Yir Yoront



ETHNONYMS: Jirjoront, Koko Manjoen, Kokomindjan, Koka-mungin

The Yir Yoront (Yir-Yoront) are an Australian Aboriginal people whose traditional territory and current reserve are centered at 141°45′ E and 15°20′ S along the Gulf of Carpentaria coast of the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. The territory encompasses about 1,300 square kilometers and runs along the coast from the mouth of the Coleman River south through the three mouths of the Mitchell River. First contact with Europeans was evidently with Dutch explorers in 1623. The second and more significant contact was with a party of cattle herders in 1864, an encounter now known as the "Battle of Mitchell River." Acculturation into European-Australian society began after 1900 with settlement of the lower Cape York Peninsula and the establishment of an Anglican mission station just south of Yir Yoront territory in 1915. The Yir Yoront were, however, shielded from encroachment on their land when the Australian government established the reserve along the coast. Although some Yir Yoront moved south and settled at the mission, and various products of European manufacture were used by all Yir Yoront, much of the traditional culture survived into the 1940s.

The Yir Yoront speak a "Yir-" language related to the "Wik-" and "Koko-" Aboriginal languages of Australia. The Yir Yoront subsisted by hunting, fishing, and gathering shellfish and plant foods. Men hunted and fished, often in groups, while women gathered and maintained the camp. The Yir Yoront also maintained trade relations with groups to the north and south. Spears made from stingray spines were the major export, while stone from tribes to the south for stone ax heads was the major import. Trading often took place at the annual intertribal ceremonies, with male trading partners often having the status of fictive brothers. Yir Yoront trade, however, was less elaborated and of less economic importance than that of many other Queensland Aboriginal groups. The introduction of European goods such as tools, cloth, and tobacco and the establishment of the reserve have altered the traditional hunting and gathering economy.

Traditional Yir Yoront society was divided into patrilineal, totemic clans and two exogamous moieties. A distinction was also made, apart from kinship organization, between "coastal people" and "inland people." The nuclear family was the basic residential and economic unit. Traditionally, social relations were based on superordinate and subordinate status, with men dominant over women and older people dominant over younger people. Leadership rested with the clan leaders. While individuals displaying superior knowledge or skill might enjoy personal prestige, there was no formai status system. The day-to-day world of the Yir Yoront was seen by them as a reflection of the world of their ancestors, with all new developments accounted for by myths and totems. With the recent acceleration of acculturation into White Australian society, many traditional beliefs and practices have disappeared and have been replaced by involvement in the cash economy and more permanent settlement near cattle ranches and small towns.

Bibliography

Sharp, Lauriston (1934). "Ritual Life and Economics of the Yir-Yoront of Cape York Peninsula." Oceania 5:19-42.

Sharp, Lauriston (1968). "Steel Axes for Stone Age Australians." In Man in Adaptation: The Cultural Present, edited by Yehudi A. Cohen, 82-93. Chicago: Aldine.

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