Djanba is a repertory of approximately 80 songs composed and performed by men and women of the Dimirnin, Nangu and Maniny clans.

The first composer was Robert Kolumboort, who started djanba off in the early 1960s. Other songs in the series were composed by his siblings Harry Luke Kolumboort, Rosie Kolumboort and Lawrence Kolumboort, by their fellow Dimirnin clansmen Joe Malakunda Birrarri, Theodore Bunduck, Barty Perdjert and Charlie Kurawurl, and by Nangu clansman Johnny Ninnal and his wife Anna Maria Ninnal.


Djanba dancing at a circumcision ceremony, Wadeye, 1992. Photo: Mark Crocombe.

Many of the songs are about the honeybees and other totems associated with the Kunybinyi area near Wadeye. There are also some 'church djanba' songs specially composed to be sung in church liturgy.

Most song texts are in grammatical Murriny Patha, with some special features such as a high proportion of reduplicated words. They are often quite cryptic in reference, and to understand them we rely on explanation by a knowledgeable person.

Song Text of Djanba 11
This song text, composed by the most prolific composer of djanba songs, Harry Luke Kolumboort (1913-1980s), has been translated and glossed by Joe Blythe with assistance from Michael Walsh and Nicholas Reid, based on conversations in 2004-2005 with singers L. Kolumboort, Felix Bunduck, Elizabeth Cumaiyi, Lucy Tcherna, and Mary Bunduck. The basic text is set out in Table 1.

Table 1: Text of Djanba song 11 (transcription and gloss by Joe Blythe, 1 November 2005).
Free translation: Kardu Ngarim, son of Thakuny, is digging holes at that place.

This text refers to a particular djanba ancestor, named Kardu Ngarim (‘Bee Man’ – kardu being the nominal classifier for humans). With the animate nominal classifier ku, ngarim is also the name of a species of native bee with a yellow body, also known as ku tiriwun. Kardu Ngarim is the son of another djanba, Mayamunggum, nicknamed Thakuny ‘left-handed’. Ngarim is digging at a particular place.

Most of the species of native bee found around Wadeye make ku tjithay ‘honey’ (or ‘sugarbag’ in Australian Aboriginal English). Ku ngarim sugarbag bees are one of the main totems for the Kunybinyi clan estate, which is where djanba ancestors reside and where Dimirnin clanspeople return when they die. Each clan estate has several ngakumarl (‘totems’, or ‘dreamings’), which are associated with particular nguguminggi ‘creation sites’ within the estate.

Musical style
Djanba songs are strophic, with a variety of text repetition patterns within each verse. Singing by a mixed group of men and women is accompanied by clapsticks (mirn'ga) and handclapping. Each verse is started off by men, and finished by women, with a period of overlap between the two groups in the middle of the verse.

The repetition pattern of one verse of djanba 11, and its musical setting is set out below:
(part 1)
aa ngarim thakuny marramarda nyinirda karrirndurtuy-ye
aa ngarim thakuny marramarda nyinirda karrirndurtuy-ye

(part 2)
aa karrirndurtuy-ye
ngarim thakuny marramarda nyinirda karrirndurtuy-
ngarim thakuny marramarda nyinirda karrirndurtuy-ye
ngarim thakuny marramarda nyinirda karrirndurtuy