Suicide and Desert Men: The Power and Protection of Kanyirninpa (Holding) Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVE: Fred Myers described kanyirninpa (holding) as a deeply embedded value for desert Aboriginal people. He explained it as authority with nurturance where older people 'grew up' and protected younger people. Can a cultural understanding of kanyirninpa provide any insight or response to the high rates of suicide among young Aboriginal men today? METHOD: This paper draws on qualitative health research that was conducted among desert communities in the southeast Kimberley region of Western Australia between 2001 and 2004. The research was primarily with men and explored cultural understandings of the particular male expressions and praxis of kanyirninpa. The research also occurred at a time when the first suicides of young men, who had grown up within this desert region, were taking place. RESULTS: Research showed that the fracture of kanyirninpa over recent generations has seriously affected key social processes and generational relationships within desert society. This wounding has implications for men's health and can provide an understanding as to why young men attempt self-harm and suicide. However, the social expression of kanyirninpa can also sustain important meanings for young men as they grow up. It can protect them from high-risk behaviour and self-harm. CONCLUSIONS: While the experience of suicide continues to deeply wound Aboriginal families and communities, desert people's efforts to sustain and express kanyirninpa offers hope. This is a social process and relationship that can help inform health policy and practice in response to self-harm, suicide ideation and behaviour, particularly for young Aboriginal men.

publication date

  • February 2007