Anangu language

Anangu mainly speak Pitjantjatjara (pronounced as pigeon-jarrah) and Yankunytjatjara (pronounced as young-kun-jarrah) but can speak up to six different Aboriginal languages.

  • Pitjantjatjara literally means the people who use 'pitjantja' when they say 'coming'.
  • Yankunytjatjara are the people who use 'yankunytja' to say 'going'.
  • Anangu means 'people' in both Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara.

Western Desert languages

Both Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara are part of the Western Desert Language group that includes about 4,000 speakers, stretching northwest to Balgo, west to Port Headland, south to Kalgoorlie, Yalata and northeast to Alice Springs.

The languages are very different from English. There are 17 consonants, some of which non-Pitjantjatjara speakers find difficult. There are three vowels, a, i and u, each of which may sound long or short. Sounds such as s, z, v, sh or th do not exist. Some English words such as 'mutuka' for 'motor car' have been adopted.


Some words


Tjukurpa katutja ngarantja - Tjukurpa above everything else

Tjukurpa provides Anangu with a system of beliefs and morality by which we can judge right and wrong. It establishes the rules we use to govern society and manage land. Tjukurpa guides our daily life through a series of symbolic stories and metaphors. The stories represent complex explanations of the origins and structure of the universe.

Tjukurpa dictates correct procedures for dealing with problems and penalties for breaking the law. Since the coming of non-Aboriginal people we have had to modify some of the penalties under traditional law. We have also adapted non-Aboriginal law to help enforce Tjukurpa. For example our sacred sites are protected under Commonwealth and Northern Territory legislation and our hunting and foraging rights are protected under the legislation and lease agreement with Parks Australia.

Tjurkurpa is taught and remembered through specific verse of inma (songs and ritual dances) and rock art. The iwara (ancestral paths) are recalled as a long list of important sites.


Anangu word: Inma | Sounds like: In-ma
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Creation time

This word has complex meaning - also means law, way of life, story
Anangu word: Tjukurpa | Sounds like: Chook-orr-pa
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Devil dog

The monster of the Mala story
Anangu word: Kurpany | Sounds like: Core-pan
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Name used instead of the name of a deceased person

Anangu word: Kunmanara | Sounds like: Koon-man-arr-a
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The physical evidence of Tjukurpa

Anangu word: Tjukuritja | Sounds like: Chook-orr-icha
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A wanampi lives in a waterhole and guards it against strangers. When approaching a waterhole traditionally you would alert the wanampi by making noise or lighting a small fire and announcing who you are. This is considered appropriate and necessary behaviour when not in your own country. Mutitjulu waterhole has a resident wanampi.
Anangu word: Wanampi | Sounds like: Wahr-nahm-pee
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Words for country

When Anangu look at the landscape we pay close attention to landforms, soils, plants, animals, water supply and fire history. We understand the country. We know how to use plants and can read the tracks of animals. We understand the significance of weather changes. Our knowledge and our responsibility to care for the country and its wildlife come from Tjukurpa.

Creek lines

Anangu word: Karu | Sounds like: Car-oo
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Anangu word: Kulpi | Sounds like: Cool-pee
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Home, camp, place, land

Anangu word: Ngura | Sounds like: Ngoo-rra
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Spinifex plains

Anangu word: Pila | Sounds like: Pill-ar
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Rocky areas

Anangu word: Puli | Sounds like: Poo-lee
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Anangu word: Puti | Sounds like: Poo-tea
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Sand dunes

Anangu word: Tali | Sounds like: Tar-lee
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Anangu word: Walpa | Sounds like: Wharl-pa
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Warm wind

Anangu word: Walpa waru | Sounds like: Wharl-pa whar-oo
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Shade, shelter

Anangu word: Wiltja | Sounds like: Wil-jar
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Shelter from wind

Anangu word: Yuu | Sounds like: You
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Many heads

Name of rock outcrop
Anangu word: Kata Tjuta | Sounds like: Kar-ta choo-ta
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Name of waterhole at base of Uluru

Also the name of local Aboriginal community
Anangu word: Mutitjulu | Sounds like: Moot-it-joo-loo
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Burnt or regenerating areas

