The Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands

The Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands

At 31 cm. and 573 pages the trilingual Atlas is an utterly unique, magnificent, and extremely rare text with less than 20 copies remaining in the author’s private collection. All other copies have been handed out to schools, libraries, and homelands across Arnhem Land. In 1993 less than 3OO words of Yan-nhaŋu were recorded. The trilingual Atlas and dictionary contain rare colour maps and diagrams, a hundred year oral and photographic history of the Crocodile Islands in English and Yan-nhaŋu and a 4000 word illustrated dictionary in Yan-nhaŋu, Yolŋu and English. It includes a bibliography, indexes in three languages, history of Yan-nhaŋu language origins, semantic domains, user notes, pronunciation guide, sketch grammar, biography of Laurie Gawany Baymarrwaŋa, illustrations of marine song lines, seasonal amenities, fish traps, fresh water, seasonal availability of resources and winds of inter-island travel, sites and songs linked by kinship, patterns of kinship, regional connubium, anthropological notes and detailed examination of world view, with a summary of previous research in the region. The work presents in beautiful colour maps, for the first time over 600 previously unrecorded sites of the seas, Galiwin’ku and Crocodile islands.

Born over a hundred years ago Baymarrwaŋa records stories of the old people, and of the stories they told, stories that explained the shape of the world and the origin of Yolŋu people. This work tells how people would live in the time before the coming of the briyanaraŋu (Europeans). A rich repository of photographs by Donald Thomson, Sir Hubert Wilkins, Lloyd W Warner, A. P Elkin, Edward (Ryko) Reichenbach and many more. Exquisitely designed by Therese Ritchie it is an unsurpassed monument of cross-cultural collaboration over 20 years in the making.

Michael Dodson proclaims “It is rare that I get the opportunity to write the foreword for a book that is both a part of history and a history in the making. The Yan-nhaŋu atlas is such a text, representing a collation of the songs, stories, cosmologies, and deep ecological knowledge of the Crocodile Islands spanning countless eons.  This is a history captured in language; language that is rich with links to ceremonial and magical sites, to ancient patterns of maritime travel and to a reservoir of knowledge about natural resources tested by time.” Michael Dodson AM. 2012.



‘Yan’ means ‘language’ and ‘nhaŋu’ means ‘this’ or ‘here’.

Yan-nhaŋu is the language of here, of this place, this homeland, its songs, stories and colours.

The Yan-nhaŋu people are the indigenous inhabitants of the Crocodile Islands. They are part of the Yolŋu nation. They live in the communities of Maningrida, Milingimbi, Galiwin’ku and Ramingining and surrounding homelands. Like all Yolŋu they speak many languages including Yolŋu matha, the ‘people’s tongue’, and English. This book was created to help people understand more about this history– the history of our world, the times and tides of the Crocodile Islands.

This Atlas is for everyone. It is filled with the knowledge of homelands, kinship, and country but no secret or sacred information is revealed. Remember the words in this Atlas belong to Yolŋu people. And Yolŋu people have always generously shared their world, language, music and knowledge with people who respect these gifts. This is a gift for you to share with others who will respect it.

The ATLAS has three parts; maps and diagrams, black and white history and an illustrated dictionary. The first part tells us about where we are. The second part tells us about where we have been and the last part tells us about and names what is around us. To make the most of these stories it is useful to know how to read the sounds of the Yolŋu language. The Atlas explains how.

2 reviews for The Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands

  1. Michael Dodson AM

    Michael Dodson AM says, ‘the Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands ‘has taken over twenty years to produce and has relied on the dedication and belief of volunteers and donors to come to fruition. It is an extraordinary achievement and I commend it to the nation.’(Dodson 2014)

  2. GBS (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen).

    GBS (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen). 25-year anniversary.
    Zusammen haben Dr. James und Frau Baymarrwangga dazu beigetragen, nicht nur eine Sprache, sondern auch die damit verknüpfte kulturelle Welt zu retten. Dieses Werk ist ein mutiger und beharrlicher Ausdruck menschlichen Überlebenswillens”. (GBS 2014)
    Baymarrwaŋa and Dr James have saved a world in a language, a tribute to the human spirit of survival, a landmark of courage and perseverance.

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The Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands