This is the photograph of "ANDY," the aboriginal who gave nearly all the information
contained in Mr. James Manning's paper to the Royal Society, on the subject of
the religious creed and superstitions of the natives of New Holland. The photograph
was taken at Yass, nearly twenty years ago, and some twenty years after the
date of the Notes of 1845.
Notes on the Aborigines of New Holland
By James Manning.
[Read before the Royal Society of N.S.W., 1 November, 1882.]
[Extracted from Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales vol. 16 (1883), pp. 155-74.]
In 1844 and 1845 I had the privilege of taking some interesting notes from the blacks of this colony on the subject of their religious belief. Those notes were necessarily and mainly taken from the most intelligent of those natives who frequented the neighbourhood of my own home in the bush in those days. At and before that time I resided at Cumbamarro, very near the outside boundaries of the then location of settlers to the south, and near the Murumbidgee River, and for ten years prior to my taking such notes in writing I was a resident of those parts. For the first four of five years or more of that earliest time there was no church south of the little one that was at Bong Bong, near Mittagong. The cities and towns of Goulburn, Yass, Albury, and Melbourne did not exist. It was a common parlance amongst the early settlers, when travelling south, before Goulburn and Yass townships were formed and had churches, to say that "there was no Sunday after crossing Mvrtle Creek," which is a stream bordering old Bargo Brush, a little south of Picton, and south from Sydney. No missionaries ever came to the southern district at any time, and it was not until many years later that the missionaries landed in Sydney on their way to Moreton Bay, to attempt, in vain, to christianize the blacks that locality, before the Queensland separation from this Colony took place.
These facts are advanced in proof that the notes which I took
later on, upon the religious belief
of the whole of the aborigines of this continent are perfectly true and
consistent with their own traditions. I also desire to say that, since
penned them, in January, 1845, I was met with fresh confirmations to the
general belief of the blacks in a Supreme Being or Deity in all parts of New South Wales,
in Victoria as far west as the Grampian Hills, and in Queensland as far
north as Rockhampton. At
each such place the God of their faith was in every instance represented to me as
having his abode where the sun rises. I may further add
my conviction, without having visited the far interior of those parts where Burke and Wills
perished, that the blacks are all of the same religious belief as those who have
come under my notice and inquiries. This conviction I maintained from the moment
that [p.156] I
saw in the Illustrated London News of that time the picture of two stalwart
natives of that region, who were sketched from nature by one of the parties who
went in search of those unhappy explorers. That picture represented those two
fine-looking blacks to be minus the front tooth, which I considered had
been knocked out under the sacred ceremony of the so-called "Irangung," the
nature of which my notes fully explain.
The extraordinary though incongruous parallel between the religious belief of that country with those of the Hebrews or of Christian nations caused a great deal of doubt cast on the originality of the statements made by me. Many of those who read them pooh-poohed the idea of their truthfulness; in some instances I felt myself to have been almost insulted by having propounded what seemed to be evidence of weak credulity on my part. I may mention that almost the first person and friend to whom I showed these notes was Mr. Charles Cowper, afterwards Sir Charles. He saw them when we met in Melbourne, in April, 1845. He expressed himself to be much astonished at the revelations I had thereby made, but could not divest himself of the idea that some missionaries, catechists, priests, or clergymen had been tampering with or schooling my black friends into a crude kind of Trinitarian belief; and he expressed his opinion that the notes needed confirmation from other quarters than from the special parts only where I resided in New South Wales, and from whence I obtained my earliest and leading information. That confirmation I have since obtained in various and widely separated places, as before stated. As Sir Charles (then Mr. Cowper) thought of these notes, so did many; but when I him them to the late Bishop Broughton to read, in 1851, he was so struck with the statements made, and found them so ably and really logically supported by the singular avowals and remarks of my chief sable informant, that he asked for a copy of them to take with him to England, to have them printed there through one of the religious Societies. I was at the time under a pledge to my black informant not to publish them in Sydney until they had been published in England, for reasons which will appear to be just and warranted when the notes are read and understood. I gave Bishop Broughton a full copy as he was leaving for England in 1852; he died shortly after reaching home, and that copy has never since been heard of. My original paper remained with me for twenty years afterwards: it was lent to various friends, among whom was the late Bishop Barker. At last, and about ten year ago, this original, by passing from friend to friend, also became lost; but fortunately (as the sequel will show), among the many who had had the notes to read was the late Lord Audley, who had them in 1852, just thirty years ago, and whilst he was encamped near my station. By a strange coincidence it was only [p.157] within the last three months that our worthy President (Mr. C. Rolleston), who had heard me speak of these old and lost notes, remarked, in conversation about them with Mr. John F. Mann, of Sydney, That I had had and had lost such notes. Whereon Mr. John F. Mann, who was Lord Audley's brother-in-law, immediately exclaimed, "Why, I have them; I took a copy of them into a folio book whilst the notes were with Lord Audley!" Hence, and by this extraordinary coincidence, the notes are restored to me in their original wording, and I have now the pleasure to make them public, there being no longer any reason for caution in making them known, my black friend "Andy,'' who gave me almost all my information, having passed away, and the whole race of blacks in the civilised parts no longer existing in their primitive state, and having nearly died out, as prophetically decreed.
