Ngaatjatjarra people

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The Ngaatjatjarra, otherwise spelt Ngadadjara, are an indigenous Australian people of Western Australia.


The ethnonym Ngaatjatjarra, in line with a general practice in their area, combines the interrogative pronoun used by each tribe for "who", "what". In their case this yields up a combination of ŋa:da, and the possessive suffix -t(d)jara, is attached. The sense therefore is, "(people) using the form ŋa:da for the idea of 'who/what'".[1]


Ngaatjatjarra is mutually intelligible with Ngaanyatjarra, and both are treated as dialects of the one language.[2]


Norman Tindale[a] assigned them traditional lands he estimated as covering roughly 30,000 square miles (78,000 km2) The centre of their traditional life was in the Warburton Ranges, and in particular at a site, Warupuju Spring where water was always available.[4][b] Their eastern frontiers lay around Fort Welcome, the Blackstone Ranges, Murray Range, and Mount Hinckley. In the southeast, their furthest boundary was at the Ero:tjo watering hole, south of Wangalina. To the northeast, they roamed as far as Kudjuntari in the Schwerin Mural Crescent Range, and around Julia (Giles) in the Rawlinson Ranges. Their northern range extended to Hopkins Lake and Carnegie Range and beyond the Christopher Lake. Their western limits were around Tekateka and Jalara and the Alfred Marie Ranges.[6]

Tindale's map places the neighbouring tribes of the Ngaatjatjarra as, running clockwise, the Keiadjara and the Wenamba to their north, the Pitjantjatjara on their eastern frontier, the Nakako and Mandjindja to their south, and the Ngaanyatjarra on their western borders.[7] The AIATSIS map calls then Ngatatjara, and absorbs the Keiadjara and the Wenamba in to the Martu and Pintupi respectively.[8]

A native map of their water mythology explaining how the overarching rainbow, Tjurtiraŋo, produces the various water resources, was made for Tindale in the 1939s, and is reproduced in his 1974 book.[9]

Social organization

The practiced patrilocal residence, and their marriage arrangements were based on for class system.[10] Father's father, father, son, son's son and their brothers inherited a totem (tjukur/tuma) which bore associations with specific topographical features of the landscape that evoked the movements of the creative being in their dreaming.[10] They practiced both circumcision and subincision, in two distinct phrases, on youths undergoing initiation into full manhood, employing biface pressure-flaked stone knives ('tjimbila), which they obtained through trade with neighbouring tribes to their north, who in turn ultimately received them from their production centre in northwestern Australia.[11]


The Ngaatjatjarra harvested grass seeds (wakati) and worked them with rolling stones to obtain a paste for nutriment. They also gathered nicotiniana excelsior, a tobacco leaf which they dried over fire and which they chew after mixing them with ashes from burnt acacia and phyllodes.[12]

History of contact

The first white contact with the Ngaatjatjarra came relatively late. Tindale describes in detail one nuclear family of the tribe encountered in August 1935 during the Expedition of the Board for Anthropological Research of the University of Adelaide.[13]

Alternative names

  • Nga:da
  • Rumudjara
  • Witjandja. (Warburton Range horde)
  • Wirtjandja
  • Ngadatara. (Pitjantjatjara exonym
  • Ngatatjara, Ngadjatara, Ngadadara, Nadadjara, Ngadatjara
  • Ngadawongga
  • Jabungadja. (("mountain Ngadja," those of the Rawlinson Ranges)
  • Warara. (northeastern hordes' name)
  • Teitudjara. (Nana exonym)
  • Nga:dapitjardi. (western tribal name for hordes in the vicinity of the Blackstone Ranges)
  • Nganadjara. (Warburton Range horde name for those northeast of them near the Rawlinson Ranges)
  • Wan:udjara. (eastern Ngadadjara name for their northern branches at Giles)
  • Ku.rara. (Pitjantjatjara exonym for Rawlinson Ranges' tribes).[6]

Some words

  • wana (woman's digging stick)
  • tartu. (seeds pods of the river red gum used to decorate a girl's hair.[14]
  • tjitjimurdilja. (uncircumcised youth)[10]


  1. ^ Tindale's estimates particularly for the peoples of the Western desert are not considered to be accurate.[3]
  2. ^ During the severe drought of the mid-30s, members of the Adelaide expedition managed to be at Warupuju spring when ŋatari (strangers), Ngaanyatjarra tribespeople, desperate for water, pushed their way in from the west. An altercation, which was filmed, soon ensued as the local clan defended its control of the water soak, until a ritual accommodation was found, and the Ngaanyatjarra were given permission to access the waters.[5]


  1. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 41.
  2. ^ Kral 2012, p. 41.
  3. ^ Tonkinson 1989, p. 101.
  4. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 65.
  5. ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 70,70.
  6. ^ a b Tindale 1974, p. 250.
  7. ^ TTB 2016.
  8. ^ AIATSIS.
  9. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 68.
  10. ^ a b c Tindale 1974, p. 12.
  11. ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 13–14,83–84.
  12. ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 95–97.
  13. ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 11–12.
  14. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 11.


  • "AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia". AIATSIS.
  • Dousset, Laurent (2002). "Politics and demography in a contact situation: the establishment of the Giles Meteorological Station in the Rawlinson Ranges, West Australia". Aboriginal History. 26: 1–22. JSTOR 24046045.
  • Kral, Inge (2012). Talk, Text and Technology: Literacy and Social Practice in a Remote Indigenous Community. Multilingual Matters. ISBN 978-1-847-69759-2.
  • "Tindale Tribal Boundaries" (PDF). Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Western Australia. September 2016.
  • Tindale, Norman Barnett (1974). "Ngadadjara (WA)". Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names. Australian National University Press. ISBN 978-0-708-10741-6.
  • Tonkinson, Robert (1989). "Local Organisation and Land Tenure in the Karlamilyi (Rudall River) Region" (PDF). In Western Desert Working Group. The significance of the Karlamilyi Region to the Martujarra people of the Western Desert. Perth: Department of Conservation and Land Management. pp. 99–259.
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