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Kinship Diagram, from the perspective of male ego


M = Mother, F = Father, B=brother, Z = Sister, S = Son, D = Daughter, C = Child, P = Spouse/Partner

     MB = mother's brother, FFZSC = father's father's sister's son's child, ...

f = female, m = male

     fC = female's child, mZC = male's sister's child, ...

e = elder, y = younger

     eB = older brother, MeZ = mother's elder sister, ...

Navigating kin terms

Kin terms are terms that we use to address and refer to people we are related to. For example, you call your mother 'mum' and your grandfather 'grandpa' or 'pop' rather than address them by their given name. Kin terms are integral to effective communication in Bininj communities and as such Kunwok has a much richer system than English. Fortunately for us, it is fairly predictable.

We use anthropological notation to help describe the kin (see 'Key' above). Your grandmothers, for example, are your MM and your FM. In English, we don't distinguish between your maternal grandmother (MM) and your paternal grandmother (FM), but in Bininj culture, they do: kakkak (MM) and makkah (FM).

Bininj also distinguish between older and younger siblings, and so to indicate this, we use 'e' for elder and 'y' for younger, thus: yB = younger brother and eZ = elder sister.

Another feature of Bininj kin terms, and one that is prevalent across Aboriginal Australia, is that your mother's sisters are also your mothers (M, MZ = karrang). Likewise, your father's brothers are your fathers (F, FB = ngabba). Sometimes you might hear people talk about their youngest mother or their oldest father, in these cases they are referring to their mother's youngest sister (MyZ) and their father's oldest brother (FeB) respectively. A consequence of this is that the children of your other mothers and other fathers are therefore your siblings. So, your MZC and your FBC are your siblings, and you address them as brother/sister rather than cousin, as in the Anglophone kin system.

Your uncle and aunty meanwhile, are your parent's opposite-sex sibling, so your MB (ngadjadj) and your FZ (berluh) respectively. Their children are therefore your cousins (MBC and FZC) and you will call each other kanjok. This is one of several reciprocal terms in Kunwok; grandkin terms (kakkak, mamamh, makkah, mawah) are also reciprocal and so grandparents and grandchildren can call each other by the same term (i.e. you and your grandfather would call each other mamamh).

Finally, some terms differ depending on whether you identify as male or female. The word for brother, for example, is different for men than it is for women. The table below will help you decide which is the most appropriate kin term for you to use. The table differs slightly from the diagram above as it uses the address term rather than the reference term (e.g. 'mum' instead of 'mother').

Kin term Relation
karrang M, MyZ
morlah MeZ
ngabba F, FB
ngadjadj MB, FZP, MFF
berluh FZ, MBP
kakkak MM, MMZ, MMB / fDC, mZDC
mamamh MF, MFB, MFZ / mDC, fBDC
makkah FM, FMZ, FMB / fSC, mZSC
mawah FF, FFB, FFZ / mSC, fBSC
ngadburrung B, Z
rdarda fB, fyZ, myB
kokok meB
yabok mZ, feZ
kakkali ('right skin') P, MMBDC
kanjok FZC, MBC
djedje fC, mZC
korlonj mC, fBC
kankinj mZC, FMF
doydoy MMM, FFM / DDC, fSSC
nakurrng (poison cousin) fDP, MMF, MMBS
ngalkurrng (poison cousin) mPM, mDDD, MMBD

You'll note that the terms for siblings are a little complex. To break it down, if you are woman:

     eZ = yabok
     B/yZ = rdarda

if you are man:

     eB = kokok
     yB = rdarda
     Z = yabok

Poison Cousins

You'll have no doubt heard the term 'poison cousin', sometimes just referred to as 'cousin' or 'kaidjin'. A 'poison cousin' is a term used to refer to taboo kin, especially a man and his mother(s)-in-law (or another way, a woman and her son(s)-in-law). Depending on the age and other relationships, interaction with one's poison cousin can range from just using careful speech and politeness gestures to completely avoiding being in each other's line of sight and stealthily hiding and detouring if in the vicinity. There is even a special language used when in the presence of or talking about your poison cousin, called kunkurrng.

Your other poison cousins are also your great-grandfather (your MMF) and your maternal grandmother's brother's children (MMBS). The simplest way to work out who your poison cousins are likely to be though, is by using the Skin Names.

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