Embracing Tradition: Women’s Wisdom in Kiwirrkurra’s Legacy

By Dr Alfonsina Arriaga Jiménez, UNE Discovery

Kiwirrkurra is a remote Indigenous community nestled in the Western Desert region of Western Australia, that recently commemorated the 40th anniversary of its establishment. The 40-year celebration was held around the time the first bore was sunk on Kiwirrkurra Country.

In 2015, a BushBlitz expedition in the area sparked a collaboration to document and preserve the rich heritage of Kiwirrkurra. Spearheaded by the senior women of the community and their traditional knowledge, this collaboration between traditional knowledge, ethnobotany, and linguistics propelled the creation of the book “Mirrka Palya – Bush Foods of the Kiwirrkurra People.” 

This book is a testament to the resilience and commitment of these women, who shared bush foods, tradition, plants, language, and stories, ensuring the preservation of invaluable knowledge for future generations. 

The collaboration between UNE’s Dr Boyd Wright and Mr Ken Hansen played an important role in translating the stories shared by the Pintupi-Luritja women into English. Boyd’s expertise in ethnobiology and fluency in the Pintupi-Luritja language allowed the accurate preservation of cultural knowledge and deepened our understanding of the profound relationship between the Kiwirrkurra people and their land.

“Mirrka Palya” holds a dual focus on both botanical insights and linguistic treasures, transcending mere documentation to safeguard a language intrinsically woven into the fabric of bush foods. It serves as a bridge between formal education and the wealth of wisdom held by Kiwirrkurra’s elders, ensuring the passage of this legacy to younger generations. 

Yukultji Napangarti, the lead author of this book, will be presenting at the Australian Ethnobotany course at UNE. If you study at UNE keep your eyes open for this enriching opportunity.

As part of the celebration of this monumental project, it’s important to note that young children and women from the community are actively involved in learning about traditional knowledge, including the processes of gathering bush foods and medicinal plants. This passing of knowledge through generations ensures that the heritage of Kiwirrkurra remains vibrant and alive. This intergenerational knowledge transfer is part of the Ranger Two-Way Science School Program in Kiwirrkurra community, which is something the ladies are really proud of.

“Mirrka Palya – Bush Foods of the Kiwirrkurra People” is more than a book; it’s a testament to the wisdom and traditional knowledge of Kiwirrkurra. It is important to recognize the invaluable contribution of the Aboriginal women, who are among the final custodians of the rich and intact traditional Australian Aboriginal desert food and medicine cultures. Their stories and extensive knowledge serve as the cornerstone of the book, making it a testament to the preservation of a vital cultural heritage. Without the detailed ethnobotanical insights generously shared by these remarkable women, the creation of this book would not have been possible. Their invaluable contributions have preserved a vital cultural heritage for generations to come, reaffirming the importance of honouring and celebrating Indigenous knowledge and traditions.

For more updates and insights into the vibrant community of Kiwirrkurra, follow Tjamu Tjamu’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kiwirrkurra/  Please message the team on Facebook if you wish to order a copy.