Wp/nys/Woorine

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Warrine/Warran/Worrain/Warrany– native yam, Dioscorea hastifolia

The woorine or native yam is a koowin (edible root) and an important mereny (food) source that grows throughout much of the Whadjuk boodjar (country) from the central marawar (west) coast to the north of Boorloo (Perth).[1]

Woorine plant (Dioscorea hastifolia)

The Noongar boodjar has six seasons which are defined by changes in temperature, weather and mereny availability. As the woorine is mostly ward (found) in Whadjuk boodjar the seasons in this entry use Whadjuck names. In other boodjar these seasons can have different names which can be found in the article on Minang Seasons. Different barna (animals) and plants are baranginy (collected) in different seasons according to their availability and abundance.[2]

Noongar seasons

Djeran (April/May)[edit]

The woorine plant djet (flowers) during Djeran (April-May). It is a scrubby djandanginy (climbing) marlak (bush) that can grow up to mo (three) metres in length wer height with yoont (yellow) djet (flowers) that grow in a kitj (spear) or spike formation. Its roots spread over a koomba (large) area and you can find the woorine growing from these roots up to half a metre ngarda (below) the boodjar.

Makuru (June/July)[edit]

During Makuru (June/July) mereny is collected inland to avoid morka (winter) kep boroong (heavy rain) wer malkar (thunderstorms) that would come up off the moomboyet (ocean).[3] This seasonal migration away from the coast would also allow time for the tuber of the coastal woorine plant to grow up during the morka, ready for harvesting during Djilba and Kambarang.[4]

Djilba (August/September) and Kambarang (October/November)[edit]

During the cooler seasons of djilba and kambarang groups begin to return to the coast and moyootj (wetlands) and the woorine is collected to ngan (eat). Early wedjela observers wrote that the collection of this mereny was considered the responsibility of yoka (women) who gather the woorine using wanna (digging sticks), a long hardwood tool that was rounded on one side and flattened on the other.[5] These tools were usually made from mindalong boorn (Acacia branches) with one end sharpened and hardened in a karla (fire).[6] George Grey describes the digging process in his journals writing that the wana is “driven firmly into the ground, where it is shaken so as to loosen the earth, which is scooped up and thrown out with the fingers of the left hand, and in this manner they dig with great rapidity…To get a yam about half an inch in circumference and a foot in length they have to dig a hole above a foot square and two feet in depth.”[7] Sandra however, has also spoken about how this harvesting process was not only the work of yoka, but a social practice that groups would undertake together.

The woorine collected varies from marak (finger) sized to a maar (hand/palm) sized tuber. They can also vary in kala (colour) from mirda (red), to mirda-djordak (pink) wer yoont (yellow). Traditionally eaten like yoork (native potato), the woorine is usually dookoonor (cooked) on the coals of the karla or by roasting in the karla before ngaarniny (eating). It can also be ground up and used as a flour-like ingredient in baking.[8]

Conservation practices are an important part of gathering the woorine, taking only what is needed and leaving a portion of the plant in the ground to ensure the following season’s crop. This is done by niran (plant in ground) “the shoots and tips of yams…back into the holes from which they had been dug to preserve the species”.[9] Woorine also prefer open djirap boojar (grass land) thinned by karla with soft soil that is regularly dug over, and so the berniny (digging) and niraniny (replanting) process is vital to ensure the woorine grow again boorda (later on).[10]

By harvesting mereny when it is boorla (lots of/abundant) and taking only what is necessary for survival the natural resources would kalyakool (always) be available for boorda.[11] This kaartdijin (knowledge) of the six seasons and how to manage the boodjar and its biodiversity was given to the Noongar people as guardians of boodjar by the Waugal and passed down by the Boordiya (Noongar leader/Elders).[12]

Yam diggers at Indented Head Victoria 1835 Illustration JH Wedge

Birak and Bunuru (December to March)[edit]

The woorine is primarily collected and eaten during the balyan (wet) seasons when it is both ripe and when berniny the boodjar is easier.[13] During the summer seasons of birak and bunuru, when the boodjar is djool (dry) and hard, other mereny such as yorndi (lizard) and djildjit (fish) are more commonly eaten.[14] Modern natural resource investigations have found that the woorine tuber is often the only organ of the plant “to survive between growing seasons”[15] , but leaving some woorine in the boodjar during these seasons is important to ensure the mereny for boorda.

