Video #16 COVID-19: Traditional Yolŋu Social Distancing Law

Djiniyini Gondarra opens the program by asking Richard Trudgen what the phrases “physical distancing” and “social distancing” mean. These are two English concepts used in conversations about the Coronavirus that Yolngu find difficult to understand.

Richard explains what social distancing means and Djiniyini says there are 2 similar processes in Yolngu culture. One is the avoidance of some people in certain relationships, as part of the kinship structure.

The other is an intricate concept called goŋ-wukundi.

Goŋ-wukundi comes into practice under Madayin law when somebody who touches a dead body or is associated with caring for a person who has passed away, while they are in the coffin through the ceremonial process, before burial. The group looking after the deceased become goŋ-wukundi; their hands are painted with yellow, white or red ochre to distinguish them from others. People outside this group are not allowed to be near them, touch them, or touch any of the articles they’ve used like their plate or food.


The traditional worldview of Yolŋu means they want in-depth, science-based information in order to understand any new topic. This is what Yolŋu call the “dhuḏi-dhäwu” – the deep true story. This full series of videos attempts to answer some of their questions from a Yolŋu worldview, using their linguistic construction of knowledge.

Watch the full series by clicking the links below:

Please note: Videos 1–7 are currently not available due to the unfortunate passing of one of the presenters. These videos will come back online again once permission is given from the family. Thank you for your understanding.