Yolngu people are divided into two moieties, Dhuwa and Yirritja. This Yolngu kinship system indicates where all things are related, whether it is a type of cloud, a water current, a species of plant, a species of bird or animal, everyone and everything is allocated a category and is interlinked. It is a means of ordering the world. From an early age a Yolngu child will know which moiety they belong to and understand how they are aligned within their society. Each clan is linked to not just one totemic species, but a subset of many plants and animals. For many Yolgnu people ‘Baru’ the Saltwater Crocodile is an important element of this subset.
‘Baru’ is recognised by Yolngu as being part of the Yirritja moiety. For artists of the Madarrpa and Gumatj clans. The figurative representation in artworks is frequently accompanied by elongated diamond-patterned designs which are representative of the serrated bumps along a crocodiles back.
For Yolngu ‘Baru’ is an animal to be treated with great respect.
Excerpt from: ‘Living with Crocodiles: Engagement with a Powerful Reptilian Being, Natasha Fijn, Australian National University.