Database for Iwadja Ethnomedicine, an ethnomedicinal dictionary of Iwaidja

Rob Mailhammer, Arwen Blackwood Ximenes

This database constitutes the basis of a dictionary that contains medicinally relevant terms in Iwaidja, a critcially endangered Australian Aboriginal language, traditionally spoken in Northwestern Arnhem Land, see Map 1.

Map 1

Figure 1: Traditional languages in the western Top End

It is part of a project documenting and analysing the languages currently spoken on Croker Island, NT, including especially Iwaidja, Amurdak, Mawng, Kunwinjku and Marrku. This sub-project is funded by a Western Sydney University Partnership Grant supporting a collaboration between Western, the University of Paris, ARDS Aboriginal Corporation, Mamaruni School (Minjilang, Croker Island), and Minjilang Clinic. Other parts of the project investigate oral history and are concerned with language maintenance.

Ethnomedicine comprises vocabulary about medicinal topics including specific traditional medicinal knowledge that may have found little attention in Western medicine despite its significance. However, this knowledge is locked away unless its language is documented and analysed. Making this knowledge accessible is one of the key goals of this project. Another important aspect is enabling better communication between community members and clinic staff. Communication in English is not always the best way to explain complex circumstances or navigate through culturally sensitive topics. Here, we hope that our dictionary will give clinic staff a better toolkit to communicate better and more in tune with the community.

The data presented here is preliminary. It has been compiled from existing sources, but it has not been checked with native speakers due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions. We ask therefore not to cite any of this without prior permission from the authors. We are grateful for feedback at

Robert Mailhammer is Associate Professor of Linguistics in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts. His research focuses on language change, variation and the documentation of Australian Aboriginal languages.

Arwen Blackwood Ximenes is an MPhil candidate at Western Sydney University.