Our Culture

Jawoyn refers to language, culture, people and country.

It is our parents’ affiliation and knowledge and our connectedness to Jawoyn country that makes us who we are.

The majority of Jawoyn live on or close to Jawoyn traditional lands, with the many living close to Katherine in small communities.

Prior to colonisation, Jawoyn was made of 43 clans, however many clans have disappeared or combined with others. Today there are 17 distinct clans with responsibilities for specific country.


During the Dreaming, ancestral beings assigned everything in the world – people, animals, plants, places – to either the Dhuwa or Yirritja moiety.

The spirit being from the north, Nagorrko taught Jawoyn behaviour and marriage relationships.

It was through Nagorrko that people were divided into Yirritja and Duwa groups called moieties. Nagorrko also gave us the Law about mowurrwurr, or clan groups and showed us what foods different mowurrwurr could or could not eat.


Everything in the world is assigned a moiety, and it forms one of the most im-portant principles within Jawoyn society.

The moieties Duwa and Yirritja and all the things associated with them bring bal-ance to the natural and cultural world.

Each moiety is associated with particular colour and proportions: Dhuwa colours are darker (red and black) and associated with shortness. Yirritja colours are lighter (yellow and white) and associated with tallness. For example, the black cockatoo is Dhuwa, the white cockatoo is Yirritja, the short neck turtle is Yirritja, and the long neck turtle is Dhuwa.

Through a traditional marriage system, a child’s moiety will be the same as

his/her father and opposite to his/her mother. Simply a Dhuwa person should marry a Yirritja person.


Under the moieties, there are a further sixteen social divisions, or “skin”, which is traditionally inherited from the mother and has a cycle which continues through several generations. It provides comparable inherited links between mother and children for other skin groups.

Owners (‘gidjan’) and Custodians (‘junggayi’)

Each skin group has a primary custodial “looking after” relationship with another skin group in the opposite skin group circle.

‘Reciprocal rights and responsibilities relate to land and ceremony and generally Yirritja people will be workers in ceremonies owned by Dhuwa people and vice versa.

The arrangement of choosing a ‘junggayi’ from an opposite moiety but within the same skin group ties families to each other and to ceremony.

In 2018, the Jawoyn Association expanded its ranger program to include the Mangarrayi rangers.

The move came after the rangers called for external support to access much-needed funding and secure their future.

The association will establish a ranger base in early 2019.

The rangers previously operated in association with the Roper River landcare group.

Quality Work

The rangers work with the NT Department of Primary Industry to monitor the salinity, turbidity and water temperature of the Roper River.

They also maintain fish loggers that track around 100 microchipped barramundi.