Our culture

The Aboriginal traditional owners welcome you to Kakadu National Park. We are happy and proud to share this special place with you.

Kakadu is a living cultural landscape. It has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years. Ours is the oldest living culture on earth.

We are Bininj/Mungguy

Aboriginal people are called Bininj in the north of the park and Mungguy in the south. Some of us live in Kakadu's towns and others live in more remote parts of the park, but all of us have a deep spiritual connection to our country.

The land and its people have always been linked. Caring for our land and its wildlife is fundamental to our culture. Art, language, ceremonies, kinship and caring for country are all aspects of cultural responsibility that we have passed from one generation to the next, since the Creation time.

  • Our clans

    Our clans consist of two or more family groups sharing ownership of an area of land. Clan boundaries are passed from one generation to the next, generally through the father. Kakadu has about 19 clan groups.

    • Kinship

      Visit the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre for a great display and interactive game to help you understand kinship.

      In the Kakadu area, our kinship system is very complex. All people, plants, animals, songs, dances, ceremonies and land are divided into two groups, or 'moieties': Duwa or Yirridja. Each moiety is subdivided into eight 'skin' groups. A child's skin group is determined by their mother's skin group but they inherit their moiety from their father.

      In simple terms, kinship can be described as a system that defines how people relate to each other. Through the use of 'skin' names we identify the people around us as mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, potential marriage partners, and so on, and modify our behaviour accordingly. Almost every aspect of day-to-day communication with other Aboriginal people is governed by kinship ties.

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  • Our languages

    There were about 200 Aboriginal languages in Australia at the time of European contact. These distinct languages have extensive vocabularies and complex grammars.

    • In the time before non-Aboriginal settlement, 12 languages were spoken in the Kakadu area. Today, only three are spoken on a regular basis: Gun-djeihmi, Kun-winjku and Jawoyn.

      Many Aboriginal people will speak two or more languages. Gun-djeihmi and Kun-winjku languages are regarded as dialects of one another because speakers can understand each other. Jawoyn is a separate language.

      Gun-djeihmi is a living language.

      Gun-djeihmi is the language spoken in the central part of Kakadu. Unlike English, the spelling system is very consistent, so once you have learnt the rules it is quite easy to work out how to correctly pronounce words. The Aboriginal Language Park Note below gives details on how to pronounce the Gun-djeihmi alphabet, and is also available at the Bowali Visitor Centre.

      Language Audio Files

      Listen to our language audio files to hear the aboriginal spoken word.

      Wudda gamak - How are you? (literally: Are you well?).
      Yo gamak - Yes, I'm fine.
      Ayedgah yire - Where are you going?
      Aye Cooinda are - I am going to Cooinda.
      Yiddok yinang ginga - Did you see any crocodiles?
      Anang mulil ginga nawern - I saw many crocodiles, lots of them.
      Ngudda yiwokdi Gundjeihmi - Do you speak Gundjeihmi? Walakgih - A little bit
      Bobo - Goodbye.

      Download the Aboriginal language park note (PDF - 840 KB)

      Want to learn more about Kakadu's languages? Visit the Bininj Gunwok website

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  • Bush foods

    Kakadu is rich in bush foods, if you know where to look. Here we list some of our favourites. Find out more on an Aboriginal tour.

    • Fruit and vegetable food

      We call it: Anme

      This includes honey and ant eggs.

    • Kakadu plum | Terminalia ferdinandiana

      We call it: Anmorlak

      This is also called billygoat plum. In Gunumeleng season, the tree starts flowering, providing nectar for birds, bees and bats. In Banggerreng season the small green fruits are good to eat and a great source of vitamin C.

    • Red bush apple | Syzygium suborbiculare

      We call it: Andjarduk

      We throw sticks up into the tall trees if the ripe apples haven't fallen to the ground already. Andjarduk are ripe in the tropical summer. They start fruiting in Gunumeleng.

    • Black currant bush | Antidesma ghaesembilia

      We call it: Andjurrugumarlba

      Lots of berries grow on these small trees and shrubs near freshwater streams during Gudjewg, our monsoon season. When they're black and ripe they are delicious to eat. We also boil them up to extract the vibrant purple colour, using it to make baskets from pandanus and kurrajong fibres.

    • Water lily | Nymphea violacea

      We call it: Andem

      The edible stems of the water lily are called Anbardmo. These hollow green flower stems are juicy and taste a little like celery sticks.

      The root tuber and its edible seeds are called Mabala. We dig up the fleshy roots in Gurrung season. The roots contain starchy seeds that we grind into a paste and then form into small cakes. We bake the cakes in the ground oven that we call Gungerri, wrapped up in lily leaves and paperbark.

    • Meat and fish

      We call it: Gunganj (meat) and djeni (fish)

    • Barramundi | Lates calcarifer

      We call it: Namarngorl

      The young male fish live upstream in freshwater. When they're old enough to mate, they travel back into the estuaries where they were born. We cook them whole on hot coals.

    • Saratoga | Scleropages jardini

      We call it: Guluibirr

      When we cook Guluibirr, we stuff the gutted fish with paperbark leaves to add flavour.

    • Freshwater mussel | Velesunio angasi

      We call it: Gurruk

      Freshwater mussels bury themselves in the mudbanks of creeks as they dry up. We look for little holes along the muddy banks and pull them out.

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  • Respecting culture

    Our local Aboriginal culture has a set of social behaviours and customs which are considered good manners.

      • Traditionally, Aboriginal people (Bininj/Mungguy) do not greet each other every time they meet. However, we are used to non-Aboriginal people doing so and may expect a 'hello'
      • Many Bininj/Mungguy do not use personal names as freely as non-Aboriginal people do and we often address each other by kinship terms
      • Bininj/Mungguy appreciate privacy. It is good manners not to take photographs of us without permission
      • Some Bininj/Mungguy find constant eye contact uncomfortable
      • In Bininj/Mungguy culture it is important to listen carefully and consider the response carefully before giving an answer
      • It is polite to say goodbye when leaving. Our word for goodbye is 'Bobo' (pronounced bor bor)
      • Show respect by not entering restricted areas. They may be sacred sites, ceremonial sites, burial grounds or even someone's home

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