On Some Australian Ceremonies of Initiation
By A. W. HOWITT, Esq., F.G.S.
[Extracted from Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. 13 (1884), pp. 432-59.]
Travellers, missionaries, and residents in the Australian
bush have long known and reported the existence of certain aboriginal
ceremonies, which attend the "making of young men," as the practice has come to
be called. One of the very earliest works on Australia, namely, that of
Collins,1 describes and gives illustrations of parts of the ceremonies as
practised at Port Jackson. Fragmentary accounts are to be found in other works
and in the newspapers and magazines published since that time; but, so far as I
am aware, no attempt has yet been made to give a detailed account of the
ceremonies of any one tribe, nor, much more, to attempt an explanation of the
meaning and intention of the ceremonies themselves. This, no doubt, arises from
the difficulties in the way of obtaining correct and precise information. The
aborigines are very reticent on the subject; moreover, of the very few white men
who have become initiated, few have been competent to record the necessary
particulars, even if they had thought of doing so, and at least one has been as
reticent on the subject as the aborigines themselves.2 The accounts which have
been made public appear to have been at second-hand, derived from the statements
of blackboys living with the whites, or from persons who had been permitted to
witness the more public parts of the ceremonies.
Speaking generally, it may be asserted with safety that initiation ceremonies of some kind or other, and all having a certain fundamental identity, are practised by the aboriginal tribes over the whole of the Australian Continent.
In this paper I propose to record only so much of the information in my possession as will enable me to give a clear and connected account of the initiation ceremonies which are common to a very large aggregate of tribes in the south-eastern part of Australia. I shall therefore leave till a future time the more complete details, and also the discussion and orderly arrangement of the scattered accounts which have been given by others. [p.433] My account will be drawn partly from that which I have witnessed and taken part in as an initiated person, and partly from conversation which I have held with blacks as to the ceremonies of their own tribes. On these statements I can rely, not only by being in a position, from my own knowledge, to form an opinion as to their truthfulness, but also because between the initiated there is, as I have found, no reservation, but a feeling of confidence—I might even add almost of brotherhood. For the sake of comparison I draw a few illustrations from the statements of my correspondents.
The tribes to which I refer are the Wolgal, the Ngarego, the Theddora, and the Coast Murring. In a former paper on "Some Australian Beliefs"3 I have spoken of these, and have mentioned their localities. To these I now add the Wiraijuri. This tribe occupies a large extent of country along the course of the Murrumbidgee River, as far, at least, as Hay.4 It lies to the northward of the Wolgal, and of certain tribes of North-Eastern Victoria, as to which I, at present, know little, except that they belonged to that "nation" (if I may use the term) which applied the word "Kūlin" to its own men. To the east of the Wiraijuri are the Kamilaroi; to the north, among other tribes, the Wonghibon (having the Kamilaroi organisation); and to the north-west and west, the great tribe of the Barkinghi, which occupied almost the whole of the the extreme west of New South Wales. To the south-west there are a number of small tribes about the junction of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers.5
The five tribes which I have named as the subjects of this paper occupy, therefore, a very large extent of southern New South Wales, from Twofold Bay to Sydney, and (including the Lachlan River) as far west at least as Hay. These five tribes, or perhaps tribal groups, represent a social aggregate, namely, a community bound together, in spite of diversity of class system, by ceremonies of initiation, which, although they vary slightly in different localities, are yet substantially the same, and are common to all. Again, each of these five tribes, if regarded separately, is found to be not only connected in the way I have mentioned with the other four, but also with other neighbouring tribes in a similar manner, so that "the community," as indicated by the initiation ceremonies, spreads over even a wider extent of country than that which these five tribes occupy.6 For instance, [p.434] the Coast Murring, according to their own account, attended the initiations not only of the Ngarego, but also of the Katungal (sea-coast people), and the Kurial (northern people), as far as or even beyond Sydney. They intermarried with the Krauatun-Kurnai about Mallagoota Inlet, and would have no doubt attended their ceremonies of initiation had these people had any. The Ngarego attended the ceremonies of the Theddora, of the Coast Murring, of the Wolgal, but their other neighbours, the Bidwelli, in the south-west, had no ceremonies of their own, any more than had their southern neighbours, the Krauatun, who did not even attend the Jeraeil of the Kurnai tribe.7 Very rarely individuals of the Krauatun or Bidwelli have been initiated by their neighbours. The Wolgal attended the ceremonies, not only of those tribes which I have mentioned together with them, but also of other tribes to the north-east, who are of the Kamilaroi stock. Similarly the Wiraijuri attend the ceremonies of all the tribes adjoining them, as the Barkinghi and Wonghibon. It is easy to see how very widespread were the bonds which bound together the native communities, and in what manner the privileged old men—for instance, the doctors and wizards of some distant tribes, as the Barkinghi—might, in attending the initiations of the Wiraijuri, become acquainted with the leading Wolgal men, and even under their safeguard visit the Ngarego ceremonies. These privileged men play an important part in the intercommunication of the tribes, and have often what I may even call inherited influence [p.435] through marriages. Such a case is that of one Yibai-Malian,8 who exercises great influence over the scattered remnants of the Coast Murring and Ngarego, as well as of the Wolgal, to which he belongs. His father, who was a renowned "blackfellow doctor" of the Wiraijuri tribe, joined the Wolgal, with whom he was related by marriage, and he then obtained a wife from the Theddora of Omeo. By this he again became connected, through her relations, with the Ngarego, and met the Coast Murring and acquired influence with them at their ceremonial meetings.
It is very difficult to say, at present, to what distance the peculiar form of ceremonies which I am about to describe extend. I may mark their least northern extension by a line drawn from Sydney, down the Lachlan River, to Balranald, if not still nearer to the Darling, and I think it extremely likely, from information I have, that the ceremonies, in modified forms, may be found to extend throughout the greater part of New South Wales, or even into the colonies of South Australia and Queensland. I am unable to define the limits south of the Murray River, because the process of tribal destruction has been so complete in many cases that as yet I have not been able to trace out what the ceremonies were in Northern and Western Victoria, beyond the bare fact that they had some resemblance to those I am about to describe. So rapid was the disorganisation, for instance, of the Woiworung tribe of the Yarra River that its ceremonies do not appear to have survived in a complete form more than ten years after the founding of Melbourne.
Beyond the extreme northern and south-western limits which I have suggested for the ceremonies I shall describe—that is, in the central part of South Australia and the south-west of Queensland, I find reason to believe that there is a somewhat different type of initiation marked by a general practice of circumcision and a somewhat less general practice of slitting up the urethra, to a greater or less length. I do no more now than indicate this, as I desire in this paper to confine myself to those ceremonies with which I have a personal acquaintance.
The Assemblage for Initiation.—The community which assembles for the periodical initiation of its youths is, in principle, the united exogamous class-divisions which in a former paper I formulated generally as A + B. But this fundamental principle is obscured in practice. The men of A class initiate the youths of B class, and vice versa; but it is the men as a whole, representing the local organisation, who control and conduct the ceremonies.
Where the class-divisions are well marked and full of vigour, [p.436] with uterine descent, as in most tribes having the Kamilaroi organisation, it is the social organisation which takes the initiative in calling together the whole community. Where, however, the social organisation has become weakened, where the class-divisions have become more or less extinct, and where the line of descent has changed to that through the father, then it is that the local organisation takes the whole control into its own hands, calls the assembly, and conducts its proceedings. Yet even in such cases there are surviving traces of the older system, for it is invariably the case that it is the men of one exogamic class-name who initiate the youths of the other.9 The local organisation, in fact, restrains the exercise of the merited rights inherited by an individual, until after that he has been formally admitted to the privileges, duties, and responsibilities of manhood. It is the assembled fully initiated men who do this, and these men are the local organisation.
I have already said that the community, as defined by the extent locally of the initiation ceremonies, is far wider than the extent of the tribe. It includes, in fact, all those tribes between which there is connubium. Wiraijuri, Wolgal, Ngarego, Theddora, and Coast Murring are all completely distinct, so far as the local organisation of each is concerned. But they form one community. They are all more or less epigamic—those most distant from each other in very little degree. The ceremonies of initiation, although differently named in the diverse languages or dialects of these tribes, are essentially the same in all, and they bind the whole of the different communities into a still greater whole. The differences existing between the class-systems of these different parts of the community do not even interfere with their unity as a whole, or even with the intermarriage of people of apparently different class-systems. Nor is this the case even where the lines of descent differ. Making use of the convenient formula which I have before adopted, I may give this explanation. The social organisation of the Wiraijuri is of the well-known Kamilaroi type.10
That of the Wolgal is similar, but with somewhat different groups of totems.
Ngarego and Theddora had class-divisions of the formula A + B, without
sub-classes, with a large group of
totems representing each primary class, and having uterine descent.11 The Coast Murring have no class-divisions, and their totem names are anomalous, as well as
in a decadent state. In
some places each individual has two totem names, and in other places only one,
and the totem name goes from father to child. There are therefore what seem at
first sight irreconcilable differences in the class-divisions, totems, and line
of descent of these tribes. Yet there is intermarriage between them, and the
intermarriages are regulated by the equivalence of the class and totem names.
This equivalence was known to the old people, and still forms the subject of
earnest consideration when a marriage is under consideration.12
The term "community," in the sense in which I now use it, means the aggregate of all those tribes which meet at the same initiation ceremonies, or who having substantially the same ceremonies might meet if occasion were favourable, and between whom there is intermarriage, although perhaps rarely.
The initiative in these ceremonies is taken by one of the principal men. It is
usually either the principal man of the united tribe, or it may be the principal
man of some one section of it. This man may either act on his own impulse, or he
may be moved by the representations of some other man of influence, or perhaps
more frequently after the matter has been considered by the old men who form the
"Great Council." This Great Council is composed of the most eminent men, that is,
the heads of totems, warriors, orators, doctors, wizards; it holds its meetings
in secret, at some place apart. Its determinations are announce to what may well
be called the general council of the tribe, that is, an assembly of all the
initiate men, held at some place apart from the camp where the women and
When it has been decided that there are a sufficient number of boys ready for initiation, the headman sends out his messenger. In the tribes which have the class-system in a vigorous condition, it is frequently the case that the messenger is necessarily of the same totem as the sender of the message.13 Let us suppose the latter to be a Wiraijuri headman of the Yibai-Gurimul (Opossum) sub-class and totem. The messenger must also be Yibai-Gurimul, and it is to a principal man of the same that his message is delivered, who in his turn sends it on in the same manner. Thus the message travels throughout the whole community by being carried by the Gurimul totem, whose headman communicates it to the principal men of the different totems which form the local groups. The messenger carries with him, as the emblems of his mission, a complete set of male attire, together with the sacred humming instrument, which is wrapped in a skin, and carefully concealed from women and children. It is therefore, in such cases, the totem which assembles the whole community.14
In cases where the social organisation has broken down, the procedure is different in some degree. I have said that among the Coast Murring it is the intermarrying local groups which are strongly exogamic, and this practice obscures the effect of the still existing restriction as to the totem. The local groups are arranged under two great geographical divisions, named respectively Katungal, that is, sea-coast people, and Baiangal, [p.439] that is to say, forest people.15 Assuming that the ceremonies were ordered to be held by the principal headman of the Katungal, he would send his messenger to the headman of the Baiangal, who would take action accordingly. The social organisation has here no apparent part in assembling the community, for the messenger is not necessarily of the same totem name as the sender.
I now take some other instances for the purpose of illustration. The last great meeting of the Kurnai tribe was called together by the headman of the Brabrolung clan, who was also the most influential man of the northern moiety of the tribe.16 The message was carried by a young man of this headman's local group, and he bore with him as his credentials one of the "great man's" weapons.17 He delivered it, together with his message, to the principal man of the southern moiety of the tribe, who then, gathering his people together, led them to the appointed place, where meanwhile the northern half had collected under their headman and prepared the ceremonial ground.
In the Woiworung tribe of the Yarra River it was the headman who summoned the assemblies for initiation. He sent a messenger to the headmen of the local groups, who carried a man's belt hung on a reed. In the Adjadura tribe of South Australia the ceremonies are ordered to be held by the headman of the whole tribe by his messenger, who carries a message- stick marked in such a manner that it serves to illustrate his message; together with this there is also sent a sacred humming instrument.18 In the Chepara tribe of Southern Queensland the initiation ceremonies are called together by the principal headman, who sends his messenger (usually a son—own or tribal) to all the other headmen. The messenger carries a message-stick and a sacred humming instrument.19 These instances will suffice to show how similar the mode of calling together these assemblies is in far distant parts of Australia.
The Ceremonies of Initiation.—I now proceed with reference to the five tribes
which I have taken into special consideration. The ceremonial meeting having
been called together, that moiety of the community which called it prepares the
ground and gets all rely for the arrival of the various contingents. Some spot
has been selected where a good supply of food is obtainable. The preparation of
the ground is regulated by the peculiar form which the ceremonies have taken in
any one tribe. The best illustration which I can give will be by describing the
procedure of the Coast Murring, which is a good general example of the
ceremonies of the great group of epigamic communities which I treat of in this
The ceremonies themselves may be one of two kinds:—either the full ceremonial, called Bunan, or the abbreviated ceremonial, called Kadja-wolung.20 The ceremonies are also spoken of generally in either case as Kuringal.21 The difference between these ceremonies is partly that the Bunan lasts three or four days, while the Kadja-wolung lasts about half that time, and partly that in the latter not only are the proceedings abbreviated, but that some which belong to the Bunan are omitted. For instance, the Bunan is held in a carefully prepared ground, where every stick or stone has been carefully removed, and the earth has been thrown up in a circular mound about the place of ceremony. The novices are placed on this mound in front of fierce fires, and are kept there sufficiently long to fully test their power of endurance. Each novice holds upright in front of himself his mother's "yamstick" on which are hung the belt of manhood and the other articles of attire with which he is by-and-by to be invested. It is inside this circular mound that many of the preliminary dances, at which it is lawful for the women and children to be present, take place. A cleared path leads from the great Bunan for some distance through the bush to a retired spot where is the small Bunan, enclosed by boughs, in which the tooth is knocked out. The women are sent away, under the charge of some old man, from the great Bunan before the procession of the initiated and of the novices takes place along the cleared path.
The difference between the greater and the lesser Kuringal is mainly in the presence or absence of the circular mound, of the cleared path of the small Bunan, and in the more or less extended and developed character of the ceremonies.
I shall now describe the proceedings as carried on at the [p.441] lesser ceremonies of the coast tribes. On the arrival of a contingent, led by the messenger who summoned it, its women and children halt at a distance, and a peculiar long-drawn "Coo-ee" is uttered by the messenger. On this being answered from the camp, the men follow their conductor to the council-place, while the women proceed to encamp. The spot which they occupy is on that side of the general encampment which faces in the direction of their country. Meanwhile the men have sat down at the council-place, and after a silence the headman of the newly arrived contingent and the headman of the people who receive it, converse, and it may be that all the old men consult together. The arrival is often arranged to be about nightfall.
