Appendix 6: Lexical Categories In Pintubi For Depression, Anxiety And Aggression 1

Psychiatric Assessment in Remote Aboriginal Communities of Central Australia


kamarrarringu : frightened feeling which may be caused by another person approaching from behind, or by the spirit of a relative warning that a bad spirit is approaching.
kanarunvtju a person is unable to go to sleep through fear of being harmed or killed by bad spirits or revenge killers.
kurrun ngulutjarra sensation of fear, most commonly felt at night; it is thought that the soul, or person’s own spirit is shaking with fear.
kututu wale the heart is beating fast, palpitation; this occurs when the person is afraid.
nginyiwarrirringu a sudden feeling of fear, causing the person to stand up to see what is causing it.
ngulu fear, usually caused by the belief that another person is seeking .revenge.
ngulunyngulunypa extreme fear, which makes a person be always watchful, and may cause a feeling of paralysis
patapatanu shaking of the body, often caused by fear
tjulurrwangkangu sudden fright affecting the spirit or soul, often during sleep. Also means ;to dream.
tjuni miiltjunu sensation in stomach caused by fear, or believed to be a warning that something bad will happen.
warrmaltjunu disorder of the spirit or soul caused during sleep by someone shouting. Also refers to fear of revenge killers

It can be seen then that the Pintupi and Loritja can readily express their feelings of fear in words. In medical terms, fear usually refers to the state of. arousal caused by actual objects and experiences, such as snakes or heights, and anxiety to feelings evoked by an expectation of something bad about to happen, of some thing unknown in the future. Although the Pintupi and Loritja often explain such feelings as being due to unseen spirits or to an expectation of revenge, in which they firmly believe, most of the words listed above can describe states of anxiety as well as fear.

The people of the Kungka~unti community can express different degrees of fear end anxiety. For example:

kamarrarringu sudden mild anxiety
nginyinwarrarringu more intense anxiety
kurrun ngulutjarra the spirit is with fear
ngulu fear of harm or death
ngulunyngulunvpa extreme fear, may lead to a feeling of panic

Some words, such as tjulurrwangkangu and warrmaltjunu, mainly refer to fear and anxiety occurring curing at night. Because many Pintupi and Loritja people believe that dreams have special meaning, they may often awake from a dream feeling very frightened. They also believe that it they are wakened suddenly from sleep their spirit, or kurrunpa, may not have time to return to their body, which also makes them feel very Anxious. Sometimes they day be feeling anxious for other reasons, but believe that the feeling is caused by bad dreams, or being :wakened suddenly.


PeopIe who feel frightened or anxious often, or for long periods of time, have trouble going to sleep at. night. The Pintupi call this kanarunytju. They mav also notice that their body shakes (patapatanu), that their heart beats fast (kututu Wala), or that they have ‘butterflies in the stomach.’ (tjuni milltjunu). Again, the Pintupi can describe all of these bodily discomforts.

or guilty when there is no need for them to feel this way. Some times the future can look so hopeless that people who are very depressed think about, attempt and even commit suicide.


Living as I did for some considerable time at Kungkayunti, I was able to observe that the Pintupi and Loritja people sometimes appeared to be sad and depressed. As with fear and anxiet’y, they have a range of words which enable them to express a variety of feelings associated with grief and depression. It .may be helpful for Aboriginal health workers if I 1ist some of. these words because, even if you are working in different speech communities, the meanings of the words may help you to compile your own lists.

kanmarrarringu a person who doesn’t talk much, either because of sickness or because something is wrong
kunta shame, or guilty feeling, caused by the person breaking, or thinking he has broken, tribal laws or the confidence of another person.
kurrunpa ylangu the spirit is sad, causing the person to cry. Sometimes caused the death of a relative, but not always.
kurrunpa yutju the spirit is narrow, leading to a poor appetite
mikiki a person who cries easily and often
minyirrpa a serious mood, with no talking or laughing, often caused by sadness or loneliness, and accompanied by worry and bad dreams.
nantungu To become stif or paralysed from too much worry, from thinking too much about relatives who have been dead for a long time.
pankipanki a person who wakes before his usual time, who lies awake after having been asleep.
pulyi Disappointment, for example when a promised wife has been taken by another man
watjilpa to become sick through worrying too much about relatives or country. Other people recognise the sickness and try to comfort the person, and sometimes the traditional doctor may treat.
yiluruyiluru Depression caused by worrying too much about absent relatives, for example, if they are in hospital
yulatjarra mourning or grieving for dying or deceased relatives. Many people will feel this at the same time. ‘Sorry cuts’ may be inflicted. Not regarded as an illness unless it continues for too long.
yurru kulinu Thoughts that the people around are angry, producing the desire to leave the community to find friends and relatives in other places.
wati puli ‘stone man’: a man who sits without moving. Similar to mulamula nyinanyi = sitting in a serious mood.

The Pintupi and Loritja people also have a range of words to express a variety or feelings or sadness and depression, from mild to severe. For example:

polyi disappointment
minyirrpa serious mood
kurrunpa yulangu the spirit is sad
watjilpa depressive illness

They also distinguish between grief or mourning (yulatjarra) which is normal, and depression (watjulpa) which is abnormal and may need treatment.

pikalu mulkurrpa a person hungry for fights, who fights not only other men but his wife as well
pikati a person who fights all the time and who is regarded as abnormal by other people
rarru a person who feels wronged by another and may carry this feeling for a long time before seeking revenge; legitimate revengeful anger.
taltja jealousy over a woman, leading to a fight
tjanytjanypa a person who argues a lot and as a result often becomes involved in fights
wirrilyi anger, leading to a fight with spears, usually legitimate anger

    These words used by the Pintupi and Loritja people to describe anger and aggression can be divided into three main groups: those describing a general state of anger,those used when anger is seen to be perfectly legitimate – so much so that if a person did not respond in tnis way he would be regarded as unusually quiet (wita-waru) and those referring to people who fight all the time: who have aggressive personalities.

    lirripitti rarru lalalya
    lirrpalirrpa tjalatja nganyinni
    mulparra warrikya payinytkika
        pikaku mulkurrpa


    1 Source: Morice (25)