Moiety is a social division that is derived by the way indigenous people perceive the world around them.
During the Dreaming, ancestral beings assigned everything in the world - people, animals, plants, places - to either the Dhuwa or Yirritja moiety.
Each moiety is associated with particular colour and proportions:
- Dhuwa colours are darker (red and black) and associated with shortness
- Yirritja colours are lighter (yellow and white) and associated with tallness
For example, the black cockatoo is Dhuwa, the white cockatoo is Yirritja, the short neck turtle is Yirritja, and the long neck turtle is Dhuwa.
People, like the birds and animals mentioned above, are born with moiety. One of the most important principles within Jawoyn society is that of joining Yirritja and Dhuwa moieties, to bring "balance" within the natural and cultural world.
To the outside world this is recognised primarily through the traditional marriage system. The basic rules are that a child's moiety will be the same as his/her father and opposite to his/her mother. Simply a Dhuwa person should marry a Yirritja person.
Anthropologists have documented the complexities of the marriage rules (see attached example for the Ngalkpon social system) where the rules for marriage are broken into sixteen social divisions (or "skin").
Skin is inherited from the mother and has a cycle which continues through several generations and provides comparable inherited links between mother and children for other skin groups.
Historically the two circles of skin relationships were joined through marriage and through a reciprocal relationship between "owners" and "custodians of cultural knowledge". Marriage partners were selected from two skin group categories from the opposite skin group circle only to minimise the possibility of incest within the mother's line.
In brief, this means that three-quarters of the opposite sex were prohibited as marriage partners. These rules were to regulate social interaction, cement kinship relationships, and ensure there was no marriage between biologically close relations.
Penalties for marriage "outside skin" were harsh and included death. Most people today still marry according to skin but if children are born from a "wrong" marriage involving two Yirritja or Dhuwa people, they take the skin group and consequently their moiety from their relationship to their mother.
Owners ('gidjan') and Custodians ('junggayi')
Each skin group has a primary custodial "looking after" relationship with another skin group in the opposite skin group circle. 'Reciprocal rights and responsibilities relate to land and ceremony and generally Yirritja people will be workers in ceremonies owned by Dhuwa people and vice versa.
In general, a person's first-choice 'junggayi' is the brother or sister of their first-choice wife or husband, while the brother or sister of their second-choice wife or husband is the second-choice 'junggayi' and so on. The arrangement of choosing a 'junggayi' from an opposite moiety but within the same skin group ties families to each other and to ceremony.