I wish to add in my confirmation of the originality and truthfulness of these notes, that Black Andy was respected by all the few gentlemen who were in my neighbourhood; and that in my own solitude in those days I appreciated the interchanges of thought with this fine aboriginal, whom I used to regard in the light of a "nature's gentleman," of no mean reflecting and reasoning capacities, and who by this ready acquisition of the English language afforded me singular advantages in gaining the information I did. Mr. John Mann knew this good "blackfellow" very well, and perhaps will support my present attestation of his superiority before I give utterance to notes which will surprise, and will be found to give evidence of the tradition of the blacks on their religious creed much in the same way as the Old and New Testaments contain the traditions of the Christians and Hebrews. I may state, under my own familiarity with the subject, that the Natives of New Holland are not heathens or pagans, because they worship no idols; and that, so far from them being atheistic in their belief, they are not even deistic, because they not only acknowledge a Supreme Deity, but also believe in providential supervision of all creation, aided by his Son, "Grogoragally," and by the second mediator, in the supernatural person of their intercessor, "Moodgeegally," and also because they believe in a day of judgment and retribution to each man immediately after death and resurrection, and in a future state of reward and punishment by the fiat of their Supreme "Boyma," or God, as will be understood on the reading of my notes.
These notes will also, and unfortunately, show that the originality and seeming implicitness of the religious belief and superstitions of the natives of New Holland are rendered almost nugatory by the extraordinary and debasing ignorance under which they are bound to keep their women, through the supposed stern decree of their great lawgiver "Moodgeegally." They degrade their women worse than the Hindus do theirs.
In conclusion, I wish to say that the singular recovery of these notes is due to
the interest which Lord Audley and Mr. John Mann took in them, so much so as to
have copied them in detail unknown to myself, and that their resuscitation is
due to the interest which Mr. Rolleston expressed about their having existed and
been lost. To these gentlemen I wish to tender my thanks. Between us all these
notes seem to have been destined not to be irrecoverably lost; and now that I
have them again, and that as I have nearly reached the full span of human life,
I hope it may be accorded by this meeting that no more time should be lost to
place them on permanent record, to which effect I have much pleasure in offering
them to this our Sydney Royal Society.
P.S.—The above constitutes my preface to the old notes which I am about to read; but since I have penned this preface, and, indeed, only this morning, I am placed in possession of still further corroboration of the originality of the subject matter of my notes. I had invited Dean Cowper to come here this evening, and, as an inducement I sent him a press copy of my preface to the notes, which he returned to-day with a very interesting note of his own, part of which I am sure, he would have no objection to my quoting. After informing me that he regretted that professional duties would prevent him from attending this meeting as a visitor, he gives me the following information, which is most interesting, and gives the strongest confirmation to all I have written and said on the subject. Before quoting his words, I beg to say that I was perfectly ignorant of what he informs me as having come from Archdeacon Gunther and from the Rev. Mr. Ridley, although I knew that they had both written on the subject of the faith of the blacks years and years since the date of my notes; and as they point to the same traditions, I shall quote them with satisfaction.
