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David Nash

Munanga, 'white person' is widespread among the languages of the Arnhem Land region

as Jay Arthur (1996:161) notes in her compilation of written Aboriginal English, supported by citations from the northern NT 1977-1995.1 This extends to the present, as Wamut that munanga linguist can testify.

I was intrigued to learn recently that scholars don't have much of an idea of the origin of the word. The AND (Australian National Dictionary 1988), now available online, has the earliest written citation

1912 Bulletin (Sydney) 15 Feb. 13/2 There is the much less widely known aboriginal term ‘myrnonga’. The myrnonga is a person of more promiscuous habits [than the combo] who … prowls with furtiveness when the moon is young.

but this is under the obscure headword murlonga 'A white man who sexually exploits Aboriginal women', with etymology

[Poss. a. Yolŋu sub-group munaŋa a white person.]2

Now Bob Dixon (2008:143) has recently classed this suggested origin as a "howler":

But murloŋa could not have come from Yolngu sine [sc. since] this tribe did not have contact with Europeans until the 1930s. (It is unclear what the origin of murlonga is; if it does come from an Australian language, we have not been able to pinpoint the source.)

Still, munanga 'white person' is certainly widespread among the languages of the Arnhem Land region, as Jay Arthur says, and further south, I would add, through the Roper district, and I learnt the word at Elliott in the centre of the NT. The word has been borrowed into northern NT English from this linguistic milieu. It may not make sense to inquire which particular language donated the word to English, as it is spread through a range of Australian languages and as a "regional word" was then adopted by English speakers from speakers of whatever language of their locality. True, Yolngu Matha is unlikely to have been an early proximate source; rather, the languages where the early pidgin developed in the Roper valley from the time of the OTL construction (from 1870), though it is curious if there is indeed no written record of the word prior to 1912.

So, what might be the origin of munanga within Australian languages of the northeast NT? Now, munaŋa is one of several words for 'white person' listed in the 1986 Yolŋu-matha Dictionary. The others include balanda, gaywaraŋu, ŋäpaki, and wurrapanda. The first is famously derived from Malay etc bəlanda 'Dutch, Holland'; gaywaraŋu is an extension of 'white; ashes'; and wurrapanda is

Probably via Anindilyakwa urubanda, urabaranda White Man; cf. Mal oraŋ person + bəlanda Dutch (Zorc 1986:271)

So could munanga also originate from Macassan contact? It is not listed in Nick Evans' 1992 compilation 'Macassan loanwords in top end languages', but through the modern wonder of Amazon (via A9) I've come upon an enticing citation in the Berndts' The speaking land (a book on our shelves but this word isn't indexed). Recorded "in Gunwinggu, at Oenpelli in 1950", myth 181 begins

Yirawadbad, Poison snake, a yariburig man, came from Munanga, Macassar. (1989:346) AmazonOnlineReader link

I don't find a placename like this in the gazetteers I've consulted. Could it however derive from Muna, a language, ethnic group, and island name, on the other southern extremity of Sulawesi east of Makasar (see the Ethnologue map of Southern Sulawesi)? Whatever its more distant source, this name of the origin of the hero of "one of the great myths of western Arnhem Land" (Berndts 1989:346) may well have taken on a new life as a 'foreigner' word in Arnhem Land.

  1. Arthur glosses munanga as 'A white man, a boss' but I don't think the evidence supports maleness being part of the meaning.
  2. The online AND doesn't allow link to an individual entry.


Fascinating Jungurra.
So what about kartiya?
Any ideas?

In the IJL article by Dixon that you refer to, he criticises dictionary makers for not paying due attention to the etymologies of words borrowed from indigenous languages in Australia and around the world, and identifying which language they originate from. This is due historically, he says, "in part to racist denigration of Aboriginal people their cultures and languages" (page 129). Unfortunately, Dixon himself falls victim to exactly this when on page 136 he writes:

"Other words from African languages were taken into English in the eighteenth century including chimpanzee, from a Bantu language, and gnu, from a Bushman language"

As Mark Ranneberger and Sally Dijkerman pointed out in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post in 2005:

"According to anthropologists Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and Richard Lee, the term 'Bushmen' is pejorative and no longer accepted in the anthropological community. In his 1979 ethnography The Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society, Mr. Lee wrote that 'the term Bushmen has both racist and sexist connotations.'

In addition, the Kalahari is inhabited by many different peoples, and they should be called by whatever name they give themselves."
According to Wikipedia gnu "is from a Khoikhoi language". It's a shame to see Dixon committing the same errors as those he criticises.

I can't think of any likely place-names in South Sulawesi. There's a small fishing village called Minanga in North Sulawesi. This is unlikely to be the source though - there are Bugis there now, but they arrived fairly recently.
If Muna is the source, it has probably been filtered through Malay or Makassarese - the ethnonym is Wuna (cognate with bunga 'flower').

