The Wik region : economy, territoriality and totemism in western Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland

Von Sturmer, John Richard (1980). The Wik region : economy, territoriality and totemism in western Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Von Sturmer, John Richard
Thesis Title The Wik region : economy, territoriality and totemism in western Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1980
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 651
Language eng
Subjects 200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies
169902 Studies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Society
Formatted abstract The Wik peoples of Western Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland, have not been subject to any general systematic review since the pioneering work of McConnel and Thomson, conducted almost 50 years ago. Nonetheless, the Wik-Mungkana, one of the component "tribes", have achieved a prominent place in anthropological literature. The thesis aims at establishing the position of the Wik-Mungkana among the other Wik "tribes". This is attempted by a critical review of the data available on the Wik-Mungkana of the Archer River (Part I of the thesis), and the presentation of a new body of data from a previously undescribed society generally held to form part of the Wik "nation" (Part II). I refer to this society as the Kugu-Nganychara. In Part III the two societies (or subregions) are compared in detail. The comparison focuses on three main topics: economy and environment; territoriality and local organization; and totemism and social life.

The thesis establishes that there are no major differences in social organization and cultural life between the Wik-Mungkana of the Archer River, and the Kugu-Nganychara of the Kendall-Holroyd River system. However, i t is established that McConnel's and Thomson's accounts are deficient in a number of respects. Neither reporter paid sufficient attention to observing living social situations. They concentrated on concepts and models articulated by informants rather than on social action. Thus they were unable to establish the true relations between the ideal and the actual, and, by ignoring (or failing to observe or record) certain facts, they were able to fit the Archer River data conveniently into the Kariera model put forward by Radcliffe-Brown.

Moreover, McConnel and Thomson failed to come to grips with an important division between coast and inland. The Wik, themselves see this as a major dichotomy. My own research indicates that the coastal division is characterized, among other features, by a wide (but regularly disposed) variety of environments, marked seasonal variation in resources and subsistence strategies, high population density, high linguistic diversity, small estates differing markedly in size, and by low correspondence of "increase sites" and totems. By contrast, the inland division exhibits a restricted range of environments, less marked seasonal variation in resources and subsistence strategies, low population density, little linguistic diversity, large estates with less significant variations in size, and a high correspondence of "increase sites" and totems.

McConnel and Thomson choose to treat the latter situation as typically Australian, representing the coastal situation as being an aberrant case. Their reasons are unconvincing. Their claim that the Wik-Mungkana are politically (and culturally) dominant is unsubstantiated by field investigation. It appears to relate to the necessity of aligning their material with the general Kariera model. It is clear from my investigations that neither the Kariera nor the Wik-Mungkana should occupy a privileged position in the Australian literature. I argue that the task of establishing a general pattern of Australian social (and local) organization will need to elucidate principles which will account for the whole of the Wik region, not simply one of its sub-regions. I argue, too, that these principles are more likely to be based on social processes rather than on features of social organization. It is clear from my Kugu-Nganychara material that individual aspirations and other factors limit the realization of the static universe posited by local ideology.
Keyword Wik-Mungkan (Australian people)
Totemism.
Aboriginal Australians -- Queensland -- Cape York Peninsula -- Social life and customs
Aboriginal Australians -- Queensland -- Cape York Peninsula -- Economic conditions
Social structure -- Queensland -- Cape York Peninsula
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