The Dean writes me as follows:—"I do not know whether you are aware that the late Archdeacon Gunther, of Mudgee, prepared a grammar of the aboriginal language, which went home a few years ago, through the colonial Secretary, to Professor Max Muller. In this grammar there was a special note upon the belief of the aborigines on the being of a Deity, his providence, and the doctrine of rewards and punishments. Mr. Gunther, when a missionary to the aborigines at Wellington Valley, derived his information, he told me, from some of the oldest of the blacks who, he was satisfied, could not have derived their ideas from white men, as they had not then had intercourse with them. The language, also, was witness of their faith. There was a being to whom they gave the name Baime, or Bhaiame. The word is a noun, from baio or bhaio, which means to cut of make, and [p.159] signifies maker. They applied this to Him who made all things; they said that He lived far away, and that He would punish bad men and reward good. This news was strongly confirmed by the Rev. Mr. Ridley, who was a missionary for about two years amongst the Kamilaroi tribe of aborigines on the Upper Hunter River. He also compiled a grammar, which I dare say you have seen; and in it he gives the same name for the Deity amongst the aboriginals with whom had been associated, and whose language he had learned. I had a conversation with him one day, in which he referred me to his grammar, corroborating what I had heard from Archdeacon Gunther."
With such unexpected corroboration of my own words, I end this preface by saying that if scepticism in this matter is still to continue, I think unbelievers would do well to peruse the notes a second time carefully before they pronounce their judgment on the revelations made, which were never dreamt of before I made them public. To such sceptics I will venture the suggestion that they should consider how easy it might be for intelligent men to pass almost a lifetime among the blacks in any quarter of this continent without securing that entire confidence of even the best of the natives around them, through whom they might possibly become entrusted with their religious secrets—secrets which they dare not reveal to their own women at all, nor to their adult youths until the latter have been sworn to reticence under that terrifying ceremony which my notes describe.
I, however, claim to have been specially fortunate in my researches, and therefore, with my confidence in the validity of these statements, I leave it to time and the future inquiries of others to have my notes confirmed in manner I have no doubt they will be.
NOTES ON THE RELIGIOUS CREED, &C., OF THE NATIVES OF NEW HOLLAND.
The aborigines of the southern part of New Holland have a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being; and from connecting circumstances, I am of opinion that the same creed upon religious subjects exists throughout the whole continent of New Holland. The God of their belief is called "Boyma," who they say, dwells at an immense distance to the north-east, in a heaven of beautiful and supernatural appearance, where the Almighty is represented by them as seated on a throne of transparent crystal of vast magnitude, which has its base in the great water, and rises to a stupendous height towards the stars. In their notion of God's appearance he is great beyond conception, beautiful to look upon, and immovably fixed in the crystal rock, with only the upper half of a supernatural human body visible. Around Boyma [p.160] and his throne are countless rays of rainbow colours, which are designated "curanguerang." On each side of the throne are seen a great many beautiful pillars handsomely carved, and emitting prismatic colours. These pillars they designate "yamoon." This description of the Godhead bears a striking resemblance to the description in 3rd verse of the 4th chapter of Revelations. They believe in the existence of a Son of God, equal with him in omniscience, and but slightly inferior to his Father in any attribute. Him they call "Grogoragally." His divine office is to watch over the actions of mankind, and to bring to life the dead to appear before the judgment-seat of his Father, who alone the awful judgment eternal happiness in heaven, "Ballima," or eternal misery "Oorooma," (hell), which is a place of everlasting fire (gumby) Their belief in God's creation of His own Son was explained me thus by the intelligent native from whom I derived my information. "Boyma," on his own creation, feeling "lonesome," wished for a son after his own likeness. He observed in the firmament a liquid, resembling blood, which, reaching with his hand, he placed in a crystal oven, and, in a short time, the Son of God was born, a being resembling God and man. Boyma is described of an incomprehensible greatness in appearance; his Son they compare to the size of a mountain. Grogorogally is the active agent of his Father, who immovably presides over all nature. The Son watches the actions of men, and quickens the dead, immediately upon their earthly interment. He acts as mediator for their souls to the great God, to whom the good and bad actions of all are known. The Son's spirit they represent as being in every part of the habitable world, spreading—as was expressed to me—over the supposed distance of England and Sydney. He does not seem in their belief to be co-equal with his father; he sees and knows all the wicked and good deeds of mankind, but is not judge of their virtues and vices in the day of retribution; his office seems chiefly to be to bring at the close of every day the spirits of the dead from all parts of the world to the judgment-seat of his Father, where alone there is eternal day. There he acts as intercessor for those who have only spent some portion of their lives in wickedness. Boyma, listening to the mediation of his Son, allows Grogorogally to admit some such into Ballima.