Philip Jones has made an intriguing suggestion that murlonga could be the same word as Molonga. Molonga was the name of a new ceremony (and its central figure) first reported on the northern Georgina River in 1893 (WE Roth 1897). Philip tells me that "the corroboree seems to have been characterised as being about exotic (and usually unwelcome) strangers, and was distinguished by the deployment of mock rifles etc, i.e. objects associated with white men". The late Mick McLean Irinyili told Luise Hercus (1980) about his involvement in a 1901 performance and that the ceremony's songs were in the Wakaya language of the Barkly Tableland, west of the northern Georgina. Gavan Breen's 1970s Wakaya vocabulary (ASEDA item 0047) includes the word /muluŋu/ 'devil', which has gotta be is an excellent candidate for the source of the term Molonga. The name was pronounced [mudluŋga] by McLean; the prestopping of the lateral would be a natural change in the Lake Eyre languages; and the late Walter Smith pronounced it [muluŋa] when he told Dick Kimber in 1981 about seeing the ceremony (Kimber 1990:178).

Now, the AND does not provide a pronunciation for murlonga ~ murlonger (just these two spellings in the quotations from the outback published in 1949 and 1971 respectively). A pronunciation [mɜ'lɒŋgə] is given in Australian Aboriginal words in English (1990 edition page 172), though on what basis is hard to know, presumably a guess based on the spelling (as I venture the word wasn't otherwise known to the compilers). The two AND spellings could just as well be reporting a pronunciation more like ['mulɒŋə], that is, what one expects as an English borrowing of /muluŋu/. So, I reckon that much the same word (form-meaning bundle) is behind murlonga ~ murlonger 'a white man who sexually exploits Aboriginal women', the Molonga ceremony name, and Wakaya /muluŋu/ 'devil'.

If this account of murlonga is on the right lines, it serves to separate it from munaŋa 'a white person' — in form, meaning, and provenance. So my suggestion for the AND would be to revise the headword murlonga 'A white man who sexually exploits Aboriginal women' by adding the above references, and to extract the first citation (1912 myrnonga) to a new entry under headword munanga.

Hercus, LA. 1980. 'How we danced the Mudlunga': Memories of 1901 and 1902, Aboriginal History 4,5-31

Kimber, R.G. 1990. Mulunga old Mulunga. 'Good corroboree', they reckon, pp. 175-191 in Language and History: essays in honour of Luise A. Hercus edited by P Austin, RMW Dixon, T Dutton and I White. Pacific Linguistics C-116.

Anthony Jukes' point about ethnonyms is well taken. If we assume that people from Makassar were the main visitors, and that they may have used Muna, rather than Wuna, then it's possible that the Makassarese could have used the island name 'Muna' to identify one group of visitors. Just as the word balanda for 'Dutch' (and thence 'non-Aboriginal) comes via Malay and Makassar, and not directly. We are still left with the need for a source for the -nga ending!

I have heard a couple of explanations for 'kartiya'. One that it comes from 'guardian' and two that it is a legitimate Ngumbin word meaning 'ghost'.

On munanga, I recall hearing this one in the Gulf country in 1970 or possibly later at Palm Island (from western inmates). No suggestions as to ultimate origin but it may be useful to take a look at the Adelaide Language, and the possible link via the OT:

Munana, adj., former; late; ancient. Muna meyu, ancestor [meyu = man].

I am still skeptical about balanda being from hollander. The languages through which the term passed apparently all have no problem with /h-/ so why the /h/ to /b/ change? And the stress shift to V2?

These creole terms for whitefellas have interesting distributions. Migulu is a very widespread one like kartiya. Along with gun terms and horse terms (etc) maps of their distributions might reveal something useful about historical processes.

By the way, if prestopping was an ossified historical innovation and not a live rule it would seem very odd that Mulunga could be borrowed as Mudlungga.


Interesting points, Jimija.
On the last one, yes, it is intriguing. Setting aside ŋg ~ ŋ, we seem to have a choice between these two scenarios: (a) muluŋa and mudluŋ(g)a are cognate (i.e. by parallel descent) — but what did mudluŋga mean in Lake Eyre languages before the ceremony arrived?; (b) mudluŋa is an instance of "loan nativization" (which however is not popular as a possible process).
Note as part of the puzzle that Walter Smith apparently learnt the term at Oodnadatta as muluŋa (and didn't recognise alternate pronunciations from Kimber), but the word had travelled to Oodnadatta from the east through mudluŋa-languages (and it isn't a word in the Arandic languages he knew).

I am still skeptical about balanda being from hollander.
AFAIK it came into Malay via Portuguese, something like olanda -> wəlanda -> bəlanda.

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