Anangu word: Nyaru | Sounds like: Nyah-roo
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Place of learning

Anangu word: Nyintiringkupai | Sounds like: Nin-tire-ring-coo-pee
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Name of monolith

Anangu word: Uluru | Sounds like: Ool-or-roo
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Common words

These are common words you might use every day - like hello and goodbye. When speaking Pitjantjatjara the first syllable of the word is always stressed. The letters t, n, l and r can be written with a line underneath, called a retroflex. A retroflex on an n, l or t tells us to curl our tongue back slightly in the mouth before pronouncing the letter. This produces a sound similar to an r sound. A retroflex on an r tells us this is pronounced like a normal English r sound. An r without a retroflex is pronounced like a rolled 'rrrr' sound - like some European languages. The 'oo' sound is the same as in the English word look.


All of us

Anangu word: Nganana | Sounds like: Ngan-arn-a
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Anangu word: Wari | Sounds like: Wah-ree
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Foot or tracks

Anangu word: Tjina | Sounds like: Gin-ar
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Also means goodbye, thank you, finish
Anangu word: Palya | Sounds like: Pul (like cull)-ya
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Hot, fire, firewood

Anangu word: Waru | Sounds like: Whar-oo
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Anangu word: Kulini | Sounds like: Kool (like wool)-in-nee
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Anangu word: Tjinguru | Sounds like: Jingaroo
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No or don't

Anangu word: Wiya | Sounds like: Wee-ya
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Ours (many people including the speaker)

Anangu word: Nganampa | Sounds like: Ngan-am-pa
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Anangu word: Mutumutu | Sounds like: Moo-too-moo-too
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Sit, be sitting

Anangu word: Nyinanyi | Sounds like: Nin-an-yee
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Anangu word: Wara | Sounds like: Worrah
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True or really

Anangu word: Mulapa | Sounds like: Mool (like wool)-up-ar
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Anangu word: Uwa | Sounds like: u-wa
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Other words

Kapi (cuppy) Water
Kuli (koo-lee) Hot weather, summer
Pulka (pool-kah) Big
Tjuta (joo-tah) Many
Wiru (wi-roo) Beautiful

Common phrases

These are some common phrases that you might hear or see while visiting Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Some like Talinguru Nyakunytjaku (place to look from the sand dune) are the names of particular places within the park, while others are the names of important concepts like joint management - Tjunguringkula waakaripai (working together).

Black people

Literally maru = black, ku = for. It is also the name of the arts and crafts shop located at the Cultural Centre
Anangu word: Maruku | Sounds like: Mar-oo-ku
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Looking after the land

Anangu word: Ngura atunymankuntjaku | Sounds like: Ngoo-rra ar-toon-mun-koon-jark-oo
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Understanding the country

Anangu word: Ngura kulintjaku | Sounds like: Ngo-rra kool-un-juk-ku
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You are on Aboriginal land

Anangu word: Nyuntu Anangu maruku ngurangka ngaranyi | Sounds like: Newn-to ar-nan-goo mar-roo-koo noo-rang-car nar-an-yee
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Welcome to Anangu land

Anangu word: Pukulpa pitjama Ananguku ngurakutu | Sounds like: Pook-al-pah pit-jamah ar-nan-goo-koo noo-rah-koo-too
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Place to look from the sand dune

Anangu word: Talinguru Nyakunytjaku | Sounds like: Tah-ling-uru Nyuk-un-juk-ku
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Just the way it is

Anangu word: Tjaka | Sounds like: Jukka
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Working together

Anangu word: Tjunguringkula waakaripai | Sounds like: Choong-orr-ing-koola wark-karr-i-pay
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Having marks

Literally walka = marks, tjara = having
Anangu word: Walkatjara | Sounds like: Warl-ka-jar-ra
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Anangu culture has always existed at Uluru and Kata Tjuta. We are the direct descendants of ancestral beings, who created all living species and features of the desert landscape you see today. We mainly speak Pitjantjatjara (pronounced as pigeon-jarrah) and Yankunytjatjara (pronounced as young-kun-jarrah). Some of us speak up to six Aboriginal languages. The words you are learning below are Pitjantjatjara.

