Badu people are an Indigenous Australian group of Torres Strait Island people based on the central-west Badu island.


The language traditionally spoken by the Badu people and their Mabuiag neighbours is Kala Lagaw Ya,[1] a member of the Pama-Nyungan language family.[2]


Badu, together with Moa Island to its West from which it is separated by a narrow channel, is one of the largest in the Torres Strait. Circular in form, roughly 6 kilometres in diameter it is surrounded by complex tides that can run up to 7 knots. Generally sparsely wooded, and rocky, the northern part of the island is fringed with dense mangroves.[3]


Badu Island in particular, with the publication of Ion Idriess's novel The Wild White Man of Badu (1950), gained a reputation as an island of headhunters, though the practice was widespread throughout the Torres Strait. Taking the head of one's enemy was a ritual practice, involving a cane hoop and a special bamboo knife (upi) for severing the head, then boiling it and dressing it with beeswax noses and eyes fashioned from nautilus nacre.[4]


Willem Janszoon in the Duyfken as early as 1605 sailed close to the island of Badu while en route back to the East Indies after a reconnaissance of New Guinea for the Dutch East India Company. The impression left of the region was of a waste land populated by cruel savages.[5] The island itself, together with Mabuiagm was later charted by William Bligh.[6]

Badu islanders murdered three Europeans from the Thomas Lord which had anchored off the island while searching for trepang in June 1846.[7][8]

Notes and references


  1. ^ Stirling 2008, p. 171.
  2. ^ Lawrence & Lawrence 2004, p. 19.
  3. ^ Kaye 1997, p. 9.
  4. ^ Dixon 2013, pp. 114–115.
  5. ^ Kaye 1997, p. 20.
  6. ^ Kaye 1997, p. 32.
  7. ^ Moore 1979, p. 179.
  8. ^ Shnukal 2008, p. 25.


  • Beckett, Jeremy. (1987). Torres Strait Islanders: custom and colonialism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-37862-8.
  • Dixon, Robert (2013). "Cannibalising indigenous texts:headhunting and fantasy in Ion L. Idriess's Coral Sea Adventures". In Creed, Barbara; Hoorn, Jeanette (eds.). Body Trade: Captivity, Cannibalism and Colonialism in the Pacific. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-71308-8.
  • Kaye, Stuart B. (1997). The Torres Strait. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 978-9-041-10506-6.
  • Lawrence, David; Lawrence, Helen Reeves (2004). "Torres Strait:the region and its people". In Davis, Richard (ed.). Woven Histories, Dancing Lives: Torres Strait Islander Identity, Culture and History. Aboriginal Studies Press. pp. 15–29. ISBN 978-0-855-75432-7.
  • Moore, David R. (1979). Islanders and Aborigines at Cape York. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. ISBN 978-0-855-75082-4.
  • Shnukal, Anna (2008). "Traditional Mua" (PDF). Memoirs of the Queensland Museum. 4 (2): 7–33.
  • Stirling, Lesley (2008). ""Double reference" in Kala Lagaw Ya narratives". In Mushin, Ilana; Baker, Brett Joseph (eds.). Discourse and Grammar in Australian Languages. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 167–201. ISBN 978-9-027-20571-1.