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Torres Strait Islanders

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Title: Torres Strait Islanders  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Indigenous Australians, Torres Strait Islands, Indigenous Australian music, Boigu Island (Queensland), Indigenous Protected Area
Collection: Australoid Type, Torres Strait Islanders, Torres Strait Islands Culture
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Torres Strait Islanders

Torres Strait Islanders
Total population
see Torres Strait Island languages
see Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Aboriginal Australians, Papuans, Melanesians
Map of Torres Strait Islands

Torres Strait Islanders are the indigenous people of the Torres Strait Islands, part of Queensland, Australia. They are culturally and genetically Melanesian people, as are the people of Papua New Guinea. They are distinct from the Aboriginal people of the rest of Australia, and are generally referred to separately. There are also two Torres Strait Islander communities on the nearby coast of the mainland at Bamaga and Seisia.


  • Population 1
  • Culture 2
    • Stories, crafts, and games 2.1
  • Languages 3
  • Administration 4
  • Notable Islanders 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Torres Strait Islanders as a percentage of the population, in Australia at the 2011 census

There are 6,800 Torres Strait Islanders who live in the area of the Torres Strait, and 42,000 others who live outside of this area, mostly in the north of Queensland, particularly in Townsville and Cairns.[1]


Ritual face mask from a Torres Strait Island (19th century).

The indigenous people of the Torres Strait have a distinct culture which has slight variants on the different islands where they live. They are a seafaring people, and they trade with people of Papua New Guinea. The culture is complex, with some Australian elements, some Papuan elements, and Austronesian elements, just like the languages. The Islanders seem to have been the dominant culture for many centuries, and neighbouring Aboriginal and Papuan cultures show some Island influence in religious ceremonies and the like. Examples of Torres Strait Islander language can be found on the State Library of Queensland's "ReTold" website, a collection of online stories gathered in partnership with Torres Strait Islander language speakers and community members living in mainland Queensland. Stories told through this website come from the Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Strait Islands material.

Archaeological, linguistic and folk history evidence suggests that the core of Island culture is Papuo-Austronesian. Unlike the indigenous peoples of mainland Australia, but like those of neighbouring Papua, the islanders are agriculturalists, although they supplemented their food supplies through hunting and gathering. Dugong, turtle, crayfish, crabs, shellfish, reef fish and wild fruits and vegetables were all traditionally hunted and collected and remain an important part of their subsistence lifestyle.[2] Traditional foods play an important role in ceremonies and celebrations even when they don't live on the islands. Dugong and turtle hunting as well as fishing are seen as a way of continuing the Islander tradition of being closely associated with the sea.[2]

Their more recent, post-colonization history has seen new cultural influences, most notably the place of Christianity (particularly of the Baptist and Anglican strains) which caused major shifts in cultural paradigms, as well as subtler additions through the influence of Polynesians, particularly Samoan and Rotuman sea workers and missionaries who worked in the area in the 19th Century.

Stories, crafts, and games

The inhabitants of Torres Strait have a long history of developing stories, crafts and games. Prominent among these is wame (alt. wameya), many different string figures[3][4][5] (a particular string figure game played by two or more participants that generates several string figures is familiar to people of many cultures under the name Cat's cradle), some extremely elaborate and beautiful, and 'string catches' (games in which strings are wrapped around fingers then removed quickly with a single pull).


The Western-central Torres Strait Language, or Kala Lagaw Ya, is spoken on the southwestern, western, northern and central islands. It is an Australian Aboriginal language. Meriam Mir is spoken on the eastern islands. It is one of the Eastern Trans-Fly languages, otherwise spoken in Papua New Guinea.[6]


The Torres Strait Islanders have been administered by a system of elected councils.[7] This is a system based partly on traditional pre-Christian local government and partly on the introduced mission management system.[7]

Notable Islanders

Famous Torres Strait Islanders include

See also


  1. ^ "Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples". Australia Now.  
  2. ^ a b Smyth, Dermot (2002). "Appendix B: The Indigenous Sector: An Anthropological Perspective". In Hundloe, Tor. Valuing Fisheries. University of Queensland Press. pp. 230–231.  
  3. ^ Torres Strait string figure example.
  4. ^ Alfred Cort Haddon, along with one of his daughters, the pioneers in the modern study of Torres Strait string figures
  5. ^ A string figure bibliography including examples from Torres Strait.
  6. ^ "Torres Strait Islanders" (PDF). Fact Sheets.  
  7. ^ a b Beckett, Jeremy (1990). Torres Strait Islanders: Custom and Colonialism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 17–18.  
  8. ^ Professor Martin Nakata Director of Nura Gili. University of New South Wales. Retrieved on 10 January 2013.
  9. ^ AFL Record. Round 9,2009. Slattery Publishing. pg 75.

External links

  • Torres Strait Regional Authority
  • Church of Torres Strait
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' virtual books – held by the State Library of Queensland.
  • Contemporary stories by and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Reports 1994–2009 and Native Title Reports 1994–2009 for more information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs.
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