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Children follow turtle tracks in a re-enactment of a traditional Nyangumarta story

The People and their Traditional Country

Nyangumarta people are traditionally from the central Great Sandy Desert from Eighty Mile Beach and the pastoral stations of Wallal Downs and Mandora inland to the east and south. Their traditional country borders the Karajarri to the north and the Nyamal and Ngarla to the west.

Many Nyangumarta people moved during the 1900s to the west and northerly regions due to extended drought conditions, removal from traditional land, natural migration, European settlement impact and a variety of other reasons. Strong ties to traditional country and Law remain.


Nyangumarta speakers are spread widely over the Pilbara and other West Australian regions. Many speakers are living in the towns of Port Hedland and Marble Bar with other people in the communities of Bidyadanga, Strelley, Warralong, Woodstock, and Yandeyarra. Nyangumarta is the most widely spoken Aboriginal language in the town of Port Hedland. There are estimated to be around 520 first language speakers of Nyangumarta and many more partial speakers or people with a passive knowledge of the language. There are many more people who identify as being of Nyangumarta heritage who don’t speak the language or speak another language.


Language Resources and Recordings

Many speakers have worked alongside linguists on the recording and analysis of the Nyangumarta language. The three main studies conducted were by linguists Brian Geytenbeek, Janet Sharp and Father Kevin McKelson. Janet Sharp produced a full descriptive grammar of the language. Father McKelson made hundreds of recordings over 35 years and produced many documents including 100 lessons in Nyangumarta. Most of the material on this language is accessible through AIATSIS.


In 2008, Wangka Maya published Geytenbeek's Nyangumarta Dictionary, which can also be viewed on-line as an e-Book Dictionary. The Nyangumarta Sound and Picture Dictionary, published in 2011, makes this dictionary available in a computer-based format with the addition of sounds and pictures for selected words.


For language learners, Wangka Maya has published Parrjala, Wurrala. See It, Say It, an illustrated wordlist with accompanying audio CD. Nana Janet Stewart's story book Ngani Yirrirnalayi, What did we see? is also accompanied by audio CD. You can read and listen to the story on-line or purchase it from our on-line store.


Father McKelson’s book Nganarna Nyangumarta Karajarrimili Ngurranga: We Nyangumarta in the Country of the Karajarri, published by Wangka Maya in 2007 provides much information about the language and includes 40 lessons for learning the language.


Nyaparu (William) Gardiner has told his life story in Nyangumarta and English in Ngajumili Muwarr Wanikinyarni Partanyja Wirtujatinyankanu Mirtanyajartinyi. The book is illustrated by the author. He also wrote Five Dreamtime Stories in Nyangumarta.


The Nyangumarta Massacre Songline documents events from ancient times and was recorded by elders from Fitroy Crossing.


Also available are two DVDs about the 1946 Pilbara Aboriginal pastoral workers strike: Sixty Years On: Remembering the 1946 Pilbara Indigenous Pastoral Workers' Strike and How the West was Lost, both of which include Nyangumarta dialogue with English subtitles. In Bidyadanga Bush Medicine, elders share some of their cultural knowledge in Nyangumarta and the four other languages spoken at Bidyadanga.


In 2011-12, Wangka Maya will publish the Nyangumarta Phrase Book.


Linguist Sophie Allan and Nyangumarta teacher Janet Stewart develop the story for Ngani Yirrinalayi - What did we see?, a children's bilingual booklet which tells the story of a trip to the beach. You can read this book and hear Janet telling the story on-line. (Photo by Clint Taylor)

Language Information

Nyangumarta is a member of the Pama-Nyungan Australian languages, South West (Nyungic) group, Marrngu family. There are 12 other languages in the Marrngu family that are related to Nyangumarta. Nyangumarta has four variations being Ngurlipatu (Southern Nyangumarta), Wanyarli (Northern Nyangumarta), Pijikala and Kuntal. While there are four distinct language variations, some Nyangumarta people describe themselves as coming from five traditional cultural groups. In the past, Nyangumarta has been spelt as Njangamarda, Nyangamata, Njangamada, Nangumarta and Nangumada.


Written Example of the Language

This excerpt is from the book on Northern Nyangumarta written by Father McKelson and released Dec 2007. In this passage from 1966, the speaker is worried about the loss of the Nyangumarta language and speaks about this.


