Warlpiri - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Until settlement, the Warlpiri lived by hunting and gathering on a diet of roots, fruits, grass and tree seeds, lizards, and small marsupials, supplemented from time to time by large game in the form of kangaroos and emus. Until the 1960s, a number of Warlpiri men worked for substantial portions of the year as stockmen on neighboring cattle stations and a few Warlpiri women worked as domestics in the station homesteads. Those remaining in the settlements performed community maintenance and small jobs in return for rations and limited amounts of cash. Following the introduction of equal pay in the cattle industry in 1968, most Aboriginal people were laid off, and the majority of Warlpiri are now unemployed and living on transfer payments. A few work in the schools, hospitals, and municipal offices, and some are involved in running their own cattle station. Within the last five years the main commercial activity has been painting of traditionally derived designs for the local—and, increasingly, the international—art market.

Industrial Arts. Traditional technology included a small range of versatile artifacts, such as spears, spear throwers, digging sticks, dishes, stone-cutting and maintenance tools, and hair string. The greatest variety of objects made were religious, to be used in men's and women's public and secret ceremonies. These items included sacred boards, poles and crosses, hats, and ground paintings, often combined in complex ways with mounds, pits, and colored decoration made of plant or feather down and ochers.

Trade. There was extensive exchange of items of material culture in the past, but it was mainly in the nature of gift exchange rather than economic necessity. Much prized, both locally and beyond, was the red ocher from a mine at Mount Stanley. It was exchanged for balls of hair string, spear shafts, or shields. Incised pearl shells and dentalia were exchanged into the Warlpiri area from the Kimberly range. Such exchanges continue today as do the exchanges of ceremonies with members of other linguistic groups in the region.

Division of Labor. Tasks are organized along sex and age lines within the household. Women gather vegetable foods and small game, while the men concentrate on hunting small and large game.

Land Tenure. Rights in places and tracts of land (estates) are acquired from one's father or mother but also on the basis of one's place of conception, the burial place of a parent, or a shared ceremonial interest as a result of having interests on the track of an ancestral hero who traveled widely. The Warlpiri have an ideology of patrilineal descent that gives primacy to rights inherited from the father, which confer an absolute right to use the everyday resources of the tract of land or estate with which it is associated. These tracts are not well defined, but they tend to focus on a cluster of sites and lines of ancestral travel (also called mythical, ancestral, or dreaming tracks) linking important places. Being linked to a place or estate by an interest raises the expectation that one will be consulted on matters relating to it; the importance given to one's opinions will vary with the kind of rights held and, more importantly, the depth of ritual knowledge associated with the place or estate. As a person with a patrilineal interest, one has the right to expect to be taught the corpus of religious knowledge associated with the estate. A maternal interest is of considerable importance, too, for when people with such an interest reach middle age they may be the custodians of their mother's and mother's brother's patrimony. They play a crucial role in the organization of their ceremonial life, which cannot be accomplished without participation from some people with this kind of interest. Since the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act in 1976 and subsequent land claims, the Warlpiri now collectively own most of their traditional lands in inalienable freehold and receive royalty payments from mining activity on their lands.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: