Language of the Week: Week Eleven - Oykangand

Welcome to Week Eleven of the A-Z of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages!

This week's language of the week is Oykangand from Western Cape York, particularly the lower reaches of the Mitchell River!

The language is also known as Uw Oykangand and means 'language of the people from the lagoons'; while neighbouring groups also referred to the people and language by several names. This is not unusual and also explains some of the uncertainty over language names and whether they refer to the language, the people or a clan group - last week's blog post highlighted the name of a language based on geographical location. According to Austlang, Uw-Oykangand is the name for themselves, Koltvwonhm is the Yir Yoront name for Oykangand, while Kok-Yan is the Koko Bera name for Oykangand.

Map showing the estates of the Oykangand, Sommer (2006).

Oykangand is considered endangered with only a handful of known speakers - people were moved to Mitchell River Mission at Trubanam in 1906; the mission was relocated to a new site on Magnificent Creek in 1918 and was known as Kowanyama. Historical linguistic material was collected by Roth in his role as Northern Protector of Aboriginals where he referred to a wordlist as Koko Wangar. This wordlist is held in the State Library collections as part of Roth's 1903 Report to Parry-Okenden as well as the 1910 publication Ethnological Studies of the North-West Central Aborigines. Later linguistic work was undertaken by Sommer from the 1970's - the map above is from Speaking Kunjen : an ethnography of Oykangand kinship and communication and shows the extent of the Oykangand language area.

Oykangand story text - informant Lawrence Dunbar (Sommer, 2006).

Sommer has documented story texts from Oykangand, including the above extract from Lawrence Dunbar which on the surface level describes a new gun; however, on a deeper level highlights kinship obligations and responsibilities. State Library holds several Sommer publications while additional linguistic material such as recordings and field notes can be found at Fryer Library, University of Queensland. 

Another informative text in the State Library collections is Uw Oykangand Oy berr : traditional bush medicine from the Kunjen of Kowanyama written by Alma Luke with Myrtle Luke and Bernadette Boscacci. It explores the traditional medicine of the Kunjen people and was a collaborative project in cultural heritage and language to support the practice and promotion of health and well-being in the Indigenous community of Kowanyama.


Join State Library for next week's Language of the Week - Pitta Pitta from North-Western Queensland!


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Webpages

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Map


Spoken: Celebrating Queensland languages exhibition

Spoken Virtual Tour

Jarjum Stories exhibition

Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?



Cover image: Aboriginal women weaving baskets at the Mitchell River Mission, Kowanyama. Queensland, ca. 1916, John Oxley Library, Record number: 1288558.

Map showing Oykangand estates and Oykangand Story Text from Sommer, 2006. J 499.15 SOM


References and Further Reading

State Library collections have some material relating to Oykangand and neighbouring languages; other language content can be found in generic language studies of Cape York, particularly Kunjen.


Kinslow Harris, J., Wurm, S. and Laycock, D. (1971) Papers in Australian linguistics, no. 4Q 499.15 kin

Luke, A. (2011) Uw Oykangand Oy berr : traditional bush medicine from the Kunjen of Kowanyama. Alma Luke with Myrtle Luke and Bernadette Boscacci. J 615.882 LUK 

Roth, W. (1903) Reports to the Commissioner of Police and others, on Queensland aboriginal peoples 1898-1903. [microform] FILM 0714

Roth, W. (1910) Ethnological Studies of the North-West Central Aborigines. Q 572.9943 rot

Sommer, B. (1972) Kunjen syntax : a generative view. Q 499.15 SOM

Sommer, B. (1975) The Bowman incidentQ 994.3602 SOM

Sommer, B. (2006) Speaking Kunjen : an ethnography of Oykangand kinship and communication. J 499.15 SOM

Sutton, P. (ed) (1974) Languages of Cape York: papers presented to the Linguistic Symposium, Part B, held in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Biennial General Meeting, May,1974 G 499.15 1976


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