Other references[edit]

Wedjela sources also recognise and support the established nature of these agricultural practices surrounding the niran (planting), management and harvesting of the woorine. In his expedition journals on coastal WA George Grey wrote that “for three and a half consecutive miles we traversed a fertile piece of land literally perforated with the holes…made to dig this root…this tract extended east and west as far as we could see.”[16] Other sources note that gathering woorine was not a random activity, but a process of korliny (returning) regularly to extensively used tracts wer farming these plant products through labour wer “conservation and husbanding, rather than depletion, of a product.”[17] Yet many wedjela explorers did not understand that the bush they saw before them was not a wilderness, but in fact a culturally managed landscape.[18]

Ngiyan waarnk[edit]

  1. Grey, G 1841, ‘Journals of two expeditions of discovery in North-west and Western Australia during the years 1837, 38 and 39’ Available from: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00055.html#chapter14 [accessed 29 September 2018] “in the sandy desert country which surrounds for many miles the town of Perth, in Western Australia, the different species…are very plentiful.”
  2. http://www.derbalnara.org.au/boodjar-six-seasons "Six Seasons - Nyungar Life on the Coastal Plain" [accessed 25 October 2018]
  3. South West Catchments Council, ‘Katijin Wongi: Cross cultural awareness trainaing’ Available from: https://swccnrm.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/KW_SWCC_Participants-Booklet_2018.pdf p.34
  4. Interview with Basil Winmar conducted by Sandra Harben 2008 in ‘Recording traditional knowledge: Our countries, our stories, our people’, Avon Catchment Council, p.89 Available from: https://www.wheatbeltnrm.org.au/sites/default/files/knowledge_hub/documents/RTKlitweb_0.pdf “a yam…a plant that grows up in the winter, you dig it down and it’s like a potato”
  5. https://anthropologyfromtheshed.com/project/edible-roots-typha-bulrush/ Ken Macintyre and Barb Dobson "Typha root: an ancient nutritious food in Noongar culture" Published: November, 2017
  6. Nyungar Budjara Wangany: Nyungar NRM Wordlist & Language Collection Booklet of the Avon Catchment Region p.7 Available from https://www.wheatbeltnrm.org.au/sites/default/files/knowledge_hub/documents/nyungar-dictionary.pdf [accessed 4 October 2018]
  7. Grey, George 1841, ‘Journals of two expeditions of discovery in North-west and Western Australia during the years 1837, 38 and 39’ Available from: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00055.html#chapter14 [Accessed 29 September 2018]
  8. Hallam, S.J. (1991) ‘Aboriginal women as Providers: The 1830s on the Swan’, Aboriginal History, vol. 15 (1-2) pp. 38-53 Available from: http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p72251/pdf/article049.pdf [Accessed 13 October 2018] “baking their flour into cakes…the flour could be either from reeds or from yams”
  9. Recording traditional knowledge (PDF) quoted from CALM (Department of Conservation and Land Management, Indigenous Heritage Unit). 2002. Sharing the Dreaming: Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Workshop. Perth .p.51
  10. Gammage, B 2011, The Biggest Estate on Earth, Allen & Unwin, Sydney p.289
  11. Hansen, Vivienne and John Horsfall 2016, Noongar Bush Medicine, UWA Publishing, Perth p.xi “We were taught to just collect what we need at that particular time; there is no need to cut an entire tree down when we simply require a handful of leaves.”
  12. Collard, Len 2008, Heartsick for Country: Stories of Love, Spirit and Creation, Australasian Publishing Company, Sydney, p.66 “The Rainbow Serpent gave us our katitjin and law about the animals, plants, bush medicines, trees, rivers, water holes, hills, gullies, the starts, moon, sun, rocks and seasons”
  13. MOORE, G. F. (1884b)-A descriptive vocabulary of the language in common use amongst the aborigines of Western Australia. (Supplement to Diary of an early settler in Western Australia, 1830-1841.) Sydney: G. F. Moore. P.74
  14. Noongar seasons. Courtesy of Kulbardi Productions, Murdoch University Available from https://www.noongarculture.org.au/food/?searched=yes
  15. https://www.wheatbeltnrm.org.au/whats-happening/news/aboriginal-nrm/bush-tucker-plant-warrany-yam "Bush Tucker plant - Warrany/Yam" Published 19 April 2017
  16. Grey, George 1841, ‘Journals of two expeditions of discovery in North-west and Western Australia during the years 1837, 38 and 39’ Available from: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00055.html#chapter14 [Accessed 29 September 2018]
  17. Hallam, Sylvia 1975, Fire and Hearth: A study of Aboriginal usage and European usurpation in south-western Australia, Advocate Press, Melbourne. P.13
  18. Kwaymullina, Ambelin 2008 'Introduction: A Land of Many Countries' in Heartsick for Country: Stories of love, spirit and creation, Morgan et al. (eds.) p.11