More about tribes
In Australia, tribes are really language groups, made up of people sharing the same language, customs, and general laws. Because a tribe is like a small country with its own language, some tribal groups also use the term nation to describe themselves, such as the Larrakeyah tribe around Darwin calling itself the “Larrakeyah Nation”.
The people of a tribe share a common bond and in their own language, their word for “man” is often the word used for the name of the tribe. For example, in Arnhem Land, people are called Yolgnu when they are from the Yolgnu tribe, and this is the Yolgnu name for “man”. People from another tribe are outsiders.
Tribes were generally not a war-making group, they were not led by a chief, and people generally use their moiety or skin name to describe themselves individually, rather than their tribal name. There were an estimated 500 Aboriginal tribes in Australia at the time of European settlement. Of these, about 400 still have people representing them, and in much of central and northern Australia, these tribes are largely intact.
More about totemic groups
A totem is an animal, plant or other object believed to be ancestrally related to a person. In the Kimberley for example, people belonging to the Wodoi moiety call the spotted nightjar their “father”. Then there are other animal and plant associates. For example, Jack Karadada, a Kimberley elder, is named after his totem, the Butcher Bird (karadada in local language). A totem can be represented in nature in the form of a large rock, tree, hill, river, or other landform. It may have a man-made emblem such as when a wooden pole, ceremonial board or other decorated object represents it. Much of Aboriginal art is connected with the imagery of totemic animals and plants.
More about clans
The clan is an important unit in Aboriginal society, having its own name and territory, and is the land-owning unit. A clan is a group of about 40-50 people with a common territory and totems, and having their own group name. It consists of groups of extended families. Generally, men born into the clan remain in the clan territory. This is called a patrilineal group.
Not all members of a clan live on the clan territory. The sisters and daughters of one clan go to live on their husbands’ clan territory, if that is the tradition for that tribe. Although a clan has its own territory, members of one clan will live with another, for the wives of the clansmen have come from clans of the opposite moiety, section or subsection. One can think of this in European terms as if a woman marries a man, but does not change her surname to his. If her surname were her clan name, then despite marrying a man from another clan, her clan name remains and she still belongs to the clan of her father.
More about hordes or bands
The horde is an economic group, consisting of a number of families who might band together for hunting and food gathering. It is a term for this group of people, seen through the eyes of non-Aboriginal observers. A horde is not a distinct group in the minds of Aborigines, who regard themselves more as belonging to a particular clan, totemic group, or skin name (section or subsection kinship group). Different members of these groups may be contained within the horde. At the main camp, the horde separates into family groups who each have their own camp fire and cook and eat separately, but who may share food between families.
More about families
A family group can be quite large, consisting of a man and his wives, the children from each wife, and sometimes his parents or in-laws. In the past, a man often had from two to four wives, ranging from one to more than ten. Nowadays, men generally have just one wife.
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