Yani Limpi. Wurrarnala muwarrku Nyangumartaku muwarr pinaku marrngumilaku. Mirlimirlingi riitimi jilkuliny. Japartu wirnti karrinya muwarrku Nyangumartaku tilypinaku. Jinta munu muwarr pinikiyi marrngumili. Kurntinyiya muwarrku. Yinma miranu jarrinyikiyi partanykarrangu. Waylpilalu mirarniyi nganinya marlu. Munu waninyalu muwarrku marrngumilaku. Kujarra muwarrjirri Yingkirliji Nyangumartapa kalkulupiyi. Munu yakanaku Nyangumarta. Partanykarrangulu muwarr maninyikiyi janyinju. Munu kurntanyaku turrpa ngarlu muwarr pinikiyi.


He (Father) said to her (Annie Limbee) to speak Nyangumarta, the language of the people, and she will read it. Father is frightened that Nyangumarta will finish. Some people don’t speak it. They are ashamed of their language. The children should like to learn cobba cobbas. The white man has taken much from us. There will be no more people’s language. They will have two languages, Nyangumarta and English. Nyangumarta must not be left. The children should learn it quickly. They must not be ashamed; they must speak their language bravely.

Some Kinship Terms


The following terms and many more can be found in Brian Geytenbeek's Nyangumarta Dictionary (available from Wangka Maya).

japartu father, father's brother
jinartu For a man: father's sister, or mother's brother's wife whose daughter is unmarriageable for him. For a woman: father's sister; mother's brother's wife
kangkuji older sister
marrka younger brother, younger sister
marruku For a man: mother-in-law, wife's mother for a woman: daughter's husband; brother's son. This relationship (mother-in-law and son-in-law) requires avoidance. A person should not look at, talk to, go near or say the name of their marruku.
murrkangunya the oldest child for a woman
malyurta any middle children in the family
pilyurr a promised spouse
nyirti the youngest child of a woman
nyakaji a wrong spouse
nyupa boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, potential spouse.
pipi mother, mother's sister


Skin Groups

Every Nyangumarta person is born into a skin group which is determined by the skin group of their mother (in most cases). Traditionally this system meant that people knew which group of people their husband or wife would come from. The four groups for Nyangumarta people are Panaka, Milangka, Purungu and Karimarra.


  • A Purungu man marries a Milangka woman and their children are Karimarra.
  • A Milangka man marries a Purungu woman and their children are Panaka.
  • A Panaka man marries a Karimarra woman and their children are Milangka.
  • A Karimarra man marries a Panaka woman and their children are Purungu.


Nyangumarta Texts

Short stories in Nyangumarta


Purlpi waninyikinyiyi Nyangumarta pirranga. Kuwarri jinta waninyayirni kakarnijapa yalinyanguja, purrpijirri milpanyiyirni Ngarukarti, warajanga waninyayirni nyungungu. Jinta tayijinjarrangu waninyayi.

In the past the Nyangumarta people lived in the desert. Now some of us from the east and the north have met together, we came to Port Hedland, we are living together here. The rest are living on stations.


Nyungu Mikurrunya manguny.

Pirirrilu kalkurnikinyipulinyi mirtawajirri warajanga kujarra. Mirtamarninyju mikulu yirrirnikinyi kurrimarniny pirirringimarra. Jalakarti jini kurrimarniny. Ranyjimarniny mirtawa pirirripa wangka waninyapulu. Pirirri yakujanikarti milyakarti waninyi rurtumartaji. Ranyjimarniny mirtawa waninyi partijirri. Kurrimarniny kara waninyi.

This is the Dreamtime story of the Mikurrunya Hills (near the Marble Bar turnoff, 50 km east of Port Hedland):

A man had two wives. The old one used to eye the young girl with jealousy on account of the man. She used to make the girl camp away from the other two. The old woman and the man are close to each other. The man is on this side, near the road. The old woman is in the middle. The girl is west of those two.


Jarrkurnpangu manguny.

Jarrkurnpangu purlpi ngunarringi kurila waninyikinyi. Jamirniyi panyjaku paliny, munu yingamiyi. Yarrju paliny yana ngarramarnti yalinyjikurnu jina waraja. Kujungurrungu ngalpanya. Pala warnku waninyi partijirri kaniny kuwarri kujungurrungu. Marrngulu yini marnayi Jarrkurnpangu, walypilalu yini marnayi Julitiri Yayilan.

The story of Jarrkurnpangu.

Long ago Jarrkurnpangu used to live way down south. They wouldn't give him tobacco. Sulking, he went away for good, travelling northwards in a straight line. He entered the sea. Now he is a rock in the middle of the sea. The Aborigines call it Jarrkurnpangu, the white people call it Solitary Island (north of Pardoo outcamp).