The next proceeding is for all the men present all the council-place to run in a long winding line from it to the general camp. The line is headed by one of the old men, or sometimes by the "sister's husbands" of the novices.22 Each man holds a bough in his hand,23 which is struck rhythmically from side to side as the long line winds stamping forward with deep guttural exclamations of Huh! Wah! The signal for the start of this snake-like procession is given by the last-arrived messenger, who draws out his concealed mudji, and swinging it causes it to make a loud roaring noise.24 So soon as this is heard the men commence their winding course, and the women start up in the camp, roll their rugs, and commence to drum and to sing the "tooth song" which is intended to cause the novice's teeth to come out easily. The procession of men is by this time winding, stamping, and shouting Huh! Wah! through the entire encampment, visiting each separate hut, and, as I may say, gathering the women and children into a clear space outside of it Here the women and children crowd together, while the men dance round them in more than even double fold, if the line is long enough. One of the men now starts forward, shouting loudly the name of the locality of the newly arrived contingent, which is hailed with shouts by the men, who then silently raise their boughs over the women's heads towards the sky. In this way a number of the most distant localities from which there are people present [p.442] are pronounced—not only to the assembled community in words, but by the upward-pointed gesture with bough, boomerang, or finger, to the Great Master;25 for this is the gesture-sign by which these tribes indicate the name of the dreaded Spirit, which it is not lawful to speak before the uninitiated, or in places where it is not sanctioned by the performance of these ceremonies, which he first instituted and taught to his people.
After this ceremony the evening is spent in singing and dancing for the general amusement.
When all the contingents have arrived the council of old men determines the day on which the great ceremonies shall be held. These are commenced by a stamping, winding procession as before, but this time the women and children are not only closely crowded together, but crouch on the ground, and those women whose sons are to be initiated are placed in front of the group. The men having danced in a long chain back and fro before the women, halt in front of them, and, directed by the principal old man, closely cover them up with rugs.26 The women at this time are droning out the "tooth song." At a sign from the old man who is the master of the ceremonies, each kabo seizes his particular charge by the arm, and holding him tight drags him forth and hastens away with him, followed by the shouting crowd of men.27 Some old man is left behind to see that the women behave themselves, and do not indulge in any unlawful female curiosity by following the men.
When at a distance from the camp the boys are rubbed with [p.443] red ochre and fat, and each one is covered closely with a rug or blanket so that nothing but his face is visible.
The ceremonial procession now commences, and each kabo is deeply engaged in giving his boy a preliminary instruction as to his duties. These may be summed up as follows:—
(1) He is on no account to stare about him, but to walk with his eyes fixed on the ground, excepting when told by his guardian to look at anything.
(2) He is not to laugh, nor to show the slightest sign of being conscious of that which he sees, or hears, or that which is done to him.
(3) He is, however, to pay the greatest attention to all that he is told, and he is, moreover, told that for disobedience of these commands he may be struck down instantly, if not killed, by the magic powers of the old men.
It is the duty of the guardian to watch over his charge, to care for him in
every way, to give him food and drink, when these are allowed to the novice, and
above all to fully explain the ceremonies; to teach him the name and attributes of
Daramulun, and in every way to be to him a "guide, philosopher, and
The proceedings may be divided into three parts; the procession, the encampment, the return; and I shall for convenience deal with the ceremonies in that order. Before proceeding with my description I must, however, make some general statements which apply to the whole, from beginning to end. So soon as the initiated men with the novices are out of sight of the camp, or at the greater ceremonies have left the Bunan circle—the women being left behind—it becomes lawful to openly speak of those things which elsewhere are not spoken of at all, or only in a hushed tone. Even, in some respects, the language is altered, for many words are now used for which at other times, and in other places, quite different ones are used. The principle underlying this is, that all things belonging to these ceremonies are so intimately connected with Daramulun that they may not be elsewhere spoken of without risk of displeasing him, and the words which imply these ceremonies, or anything connected with them, are therefore forbidden. For instance, the name of Daramulun, may now be freely uttered,—in what manner I shall shortly show,—whereas at other times he is only alluded to by the general name of Biamban29 = master, or Papang30 = father, [p.444] or more generally by a simple gesture by pointing the forefinger of the right hand towards the sky.
The Procession.—This is to some retired and secret place, which may be several miles distant. All the men throw off the silent, self-contained, even dignified manner which is so marked in many old blackfellows, and all, from the youngest to the oldest, become in some respects more like a set of schoolboys let loose for a "lark," than anything else I can think of. From this time until the end of the proceedings, when the men resume their ordinary manner, there is a very peculiar practice of speaking in what I may call an "inverted sense." The most extraordinary statements are made to each other, and to the novices, but at the end of each sentence is added the word Yah! which means, as the men themselves explained by English words, "gammon," or "a sell." Thus the real intended meaning is always the opposite of the apparent meaning of the words used. For instance, I have heard one of the old men say to one of the novices, with a comic manner, "I say, boys, you can go home now—Yah! we have done with you—Yah!" The conversation hardly ever flags, but jests, replies, and retorts are bandied from one to another, accompanied by a constant fire of Yah! until the word becomes utterly wearisome. It is said that this practice is intended to teach the boys to speak the straightforward truth, and the kabos thus explain it to them.
The procession is broken into a number of stages, at which the boys, each attended by his guardian, stand in a row with downcast eyes; at these halts there are performances in which all the men take part, under the direction of one or two old men, who act as masters of ceremonies.
These performances are some of them intended to amuse, some to instruct, and some to warn and terrify. For instance, the first performance at the Kuringal, which I am now describing, was that two old men sat down on the ground, in front of the novices, and proceeded, with most ludicrous antics, to make a "dirt-pie," after the manner of children, while the men danced round them. The kabos told their charges that this was to show them that they must no longer consort with children and play at childish games, but for the future act as men.
Other performances represent hunting incidents. At all these stages the pantomimic representation is accompanied by dancing on the part of the men generally. The dancers usually perform their part standing in front of the novices, so as to leave a small space open, and into this suddenly rushes one of the wizards, who while dancing, sinks down almost to the ground, and, often with fearful contortions, exhibits between his teeth some substance which he is supposed to be able to bring up from his [p.445] inside at will, and which is believed to be of terribly magical power. The wizard is supposed to be able to injure or even kill any one by invisibly throwing such a substance at them.31
Here, then, the novices for the first time witness the actual exhibition of those magical powers of the old men of which they have heard since their earliest years.32 They have been told how these men can produce from within themselves certain deadly things, which they are then able to project invisibly into those whom they desire to injure or to kill; and now the boys see during the impressive magical dances these very things, as they express it, "pulled out of themselves" by the wizards.
There is a succession of these performances, and the accompanying dances until the scene of the main ceremonies is reached. Throughout the whole course the singular "inverted speech'' is used, and among other devices for impressing on the novices the absolute necessity of obedience by them to the directions of the old men, saplings growing on the line of route are bent over into arches, under which the novices pass, sometimes even being obliged to crawl on the ground to do so. All this time, during the march, the novice is closely attended by his guardian, who is most of the time engaged in earnestly instructing him, and in explaining to him the meaning of the various performances which are gone through by the men.
The Magic Camp.—A camp is formed when the spot is reached which has been fixed upon for the site of the tooth-knocking-out ceremony. The first thing done is the lighting of a "magic fire" on an open space round which the different camps are disposed. The novices, always closely attended by their kabos, are caused to lie down on a couch of boughs, closely covered over by their rugs or blankets. The couch of boughs is intended to keep them off the ground, which otherwise might make them ill, if damp. The rule is that the novices and their guardians are to encamp themselves near the men of that contingent which has come from a place most distant from their own country, in [p.446] order that, being placed entirely among strangers, and away from the countenance of their kindred and Mends, they may be more easily impressed by that which they see and hear.
A constant succession of ceremonies, of pantomimic representations, magic dances, songs interspersed with the inverted speeches, and the accompanying "Yah" now continue, until far into the night, even until very near morning. Throughout all this there is during the dances a constant display by the wizards of their magic powers. Occasionally, when late at night, the men become somewhat tired and seem inclined to fall asleep, the mudji is swung in the gloom of the forest, and as its roaring sound is heard the people are roused to renewed efforts.
