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[from John Avery]
It's inevitably guesswork, but I reckon munanga is one of those spirit-connected words - not far off devil or ghost. It is used widely in the central NT Gulf of Carpentaria and Tablelands.

Another word for white people is mandaji - the feminine is mandanga. You can hear these words at Elliott, especially from Gudanji, Wambaya or Nanka (Ngarnji). Aji/anga (also f. -ana) are personal suffixes. So -anga also could be a personal suffix attached to mun-.

Mun by itself means to curse or place a deadly curse on someone. The usual motive is jealousy. For example, a long time ago a devil from Manda waterhole on Beetaloo went up to Tanumbrini station which was the home of another devil. The Manda traveller was turfed out by the Tanumbrini devil who was jealous for the country. The Tanumbrini bloke 'bin mun' the Munda fella, so old Tanumbrini station is called Mun-min. The mun bit is more like muyin in Muyinmin, but by itself my informants say mun (i.e. shortway).

At Numbulwar in recent times anybody at all might 'madj' the local shop, placing a 'curse' on it and requiring it to be shut down until the curse was lifted. The usual pattern was to say 'I madj this shop from my mother', i.e. because of who my mother is and her sacred totems etc. It is like a jungkayi looking after his mother's stuff. My informants (Alawa, Mara, Jingili mainly) said this was wrong. They thought madj was the same as mun. They said it was okay to mun something small, like a pipe or tobacco, but not a big thing like a shop. This is because mun is cursing to death, and the target of the mun could turn around and kill you if the thing was too big and he could not pay.

So I reckon there could be something in a connection between mun and munanga in all of this. If it involved suffixing like mandaji/mandanga, it might have borrowed the feminine suffix. If so, this could have made the word a little more formal and polite.

I think many informants would say munanga meant devil because whitefellas are devils anyway. Yanyuwa and Garrwa people didn't use munanga much. White people were ngabaya - which is their common word for devil or ghost. Ngabaya is pretty rough talk. Munanga is a little more respectful.

I associate munanga with Mara and Alawa people mainly, including Wandarang and at least some of the Numburindi people south of Yolngu country on the Gulf. These people are collectively known as Marinabala - they have 'one body secret way'.

At a stretch, maybe munanga meant 'the jealous ones' or 'the ones of whom we are jealous' or 'jealousy mob'.


Not sure who to address this to, but I am interested in finding out more about the term 'munanga' and it's reference to jealousy. Is this your interpretation or do the local people confirm that it means jealous one etc. I am looking for traditional stories and language that talk about jealousy, jealousing establishing it as a concept traditionally

The possible association of munanga and jealousy is my speculative
interpretation. In Aboriginal English, jealousy has a larger ambit and
significance than it does in more standard varieties of English. Aboriginal
English 'jealousy' includes covetousness, such that it might be said that a
character X was 'jealous for the country', which meant that X wanted the
place for himself alone and X would be highly jealous if another took
possession of it.

My interpretation of a connection between jealousy and munanga is also a
stab at reconstructing the attitudes and emotions involved in Aboriginal
people's reception of white people. The various labels for white folk as
devils or ghosts foreground fear, but then there are numerous myths about
these devils and ghosts being deceased Aboriginal people that mitigate this
impression. I recall discussing these beliefs somewhat abstractly with an
Aboriginal man whom I had not expected to hold them, only to be told that a
particular airplane pilot was a reborn local who had turned up one day with
a complete command of his original native language! That is, in the 1990s
Aboriginal people in the NT Gulf were discussing a local pilot as a
reincarnated Aborigine. I doubt that the pilot was aware of it.

Such clues suggest that the arrival of whites presented an anomaly for
Aboriginal people who traditionally saw their social world as constructed
through kinship. In the absence of genealogical connections the myths of
white people as reincarnated Aborigines enabled whites to be included within
the Aboriginal community, though somewhat ambivalently filtered through death imagined as a rite de passage.

Many fieldworkers have reported the importance of jealousy in Aboriginal
explanation of conflict. Jealousy is often at the root of traditional
punishments for breaches of sacred laws. Whereas modern state laws
articulate general rules that are punished proportionately, I am familiar
with Aboriginal laws being explained in more personal terms (notwithstanding Blackburn's famous and influential remarks in the Gove land
rights case about an Aboriginal 'government of laws and not of men'). The
explanations I am more familiar with are that to act in a particular towards
a sacred object or design, or to break a solemn command in a ceremony, could
inflame others to furious jealousy. The appearance of some
upstart or pretender wearing the sacred designs once owned by a cherished,
departed uncle, for example, could inspire jealousy exceeding any
obligations of kinship with the perpetrator. The jealousy could be explosive
on the spot or, more dangerously, could remain hidden: the victim could well
be looking into his future assassin's smiling, seemingly approving face,
unaware of the walled-up hateful urges behind. The "word" would swing
around the country in a furious vortex until eventually some distant crone
would implement the action. The victim might be preserved for the time being
to witness his own sons and daughters and nephews and nieces fall to one
thing after another. Maybe then the victim would meet his doom or else be
left to suffer the wreckage of his wrongdoings. Clearly, the intent, style
and quantity of such vengeance is measured, not as personal physical pain,
but in the experience of personal loss that lies at the core of jealousy.

In short, although the etymological connection between munanga and mun
are based on interpretation and speculation, it would not be surprising if
jealousy was not a feature of the Aboriginal reception of white settlers
that informed Aborigines' choice of terms to describe and place whites within their social world.

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