The Bininj People of the Northern Arnhem Land

The Bininj People of the Northern Arnhem Land

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 02/22/2017

Reading time: 2 mins

The Bininj people are a group of Indigenous Australian people that live in the Western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

The land they occupy sprawls out between the Kakadu National Park in the west to the Stone Country in the east. In the middle of it all sits the Arnhem Plateau, a sandstone escarpment that’s imbued with centuries-old traditions and narratives.

The escarpment itself and many of the surrounding natural structures, like Injalak Hill, form one of the most important rock art sites in the world. Here, you can discover rock paintings that span thousands of years decorating the stone.

The name Bininj means “men” or “people” in the local dialect, and it is the name they refer to themselves as. Today, the history of the Bininj is strong in this part of Australia. There are a number of traditional ceremonies that take place throughout the year. The society divides into eight skin groups and two moieties, Duwa and Yirridjdja.

For the Bininj people, life continues very much how it has done for years. Hunting and harvesting bush foods is an important day-time activity. It still revolves around an age-old calendar comprised of six distinct seasons. In the late wet season (known as bangkerreng), dragonflies over the water shows that the fish are fat and plentiful. If you explore some of the rock paintings in the region, you’ll see plenty of game representations.

Bininj Beliefs

Like most of the Indigenous tribes in Australia, the Bininj have many fascinating histories that have spanned generations. As with many of the other people in the Western Arnhem Land, the Bininj believe in the Rainbow Serpent. This creature is known as Ngalyod, and features a more feminine appearance than masculine.

It is thought to have come across to Australia via the sea to the northeast of the Cobourg Peninsula and, once settled in Coopers Creek on the East Alligator River, transformed her many children into men. From there, she began to create waterholes to serve the people’s thirst. Next she began supplying men with spears and women with digging sticks. She endowed both with intelligence and the use of all their senses. This theory is still imbued in the Bininj people, and their traditions, ceremonies, and lifestyle revolve around this way of thinking.

Related article: Traditional Owners of Kakadu

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.

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