The mudji is held to have been first made and used by Daramulun, when in the beginning of things he instituted these ceremonies, and constituted the aboriginal society as it exists. The noise made by it is the voice of Daramulun, calling together the initiated, and, moreover, it also represents the muttering of thunder, which is said to be his voice "calling to the rain to fall and make the grass grow up green."33
Throughout all this time the novices are kept in a constant state of excitement and uncertainty. The performances, songs, and dances are alternately exhibited by the two tribal moieties—one performing, and the other witnessing. At the end of each of the "Acts," if I may use the term, there is a short halt for rest. The men sit in their camps, and talk or smoke, or even snatch "forty winks." The novices are told to lie down, in such words as these: "Now we have finished. You can go to sleep till morning—Yah!" No sooner have the novices been settled under their rugs, and might be supposed to be dozing, than some old man rushes into the magic ring, and commences a fresh set of performances, and the novices are at once roused up and brought back to the fire.
The ceremonial performances.—All the men during these performances are, or should be, quite naked and rubbed over with powdered charcoal. Of the ceremonies the greatest is that of the extraction of the tooth, which, with the group of tribes I now treat of, is one of the upper middle pair of incisors, usually the left one. A place is prepared out of sight of the magic fire, by clearing everything off the ground, and a pair of holes is dug in this space for each boy to stand in during the ceremony. A number of men hideously disguised34 kneel in front, and the man [p.447] at each end of the line holds a strip of bark in his hands, with which, by striking on a small heap of earth raised in front of him, he can produce a noise like the distant explosion of a gun. At one side of the ground the figure of Daramulun is cut on some large tree, in the attitude of dancing the magic dance.
Sometimes other figures or marks are made in the surrounding trees. All being ready, the principal old men gives the signal, and the novices being guided from the camp with their eyes fixed on the ground at their feet, the mudji is swung, loudly roaring somewhere out of sight. The novices are now placed, each with his feet in a pair of holes, and his kabo stands behind him.
The old man now gives a signal, and the end man of the row of hideous kneeling figures raises his piece of bark, and brings it down with a loud report, and at the same time he and all the others surge away from his end of the row, making a rumbling sound, in imitation of the surf breaking upon and rushing up the shore; the other end man now in his turn strikes the ground, and he and all the men surge back with a similar deep sound. This is intended to represent the thunder from the mountains rolling back the sound to the sea.
When this has gone on rhythmically for a little time the men jump up and rush forward towards the boys, who have been told to attentively observe them. The kabo now kneels on one knee, so that the other forms a seat on which the novice sits, while another kabo35 stands immediately behind, with his right arm round the boy's body, and his left hand over his eyes, so as to blindfold him, and at the same time turn his face skywards.36
The men now commence an excited dance, while from some place of concealment near at hand the old man whose office it is to knock out the tooth dances forward with a wooden chisel in one hand, and a wooden mallet in the other.37 Sometimes he [p.448] pushes back the gums from the boy's tooth with his finger-nail, but sometimes this is dispensed with. He then seizes the boy by the head, and inserting his own lower incisors underneath the tooth which is to be extracted, gives a "hoist" up to loosen it. It is said that a tooth occasionally comes out under this process, but more frequently it does not, and then has to be knocked out by placing the wooden chisel on it, and striking it with the mallet. All this time the men round are frantically jumping up and down, shouting "Wiri, Wirri!"38 and as many as are near the operator patting him on the back to encourage him. Under such circumstances, more especially as the operator endeavours to keep up the magic dance himself, it is not surprising that many blows are sometimes required before the tooth is extracted. I have known as many as thirteen blows to be given. When the tooth holds fast, the explanation always given is that "the boy has not kept to himself, but has been too much in the company of the girls and women."39
When the tooth is extracted it is taken charge of by one of the old men. The boy is soothed and told that "it is all over now." He is enjoined to be careful not to spit out the blood flowing from the gum. He is now almost a man. When all the boys have been made gumbang-ira40 they are taken to the figure of Daramulun, and instructed concerning him, and cautioned against revealing anything about him or his ceremonies to women or children, under the severest penalties.
All the disguises are now stripped off, and thrown in a heap on the cleared space; the men stand round in a circle, facing outwards, and at a given signal scratch together a large heap of rubbish over it; then turning their faces towards the heap extend their hands several times downwards over it.
The boys are now taken back to the magic fire, and, being told that no more will be done to them, are each one invested with [p.449] the belt, the kilt, and other insignia of manhood. The performances, which are intended to complete the initiation of the youths by instructing them in their new duties as men, are now commenced. These are, as I have before said, of different kinds.
The pantomimic representations.—These are of several kinds; some are amusing pieces of buffoonery, others represent the different totems, and others again are what may be truly called "moral lessons." Some illustrations will make this clear.
An old man runs into the magic circle carrying a lump of wood as if it were a young child. He imitates the crying of an infant, and this is supposed to be a sick one. Other men now join him, who pretend to be doctors, examine the child, and go through the usual remedial course pretending to extract the disease in the form of pieces of stone, wood, bone, and other rubbish; the whole of this is very comically done, and even the old "doctors" themselves join in it.
Another instance is where two old men are seen standing beyond the fire at the edge of the magic circle; to the left and in the gloom of the forest are the other men crouching together. They are "Rock wallabies," and one old man proceeds to "drive" them past the other one, whose business is supposed to be to knock each one over as it passes, with some weapon. This of course represents the hunting of the Rock wallabies, by driving them past other hunters in ambush. But this pantomime is intended to be comic. The wallabies are driven one by one, hopping past the hunter, who, simulating weapons with pieces of stick and bark, always misses his object, and is therefore comically abused and beaten by the driver. When the wallabies have all passed in front of the fire, and have laid down in the shadow at the other side, the two old men rush to the fire clapping their hands, and shouting the word meaning "Wallaby." All the performers then rush in and form a dancing circle, shouting the word in time to the dance. This dance is always of the same character. The legs are kept somewhat apart, and at each jump the knees are slightly bent, but there is none of the quivering used at the Corroborree; at the same time the arms, hanging down, are swung to and fro across the front of the body: this is the whole step and action. It is hardly possible to imagine a wilder scene—a more complete "witches sabbath"—than this, where a number of naked blackfellows, made truly hideous by being rubbed with charcoal, dance furiously in this manner by night, round the magic fire, in the depths of the forest, shouting some word in time to the dance.41 It is completed when the old men rush into the ring and dance crouching, so that the tips of their [p.450] fingers almost touch the ground, or even on their knees, until sometimes, apparently overcome by the magic influence, they fall down, seemingly in an exhausted state.
Other dances merely represent the "totems." For instance, the howlings of what seems to be a pack of dingoes is heard in the forest. The sounds come nearer, the howls answering each other, until at length the leader of the band runs in on all fours to the fire, followed by the others. They run after each other round the fire imitating the actions of dogs, until, as before, the leading old man jumps up, clasps his hands and shouts the native word for "wild dog." All then join in precisely such a dance as I have before described.
What may be called the "moral lessons" have, at first sight, a very immoral appearance, and it is not easy to describe some of them. They represent in pantomimic dances various offences against propriety and morality, and the old men and the guardians point these representations by telling the novices what will be the consequences should they, after leaving the initiation camp, commit the represented offences. I have heard the old men say, for instance: "If you do anything like that when you go back, you will be killed"—that is, either by magic or by direct violence. That which is thus forbidden I can sufficiently describe by saying that it includes, inter alia, disrespect towards the old men, the interference with unprotected women or the wives of other men, and those offences for which, it is said, the Cities of the Plain were destroyed by celestial fire.
Besides these representations there are many merely "magic dances," which seem to be performed for the purpose of enabling the wizards to exhibit their power of "bringing things out of themselves." The mode of dancing is precisely that which I have described before, but the word shouted is either the name of some particular magic object, as of the quartz crystal, or the name of some part of the body, as head, legs, &c., which may become the subject of the magic influence.
Among these magic dances those of Daramulun and Ngalalbal are pre-eminent. The former is to the word Daramulun, and the old men then show all they can do in bringing up those substances with which it is said he provides them.
