indigenous man playing the didgeridoo

Meet the Anangu

Immerse yourself in story and song


For thousands of years, the Anangu have made their home in the lands around Uluru and have passed down their stories, songs, and language through generations. Today, we’re lucky that many Anangu are happy to sHhare their stories and living legends with us and with our guests. From guided walks to hands-on art and music sessions, the Anangu have been welcoming and generous with their time and talents, creating unforgettable, immersive experiences to delight visitors to Ayers Rock Resort.

Read on for a brief introduction to Anangu culture, art, and language and meet the traditional owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta and the surrounding lands.

Anangu Culture & Tjukurpa

Anangu life revolves around the Tjukurpa (sometimes wrongly referred to as the Dreamtime). To the Aboriginal people, this is the ancestral period of when the world was being formed. At Uluru, Mala (hare wallaby), Kuniya (woma python) and Liru (poisonous snake) are considered to be very important ancestors to the region.

The Mala Tjukurpa involves three groups of Mala people who travel from the north to reach Uluru. Two groups then flee south and south-east to sites in South Australia.
Kuniya Tjukurpa tells of the travels of the Woma Python from hundreds of kilometres east of Uluru. The Woma Python lived in the rocks at Uluru where she fought the Liri, the poisonous snakes.

These stories and many others have been passed down through thousands of years from generation to generation. The elder people recount, maintain and pass on this knowledge through stories, behaviour, rituals, ceremonies, songs, dances and art.
 

Anangu Art

Anangu paintings are created for educational and ceremonial purposes as well as telling of events that have occurred. Several rock shelters at the base of Uluru provide visitors with the opportunity to observe evidence of this ancient tradition. The paintings are of considerable historic and cultural significance to Anangu, who continue to ensure their preservation and protection.

The symbols and figures in the caves at Uluru are similar to those found at many sites throughout Central Australia. These include geometric symbols such as concentric circles, figures representing animal tracks, and the outlines of animals. Artists can use these symbols to represent different meanings.

The concentric circles symbol is a good example of how artists often use the same symbol to represent many things. In some paintings, concentric circles may mean a waterhole or a camping place.

In others, the same symbol may indicate a tjala (honey ant) nest, or ili (native fig). The symbol usually represents a site that is a part of an intricate story being recorded and told by the artist. The true meanings of the rock paintings at Uluru rest with the artists and their descendants.

Anangu make paints from natural mineral substances mixed with water and sometimes with animal fat. They most commonly use red, yellow, orange, white, grey and black pigments. Red, yellow and orange pigments are ironstained clays called ochres. Calcite and ash are used to make white pigment and calcite and charcoal are used to make black pigment. Calcite is a chalky mineral which occurs naturally in calcrete deposits common in this area.
 

Anangu Language

Before European colonisation, Indigenous Australians spoke an estimated 700 dialects. These languages are as different and distinct from each other as English is to Russian and Chinese. Many of these languages are no longer used or are under threat of disappearing. It is estimated that there are only 20 to 50 languages still described as ‘healthy’ - that is, they are spoken to and used by children. 

Anangu mainly speak Pitjantjatjara (pronounced as pitjan-jah-jarra) and Yankunytjatjara (yan-kun-ja-jarra) and some people speak up to six Aboriginal languages. Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara are dialects of the Western Desert language, the largest language group of Aboriginal Australia. The group includes about 4,000 speakers, and stretches northwest to Balgo, west to Port Hedland, south to Kalgoorlie, Yalata and Oodnadatta and northeast to Alice Springs.

Pitjantjatjara literally means the people who use ‘pitjantja’ to say ‘to come’ while Yankunytjatjara are the people who use ‘yankunytja’ to say ‘to come’. Anangu means ‘people’ in Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara.

The grammar and structure of the Western Desert languages are very different to English. There are 17 consonants. The sounds s, z, v, sh or th do not exist, and the dialects do not distinguish between a ‘b’ and a ‘p’, or a ‘d’ and a ‘t’. The letters t, n, l and r can be written with a line underneath, this is called a retroflex. A retroflexed letter is pronounced by slightly curling the tongue back in the mouth. This produces a sound similar to an ‘r’ sound e.g. ‘walpa’ is pronounced ‘wharl-pah.

Some ‘old’ words are adapted for new situations such as the word tourist, ‘minga’, meaning ‘ants’ because visitors look like a line of ants as they walk up and down Uluru. Anangu also incorporate English words such as ‘mutuka’ for ‘motor car’.

 

Anangu Vocabulary

Local Speak

Pronunciation

Meaning

Uluru

ool-or-roo

No literal translation of Uluru.
It's name is like Sydney, Paris, or Rome.

Kata Tjuta

catta-jew-tah

Many heads

Anangu

Arn-ung-oo

Aboriginal people of Western Desert

Manta

-

landscape/country/earth

Palya

pahl-yah

hello/goodbye/thank you/ welcome

Wiru

wih-roo

beautiful

Walpa

wharl-pa

wind

Pira

pi-rha

moon

Tjungu

tjoo-ngoo

meeting together

Mayu

mah-yoo

flavours/taste

Tjukurpa

chook-orr-pa

creation time, law, way of life, story