There is a third of a person in their belief, who is of a semi-divine, semi-human nature, the great lawgiver to the human race. Him they call "Moodgeegally." He was the first man created, and being of the special formation of the Supreme Being, he is said to to be immortal, removed from this to an infinite distance in a happy region of his own, situated at the confines of the world, and in the immediate neighbourhood of the supposed heaven of Boyma. He, too, is perfectly cognizant of all events, and is revered by all [p.161] for his virtues. He is the avowed enemy of all wicked men; misdeeds of such are transmitted by him to Grogorogally, and by the latter again to the supreme Boyma. Notwithstanding that both Father and Son are omniscient, Moodgeegally, alone of mankind, and himself living immortal in his own paradise on earth, has the power of visiting the heaven of Boyma. The happy land of Moodgeegally is supposed to be within three days' journey ("nangery") of Ballima. Beautiful plains, with numberless and wonderful featherless emus, afford him eternal happiness in his human occupation when not engaged in his divine mission to the abode of God, and from thence again to the confines of this world, which he seems to be unremittingly doing. From this blissful region, far away to the north-east, and where land terminates, he ascends to heaven by a high and precipitous mountain, covered with beautiful trees. His ascent on foot is rendered easy by a path winding round the mountain, called "Dallambangel," which he ascends in three days' journey. A ladder or flight of steps from the top of this mountain leads him to the entrance of heaven, where he arrives in the presence of God to execute his mission to Father and Son; and receiving from them such laws as may seem fit to the Almighty to transmit to the human race, especially such as relate to the changing ordinances of the sacred "corroberee." Moodgeegally then descends again to the earth, and publishes the will and laws of Boyma to the northernmost tribes, and from them all others by degrees obtain the laws.
This description of Moodgeegally on Mount "Dallambangel" cannot fail to strike every reader of these notes as showing a strange similarity to Moses on Mount Sinai receiving the commandments from God, for transmission through him to the Israelites. (See Exodus, chap. 19). Ballima (heaven) is represented as being a most blissful abode for the good who have inherited eternal happiness. The rejoicings of the blessed, I was told, might be heard at a distance as far away as "Sydney to Port Phillip." Their existence in a heaven is of a spiritual nature, with their forms as human beings, receiving and requiring no nourishment, their enjoyments constant dancing and blissful shouting. Grogorogally frequently visits them, and joins them in the incessant happy jubilee. He is represented to wear a brilliant belt ("gurungerong") of rainbow colours, worn across the shoulder to the side. This is of a crystal nature; from the belt is suspended a beautiful sword or wand called "gundungbillong," and which his Father made and gave him as a sign of his divine authority. Hence probably the use of and veneration for the small rock crystals which descend from father to son as amulets of supposed semi-divine authority to act as doctors and priests. Andy possessed one as a "doctor"—he especially prized and protected it.