The Ngalalbal dance is rendered very effective by being
preceded by the "duality" Ngalalbal, the wives of Daramulun. These are seen
to glide from the forest past the fire, and to disappear in the gloom beyond, to
a slow and rather melancholy air sung by the audience, the words of which may be
rendered, "Ngalalbal, you two coming from afar, where are you going to?"42
Ngalalbal is represented by two men shrouded in rugs
[p.451] precisely as are the novices, said each protruding a boomerang from the small
space left at the face.
Throughout all these performances there is the constant use of the "inverted speech" and the novices are continually instructed by their guardians, and specially by one or other of the old men.
One very significant part of the ceremonies remains to be noted, and I may now also say that it occurs periodically from almost the very commencement of the ceremonies until their end.
At the conclusion of some performance—it does not seem to be confined to either kind—the old men rush towards the novices, followed by the others. Each man rhythmically moves his hands alternately from himself to the novices, palm upwards, as if he were scooping something from himself to them, at the same time emphatically keeping time with the word nga (good); the novices on their part, as also the kabos, move their hands as if they were drawing something towards themselves. When this has gone on for a short time the old men cease, and utter the emphatic words, Yah! Huh! Wah! at each word making a downward motion of the hands towards the boys.
This is said to be done for the purpose of making the boys "so that Daramulun, likes them," and I feel there can be no doubt that the idea is that the magic influences of the ceremonies is thus passed to the boys, and "clinched" by the emphatic motion of the hands. In other words, the boys are filled with the influence and made acceptable to the Great Spirit Daramulun, who instituted these ceremonies, and who is supposed to watch them whenever performed.43
These proceedings go on until far into the night, and at early dawn the magic fire is replenished, and for a time the magic dances are repeated. During the day the men rest, or go out to hunt, and the boys remain closely covered with their rugs in charge of their guardians.
At night the ceremonies recommence, and are a repetition such as those which I
have described. When it is considered that they have lasted long enough, the
final ceremonies of the return procession are commenced.
The magic fire is covered up with earth and rubbish, and carefully trampled down and extinguished—finally by the emphatic downward action of the hands. But before this some dry bark has been cut; pieces are placed in pairs together, and being tied at the ends with a few leafy twigs, are lighted at the magic fire. One of these fire-sticks is given to each of the novices, in order that he may carry it with him and light the fire which he is to use during the time of his probation. It is believed that the omission to do this would cause fearful and destructive storms.44
During the return there ore certain ceremonies of which the following may serve as an example.45 The procession being formed, and on the march from the magic camp, the roaring of the mudji is heard and a halt is made. The old men, having carefully cleared a piece of ground, proceed to mould in earth, in high relief, the life-sized figure of a naked man in the attitude of the dance. He is represented as having his mouth filled with "magic substances," and in the full ceremonies is surrounded by an assortment of the native weapons. This is Daramulun, The novices are brought and placed in front of this figure and the dances take place—one to the word Daramulun, the other to the word Ngalalbal. It is now that the novices are finally instructed as to this being and his attributes. I have heard them [p.453] told by the principal old man "This is the master (Biamban), who can go anywhere and do anything." They are also cautioned never to reveal this or to make such a representation unless at the ceremonies, under pain of death.
The figure is now carefully covered up, and the procession proceeds a further stage on its march when another halt is made and the novices are seated at a distance with their guardians. The old men, meanwhile, disguise several of the others with stringy bark fibre as I have before described, but in this case the performers were entirely covered, face and all, and were connected together by a cord passing from head to head.46 During this time a grave is dug, and one of the old men, lying in it on his back, after the manner of a corpse, is lightly covered up with sticks and rubbish and earth, and so far as possible the natural appearance of the ground is restored, the excavated earth being carried away to a distance.47 The buried wizard holds a small bush in his hand, resting on his chest; the bush appears therefore to be growing in the soil, and other bushes are stuck in the soil to heighten the effect. All being ready the novices are brought to the edge of the grave. The "singer" is somewhere close at hand, and the performers at perhaps two hundred yards' distance. In the instance which I am now describing the singer commenced a well-marked but melancholy chant, the words of which are no more than the class-name of the buried man, and the word for the stringy bark fibre used of the disguise.48 The performers now commenced to move in a kind of slow dance, keeping time with the song. The performers in their advancing line held a small strip of bark in each hand, and by striking these together with a sharp sound they marked the time of the song and of their steps. A little at one side, and advancing with them, are two other disguised men, who represent two very ancient and therefore powerful wizards, by whom the proceedings are directed. Each one, as signifying his great age, assists himself in his tottering dance with a staff in each hand. When the strange procession reached the grave, it wound round it and ranged itself on the side opposite to the novices. The song still continued, and then the bush held by the buried man began to move and to quiver—to move more and more, until [p.454] suddenly the earth opened, so to say, and the wizard rose, and throwing off his concealment, danced his magic dance in the grave and exhibited his magic substances.
The proceedings being over, the disguises were as before covered up and concealed.
This ceremony is most impressive. It is the bringing back to life of the dead wizard by other wizards invoking his class-name. In this case the buried man was of the sub-class Yibai, which is the equivalent of the Kamilaroi Ipai, and according to his own statement, the name Yibai is also a synonym of Daramulun.49 The last one of the secret ceremonies takes place at some water-hole or creek. The novices are brought to the water's edge, being told in a joking manner, for instance, "We are going to catch some fish—Yah!"
The men go into the water and thoroughly wash themselves, so as to remove all traces of the charcoal with which they have smeared themselves, and together with it leave everything behind connected with the secret ceremonies. While they are doing this they splash the water over the boys, and conclude by passing to them a final portion of the magic influence, and which the novices and their guardians draw to themselves as I have before described. Finally, with an emphatic Yah! Huh! Wah! and a downward movement of the hands, all is ended.50
The men go into the water-hole with the curious part joking, part serious, part buffoon manner of the ceremonies, and come out with their ordinary manner. The old men resume the quiet, somewhat self-contained and reserved manner which I have observed to be so marked in many of them.
There are now only two more proceedings before the novices are taken to the camp. As the men all move off homewards, the novices and their guardians go on a little ahead, and the mudji is now brought out and loudly sounded. The novices are brought back, and the headman shows to them the mudji, and the wooden chisel, and explains their use, and also forbids them to reveal anything that they have seen or heard under pain of death. All now proceed towards the main camp, or to that place to which the women have been directed to proceed, and to erect a new camp.51 The novices now walk with the men, [p.455] attended, but not guarded, by the kabos, and sometimes, in order to still more impress them, a number of men, who have hidden themselves in the path, rush out violently, spears aimed as if about to kill the youths, who are threatened with death if they reveal anything to the uninitiated.52
Before reaching the camp where the women are, the youths are carefully dressed with the full equipment of a man, and painted after the manner customary in the tribe. On nearing the camp a peculiar signal is given, and on this being answered by the women each youth is raised on his guardian's shoulders, and the men close in round, holding up branches so as to effectually screen them from sight. The procession then moves slowly forward towards the camp. It is frequently the case that the principal old man walks a little apart, on one side and towards the rear.
During the absence of the men the women have made a hut of boughs resembling one of the ordinary habitations, before which there is a smoky fire. In this hut stands the mothers and grown-up sisters of the newly made young men, dressed in their gayest adornments. As the men approach close to the hut they separate, and the guardians deposit each his charge at the front of the fire. The youths then enter the hut, and the oldest woman, after eyeing her son all over, lightly strikes him twice with a boomerang.53 It is an understood signal, at which all the novices immediately run from the camp back into the bush, followed closely by all the men.
The ceremonies are now completed, and the youths remain for a certain time, which is fixed by the old men, gaining their own living as best they can, by catching such food-animals as are not forbidden to them. The rules under which certain animals, birds, &c., are forbidden are such as these: the novice may not kill and eat—
(1) Any animal that burrows in the ground, for it recalls to mind the foot-holes where the tooth was knocked out; e.g., the wombat.
