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Aboriginal LanguagesAboriginal Society - Moieties


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 paint.

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 versa.

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 of moieties.

Source: Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia - reproduced with permission

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