The Jawoyn, also written Djauan, are a group of Indigenous Australians living in the Northern Territory of Australia.


Jawoyn, known as Kumertuo, is a non-Pama–Nyungan language and belongs to the Macro-Gunwinyguan group of languages of Arnhem land.[1] Recently both the Gunwinyguan and Pama-Nyungan languages have been grouped as branches of a proto-Macro-Pama–Nyungan languages. It was spoken in several dialect forms, but after resettlement in the post-war period these dialects have tended to confluesce into a standard language.[1]


The traditional lands of the Jawoyn, estimated by Norman Tindale to cover about 3,800 square miles (9,800 km2),[2] were located in the Katherine Gorge area in the Northern Territory, which they call Nitmiluk, which derives its name from nitmi meaning the "cicada song" Nabilil the crocodile heard when he set up camp at the entrance to the gorge (luk signifying "place").[3] Nitmiluk denotes specifically to a 12 kilometre stretch there consisting of a spectacular chain of chasms and ravines.[4] It has been suggested that Jawoyn people are not only those who speak that language, but also those who are associated with the landscapes inscribed in the Jawoyn language according to their foundational mythology of the Dreamtime.[5][lower-alpha 1] The language itself, in several varieties was spoken along the Katherine River system as far as the Mainoru River.[1] Their southern limits were around Maranboy, and their western extension came close to Katherine.[2]


A widespread belief in Aboriginal thought holds that each language emerged during the formative time of creation when a demiurgic totem figure moved through the landscape crafting it and, simultaneously, endowing each topological feature with its proper word.[7] The creative being changed the language at certain transit points which then were taken as boundary markers between tribes speaking different languages.[8] Thus, in Jawoyn thinking, the landscape of the Katherine Gorge was created in the primordial time (burr) by Nabilil (Crocodile), who named all of the area's distinctive features in the Jawoyn language.[6] He came from the sea, furnished with his firestick (meya) and moved through what became Dagoman and Nangiomeri lands before reaching the gorge.[9]

The Burr dreamtime also contains other key figures of myth such as Boolong (The Rainbow Serpent) and Barraya (the kookaburra).[3]

History of contact

Many Jawoyn moved to Tandandjal on the ridge affording spring water of a grassy plain 44 miles east-north of Maranboy in November 1948 when a short-lived government settlement for Aborigines had been established. The surrounding hills were thickly forested with lancewoods and eucalypts. While exploring the area in June of that year, 1948, Mr. Ivan Frazer came across a cave littered with stone artifacts, whose walls were adorned with paintings.


Jawoyn seasonal calendar[10]
January FebruaryMarch April MayJune July AugustSeptember OctoberNovember December
Main part of wet rainsLast rainsEarly hot dryMiddle dryEarly build-upThe build-up
Drying outCoolerHot and stickyFirst rains
Burning time

Alternative names

Some words

  • Yowoyn. "Yes", "alright".
  • Bobo. "Goodbye."[13]

See also


  1. "Jawoyn people are Jawoyn not because they speak Jawoyn. But because they are linked to places to which the Jawoyn language is also linked".[6]
  2. In Tindale's classification, Kumertuo refers rather to the Djowei[11]


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