(2) Such creatures as have very prominent teeth, for these recall the tooth itself.
(3) Any animal that climbs to the tree tops, for they are then near to Daramulun; e.g., the native bear.
(4) Any bird that swims, for it recalls the final washing.
(5) Nor, above all, the Emu, for this is Ngalalbal, the wife of Daramulun, and at the same time "the woman";54 for the novice during his probation is not permitted even so much as to look at a woman, or to speak to one; and even for some time after he must cover his mouth with his rug when one is present. Yet on one occasion during his probation he is shown to his mother, in order that her mind may be at rest concerning him.55
These food rules are only relaxed by degrees by some old man giving the youth a
portion of the forbidden animal, or rubbing him with its fat. In some of the
tribes, e.g., the Wolgal, these food rules only become relaxed gradually, so
that it is the old man only who is free to use every kind of animal food.
During the time of probation the young men are under the charge of their guardians. But they are also visited and instructed by the old men. After a time, as the council of elders is satisfied that the youth is competent to take his place among the men, he is recalled and permitted to be present at the general councils, but he does not speak at them, or take any part other than a passive one.
After a still further period he is permitted to take the wife who has been assigned to him by the arrangement of his and her father, and in acquiring her he takes his sister (own or tribal), as an exchange—that is, as a wife for her own or tribal brother. These mutual exchanges are often arranged at a general meeting of all the people before the various contingents separate after the ceremonies are over.56 The extracted tooth is taken care of by one of the old men. It seems that there is no strict rule as to who shall first have charge of it, but in any case it is passed from one headman to another until it has made the complete circuit of the community, which [p.457] was present at the initiation. It then returns to the father of the youth, and finally to himself.57
Thus the gap formed by the absence of the tooth is the visible sign of initiation. The tooth itself, together with the message accompanying it, makes known to all concerned that so-and-so has been made a man, and has thereby acquired all privileges which are attached to man's estate.
The object of the ceremonies.—It is quite clear that these ceremonies have for their object the conferring upon the youths of the tribe the privileges, duties, and obligations of manhood. The nature of the ceremonies, and several of the proceedings, clearly show this. At the same time that the youth is enrolled among the men he is removed from the maternal control; The ceremonies are intended also to create a gulf between the past life of the boy and the future life of the man, which can never be re-crossed. They are also intended to strengthen the authority of the elder men over the younger. Finally, the opportunity is taken of impressing upon the mind of the youth, in an indelible manner, those rules of conduct which form the moral law of the tribe. In addition to all this there is even a quasi-religious element which tends to strengthen very greatly the effect which the ceremonies are likely to have upon the mind of the youth. Taken as a whole I cannot imagine anything more calculated to impress, to awe, and even to terrify a young Australian savage than to pass through ceremonies such as those I have now briefly described.
Some interesting comparisons show themselves between the ceremonies which form the subject of this memoir and those of tribes standing further back in the social series. I take the Dieri tribe of South Australia as my example.58 This tribe has two primary classes and a large group of totems under each, with uterine descent. The classes are strictly exogamic, and there is intermarriage, not only between the class-divisions of the Dieri, but also between them and the equivalent classes of kindred tribes, over a space of at least three hundred miles square. A boy at his birth acquires a marital right as regards those women of the other class-name who are not forbidden to him under the [p.458] restrictions arising out of consanguinity; but this right cannot be lawfully exercised until he has been formally admitted to the ranks of the men by passing through several initiations. When he is duly qualified, the great council, on the occasion of the next occurring circumcision ceremony (which he has long before gone through), allots to him a woman of that class-name and totem with which his own has connubium. This woman may be, and probably has been, already allotted to one or more other men, who also themselves have been allotted to other women. This is the marital arrangement which has been called by Mr. Fison and myself that of "accessory husbands and wives."59 It is at a still later period that a man requires a ''special wife." It is quite evident that in this tribe the exercise of the potential right which arises under the social organisation is controlled by the local organization, as represented by the Great Council of the tribe.
Some of the tribes which I have herein considered have uterine, and some have agnatic descent, but it is evident that in all of them the marital privilege which accompanies birth, and which is attached to the inherited name, is restrained until the local organisation has permitted it to be exercised.60
I now shortly summarise the conclusions following from a study of the initiation ceremonies:—
1. It is the local organisation which controls the initiation ceremonies.
2. The ceremonies confer the privileges, duties, and liabilities of manhood on the youths of the community.
3. Each epigamic moiety initiates the youths of the complementary moiety.
4 The knocking out of the tooth is the visible sign of the initiation of the individual.
5. The circuit in which the tooth is carried marks the extent of the epigamic community.
There are some other general conclusions which appear to me not to be without
The teachings of the initiation are in a series of "moral lessons" pantomimically displayed, in a manner intended to be so impressive as to be indelible. There is clearly a belief in a Great Spirit, or rather an anthropomorphic Supernatural Being, the "Master" of all, whose abode is above the sky, and to whom are attributed powers of omnipotence and omnipresence, or, at [p.459] any rate, the power to "do anything and to go anywhere." The exhibition of his image to the novices, and the magic dances round it, approach very near to idol worship. The wizards who profess to communicate with him, and to be the mediums of communication between him and his tribe, are not far removed from an organised priesthood. To his direct ordinance are attributed the social and moral laws of the community. Although there is no worship of Daramulun, as, for instance, by prayer, yet there is clearly an invocation of him by name, and a belief that certain acts please while others displease him.
It has been said that the Australian savage is without any form of religion or religious beliefs. If religion is defined as being the formulated worship of a divinity, then these savages have no religion; but I venture to assert that it can no longer be maintained that they have no belief which can be called religious—that is, in the sense of beliefs which govern tribal and individual morality under a supernatural sanction.
Mr. A. Tylor observed that the writer of this paper offered an excellent illustration of the action of heredity. He evidently owed his lucidity of expression, and interest in the details of life, to his father and mother, those excellent writers, William and Mary Howitt. The paper was singularly interesting, and, if the ceremonies and spiritualistic views were quite free from any white influence, Australian primitive life threw a strong light on the prehistoric races of Europe. The Greeks may have developed their theatre, their refined art of acting, from similar rude ceremonies. The Greek Chorus appeared to us a superfluity, but the Greeks may have merely used the Chorus because it was an essential part of the primitive ceremonial acting of their ancestors, and, if so, it had a real meaning. Then the Australian custom of burying alive man in a sham grave had its counterpart in the initiation ceremonies of the Gnostics, known to us because frequently engraved on gems in the first and second centuries A.D.
1 "An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales" (London, 1798).
2 Those who were initiated in the early days were mostly escaped convicts who joined some tribe; others were wandering bushmen or shipwrecked sailors. It is remarkable that Buckley makes no mention of these ceremonies in his "Life." It is scarcely likely that during the thirty-two years he lived with the Port Philip aborigines he was not present at several of their gatherings. It is most likely, in my opinion, that he refrained from describing that which during so many years he must have been told it was not lawful to disclose to the uninitiated.
3 "Journ. Anthrop. Inst.," vol. xiii, No. 2.
4 From wirai—No. The tribe hat three large local divisions at least, and these local names have been perpetuated by the whites as names of places; for instance, Narrandra = Prickly Lizard; Cootamundra, from Kutaman = Turtle; Murranbulla, from Muring-bula = Two bark canoes.
5 Reported upon by Mr. A. L. Cameron.
6 Yet the community of initiation-ceremonies and the practice of inter-marriage did not prevent the tribes from making raids into each other's country in the olden time. The Coast Murring and the Ngarego were constantly and desperately at war, and the Wiraijuri even made raids to the west coast-line. The Coast Marring called them by a significant nickname, meaning "Come-by-night."
