languages. It is still spoken by some 150 speakers, at Minjilang on Croker Island.[2]


In Tindale's estimation the Iwaidja possessed some 100 square miles (260 km2) of tribal lands. Their centre was at Mountnorris Bay, in the eastern area of the Cobourg Peninsula.[3] Tindale interprets Paul Foelsche's Unalla as a reference to the Iwaidja. Foelsche informed Edward Micklethwaite Curr that:

'The country frequented by this tribe extends from Raffles Bay to Port Essington Harbour and thence midway up the Cobourg Peninsula to Popham Bay.[4]

Their neighbours were the Ajokoot, Wurango, Angara-Pingan, and Yiarik[a]

Social organization

Four other groups were reported to share the same territory, though for Tindale their status as either hordes or independent tribes was undetermined. They were listed as:

  • Wonga:ran (in the mainland area immediately opposite Croker Island
  • Ka:ri:k. (east of Cape Don)
  • Nga:dalwuli. (a coastal people lying to the east of the Ka:ri:k.)
  • Mandu:wit. (northwest, and east of the Nga:dalwuli).[3]

History of contact

If we take the Unalla as interchangeable with the Iwaidja, they were a once numerous tribe which, with the onset of colonial settlement, was reduced to a mere 30 members by 1881, consisting of 7 men, 12 women, 9 boys and 2 girls. Foelsche stated that the community was ravaged after Malay traders introduced smallpox (mea-mea) during a visit in 1866.[7]

Alternative names

  • Ji:wadja
  • Jiwadja
  • Juwadja
  • Iwaija
  • Iyi
  • Eiwaja[5]
  • Eaewardja
  • Eaewarga
  • Uwaidja
  • Eae-warge-ga
  • Unalla[8]
  • Limbakaraja
  • Limba-Karadjee
  • Iwaiji
  • Tarula. (Melville Islanders exonym meaning 'riflemen'[b].

Some words

  • illpoogee (kangaroo)
  • looloot. (tame dog)
  • lurkakie. (wild dog)
  • nowajuk. (father)
  • kamoomoo. (mother)
  • warranganababoo. (white man)[10]


  1. ^ The last two tribes were mentioned by Foelsche[5] (together with the Eiwaja (which Tindale identified as another name for the Iwaidja which Tindale was unable to identify[6]
  2. ^ According to Tindale, they earned this monicker from the fact that they were employed by an early settler, Joe Cooper, to assist him in defending himself.[9]


  1. ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 42,226.
  2. ^ Evans 1998, p. 115.
  3. ^ a b Tindale 1974, p. 226.
  4. ^ Foelsche 1886, p. 270.
  5. ^ a b Foelsche 1886, p. 273.
  6. ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 266,314.
  7. ^ Foelsche 1886, p. 271.
  8. ^ Foelsche 1895, p. 191.
  9. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 227.
  10. ^ Foelsche 1886, p. 274.


  • Dixon, Robert M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. Volume 1. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-47378-1.
  • Earl, G. Windsor (1846). "On the Aboriginal Tribes of the Northern Coast of Australia". The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London. 16: 239–251. JSTOR 1798232.
  • Earl, G. Windsor (1853). The native races of the Indian Archipelago: Papuans (PDF). London,: H. Bailliere.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  • Evans, Nicholas (1998). "Iwaidja mutation and its origins". In Siewierska, Anna; Song, Jae Jung (eds.). Case, Typology and Grammar: In honor of Barry J. Blake. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 115–149. ISBN 978-9-027-22937-3.
  • Foelsche, Paul (1886). "Raffles Bay:The Unalla Tribe". In Curr, Edward Micklethwaite (ed.). The Australian race: its origin, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over the continent (PDF). Volume 1. Melbourne: J. Ferres. pp. 270–275.
  • Foelsche, Paul (1895). "On the Manners, Customs, &c., of some Tribes of the Aborigines, in the neighbourhood of Port Darwin and the West Coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, North Australia". Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 24: 190–198. JSTOR 2842215.
  • Hart, C. W. (July 1930). "The Tiwi of Melville and Bathurst Islands". Oceania. 1 (2): 167–180. JSTOR 40327319.
  • Jennison, J. C. (1927). "Notes on the language of the Elcho Island aborigines". Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. 51: 177–192.
  • Spencer, Baldwin (1914). Native tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia (PDF). London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Tindale, Norman Barnett (1974). "Iwaidja (NT)". Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names. Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-708-10741-6.
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