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The Yawijibaya, also known as the Jaudjibaia, were an indigenous Australian people of the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia.


Yawijibaya appears to have been a dialect closely related to the Worrorra branch of the mainland Worrorran language family, and similar to Umiida and Unggarrangu. Though little is known of it, a brief grammar survives, written up by the missionary Howard Coate.[1][2][3]


Yawijibaya country, altogether a little less than 50 square miles (130 km2) was confined to the Montgomery Islands, the surrounding reefs, and the islands in the southern area of Collier Bay. The main island in the group was called Jawutjap (Yawijib(a)).[4][2]

Social organization

The Yawijibaya moiety system was essentially identical to that which prevailed among the mainland tribes on the coast opposite.[2] While Coate and Norman Tindale stated that the Yawijibaya were strictly islanders, Valda Blundell's informants claimed two Yawijibaya clans had mainland estates, while another two maintains their estates on the Montgomery and the High Cliffy islands. She also thought that the mainland norm of asymmetrical wife exchanges between tribes obtaining on the continent was not repeated among the Yawijibaya, who were said to maintain a restricted inter-island clan system of wife exchange. The evidence is difficult to evaluate, given it came not from living Yawijibaya, but informants from tribes where amalgamation of customs had already taken place for some considerable time.[5]

Excavations on High Cliffy Island have uncovered extensive stone structures,[6] some consisting of dry-stone formwork only evidenced elsewhere on the other side of the continent at Lake Condah in Victoria. The island lies east of the Montgomery group. It takes its name from the geophysical feature of steeply rising up cliffs to a height of some 15 metres. In addition, 3 rock shelters, and several work sites, high-quality quartz sandstone, chert and limestone quarries, dugong-butchering areas and places for working metal harpoons, were revealed.[7] Given the presence of glassware, pottery and clay pipe material, it was suggested initially that the stone building might have been the handiwork of Makassar traders. The analysis concluded that the structures were of Aboriginal manufacture.[8] One possibility is that they are the remains of monsoonal refuges, where the Yawijibaya could retire to, in order to escape the mosquitoe and sandfly infestations that would have plagued their low-lying mangrove-fringed islands as the rains set in.[9][10]

The quarry works clearly have a trade purpose and are unique for the area and are unexampled on otherwise similar mainland locations, O'Connors argues:

large quantities of artefactual material found all over the High Cliffy Island testify to a level of stone working not seen in any of the mainland rockshelters and open sites.[11]


Howard Coate suggested that the rai myths of a spirit-child, encountered widely in this region, and also among the island and coastal peoples (Baada, Umiida and Unggarranggu) contiguous with the Yawijibaya, formed part of Yawijibaya thinking.[12] These properly refer to 'conception totems' (raya).[13]

According to one of their legends, the islands once formed a continuous landmass, which was destroyed when a tidal event washed over the area, leaving only islands in its wake.


The missionary and expert on the Worrorra, J. R. B. Love maintained that the Yawijibaya were being completely assimilated into the Worrorra people by the 1930s, as a clan of the latter's Atpalar moiety.[14] Valda Blundell recorded that in the early 1970s there was still one very old Yawijibaya man from the Montgomery islands resident at the Lombidina mission.[15]

The von Brandenstein hypothesis

In the sparse ethnographic literature, remarks are to be found to the effect that the Yawijibaya were physically quite dissimilar to other indigenous peoples of the region. J. R. B. Love stated that they were of 'men of a distinct physical type.'[14] The Yawijibaya ethnonym figured as part of the key linguistic evidence which Carl Georg von Brandenstein adduced in support of his claim that there was a secret Portuguese prehistory of colonization of Australia, a theory he based on etymologies of words in East Kimberley place-names. He argued that there were two moieties on the Montgomery isles, the Yawuji-Bara and the Yawuji-Baia. These, von Brandenstein thought, made sense once they were re-analysed as forms of a Portuguese creole respectively going back to avós-de-bara ('ancestors of the bar/breakwater') and avós de-baia ('ancestors of the bay').[16] In von Brandenstein's imaginative reconstruction, it followed that the Yawijibaya were descendants of Portuguese African slaves who had persisted in speaking their creole long after their masters had forsaken the island, and this deeply affected the language that was spoken there.

Aside from the fact that no such tribal opposition has been attested in the ethnographical literature, the phonetic distinction it was based on probably did not exist, the first term simply representing a mishearing of the second, namely yawiji-baya.[17]

Alternative names

  • Yaudjibaia, Yaujibaia.
  • Jawutjubar.
  • Jadjibaia, Jaudjibara.
  • Jadjiba.
  • Bergalgu. (According to Joseph Birdsell this was the name for their language)
  • MontgomeryIslanders.[4]



  1. ^ McGregor 2002, p. 433.
  2. ^ a b c McGregor & Mühlhäusler 1996, p. 102.
  3. ^ McGregor 2013, p. 42.
  4. ^ a b Tindale 1974, p. 242.
  5. ^ O'Connor 1987, p. 35.
  6. ^ Memmott 2007, p. 199.
  7. ^ O'Connor 1987, p. 32.
  8. ^ O'Connor 1987, p. 34.
  9. ^ O'Connor 1987, pp. 34–35.
  10. ^ Blundell 1975, p. 153.
  11. ^ O'Connor 1987, p. 37.
  12. ^ Coate 1966, p. 97.
  13. ^ Bowern 2016, p. 281.
  14. ^ a b Tindale 1974, p. 151.
  15. ^ Blundell 1975, p. 96.
  16. ^ McGregor & Mühlhäusler 1996, p. 101.
  17. ^ McGregor & Mühlhäusler 1996, pp. 101–102.


  • "AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia". AIATSIS.
  • "Tindale Tribal Boundaries" (PDF). Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Western Australia. September 2016.
  • Blundell, Valda J. (1975). Aboriginal Adaptation in Northwest Australia (PhD thesis). University of Wisconsin–Madison.
  • Bowern, Claire (2016). "Language and land in the Northern Kimberley" (PDF). In Austin, Peter K.; Koch, Harold; Simpson, Jane. Language, land & song: Studies in honour of Luise Hercus. EL Publishing. pp. 277–286. ISBN 978-0-728-60406-3.
  • Coate, H. H. J. (December 1966). "The Rai and the Third Eye North-West Australian Beliefs". Oceania. 37 (2): 93–123. JSTOR 40329629.
  • McGregor, William B.; Mühlhäusler, Peter (1996). "Post-contact languages of Western Australia". In Wurm, Stephen Adolphe; Mühlhäusler, Peter; Tryon, Darrell. Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas: Vol I: Maps. Vol II: Texts. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 101–121. ISBN 978-3-110-87087-9.
  • McGregor, William B. (2002). Verb Classification in Australian Languages. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-110-87087-9.
  • McGregor, William B. (2013). The Languages of the Kimberley, Western Australia. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-39602-3.
  • Memmott, Paul (2007). Gunyah, Goondie + Wurley: The Aboriginal Architecture of Australia. University of Queensland Press. ISBN 978-0-702-23245-9.
  • O'Connor, Sue (December 1987). "The Stone House Structures of High Cliffy Island, North West Kimberley, WA". Australian Archaeology (25): 30–39. JSTOR 40286747.
  • Tindale, Norman Barnett (1974). "Jaudjibaia (WA)". 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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