History of Money. Where did money come from? Story No. 8

Richard Trudgen and Djiniyini Gondarra discuss the Macassan-Yolngu trading relationship, when money first appeared and what happened when the trade stopped.

This podcast begins by exploring some of the economic trade words and ideas that were used between Yolngu and Macassans. This includes balanydja and muwat assets. After Yolngu received the goods of payment from the Macassans they kept the goods as muwat assets, ready to trade with other Yolngu gumurr’manydji traders. Goods of payment might include cloth, calico, shorts, mäni-mani (cowrie) and lots of other things.

The Macassans also wanted timber for their housing and boat building, like cypress timber, cottonwood and ditti red cedar – a yellow and red timber for furniture building. Cottonwood was easy to bend for use in boat building.

The Macassans also began trading rupia money. Djiniyini explains that although Macassans could see the value in the coins, Yolngu didn’t necessarily see it. Elders kept it as an asset to use later on with the Macassans but did not use it in trade with other Yolngu. Yolngu were more interested in practical things that could be used, like axes or samurai swords galiwang.

So this is the main underlying principal and meaning for money – it has to be something that is valuable.

Two other things which were seen as valuable were tobacco and alcohol. They were traded and consumed in a legal way, usually at the trading centres where the Macassans were. Under the law both Yolngu and Macassans only smoked at three different times of the day. There was no sickness in the old days from smoking because of this legal practice.

The end of the Macassan-Yolngu trade relationship is still a very sad subject for Yolngu today. Djiniyini explains it hit Yolngu deep in the soul when these trading djugu contracts were stopped and some Yolngu still don’t know the story of why this occurred. They were very upset because Macassans were a good gumurr’manydji trading friend, where each partner received a fair and equal share. Some Yolngu had become very wealthy from the trade. Three clans is particular, and they then shared their goods with the other tribes. They were the richest clans nations in east Arnhem Land.

So Yolngu were left completely confused, waiting for the Macassans to come. Year after year Yolngu waited, wondering if they did something wrong or what had happened. Some Elders would sing songs about the Macassans coming in their boats. But they never came again and clans that depended on the trade relationship became maarmirru bankrupt. The people sat in hopelessness and poverty.


Produced by Aboriginal Resource and Development Services (ARDS) 2007