The Burarra, also referred to as the Gidjingali, are an indigenous Australian people in and around Maningrida in the Northern Territory. Opinions have differed as to whether the two names represent different tribal realities, with the Gidjingali treated as the same as, or as a subgroup of the Burarra, or as an independent tribal grouping. For the purposes of this encyclopedia, the two are registered differently, though the ethnographic materials on both may overlap with each other.


The ethnonym Burarra means 'those people'.[1] Norman Tindale classified the Gidjingali as being eastern Burarra, speaking a dialect only slightly different from Burarra.[2] Les Hiatt argued in 1965 that they were a distinct 'tribe'.[1] Others take Hiatt's Gidjingali to be essentially synonymous with Burarra,[3] and the words are used now interchangeably.[4] Tindale considered Burarra to be an exonym applied to them by outsiders, and speculated that their 'real' name might be Ngapanga.[1]


Burarra is a prefixing Arnhem land language belonging to the Maningrida family of non-Pama-Nyungan languages.[5] Bururra is spoken by approximately 2,000 people, many of them multilingual.[6]


Burarra traditional land covers some 200 square miles (520 km2) on both banks of the Blyth River, for a distance of roughly 20 miles inland. Their eastward extension runs as far as and east to Cape Stewart.[1] Facing the Arafura Sea, their territory also extends to some islands,[lower-alpha 1] opposite those of their northern maritime neighbours, the Yan-nhaŋu of the Crocodile Islands. Despite speaking markedly different languages, -one prefixing, the other suffixing- the Burarra and the Yan-nhaŋu have strong sociocultural links.[7]

Social organization

Though neighbours of such Yolgnu peoples as the Djinang, Burarra marriage practices as markedly at odds with those of the Yolgnu. Ian Keen has argued that there are five major differences:(a) Yolgnu men are more polygamous than their Burarra peers; (b) while the Yolgnu having a Karadjeri system of kin classification, the Burarra's resembles that of the Aranda. (c) the rules governing spousal choice are at odds, as are their respective expectations about how flexible older men should be in ceding rights over women to younger men; (d) Land-owning groups are structured somewhat differently. (e) Whereas for the Burarra the named community forms the basic unit for certain types of political action, the Yolgnu organize such activities on a clan basis (occasionally with another clan).[8]

Clans and Moieties

The Burarra, according to Tindale, consist of five subgroups:

  1. Anbara (western bank of the mouth of the Blyth River)
  2. Marawuraba (from the coast to the east of Blyth River)
  3. Madia (Cape Stewart area)
  4. Maringa
  5. Gunadba (Gunaidbe)[1]

Each of the five have a Yirritja/Dua moiety division.[1]

Alternative names

  • Barera
  • Baurera
  • Burera
  • Burara
  • Burada
  • Burarra
  • Gidjingali[9]

Modern period

Questacon, Australia's National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra, has produced a traditional indigenous technology website in conjunction with the Burarra people, called Burarra Gathering.[10]

Some words

  • gurakadj. (shame/fear).[11]


  1. This was formerly denied by Tindale, who wrote:'They did not possess coastal resources.' (Tindale 1974, p. 221)


  1. Tindale 1974, p. 221.
  2. Tindale 1974, pp. 221–222.
  3. Bagshaw 2014, p. 248, n.4.
  4. Keen 1982, p. 661.
  5. Bagshaw 2014, pp. 247–248.
  6. Vaughen 2018, pp. 119–132.
  7. Bagshaw 2014, pp. 248–249.
  8. Keen 1982, p. 660.
  9. Tindale 1974, p. 222.
  10. Burarra 2017.
  11. Wierzbicka 1999, p. 290.


  • Bagshaw, Geoffrey (2014). "Gapu Dhulkway, Gapu Maramba: conceptualisation and ownership of saltwater among the Burarra and Yan-nhangu peoples of northeast Arnhem Land". In Peterson, Nicolas; Rigsby, Bruce (eds.). Customary marine tenure in Australia. Sydney University Press. pp. 247–284. ISBN 978-1-743-32389-2.
  • Keen, Ian (December 1982). "How Some Murngin Men Marry Ten Wives: The Marital Implications of Matrilateral Cross-Cousin Structures". Man. New Series. 17 (4): 620–642. JSTOR 2802037.
  • Tindale, Norman Barnett (1974). "Barara (NT)". Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names. Australian National University.
  • Vaughen, Jill (2018). Singer, Ruth; Vaughen, Jill (eds.). ""We talk in saltwater words": Dimensionalisation of dialectal variation in multilingual Arnhem Land". Language & Communication. 62: 119–132.
  • "Welcome to Burarra Gathering". Questacon. 2017.
  • Wierzbicka, Anna (1999). Emotions Across Languages and Cultures: Diversity and Universals. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-59971-9.
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