The Yan-nhaŋu, also known as the Nango,[1] are an indigenous Australian people of the Northern Territory. They have strong sociocultural connections with their neighbours, the Burarra, on the Australian mainland.


The Yan-nhaŋu people derive their ethnonym from the language they spoke, yän meaning 'tongue/speech' and nhaŋu a proximate deictic word signifying 'this'.[2]


Yan-nhangu is a member of the Yolŋu language family.


In his classic survey of Australian tribes, Norman Tindale assigned their modern territory to the Djinang people.[3] He writes that the Yan-nhaŋu (Nango) were indigenous to the Wessel Islands east of Brown Strait (from Jirrgari island to Cape Wessel), Galiwin'ku/Elcho Island[lower-alpha 1] and Drysdale Island. Their territory also encompassed the Cunningham Islands. With regard to the Crocodile Islands group, Tindale designated Mooroonga and Yabooma as Yan-nhaŋu, adding that they were also present at Banyan Island, where the Woolen River debouches.[5]

Traditional social organization

The Yan-nhaŋu were formed of eight clans, belonging to either a Dua or Yirritja moiety:-

Dua moieties (5 clans)

  • 1. Bararparar. (Bararrpararr)
  • 2. Bararngu (Bararrngu, Barangu, Perango)
  • 3. Jan:angu.[lower-alpha 2]
  • 4. Guri:ndi (Gurryindi)
  • 5. Gamalangga. (Garmalangga, Karmalanga, Kokolango, Kokolangomala)[5]

Yirritja moieties. (3 clans)

  • 6. Golpa. (Kolpa, Golbu, Golba, Gorlba)
  • 7. Jalukal. (Yalukal, Jalugal)
  • 8. Walamangu. (Wolamangu, Wallamungo)[6]


In 1921, Elcho Island was chosen as the site for a Methodist Overseas Mission. However, oil drilling by the Naphtha Petroleum Company brought about the closure of the proposed mission site, which therefore was relocated to Milingimbi.[7] This mission was established by James Watson in 1922,[8][9] after that religious organisation had obtained a lease on the site in 1921.[10] Following this twofold usurpation of their key homeland isles, the Yan-nhaŋu then found Milingimbi subject to an influx of other Yolŋu peoples from the mainland, who were drawn to the Mission. Inter-clan fighting erupted, and many Yan-nhaŋu shifted to the less accessible island of Murrungga.[11]


The Yan-nhangu were something of an anomaly in the ethnographic literature. They were described as extinct, and there was little mention of them, even down to as late as the 1980s.[10] The visiting American anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner visited the Crocodile island group on two occasions in 1927 and 1928, as did others such as Donald Thompson in the 1930s.

In the early 1990s a young anthropologist, conversing in Djambarrpuyŋu with an elderly woman, Laurie Baymarrwangga, on a beach on the island of Murruŋga, discovered that she was still fluent in a language that had been barely recorded, apart from a minimal glossary of some 300 words[12] Working together they recorded over the following decades a lexicon with over 4,000 words and a descriptive grammar of the language, together with a detailed mapping of their ecological and cosmological lore.

Alternative names

  • Nangu
  • Nango
  • Nhangu
  • Murungga. (name of Mooroonga Island)
  • Miarrmiarr (? perhaps according to Tindale a clan name).[6]


  1. The vocabulary of the Elcho Island community registered by Jennison in 1927 was however Dhuwal.[4]
  2. Variously named '(Yann[h]angu, Jarnangu, Janjango, Jaernungo, Yaernungo, Janango, Yanango, Yarenango, Murrungun, Gunbirr[dj]i, Malarra, Malara).'[1]


  1. Tindale 1974b, p. 232.
  2. Bowern & James 2010, p. 361.
  3. Tindale 1974a, p. 224.
  4. Morphy 1983, p. 10.
  5. Tindale 1974b, pp. 232–233.
  6. Tindale 1974b, p. 233.
  7. Galiwin'ku 2015.
  8. McKenzie 1976, p. 23.
  9. Holmes 1999, p. 153.
  10. James 2009, p. 4.
  11. Bowern & James 2010, p. 362.
  12. James 2009, pp. 1–2.


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