7 The Kurnai tribe was epigamic only with its neighbours along the coast on either side. Its extreme isolation prevented more than the slightest intercourse—by occasional raids along the "war-paths"—with the other surrounding tribes to the east, north, and west. Along the coast to the eastward, the Krauatun clan of the Kurnai adjoined the Mallagoota branch of the Coast Murring, and intermarried with it. To the south-west, along the coast, the outlying branch of the Bratana clan of the Kurnai met the western port Kūlin, between Wilson's Promontory and the Tarwin River. These people intermarried and attended each other's initiations. The Kurnai were therefore, with these exceptions, a people quite apart from all others, and eyen now the Coast Murring speak of them with contempt as "a people who have no kuringal (initiation), and who know nothing." The Bidwelli tribe, which inhabited the jungle country lying between the Kurnai, Coast Murring, and Ngarego tribes, had no initiation ceremonies whatever. It is, however, quite clear to me that it became organised as a tribe on the "old lines," so to say, by the association of "broken men" who have from time to time taken shelter from the pursuer or the avenger in the fastnesses of the inhospitable jungle, of the tract of mountain and swamp, that forms the eastern corner of Gippsland. The Bidwelli language is compounded of portions of those of the surrounding tribes, and its members had an equally composite set of class and totem names.
8 A man of the Malian (Eaglehawk) totem of the Yibai (Ipai) sub-class of the Wiraijuri community.
9 That is, a youth is directly under the charge and instruction, during hit initiation, of a man who is either the husband of his sister or who is the brother of the girl who has been promised to him as his future wife. If there is no "own" sister's husband, or a "betrothed," then a "tribal" sitter's husband, or brother of a "tribal" wife, is selected.
10 The following tabular form is provisionally given from as yet incompleted inquiries;—
|Primary classes.||Sub-classes.||Totems (Budjan),|
|Not known to exist||Yibai-Yipatha||Opossum, Eaglehawk, Mallee-hen, Fly, Native Bee, &c.|
|Wumbi-Butha||Lizard, Crow, Padimelon, &c.|
|Muri-Matha.||Red Kangaroo, Small Iguana, Young Emu, &c.|
|Kubi-Kubitha||Hawk, Bush-rat, Flying Opossum, &c.|
|These are dearly variations of the well-known Kamilaroi sub-classes and totems.|
|Merong (Eaglehawk).||Lyrebird, Bat, Flying Squirrel, Black Snake, Mopoke, Black Opossum, Red Wallaby, Fish.|
|Yukembruk (Crow)||Small Hawk, Rabbit Bat, Kangaroo, Emu, Iguana, Native Companion, Porcupine, Sleeping Lizard.|
These are evidently the equivalents of the Eaglehawk and Crow classes which extended over a large part of Victoria and over the greater part of the extreme west of New South Wales.
12 With the Coast Murring the local groups are under a strict exogamic rule, so that a man cannot marry a woman of his own locality, nor indeed of any other locality than that to which his sister (own or tribal) goes as a wife. Yet he cannot marry a woman of the permitted locality if she happens to be of the same budjan (totem) as himself.
13 1 This is not the case in all tribes. In the Dieri tribe, according to Mr. Gason, the head of a murdu (totem), in sending a message, would probably send one of his own name, but not necessarily; he might send any one else.
14 I learn from Mr. J. O. Muirhead that the practice of sending a message through a totem occurs in Northern Queensland, and further, that even the message-stick which is earned by the messenger must be made of some tree which belongs to the same class division as both the sender and the bearer of the message. In the tribes referred to the whole universe is, so to say, arranged under the two primary classes.
15 Properly speaking, Baiangal means "belonging to tomahawk," and refers to the use made of that implement for chopping holes in climbing a tree. The Baiangal are therefore, correctly speaking, "Tree-climbers"—gaining their living in the forests, climbing in search of game, as distinguished from the Katungal, who live on fish, and other produce of the sea, and are therefore properly spoken of as "Fishermen." The whites know them by this name, but speak of the others as "Waddy men," from the word waddy, colonially used for tree.
16 It will be well, in order to avoid misapprehension, to confine the use of the word clan to the local division of a tribe which has agnatic descent. Mr. Fison has suggested to me the word horde, as suitable for the local division of a tribe haying uterine descent. The reader will please bear in mind that where I use either of the above terms, I do so in the sense indicated.
17 Gwerail = great, and Kurnai = man. This is the designation of a headman in this tribe.
18 Mr. Thos. U. Sutton, of Yorkes Peninsula, South Australia.
19 Mr. J. Gibson, J.P., of Stanmore, Queensland.
20 Probably from "buning" to knock or strike, having reference to the knocking out of the tooth. Kadja-walung means "raw ceremonies," having reference to absence of the roasting process, which is only done at the Bunan.
21 In the coast language, kabo; in Ngarego and Theddora, jambi; in Wiraijuri, murimun. These words all mean "wife's brother," as well as "sister's husband"—for sisters are exchanged as wives in these tribes under arrangement of the respective fathers.
22 From Kuring—the forest or bush.
23 I have seen some men hold a boomerang instead.
24 I use the word "snake-like" because it best represents the movements of the procession. That this resemblance is not merely fanciful may be seen from this, that the very first overt act by which the women are made aware that the men hare determined to hold a Kuringal is, that one of the last initiated young men is sent to run through the camp shouting "a snake! a snake!" and the men then follow and form the procession. In the coast tribes the humming instrument is called mudji, or mudthi.
25 The meaning of "Biamban" as "master," is quite clear to me. A man is the Biamban of his wife and children; an old man is Biamban as regards the young men who obey his orders; the great warrior or wizard who rules the local groups is its Biamban; the principal headman of all is the Biambam of the tribe, and Daramulun, the Great Spirit, is the Biamban over everything.
26 In the Bunan ceremonies the women are not covered up at this time, but each
mother sits in a camp behind her son, who is on the mound undergoing the "fire
ordeal"; the other women being further back. The Wiraijuri follow much the same
practice above described. The Wimmera tribe of North-Western Victoria also
roasted the boys on a mound.
I observed at a Coast Kuringal that a very old man of the Bidwelli tribe, which has no initiation ceremonies, but who was at the encampment, being friendly with all, and related by marriage to some of the contingent visitors, was not permitted to join, but was driven crouching among the women and children, and together with them was covered with rugs. One of the Krauatun-Kurnai, who have no ceremonies, as I have before said, who was also at the camp, went away altogether when the proceedings commenced.
27 This shouting is intended to cover the noise made by the departing men. The women and children are supposed not to know what has become of them when the rugs are taken off by the man left in charge. At the Bunan, the departure of the novices and their guardians along the path is marked by the men, who continue to run round the inside of the Bunan, making a noise like "p-r-r p-r-r," and gradually stealing off one by one. During is time the women have been lying down outside the circular mound at the side furthest removed from the path leading to the small Bnnan.
28 Among the Wiraijuri the novice was shrouded as I have described, leaving the face smothered; but among the Theddora the rug was so arranged that a flap hung down so low over the face that the novice could see nothing but the heels of his jambi whom he closely followed.
29 Coast language.
30 Ngarego language.
31 The wizards are supposed to obtain these substances from Daramulun, and the most potent of all is the crystal of clear quartz which is intimately connected with him. A Wiraijuri man, who had in some dream or vision, or perhaps under the effect of something like the so-called electrobiology, imagined himself to have been taken by his father on a thread up to the "Camp of Baiamai" beyond the sky, described him to me as a very aged man seated in a kneeling position, with a quartz crystal extending from each shoulder to the sky above— that is to say, a second sky from the earth. Other magical substances which the wizards extract "out of their internal consciousness" are like sinew, like flesh, like intestine, like chalk, like black stones, or pieces of bone, &c.
32 Speaking of these matters with a young man of the Coast Murring he said to this effect:—"When I was a little boy people used to tell me that the old men could loll people with things they pulled out of themselves, but I hardly believed it; when I was taken are made gumbang-ira (raw tooth—i.e., initiated), 1 saw the old men bring these things up—how could I doubt them."
