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Skin Names — Subsections

Eight named categories or subsections are affiliated with both matrimoieties and patrimoieties. Subsections or ‘skin names’ are effectively marriage classes but also have important referential functions. They are one of numerous overlays on various sets of kinship terms. In addition to the organization of conventional rules of marriage choice, subsections also play a role in the extention of classificatory kinship to outsiders or strangers. Because the subsection system is used throughout Arnhem Land, strangers from far-away or unknown communities can be quickly allocated a place in the social world by virtue of their subsection. Subsection names differ across languages groups and even within Bininj Kunwok there are some significant differences. The most obvious is the difference in subsection names. The set used by Kunwinjku and Kundjeyhmi speakers are ‘the western system’ and those by the other dialects —Kuninjku, Kune, Mayali, Kundedjnjenghmi—are ‘the eastern system’.

The arrows in each of the two cycles are matrilineal descent. For example, on the right hand side, a ngal-Wakadj woman has children of na-Bangardi and ngal-Bangardi subsection. In turn, a ngal-Bangardi woman has children of na-Kangila and ngal-Kangila skin and ngal-kangila's children will be na-Kodjok and ngal-Kodjok. Then you cycle back up to the top of the column again.

Kunwinjku kin terms, unions and descent across 7 generations.

Mahni bim ngun-bukkan ngad ngarri-mud bu ngarri-yimerren dja mak

ngarrben-bornan dja ngarrben-yawmang.


1. Kunwinjku & Kundjeyhmi skin chart (includes Gunbalanya & outstations), click to download> Kunwinjku skin chart

2. Kuninjku skin chart (Maningrida and Kuninjku outstations)> Kuninjku skin chart

3. Kune skin chart (Bolkdjam, Buluhkaduru, Ankabadbirri, Korlobidahdah, Bulman) > Kune skin chart

4. If you live at Maningrida this chart allows you to convert skin names across all of Maningrida's languages, click to download> Skin conversion table