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New dictionary records language and culture of East Kimberley's Giga people

Callan Morse -

Forty years in the making, the Gija Dictionary formally documents the language and culture of the East Kimberley's Traditional Owners.

The dictionary records the language and culture of the Gija people of the East Kimberley, a region that extends north of Warmun (Turkey Creek) in the upper reaches of the Ord and Dunham rivers, east to the Purnululu National Park, south to Halls Creek and west to Lansdowne and Tableland stations.

Including 248 pages of Gija descriptive words and more than 60 pages of cultural and grammatical information, the Gija Dictionary is the product of language research from more than 80 contributors spanning over four decades.

Linguist and co-author Frances Kofod said the dictionary's contributors share a passion for the longevity of the Gija language and culture throughout the East Kimberley.

"The Gija contributors are highly engaged in attempting to reinvigorate the language and to ensure that Gija culture remains strong and vibrant," Ms Kofod said.

Ms Kofod is one of the dictionary's five co-authors, working closely alongside Warmun language teacher and artist Eileen Bray, linguists Dr Joe Blythe and Anna Crane and the late Rusty Peters, a lawman, stockman and artist.

Well-known artists including Mabel Juli and Shirley Purdi have also contributed to the dictionary, as have many others who have since passed away, their paintings used in the dictionary to pass on linguistic knowledge.

The Gija people suffered devastating losses from the late 1800s onwards largely due to invading pastoralists, fortune hunters during the gold rush and government policy, all which contributed to land dispossession.

This lead to many Gija people moving to Wyndham and Halls Creek and later Warmun (Warrmarn), where most Gija people still live today.

The most comprehensive dictionary of the Gija language ever published, the Gija Dictionary represents the resilience of the Gija people who despite their history of loss, remain on their Country, living their culture and speaking their language.

Ms Kofod said the dictionary will play an important role in maintaining a strong Gija culture into the future.

"This dictionary represents a major resource for community members in their efforts to maintain their language," Ms Kofod said.

"It will form the backbone of language and cultural programs through the schools, ranger groups and the Warmun Art Centre.

"It will help to ensure that Gija is spoken well into the future."

The Gija Dictionary will be launched at an event in Warmun in early 2023 to honour the many years of contributions made by the contributing Gija language speakers.

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