Traditionally, the Lardil community held two initiation ceremonies for young men. Luruku, which involved circumcision, was undergone by all men following the appearance of facial hair; warama, the second initiation, was purely voluntary and culminated in a subincision ceremony.
Luruku initiates took a year-long oath of silence and were taught a sign language known as marlda kangka (literally, ‘hand language’), which, though limited in its semantic scope, was fairly complex. Anthropologist David McKnight’s research in the 1990s suggests that marlda kangka classifies animals somewhat differently from Lardil, having, for example, a class containing all shellfish (which Lardil lacks) and lacking an inclusive sign for ‘dugong+turtle’ (Lardil dilmirrur). In addition to its use by luruku initiates, marlda kangka had practical applications in hunting and warfare.
While marlda kangka was essentially a male language, the non-initiated were not forbidden to speak it. Damin, on the other hand, was (at least nominally) a secret language spoken only by warama initiates and those preparing for second initiation, though many community members seem to have understood it. Damin, like marlda kangka, was phonologically, lexically and semantically distinct from Lardil, though its syntax and morphology seem to be analogous. Research into the language has proved controversial, since the Lardil community regards it as cultural property and no explicit permission was given to make Damin words public.
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