Yolŋu Studies Livestream Lecture Series

Lecture 02: Wäŋa (Land/Home/Homeland)

Lecture link: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/2047566/events/1840804/videos/13633301

[Watched at the Chifley Library, Acton, 6pm, Wednesday 13th November]

In this lecture Yiŋiya explained some aspects of the word "wäŋa" which can mean "home", "land", "country", "estate", "place" and "homeland". He explained this principally through an analogy with migratory birds and how these birds will only choose to make a nest in an environment that feels "right" and safe for them and the raising of their young. Choosing their nesting site is part of a communication that happens between the bird and the land. Parallels amongst our group were made between the word "wäŋa", the German word "heimat" and the Arabic word "watan".

"Generally speaking wäŋa is a home where people live, a wäŋa can be a land and wäŋa can be a country or an estate."
"Wäŋa... is an environment that you belong to, [it is] the land... the identity of where you belong to."
"For example... birds have a home... waterbirds nest in a certain area in a certain season... the waterbirds don't build a nest in desert country - they find an area that suits their best needs."
"Up in the tropics there are wallabies who live, and that's their adapted land, their country [that] they belong to, that is their wäŋa. The wallabies [are on] the floodplains, in the bush, in the tropics - you wouldn't expect to find them somewhere up on the icy mountains or down at the arctic... They are made, they belong to a warmer climate."
"Wäŋa in Yolŋu country is the estate that we belong to... that is where we belong, that is who we are: we belong to the land and the land belongs to us... and as our ancestors put us there, we never had a choice, we never had a choice to say 'I don't want to be here, I'd like to choose another area', because that bit of land is connected with Yolŋu through the waters, through the ground, through the clouds, the wind, the trees - and that is where we belong."
"...we are being forced to go and live on another man's country which is not my home, which is not my wäŋa... through the government system..."
"Whether you like it or not, whether you wish you would want to live somewhere else and change that country, you belong to that land, you belong to that wäŋa - your body, your spirits, the blood system are connected with the land."
"I can sit here next to the billabong and feel the spirits of my fathers in the waters, in behind the trees over there, in behind the pandanas... and sit on the ground with my feet mounted on the ground and I catch ... bush tucker ... for my family and I can feel that the ancestors, the waters, are providing [for] me, they are communicating with me, they knowme, [they] know me by person, they know me by my smells, by my sweat of who I am because the trees around ... this ground, the ground itself have recognised my sense of who I am. Me and my country, we were made to stay together, to live together."
"The land itself provides the spirits, they enable you to catch food and learn from the land, and learn the ways [of] what to do... learn the ways [of] how to get wisdom... [learn the ways of] how to feel as your own companion: you and land, you and wäŋa are closely associated. When we are taken away and want to live in big cities the land itself cries, the land itself misses you... and you miss the land, and you miss the wäŋa."
"So the country that was made - your identity, your name, your songlines, your language - try and give it away to someone else, try and give it away to some other foreigner to build an estate or make it into a tourism system or into a big city - you can sometimes feel it, it is tearing you apart from your wäŋa, from your country... it makes us feel that we are nothing - when you get driven away to another land and somebody else, some people who want to ... establish it for some opportunities to make money, to make businesses. But I know there is an opportunity, there is a business there, and I feel strongly that in our lifetime, in our connection with land, that we want to stand, we want to fight to have our resources back, to have that identity of teaching my children..."
"Behind the trees there, there are spirits, there are ancestors, there are fathers talking to us. Whether its a message that says 'you're welcome and you are part of my land', or its a message that comes through [the fact that the] trees are dying, [or there is] not enough water on the land, [or the] grass [is] drying out, sometimes there's not much for you, for the people who live off it, and the country doesn't look healthy, it tells us something - we must try and do something."
"The land itself feels hurt [and] I feel hurt when we know the dangers are coming, when we know that there is something wrong. Wäŋa is more than just ... land, wäŋa is more than just a house that we live in... wäŋa - it has spirits, wäŋa has stories that we can tell."
"... and through that land we feel each other - and that's what wäŋa is all about ... this is ... the story of the land, and sadly ... the sun is dying away, and we are being driven, we are being forced to go this way and go the other way like lost people... and the land back there, the wäŋa back there [is] always calling 'Where are my people? Where are my Yolŋu that we need to connect together and work together so that I can stay alive' and vice versa my people can stay alive and we can live and cure this country,... cure the land..."
"... I'm sorry - every now and then I have to talk about what the Government is doing to our people - to the land... taking us, trying to plant us on another man's country which doesn't belong to us."
"... what we're trying to do is to educate our children and educate other people about what should be done and how we can learn... I've gone 50 years old, I've past 50 and I'm still learning about the land and the stories that it holds... and I'm still learning how to be educated to be a real cultural man to teach others about who I am, the identity of the wäŋa - the land that we belong to... and there's a big iceberg floating out there in the water which is the knowledge of what Yolŋu culture is all about: ... even simply how to manage and look after wäŋa, even simply how to be known, how to be recognised."
"When government bodies come along and they say [they've] just been here on the ground in our communities just for maybe half an hour or one hour on the ground or maybe six months and go back and they say: 'I've been on that country, I've been on that land and I know what these people want'... but I've been here over 50 years and I'm still learning and I still don't know what my people want... you never learn everything about our country."
"...I'm trying to educate non-indigenous and my children as well..."
"When you go back on to country you can feel... sometimes for a long time you lived on another country, [when you] go back home just to step foot on solid ground of your country [it] makes you want to cry ... its the welcoming back [that] nature can provide to you."
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