The wicked Boyma condemns to eternal fire in Oorooma. Grogorogally then hands them over to the devils outside of heaven, which are called "Wawamolong." These evil spirits are described as being of most hideous forms, and emitting flames of fire from the elbows, the knees, and the knuckles of the hand. These convey the damned down to Oorooma, where may be heard the frightful yells of the wicked; they are then given in charge of lesser devils, and committed to the eternal "Gumby" fire. These devils are described as only half human in appearance; they have long claws to their hands, with which they seize the unhappy wretches committed to their care. They are monsters, having ugly "heads as big as a bullock." The miseries of those suffering eternal fire were represented to me by my informant by mock writhings of his body. * * * This severe description of eternal punishment by hell-fire is inconsistent with their other belief, that Boyma is never considered by them otherwise than as a benevolent, though dreaded, being. The dread of eternal punishment acts forcibly as a restriction upon their conduct in life, and restrains them from murder among themselves, or from slaughtering of their own race, unless in the spirit of united and justified revenge, which is not punished by "Gumby." No crimes, they believe, are so punishable but murder, falsehood, and adultery when committed by married men. The act of thieving among themselves is wholly unknown, swearing is also unknown in their own language. Such blasphemies as are heard from are entirely such as they have acquired by their intercourse with Europeans. They admit they rob the whites sometimes, but do not esteem this act punishable with fire. I remarked to Andy that if I told the whites all he informed me of they would laugh and say "the blacks have been told all this from the whites," to which he hastily and shrewdly remarked "Why, whitefellow no call budgery place 'Ballima' (nice place heaven), or other place 'Oorooma' (hell), nor God 'Boyma,' nor son 'Grogorogally,' only we blackfellow think and call them that way in our own language before whitefellow came into the country." He seemed quite amazed that whites might attempt to disbelieve their statement on that ground. Their women do not go to heaven. The men have an imperfect consciousness that there is another world for them, but not in Ballima. The strange reason assigned for this is, that Boyma and Grogorogally, having no wife and no mother, will not admit the female sex into heaven, whether they be good or evil.
I was asked by Andy if we white people thought
white women went to heaven. On my expressing my assurance of it, he expressed his surprise at
our strange belief in entertaining such an idea, Boyma having neither mother nor
wife. "But we'll see when we die," was his final remark to this as to several
other [p.163] points in dispute. To women the grand secrets of their religious belief are
wholly unknown. They are regarded as inferior beings, and that there is a law
given them by Moodgeegally that they should always be kept ignorant of these
mysteries; for that, immediately upon the women becoming informed of them, there
must be an immediate end put to the whole of their race by a general massacre,
first of the women, and then each to sacrifice the other until the last man
survives to sacrifice himself. So rigid are the men in the observance of this
supposed divine law, that in no instance has a living woman been known to have
an idea of their religious belief.
It is the dread of this necessary destruction of the whole race that has in a great measure precluded the whites from obtaining information on the subject. I had in the first instance the greatest difficulty to induce the men to speak to me on these points; they required such secrecy on my part, and seemed so afraid of being overheard even in the most secret places, that in one or two instances I have seen them almost trembling whilst speaking. In one case I examined a native, and for the sake of secrecy made him come into the house. He appeared willing to afford me information; but he went two or three times to the door and window to see if any being, black or white, might by possibility overhear him, although in this respect he was perfectly safe, yet for further security he stood in the wooden fireplace, and spoke in a tone a little above a whisper, and confirmed what I had before heard. Another cautioned me to be very secret lest the station servants might hear of it, and ask his gin (wife) something about it. This particular man was the most intelligent of those I obtained information from. He asked if I would publish my notes in England, as he seemed proud to think it should be done, and did not fear mischief through that course. He said if his wife were to hear of it and to him a question about it, he should immediately kill her to save himself and the whole race, as ordered by Moodgeegally.
Having examined a civilised native from the Lower Lachlan
River, who came from a distance of 300 miles, and was living with a gentleman in the
neighbourhood as servant, I had the opportunity of questioning him in the presence of my black
interpreter, who explained all I could
understand. The Lachlan native's statements agree fully with the others, excepting that he
designated Grogoragally by
the name of "Boymagela," which he told me meant Son of God or young god—a name as applied to Grogoragally that Andy had never heard before. The other, or
Lachlan black, was aware of the name of Grogoragally, though not usually adopted in his country. The
Port Phillip and the Murray natives have another name for him, which I do not
remember. The souls of the dead rise again soon after interment, by the agency of the spirit of Grogoragally, who they say administers
"water" to the relicts of the deceased men, which water of life being sent from
the great Boyma instils fresh life into the remains; and when these are brought
before the throne of Boyma, they instantly fall before his presence, when their
spirits die a second death, as if to become abased before God and to throw off
their mortal nature. Half an hour after this they suppose the souls to rise
again in a wholly new and regenerate state; or, to use Andy's expression in his
broken English, "They no good first time when come before Boyma—only all wild
fellow and bail budgery (no
good), and very miserable." After this new birth they become immortal. At this
period it is that judgment of God is pronounced in command to his son
Grogoragally. To those he has judged to be good, he orders the Son to put them
into heaven—"Ballima warrior bungandinge." For those he judges to be wicked he
pronounces the judgment "Gumly ganoo niagroo" ("Let him burn"). These awards to
Grogoragally are the only ones supposed to have been uttered by God in the
presence of resuscitated mortals.