A language of Uluru traditional owners

Anangu word: Pitjantjatjara | Sounds like: Pigeon-jarrah
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A language of Uluru traditional owners

Anangu word: Yankunytjatjara | Sounds like: Young-kun-jarrah
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Aboriginal people of the western desert

Anangu word: Anangu | Sounds like: Arn-ang-oo
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Anangu word: Tjitji | Sounds like: Chee-chee
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Anangu word: Wati | Sounds like: Wottie
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Non-Aboriginal people

Literally means 'white'
Anangu word: Piranpa | Sounds like: Peer-an-pa
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Senior man

Anangu word: Tjilpi | Sounds like: Jil-pee
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Traditional owner

Anangu word: Nguraritja | Sounds like: Ngoo-rrar-i-ja
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Traditional war party

Anangu word: Warmala | Sounds like: Wah-marl-a
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Anangu word: Minyma | Sounds like: Min-ma
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Young woman

Anangu word: Kungka | Sounds like: Koong-ka
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Other family words

Tjitji (chee-chee) Child
Ngunytju Mother
Mama (mah-mah) Father
Kami (kah-mee) Grandmother
Tjamu (jah-moo) Grandfather
Kangkuru (kan-kooroo) Big Sister
Kuta (koo-tah) Big Brother
Kuntili (koo-tu-lee) Auntie
Kamuru (kum-moo-roo) Uncle



Since the time of Tjukurpa, hunting and gathering has linked us Anangu traditional owners with our land. Gathering food expresses and reaffirms our knowledge and ownership of the land.

Women and men perform specific tasks to collect bush foods that benefit the whole community. Anangu women were traditionally responsible for gathering mai (vegetables, fruits and seeds), tjuratja (sweet foods such as nectar or honey ants), maku (edible grubs like witchetty grubs) and some kuka (meat such as goanna).

Men can and do dig for honey ants or collect fruit, but generally they are more likely to be hunting kuka (meat).


Bush plum

Anangu word: Arnguli | Sounds like: Ah-noo-lee
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Bush tomato

Anangu word: Tjantu | Sounds like: Jarn-too
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Dead finish

Anangu word: Walka puka | Sounds like: Wharl-ka-booker
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Desert raisin

Anangu word: Kampurarpa | Sounds like: Come-poor-rah-pah
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Fruit and vegetable food

Anangu word: Mai | Sounds like: May
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Honey ants

Anangu word: Tjala | Sounds like: Jah-lah
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Meat or meat animal

Anangu word: Kuka | Sounds like: Kooka
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Native fig

Anangu word: Ili | Sounds like: Ear-lee
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Seed cake

Anangu word: Nyuma | Sounds like: New-mah
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Witchetty grub

Anangu word: Maku | Sounds like: Mah-koo
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Anangu men and women use different types of tools. Women use three types of bowls. A wira is the smallest of the three bowls and is also used as a digging tool. Kanilpa is used primarily for cleaning seeds and piti, the largest dish is shaped for carrying water. A head ring, manguri, is used to carry dishes on top of the head and a wana (digging stick) is used to loosen the earth to find bush foods. A tjungari (large grindstone) is used to process seed and the ground seed is then made into nyuma (seed cake).

Men use a kulata (spear) with the help of a miru (spear thrower) to hunt malu (red kangaroo), kanyala (euro) and kalaya (emu). Today a kulata is often replaced by a rifle.

Children play an important role in hunting and gathering. They travel with their parents or other adults on hunting and gathering trips, and while playing, learn the skills and knowledge they'll need.

