Moiety is a form of social organisation in which
most people and, indeed, most natural phenomena are divided into two
classes or categories.
The word derives from a Latin term for half. These categories are
rarely actual gatherings of people with a common interest or purpose
They are intermarrying divisions of society which describe kin relationships
and provide a general guide to behaviour. In art, moiety can play
an important role in determining the subjects which an artist may
A person usually marries someone of the opposite moiety and is forbidden
to marry into his or her own moiety. For instance, in north east Arnhem
Land, Yolngu clans are divided into moieties called Yirritja and Dhuwa,
each of which owns distinct lands and descends from different Creation
Ancestors. If a man is Dhuwa, then his wife is Yirritja, and vice
Moieties are often named and are often associated with special emblems
or totems - for example Kilpara (Eaglehawk) and Makwara (Crow).
Moiety names are commonly used as convenient labels of address or
as a means of social identification. Moiety affiliation can have implications
for the organisation and performance of ritual, for example in determining
camping and seating arrangements.
Types of Moiety
There are three kinds of moiety: patrilineal, where children at birth
belong to the moiety of their father; matrilineal, where children
belong to the moiety of their mother; and generational (where people
of alternate generations are grouped together).
Named matrilineal moieties are recorded in only a few regions: eastern
Australia, south of the Gulf of Capentaria; east of Lakes Eyre and
Gairdner; around Perth; and western Arnhem Land.
Patrilineal moieties are more common and are found in the northern
Kimberley, around Daly River, in much of eastern Northern Territory
and north east Arnhem Land, in Cape York Peninsula, formerly in a
small isolated region in south central Victoria, and possibly in a
small area around Albany WA.
Generational moieties are commonly found in the desert regions of
Australia and are important in the organisation of ritual life.
Sectors and subsections are generally thought to be subdivisions
Source: © Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia - reproduced with permission