The only prayer used is that at the interment of men, when all adult males of the tribe assemble, and having buried their deceased friend (ordinary men in the ground, and those who possessed authority in hollow trees), they all retire irregularly at a distance from the grave, and all kneeling together clasp their hands behind their backs, and all simultaneously utter a lamenting prayer respecting the praises and good deeds of their friend, and imploring Grogoragally to intercede for his soul that it may be admitted into Ballima. After this prayer (which was represented to me), or just at its close, they have a strange superstition that always at this moment the dead man is heard to kick in his grave, which is the signal that his soul has just taken its departure to heaven. The poor women never kick in their graves nor rise to heaven—no prayer is offered for them. The custom of daily prayer to God is thought absurd; it is supposed to be only resorted to by those who have sinned and wish to escape punishment. As good men cannot have occasion for such supplication, and as they say bad men cannot profit by it, it is altogether omitted. The use of prayer among whites is ridiculed on this ground, that men pray to Boyma and praise him, and rise from their knees and curse and swear and commit rogueries. Andy's curiosity had once or twice induced him to visit the Yass church recently, when he formed this opinion of the lower orders particularly; but he thought "real gentlemen" seemed to profit by the habit of attending churches, as he seldom heard them swear, and he seemed to entertain a much higher opinion of their moral conduct. Wicked men, though sometimes unknown to men to be wicked, cannot screen themselves from the searching eye of Boyma. They, in common with other offenders, are supposed to have a mark set on them, such as small-pox, coughs, &c., which, if they persist in sin, infallibly produce [p.165] death. These after death are conveyed by Grogoragally to Boyma, who pronounces the judgment on them before mentioned, and then they are handed over to Wawamolongs, to remain in eternal torture in Oorooma.
Thunder and lightning are regarded as the expression of Boyma's wrath at some wicked deed perpetrated or being perpetrated by a man. It is regarded with great awe by them as by all savages, or indeed by all men who are wholly ignorant of the cause and effect. These natives do not think that some malignant being is the cause, as most other savages do; they regard it (that is the men) as a powerful sound, proceeding from an angry God, who is never considered by them otherwise than as a benevolent though dreaded being. When any recover from sickness or other calamity, it is supposed their guilt has not been too great for pardon, and Boyma accordingly restores them to health and vigour after their temporary punishment. Early death is supposed to be a sign of Boyma's wrath, for in the beginning, they say, all men were gifted with longer lives, but that sin cuts them off in their prime. Old men must be good men, as Boyma would otherwise have shortened their days. When the good old men become by their nature infirm and incapable of enjoyment, Boyma releases them from the world in compassion, and immediately they are transferred to the abode of the happy in Ballima.
religious mysteries are not divulged to boys until they arrive at the years of
puberty, and not until the ceremony of "Irangung" has been performed upon them,
a practice which may be regarded as a kind of adult baptism, as the boys are
then taught to know and believe in the religion of their forefathers, the nature of the creation of the world and of
all things, and to believe in a future state of immortality and of rewards and
punishments. The age of puberty is
adopted for the ceremony evidently from expediency, and from a care not to trust
younger boys with those secrets which their carelessness or their ignorance of the nature of a vow or moral obligation
might lead them to reveal. The age of the boys on whom the Irangung is performed
is about fourteen years.
