In the Arrernta tribe every individual has his or her Nanja tree or rock at the spot where the old ancestor left his spirit-part behind when he went down into the ground. The spirit associated with the tjurunga is supposed to haunt this spot until such time as it chooses to enter a woman and undergo reincarnation. This rock or tree and its immediate surroundings are sacred, and no plant or animal found there may be killed or eaten by the individual who is thus associated with the spot. In all essential features, but with variation in details, the same idea is found in the beliefs of the Kaitish and Unmatjera tribes.

Periodically a man will visit his nanja tree or rock, and carefully clear a smooth space around it, moving away pieces of bark and rubbish which may have accumulated. This spot, which the Arrernta call ertnatulunga, is known by the name of moama among the Kaitish, who call the tjurunga allongalla. In the Urabunna tribe the belief is fundamentally the same as in the Arrernte tribe. Every individual has his or her nanja spot or watthilli, as they call it. In some cases, however, one spot may be associated with individuals of more than one totem.

The more northern tribes — Warramunga, Tjingilli, Umbaia, etc. — all agree with the Arrernte and Kaitish in the belief with regard to the spirit children left behind at certain spots, who subsequently undergo reincarnation. They have not, however, any definite name for the tree or rock which the spirit is supposed to inhabit. Certain spots are frequented by these spirit individuals, but there does not usually appear to be one individual constantly associated with one particular tree or rock. The belief of these tribes is very well illustrated in the case of the trees which border the water-course at Tennant Creek. Each of these is supposed to be inhabited by numerous spirit children, and no woman will strike one of them with a hatchet for fear lest the blow should disturb one of the spirits, and it should immediately come out and enter her body.

In the Arrernte tribe the spirit individual is spoken of as an iruntarinia and in addition to the latter a second spirit issues from the nanja, whom people call arumburinga. The latter is really a kind of double of the first one. When the spirit undergoes reincarnation the arumburinga remains behind, and is supposed, in a general kind of way, to keep watch over the reincarnated individual. The same belief is met with among the Kaitish and Unmatjera tribes. The former call this second spirit atthamarinia, and the latter call it arunga. Just as in the case of the Arrernte, so in these two tribes there are special individuals who are supposed to have the power of seeing the spirits.



  • Spencer, Sir Baldwin. (1904). Northern Tribes of Central Australia. London: Macmillan, pp. 448 ff.

This article incorporates text from Northern Tribes of Central Australia (1904) by Sir Baldwin Spencer, which is in the public domain.