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Ngiyampaa

The Ngiyampaa language (comprised of two dialects, Wayilwan and Wangaaypuwan) was spoken across a wide area of central NSW including long segments of the upper Macquarie and Bogan Rivers, along the southern bank of Barwon River west of Walgett and the arid area to the south-west of Cobar.  It was closely related to the Wiradjuri, Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay languages to the east and north.  Like Wiradjuri, each dialect name began with the term for “no” (“Wayil” and “Wangaay”) and ended with the term for “having” (“wan” and “puwan”).[1]See  A handbook of Aboriginal Languages of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory by Jim Wafer and Amanda Lissarrague, Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative, 2008; also “Translating Oral Literature – Aboriginal Song Texts” by Tamsin Donaldson, Aboriginal History Vol. 3, No, 1, 1979.

Up until round the 1920s, the most important annual festival for Ngiyampaa speakers comprised the ‘Bora’ or ‘Burbung’ ceremony, which focused on the symbolic induction of young people into adult life. Although young men were the centre of attention at these events, young women also played important roles in the performance of dances, while elder men and women acted as teachers, coordinators, and leaders in the singing of hymns. These ceremonies also provided opportunities for distant families to gather, discuss goings-on in deferent regions of their lands, and to reinforce their extensive social ties.  Bora and Burbung ceremonies often culminated with the formal wedding of young men and women to each other, with one or the other spouse leaving their childhood homes to go and live in their partner’s country.

Every Ngiyampaa speaker traditionally possessed what have come to be known as personal ‘dreamings’ or ‘totems’, which were traditionally known as ‘dhee‘ or ‘jin‘, meaning ‘meat’.  All dreamings were inherited by children at birth from their mothers. Each dreaming comprises a mythical hero in one or more traditional legends, for which dreaming bearers are responsible. Thus common dreamings, such as kangaroo, emu, and bandicoot, confer responsibility upon the bearers for the maintenance of the relevant legends, songs, sacred sites, and rituals associated with each of these animals. Dreamings referred not just to animals, but also to plants, insects, meteorological phenomena such as lightning, rain, and shootings stars, and even to highly specific phenomena, such as running water, sand dunes, and wind.  The legends, songs, sacred sites, and rituals associated with each dreaming were traditionally celebrated at Bora and Burbing ceremonies, as the bearers were taught the intimate details of their significance during their course of their initiation by male members of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ families.

Apart from personal inherited dreamings, all Ngiyampaa speakers also shared a common belief in a single all-powerful creator named Baiami, together with a pantheon of lesser mythical figures associated with him. These included Baiami’s wife, children, his hunting dogs, and his nemesis Darumulan. Baiami, toether with his pantheon, are traditionally considered to have created the physical world as it appears today, and to have introduced language and traditional technologies to Aboriginal people. They all played important roles in Bora and Burbung ceremonies and, like personal dreamings, are associated with a great number of songs, legends, and sacred sites across far western New South Wales. Traditionally Baiami’s name was considered too sacred to be spoken aloud, although today this is no longer the case.

A prominent Ngiyampaa tracker was Jack Redtank who was based at Parramatta Station in the late 19th century before being sent to track Jimmy and Joe Governor in July 1900.

by James Rose, NTSCORP Senior Anthropologist

 

References   [ + ]

1. See  A handbook of Aboriginal Languages of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory by Jim Wafer and Amanda Lissarrague, Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative, 2008; also “Translating Oral Literature – Aboriginal Song Texts” by Tamsin Donaldson, Aboriginal History Vol. 3, No, 1, 1979.

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