The blacks consider this ceremony sacred, and to be especially sent from Boyma through
Moodgeegally. The forms
of ceremony involve the necessity of having the front tooth knocked out with sharp stone tools. At this
ceremony all the neighbouring tribes for perhaps one hundred miles around
assemble together in a secret place. The men select from the whole body of
blacks such young men as they deem fit to be irangunged. They may find from
twenty to thirty fit for the ceremony, in proportion to the total number congregated and
to the length of time elapsed since the last similar occasion, which only occurs at
periods varying from one to three
years. These [p.166] youths being selected by the older men, are painted all over with red ochre and
then formed into a ring. This being done, all the women and all the children
over two years of age are ordered to lie down and to conceal themselves under
their opossum cloaks, which they must do at the peril of their lives. The men
then heap upon them light leafy boughs of trees, to insure their safer
concealment. Upon this being done—and no white man dare be admitted to witness
the ceremony—the grown and selected boys are, by a signal of one specially
authorized, ordered to go off into the "bush" in a certain direction, and are
accompanied by all the men, excepting one, who remains, spear in hand, as a
guard over the women and children, and who is the one they say who is gifted
with sacred authority from Moodgeegally. Him they call a "Yaweyewa," and Andy compares his
office to that of our priests or parsons. This Yaweyewa, soon after the other
party is out of sight, tells the women to rise, and directing them a contrary
course to that taken by the men and youths, accompanies them and remains on
guard all the ensuing night. The same ceremony exists among the Darling River
and Queensland blacks, where is called the "Boree," for making youths men.
At this time all the grown boys are conducted by the men to a most secret spot, where the ceremony of the irangung is completed. The front tooth of each is knocked out, some ten or twenty men standing over each youth, pointing their spears in a menacing manner close to his person, and others holding his hair tight make him swear most solemnly never to divulge to the women and children those sacred secrets about to be told him. To this the affrighted lad is forced to consent upon pain of his being instantly speared and cut to pieces. The solemn oath being thus administered to each youth, the authorised priests divulge to youths their religious creed, and when the terrifying ceremony is completed, they are taught a sacred song sent by Boyma, through his sons Grogoragally and Moodgeegally. This song is held in such solemn reverence, and known under such severe secrecy, that I found it quite impossible to make my informant reveal it to me. My pressing him only seemed to make him impatient and angry, and as he said he dared not do so because it was against the laws received from Moodgeegally, I desisted from and further attempt. He then said he was sure that I already knew more of their secrets than any other white man did, and that he was satisfied that no others supposed his countrymen entertained any such religious belief as he and others had revealed to me. Youths cannot marry until they have gone through the ceremony of irangung, and any boy dying before this kind of baptism does not go to Ballima, but shares the same fate as the luckless women. On the death of a husband the survivor is forbidden by Moodgeegally's law to marry for a long time. Should this law be broken, both [p.167] parties are killed as soon as discovered, as it is thought their conversation on the deceased man must be prejudicial to him and would displease him.
The term corrobery is generally understood to signify a dance, whereas it is a changing ordinance of Moodgeegally, and is supposed to be transmitted from tribe to tribe from the far north-east. I cannot clearly understand this strange mystery, but I am aware that the ceremony is a very solemn one among the adults when it does take place. It has for its form the most curious painting upon a sheet of bark, done in various colours of red, yellow, and white ochre, which is exhibited by the "Yaweyewa" before mentioned, who is appointed by descent from Moodgeegally. This sacred ceremony is as secretly conducted as the "irangung" or Boree of the north. A gentleman of my acquaintance chanced to come on a tribe whilst this ceremony was going on in a deep gully in the ranges. He had reason to apprehend that some violence would be done to him for his intrusion, but was saved by the intercession of one or two who knew him well. He saw the sheet of bark, and represented it to me as being most singularly painted, and was done so neatly as to resemble figured oilcloth. It is consequent on these sacred occasions that they meet and have those night dances which are ordinarily called "corrobery."
