So you’ve heard of the APY, which is the land we live on. APY stands for Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara – Anangu literally translates to people – so it’s the lands of the people (Anangu people specifically as opposed to just any old whitefulla) of the Pitjantjatjara Yanunytjatjara language groups. These two groups have lots of similarities. The languages are virtually identical, with a few exceptions, but those to the east of the APY fall into the Yankunytjatjara territories, under their laws and dreaming. Growing up, I was always under the impression that I was a Pitjantjatjara woman. That’s what my grandmother told me – that’s what I’ve always known. Some years ago now, I was involved in an Aboriginal mentorship program in which several Aboriginal Academics were keynote speakers. It was at this program that I met Paul Hughes – a Yankunytjatjara Elder and academic. We had a yarn outside as he was waiting for his cab when he asked me what my language group was. “Pitjantjatjara!” I replied.”We’re practically neighbours! Where is your family from?” He asked. I told him that my grandmother has been forcibly removed from Pukatja, Ernabella community as a small girl. “It’s more likely that you’re Yankunytjatjara!” I laughed it off – thinking that he must just be biased – secretly thinking that no – there’s no way, because I’m a Pitjantjatjara woman and damn proud!! “She could very well be Pitjantjatjara, as you say – she may have moved from a different community, or some such thing” he said. I nodded my agreement, keen to move the conversation away from questioning my heritage. The conversation was soon forgotten, until this week. On the last day of term, we had Malu Wipu family day, a day where families can come and share in their kids learning, we have a fire and cook Kangaroo Tail and damper, and then the preschool sang at the school assembly (never has Alice the Camel been so, so cute) I was sitting down with one of the Anangu Education Workers who also happens to be the same woman who tracked me down when my family was looking for me. As it turns out, she’s also part of my family and she tells me something new every time I see her – about our family, who is who to whom – it’s incredible, never have I known a group of people to have such detailed information committed to memory, whereas I’m over here asking for a pen and paper! She points out a kid in the school and says “this is your niece”. Anangu have a different concept of relationships, which as far as I can understand is tied into skin groups – there are women in community who are older than me yet call me Kami (grandmother), and I am to call them Sister. Anyway – we were sitting together and she was bouncing baby Emmeline on her knee and pointing out different parts of her body and naming them in Pitjantjatjara; “mulya (nose), tjaa (mouth) pina (ears), and she was telling me that as soon as she saw me, Emmeline and Min, she knew we were family because of our noses, apparently as far as Aboriginal noses go, ours are unique. “Oh, that reminds me! You’re not Pitjantjatjara” she says, off hand and matter-of-factly, “you’re Yankunytjatjara!” My stomach lurched. I imagine this is how I would feel if I’d just been told that I was accidentally swapped at birth and that I was actually the child of the neighbours, who were similar but different; who have spaghetti on Monday nights instead of Tuesday – and despite the fact that they’re really similar you still feel like everything has changed. It took me a moment to ask myself, given the fact that I know so very little about my Aboriginality, what was it about myself, that was so specific to Pitjantjatjara people and culture that I felt like I was loosing. The answer is, anything and everything I’ve learnt, is about Anangu people and way of life. And I’m not loosing anything; I’m gaining a whole other Language Group with which to identify. I turned to her; “do I have any Pitjantjatjara family?” I asked. “Oh yes! Of course!” She said. I think because I spent my whole life believing I was one thing – and so desperately clung to it despite having encountered such difficulty in obtaining information, but I was steadfast because my grandmother was very clear that she was a Pitjantjatjara woman, I won’t renounce my identity. But I can now proudly stand here and say: “I am Elizabeth Close; strong and proud Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara woman.
2 thoughts on “Who’s your mob? ”
Wow Liz. I’m really speechless. I’m sitting here with tears (of happiness, sadness and that feeling you get when your best friend lives a million miles away) in my eyes about how massive this must have been for you. I’m so proud of you and I’m sure your family is too. Keep up the posts because it makes me feel incredibly blessed to be able to read about your deeply personal journey. Thank you.
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Fascinating. Different concepts/understanding of relationships and kinships – it sounds so much more flexible and fluid than white ideas of it all, which seems really lovely (though fairly confusing for a while I’m sure!)