Minha thandra nhawuya?

The Dieri language has a very helpful word thandra that has several different uses, but mainly refers to small round objects attached to some other larger object.

One of its main uses is with names of plants to refer to their fruit or seeds. The general terms are:

puka thandra ‘edible fruit or seed’ — where puka means ‘vegetable food (not meat)’
pawa thandra ‘plant seed’ — where pawa means ‘seed’

The names of the fruits or seeds of specific trees or plants consist of the plant name followed by thandra. An example is:

malka thandra ‘seed of mulga tree’ (photo from this website)


Other examples are:

karlku thandra ‘seed of bulrushes’
tharlpa thandra ‘seed of kind of bush’
yawa thandra ‘corm (fruit) of onion grass’


A second main use is to refer to things in nature, including:

dirtyi thandra ‘grain of drifting sand’
karku thandra ‘piece of red ochre’
maru thandra ‘piece of black ochre’
mirka thandra ‘ants eggs’
ngapa thandra ‘drop of water’
thalara thandra ‘rain drop’
thurla thandra ‘piece of a stone chisel’

The third use is with the names of parts of the body — again these are generally small round parts attached to something else:

marna thandra ‘tooth’ (marna is ‘mouth’)
milki thandra ‘eyeball’ (milki is ‘eye’)
ngama thandra ‘nipple’ (ngama is ‘breast’)
pantya thandra ‘kneecap’ (pantya is ‘knee’)

We also find mangathandra ‘head’ but because there is no separate word manga in Dieri we write this all as one word. Interestingly, Dieri also has a word mangawarru ‘widow’ (a woman whose husband has died) — this is a single word in Dieri now but it might be made up of an old word manga ‘head’ and the word warru ‘white’. In the old days Dieri people used to put a white cap made of gypsum on the heads of widows to show they were in mourning for their dead husbands. When the mourning period was over the cap would be taken off the widow’s head and placed on the dead man’s grave (photo from Australian Museum).


The widow’s cap was made by women who first cut the hair of the mangawarru and placed a pirli ‘net made of human hair or plant fibres’ on her head. They then mixed gypsum (the soft white mineral that is used to make plaster) with water to make a fine paste that they painted on in layers. When it was finished the cap could be 10 centimetres thick, and weigh between 2 kilograms and 7 kilograms. Imagine carrying that around on your mangathandra all day!

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