33 These are the very words used by Umbara, the minstrel and improvisatore of his tribe, when speaking to me on these subjects during the Kuringal.
34 The disguises are made by beating out stringy fibre into what looks much like coarse sheets of yellow tow. With these the performers are covered from head to foot. Huge wigs are made of it, and all that is visible of the performer is his black face, which is distorted by strings tied across his nose and reverting his lips.
35 It most be borne in mind that the boy has
what I may term "tribal" kabos as well as "own" kabos, just as he has "tribal" sisters, as well as "own" sisters,
and in the future will probably hare "tribal" wives, as well as his "own" wife.
The distinction between these advanced tribes, which hare individual marriage and agnatic descent, and the less advanced, which have some form of group marriage and uterine descent, is well marked by these "own" and "tribal" wives. In the advanced tribes the "tribal wife" is only nominally a wife, excepting in some tribes, on very rare ceremonial occasions, while in the backward standing tribes she is generally a wife in fact, although perhaps only an "accessory" one.
36 With the Ngarego and Coast tribes the boy is in some cases seated across his guardian's neck, just as is figured by Collins. With the Miraijuri the boy's two guardians stand, one behind and one at one side of him, and thus hold him during the operation.
37 The mallet is a piece of wood about 15 inches in length, and flattened at the four sides.
38 Wiri = quick.
39 One of the Theddora, in telling me about his initiation, said that his
jambi impressed upon him very earnestly that he must answer the questions of the old
men truthful in all things. "If the old men ask you whether you have been too
free with any of the women, tell them the truth, because otherwise they may
perhaps kill you, or at least send you away into the bush for a long time by
In the Wiraijuri tribe a certain boy had often been reproved by the old men for playing too much with the little girls, and not mending his manners the old "blackfellow doctor" took him in and proceeded to extract from his legs certain strands of the "woman's apron" which he said had got into him in consequence of his behaviour. A farther consequence of this was that when he was initiated subsequently this same old man could by no means get the tooth out, until after a very great number of blows, which then was only successful when he had rubbed the boy's neck and again extracted quite a number of pieces of the "woman's kilt." This was indeed a case of being "tied to an apron-string."
40 Gumbang-ira = raw or bleeding tooth.
41 This is precisely the magic dance which I have described in "Kamilaroi and Kurnai," p. 252, as being performed by the "Bunjil Bam."
42 I think this name is derived from Ngalal = sinew, in reference to the sinewy legs of the Emu, which is Ngalalbal, and from half a dual affix. This female duality is probably the analogue of the bulum-baukan = two baukan, who are, according to the Kurnai belief, the mothers of the youth Bulumtut. It is said that these two mothers and one son ascended to the sky and via Wilson's Promontory at the time when an ineffectual attempt was made to steal the fire of the Kurnai.
43 I have seen one of the old men rush furiously at one of the novices, seize him by the head and apparently bite some part of it. This is supposed to pass to him the power of "bringing up things." To me the most remarkable feature was the utter impassibility shown by the boys to all these proceedings, which must have certainly roused alarm in their minds. I remember one young lad of about twelve, who showed no more sense of anything going on round him than if he had been a bronze statue, and yet, as he afterwards said, he felt quite sure several times that he was about to be killed.
44 It is a common belief that the old wizards hare magical substances scattered in the Kuringal ground, in order to injure or kill any person trespassing upon it after the ceremonies are concluded. On no account would a woman enter one knowingly, for such an act would certainly be expected to be fatal to her.
45 As showing how the various "stages," if I may use the word, differ in different tribes, I take the following from the most distant one, the Wiraijuri, which precede the extraction of the tooth:—(1) A strip of bark is taken spirally from a large tree down to the ground. This represents a path from the sky to the earth, down which Daramulun descends; (2) the figure of Daramulun moulded in the ground. Daramulun is in this tribe not the supreme "master," but the son of Baiamai, who rules everything; (3) the moulded figure of Daramulun's tomahawk, which he threw after the Emu as he was descending by the path from the sky to the earth; (4) two footprints of the Emu a little distance apart from each other, made when it was endeavouring to escape from Daramulun; (6) the figure of the Emu itself where it fell. Magic dances, exactly such as those I hare described, take place at each stage, at which the wizards "bring up" and exhibit their magic substances. I have heard of more than one Daramulun—in fact, of several Daramulun, the sons of Baiamai. This again suggests the "sons of Bunjil," of the Woiworung tribe—namely, six of the totems (animals and birds) which, together with Bunjil, have become stars and thus watch over the fortunes of men, i.e., of Woiworung men. Moreover, Bunjil (as the star Fomalhaut) has his two wives with him, which recalls the dual wife Ngalalbal.
46 In Riverina, where bark cannot be always procured, long tussock grass is used for these disguises.
47 In one of the Theddora ceremonies two men were buried in this ceremony, each in a crouching position, and were covered with a sheet of bark and earth. In this tribe the usual form of interment was in a round pit, sometimes in a side chamber excavated at its bottom, and the corpse was buried in a crouching position with the knees drawn up towards the head.
48 Yibai—i.e. the equivalent of the Kamilaroi Ipai and Burin-Burin = stringy bark fibre.
49 It is well to note also that this man is of the Malian = Eaglehawk totem, and that in many tribes of Victoria, Bunjil = Eaglehawk, is the name of one of the two primary class divisions, as well as also the name of the Great Spirit of those tribes.
50 The boys are forbidden for a long time afterwards to swim, or even to go into deep water, which it is thought would wash out of them all the ceremonial influence.
51 In all caves a new camp is formed, even if it is only moved a couple of hundred yards.
52 At one great Bunan, held about fifteen yean ago, the novices were forbidden, as one of them related to me, to reveal anything to "women, children, or white-fellows." In the Kuringal which I hare just described, no promise was expected from me, as being already an initiated person, but I was earnestly entreated by one of the principal old men not to reveal any of the mysteries "to the Kurnai, who have no Kuringal, and who know nothing."
53 With the Wiraijuri the novice is struck by his mother with a bough.
54 The Wiraijuri call the Emu "the food of Baiamai" and hence it is strictly forbidden to the novices.
55 Among the Wiraijuri the novices are brought in and set on a mound, on the other side of which are all the women. After being thus "shown to the women" in the character of men, they retire to the bush for probation.
56 Such arrangements are made, or at any rate originated, at a kind of "fair," which is frequently held just before the people all return to their homes after the Bunan ceremonies. At this "fair" people barter things with each other. These things have been made for this purpose, and carried with them. Weapons, rugs, articles of attire, and ornaments are thus exchanged, and it is at this time, as I have said, that matrimonial arrangements are made. For instance, the father of one of the novices may announce that he requires a wife for his boy. If some one present has a daughter suitable, the matter is discussed. But in very many cases a girl has been promised to a future husband when she was quite small, and when the future husband is not much older; Where disparity in age is occasioned by such betrothals, and indeed where the inclinations of the young people run contrary to the wishes of their parents, the difficulty is very frequently cut by elopement.
57 The Coast Murring fasten the tooth to a piece of the opossum far cord of which the man's halt is made, with the gum of the grass tree. The Wolgal sometimes, instead of the above-named cord, use one made of the twisted fibre of a small bush or undershrub. The Wolgal also carry the tooth in a small bag with raddle and sometimes kangaroo teeth. But whatever mode of conveyance is adopted, the tooth must on no account whatever be placed in the bag which contains the magic substances. This, it is believed, would cause great danger to the owner of the tooth.
58 Mr. S. Gason has communicated to me full and most interesting particulars as to the initiation ceremonies of this tribe, which he has himself participated in.
59 "From Mother-right to Father-right." (Journ. Anthrop. Inst., August, 1882.)
60 In the Wiraijuri and Wolgal tribes, the totems are mostly epigamic—one totem of one class with one totem of the other class; but in the Wiraijuri case, at least, there are one or two totems which are privileged beyond their fellows in having connubium with two others of the corresponding class.