Adhesive gum

Made from the resin of spinifex
Anangu word: Kiti | Sounds like: Kee-dee
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Anangu word: Kali | Sounds like: Carl-lee
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Bowl scoop

Anangu word: Wira | Sounds like: Wi-rah
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Anangu word: Tjutinypa | Sounds like: Choon-tin-pa
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Lower flat grindstone

Anangu word: Tjiwa | Sounds like: Gee-wah
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Round grinding stone

Anangu word: Tjungari | Sounds like: Joong-ar-ee
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Anangu word: Kulata | Sounds like: Coorl-ah-tah
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Spear thrower

Anangu word: Miru | Sounds like: Mi-roo
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Women's digging stick

Anangu word: Wana | Sounds like: Wan-na
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Women's head ring

Anangu word: Manguri | Sounds like: Mung-ah-ree
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Wooden bowl

Anangu word: Piti | Sounds like: Pi-tea
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Animals play an important role in Anangu Tjukurpa. One of our main ancestors, the Mala (rufous-hare wallaby) people, travelled to Uluru from the north and subsequently fled to the south and southeast (towards South Australia) to escape from kurpany, an evil dog like creature created and sent from Kikingkura (near the Western Australia border).

Actions of ancestral beings such as the mala and itjaritjari (marsupial mole) have important roles in forming the physical features of Uluru.

Blue-tongued lizard

An ancestral being | Anangu word: Lungkata | Sounds like: Loong-cart-ah
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Anangu word: Papa | Sounds like: Pah-pah
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The feathers and meat are used by Anangu
Anangu word: Kalaya | Sounds like: Kal-lay-a
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Marsupial mole

An ancestral creature yet rarely seen as it lives almost entirely underground.
Anangu word: Itjaritjari | Sounds like: It-cha-ree-cha-ree
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The largest monitor lizard, a good food source.
Anangu word: Ngintaka | Sounds like: Nin-tar-ka
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Poisonous snake

Western brown or king brown snake, highly venomous and not eaten, also an important ancestral being.
Anangu word: Liru | Sounds like: Leer-oo
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Anangu word: Rappita | Sounds like: Rap-ee-ta
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Red-backed kingfisher

Anangu word: Luunpa | Sounds like: Loon-pa
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Red kangaroo

An important food and material source (rear leg sinew used as binding for spears)
Anangu word: Malu | Sounds like: Mar-loo
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Rufous hare-wallaby

A small wallaby with big ears and ginger fur. Mala are one of the most important ancestral creatures associated with Uluru
Anangu word: Mala | Sounds like: Mahr-la
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Sand goanna

Anangu word: Tinka | Sounds like: Tin-kah
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Spinifex hopping mouse

A small nocturnal marsupial
Anangu word: Mingkiri | Sounds like: Ming-keer-ree
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Thorny devil

Anangu word: Ngiyari | Sounds like: Nee-ah-ree
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Woma python

Woma python is a non-venomous, edible snake that is an important ancestral being
Anangu word: Kuniya | Sounds like: Koon-i-ya
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Plants at Uluru are perfectly adapted to harsh desert conditions, their growth and reproduction relies on irregular rainfall. Some plants are able to survive fire while others are dependent on it to reproduce.

Plants are an important part of Anangu Tjukurpa. We have ceremonies for each of the major plant foods and many are associated with our ancestral beings. Today we continue to collect plants for food and other purposes like medicine and tools.


Desert fuchsia

A bush medicine
Anangu word: Irmangka-irmangka | Sounds like: Air-a-monger-air-a-monger
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Honey grevillea

Anangu word: Kaliny-kalinypa | Sounds like: Cull-in-cull-in-pah
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Naked woolybutt grass

Anangu word: Wangunu | Sounds like: Wong-gar-noo
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Native millet

Anangu word: Kaltu-kaltu | Sounds like: Cull-to-cull-to
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Quandong tree

Anangu word: Mangata | Sounds like: Mung-gar-ta
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Rats tail grass

Anangu word: Kalpari | Sounds like: Kal-par-ee
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Red bean of the bean tree

Often used in making necklaces and other decorations. It is also the name of the café at the Cultural Centre.
Anangu word: Ininti | Sounds like: In-nin-tea
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Tree or shrub or implements made from wood

Anangu word: Punu | Sounds like: Poo-noo
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Want to learn more?

Anangu and non-Anangu linguists have produced a Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara to English Dictionary. It is available from Yulara Newsagency, some online bookshops and in several bookshops in Alice Springs.