Ŋambi Story Radio Program


In this 6-part series, Wuyŋumbi tells a range of stories incorporating traditional knowledge about Ŋambi (Ngambi - flint) which is sacred law for Wagilag people. It follows on from the series of radio programs about renewable energy but can be listened to independently.

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Ŋambi – Story 1:

Wuyŋumbi is a Yolŋu man from the Wagilag clan. Ŋambi (flint) is part of the sacred law for Wagilag people and it is found at their home country called Ŋilipidji. Wuyŋumbi describes how he and other yolŋu clans are related to Ŋambi, the Wagilag clan, the land at Ŋilipidji and its particular manikay (song lines) and rom (law). Wuyŋumbi also talks about the old people that told him these stories about law. He saw them using Ŋambi to make tools. They had to use a ḻoḻu (skirt of paper bark) to protect themselves from the razor-sharp shards as they worked. Ŋambi was very important for the yolŋu economy and was a valuable trade item that spread across the land.

Ŋambi – Story 2:

The Djuŋgaya (managers – husbands and children of Wagilag women) were experts at handling Ŋambi. They would sing the correct songs to help the stone split cleanly, and without shards injuring the craftsman. Children and women weren’t allowed for this process. All these expert old people are gone now, and young people don’t use Ŋambi anymore. It was used to make very effective spears for hunting, but people began to use iron instead. The shards were also used in initiation ceremonies, but now a razor is used instead. It was also used for special scarification on the chest and shoulders. Wuyŋumbi knows all this because he saw old people using it, and they told him the right stories.

Ŋambi – Story 3:

All Yolŋu are connected through song lines and stories that relate to other clans and their land. Wagilag are connected to others through stories about a particular Dhuwa honey for example. Ŋambi is different for Wagilag people as it is private for them. You can’t just find it anywhere; you have to dig for it in the right place. The Ŋambi at Ŋilipidji is clean, white and pure. Wagilag people can’t sell it, it is part of their identity and not a commodity.

Ŋambi – Story 4:

The country where Ŋambi is found is very sacred. It is not allowed for foreigners to come digging for it. The right people must be asked by following the law of gurruṯu (the extended kinship system). The ŋäṉḏi-waṯaŋu (someone for whom the Wagilag people is their mother) and märi-waṯaŋu (someone for whom the Wagilag people is their maternal grandmother) must be asked for permission. This law must be followed. Yolŋu know who these people are because it is the way that the social system is kept straight.

Ŋambi – Story 5:

The law for Wagilag and all yolŋu is very strong. The current generation didn’t just make it up; it has been passed down through the old people and must be kept strong if yolŋu are to stay strong. There are only a few Djuŋgaya experts who are qualified. Like an engineer, they are experts in their field and others are not allowed to handle ŋambi. Their mothers are from the Wagilag clan and they are qualified to work for their mothers. Their sister’s children in turn work for them and are connected to the Wagilag people who are their grandmother. It is these people who manage the flint business and law - for and with Wagilag people.

Ŋambi – Story 6:

Old people spread ḻärr (flint shards) all over the land through trade. These old people are all gone and only a few of their children are left. The children know who is legitimate for speaking about this law. This is the story that Wuyŋumbi knows. It’s very dangerous and it’s very big law. It is very important that the law is followed through gurruṯu (kinship structures). Wuyŋumbi holds the law this time because those that held it have passed it on and passed away – it is his turn now. It is very important that government and other foreigners understand that they can’t just enter country without following the law.

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