Groups, country and personhood on the upper Wenlock River, Cape York Peninsula

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This chapter presents an analysis of group and personal identities among the Kaanju of central Cape York Peninsula, drawing on unpublished material collected by the anthropologist Donald Thomson in the 1930s as well as my own more recent work. My analysis builds on Bruce Rigsby’s engagement with Thomson’s work, an important aspect of his academic and applied research; it also reconfirms the importance of Thomson’s Cape York Peninsula fieldwork for the ethnographic record. Building on the detailed genealogical material and appended field notes Thomson recorded on the upper Wenlock River in 1932, I develop an analysis of Kaanju social organization and personhood, highlighting important but underappreciated distinctions in the forms of connection between people and country apparent in this material. Attending to these distinctions allows for a better understanding of ‘classical’ Aboriginal connectedness to kin and to country, as well as providing an important baseline for analysis of the changes and continuities that have followed colonization.


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