101. The First Makarrata Way

To read the full transcript of this discussion, click here.

In this podcast series, Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM (DJ) and Richard Trudgen (RT) discuss the different ways the Makarrata peace-making process and ceremony can be used to reconcile legal issue between different groups. Makarrata is a Yolŋu Matha term now used in the mainstream Australian community yet little is know of its real meaning. This series will remind Yolŋu of their own law to help return peace to their own communities while giving the wider Australian audience greater understanding as to the meaning of Makarrata.

There are many similarities between Yolŋu law and the Balanda (mainstream) systems of law, where defendants go into police custody and face a trial if they have committed a crime. Often Balanda think Aboriginal law is all about “payback” or revenge, but these are just English language terms applied to final acts, such as spearing, and do not take into account the many steps that have lead up to it. The steps or legal processes discussed in this podcast have been part of Yolŋu law, or the original Australian law, for thousands of years. They are highly detailed, profound and comprehensive, and originate from the great creator spirit, Waŋarr.

Makarrata is a mediation process ending in a reconciliation ceremony according to Yolŋu law after a murder or incident occurs.  First, the defendant is placed into protective custody in a safe haven (with his mother’s mother’s people) that is named after the emblem of their corporate clan group (such as ndi, fire, or Burrthi Gawala, king brown snake). During this time, a djuŋgaya, a third party from another corporate clan group, arranges the details of the peace-making ceremony between the warring families. If anyone tries to approach the defendant while they are in their safe haven, the occupants there and their traditional djuŋgaya police have the right under Yolŋu law to use reasonable force to protect the defendant – just like Balanda police when a defendant is under police protection.

The final reconciliation ceremony in the Makarrata process can take up to two years to complete, much like a Balanda court case, during which is determined: what was the problem or the cause of the trouble? How did it get worse? What came between the defendant and the victim, and so on. Lawyers, djuŋgaya from the mother’s children’s clan, control the mediation between the two disputing groups, to sort out what is the true story until consensus is reached. If they decide that the defendant did kill or injure the victim, he faces two or three spears. He dodges these and then does a special Balyun haka up to the family of the deceased or injured. When he gets up to the family, their djuŋgaya, or executor of law, will then spear him in the thigh and everybody else says now it’s finished, completed. They’ll hold out their hands and welcome him into their family and say, bäyarra, forgiven and forgotten.

These steps in Yolŋu law are all to do with achieving mägaya, the big peace that should be created. So the English term, “payback”, does not apply at all. The consequences for one’s actions, the original Australian law says, is that you have to face the Makarrata peace-making process and ceremony, which is not payback, but bäyarra law. A law where you are forgiven and forgotten, reconciled in front of witnesses. Justice is not only done, but seen by all to be done.

To read the full transcript of this discussion, click here.

There are 4 Stories in this podcast. Please see time stamps below –

  • Story No. 1 Legal refuge homes and Makarrata for defendants                         0:00
  • Story No. 2 Each clan has a refuge embassy for protection of defendants       10:08
  • Story No. 3 Makarrata process through third parties                                          20:42
  • Story No. 4 Bayarra reconciled through process of law                                      30:08