Iwaidja people

The Iwaidja are an indigenous Australian people of the Northern Territory.


Norman Tindale states that the name is based on their word for 'no' (ii).[1]


Iwaidja is one of the Iwaidjan languages of the Cobourg Peninsula, all of which are non-Pama–Nyungan languages. It is still spoken by some 150 speakers, at Minjilang on Croker Island.[2]


In Tindale's estimation the Iwaidja possessed some 100 square miles (260 km2) of tribal lands. Their centre was at Mountnorris Bay, in the eastern area of the Cobourg Peninsula.[3] Tindale interprets Paul Foelsche's Unalla as a reference to the Iwaidja. Foelsche informed Edward Micklethwaite Curr that:

'The country frequented by this tribe extends from Raffles Bay to Port Essington Harbour and thence midway up the Cobourg Peninsula to Popham Bay.[4]

Their neighbours were the Ajokoot, Wurango, Angara-Pingan, and Yiarik[lower-alpha 1]

Social organization

Four other groups were reported to share the same territory, though for Tindale their status as either hordes or independent tribes was undetermined. They were listed as:

  • Wonga:ran (in the mainland area immediately opposite Croker Island
  • Ka:ri:k. (east of Cape Don)
  • Nga:dalwuli. (a coastal people lying to the east of the Ka:ri:k.)
  • Mandu:wit. (northwest, and east of the Nga:dalwuli).[3]

History of contact

If we take the Unalla as interchangeable with the Iwaidja, they were a once numerous tribe which, with the onset of colonial settlement, was reduced to a mere 30 members by 1881, consisting of 7 men, 12 women, 9 boys and 2 girls. Foelsche stated that the community was ravaged after Malay traders introduced smallpox (mea-mea) during a visit in 1866.[7]

Alternative names

  • Ji:wadja
  • Jiwadja
  • Juwadja
  • Iwaija
  • Iyi
  • Eiwaja[5]
  • Eaewardja
  • Eaewarga
  • Uwaidja
  • Eae-warge-ga
  • Unalla[8]
  • Limbakaraja
  • Limba-Karadjee
  • Iwaiji
  • Tarula. (Melville Islanders exonym meaning 'riflemen'[lower-alpha 2].

Some words

  • illpoogee (kangaroo)
  • looloot. (tame dog)
  • lurkakie. (wild dog)
  • nowajuk. (father)
  • kamoomoo. (mother)
  • warranganababoo. (white man)[10]


  1. The last two tribes were mentioned by Foelsche[5] (together with the Eiwaja (which Tindale identified as another name for the Iwaidja which Tindale was unable to identify[6]
  2. According to Tindale, they earned this monicker from the fact that they were employed by an early settler, Joe Cooper, to assist him in defending himself.[9]


  1. Tindale 1974, pp. 42,226.
  2. Evans 1998, p. 115.
  3. Tindale 1974, p. 226.
  4. Foelsche 1886, p. 270.
  5. Foelsche 1886, p. 273.
  6. Tindale 1974, pp. 266,314.
  7. Foelsche 1886, p. 271.
  8. Foelsche 1895, p. 191.
  9. Tindale 1974, p. 227.
  10. Foelsche 1886, p. 274.


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