To Boyma is ascribed the creation of all the heavenly bodies. They believe the earth to be an immense plane, and fixed, the sun, moon, and stars to give it light. On my representation the fixed rotundity of this world, and its own diurnal and annual motions, he was quite amused at our strange belief, and endeavoured to convince me we must be wrong. This he did, not on the similar and false showing of Tycho Brahe to the same effect, nor against the true system of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and others, but a fortiori by his assigning his own singular reasoning, that "if the sun never moves whereabouts is Boyma's Ballima?" This I could not understand until it was explained that the sun came from the neighbourhood God's heaven every morning, and, after running its daily course to give them light, passed under the earth, and returned to Ballima for the night, causing eternal day in God's heaven. Nothing could induce him to regard my statement with anything but ridicule, saying, "I would not believe that if everybody said so, but we will see when we die, but not before." Knowing that the blacks assert that Ballima is fixed in the north-east, that is stands distinct, and that connection with the the top of which is a very high "Dallambingal" mountain, on the top of which is a step-ladder uniting earth with heaven, I felt that this argumentum ad hominem was too much for my logic, and consequently I beat an honourable retreat, on which my opponent gloried very much. [p.168] I thought afterwards that Andy might, by his own reasoning, have asked what would become of the stepladder which connects heaven and earth at the top of Mount Dallambingal if the sun was fixed and the earth revolved as I stated. To Boyma is ascribed the creation of the whole universe; therefore they believe him to be self-created, and that he formed everything out of nothing. Upon this peculiar point I asked Andy how he accounted for God's own creation? He replied that he arose out of the glassy mountain which forms his throne, and to which he supposed to be immovably fixed. I then asked him how came the creation of the primitive crystal mountain in Ballima. He replied that "it rose out of the great water and clouds"; but on being asked again to account for the creation of the great water and clouds, he replied that "Boyma made it, he believed," adding significantly, and looking fixedly at me, that "he could not tell nor any one else—('Bail me know')—do you?" The sun, they believe is only the orb of light, and not the means of producing heat, or by the greater or lesser ecliptical altitude of the earth, producing the change of seasons. In endeavouring to undeceive my sable friend in this, too, I had the same difficulty as in the other instance of the earth's and sun's motions. In again ridiculing our assertions that the sun was the cause of all heat, he remarked that "if the sun makes the warm weather come in summer-time, what for not make the winter warm as it is seen every day?" The influence which produces heat, in their belief, accompanies the Pleiades (mangudia). When the mangudia are visible at a certain altitude above the horizon it is spring (begagewog). When it rises to its highest altitude, it is summer, "winuga," and upon this cluster of stars sinking again towards the horizon in autumn, it is "domda." In winter when the Pleiades are barely visible or lost to view altogether, it is then winter (magur) and cold. The ordinary stars (miunga) have no kind of influence on the seasons, but simply the Pleiades. The constellation Mungudia is retained by Boyma near Ballima during winter, in the same way that they believe the sun (Bungal) is retained by God during the night, and both are sent to give light in their respective seasons. The clouds that obscure the sun in all seasons equally obscure the influence of heat from the Pleiades, and therefore they have no belief in the power of the sun's rays to produce heat, but only light. [The ancient Greeks determined their seed-time and harvest by the position of the Pleiades.] The Latins designated them vergiliæ, from their being first visible in the spring, "ver."
The above notes comprise all that is most interesting of what I have gathered from time to time. On further opportunities presenting themselves I may gain more information. The sense of Deity, like many other delicate sense, being in all savages faint [p.169] and obscure, it is not easy to obtain information on these points without a great deal of premeditated questioning. These notes are, however, sufficient to prove that however faint and obscure the religion and moral sense of the aborigines of this country are as compared with that of enlightened nations, enough is shown that, although very humble as the natives of New Holland are in the scale of human nature, they are not without a very high sense of the supreme Godhead, and of a moral conception of what is right and wrong; that their religious creed is far less erroneous and extravagant than that of most other savages, and above all, their belief bears a most singular and striking analogy, excepting in its crudities, to the Christian and Jewish faiths. However, notwithstanding my own improved opinion of the character of our aborigines, I do not think it possible or perhaps desirable, to confuse their faith by any attempt to enlighten them in the Christian belief. I do not think them capable of understanding such truths, or of being brought to believe in other creed than in that which was born with them and their forefathers; and if this difficulty were not enough, there would be, I think, an insuperable one in consequence of those supposed divine laws which so strictly enjoin secrecy on these subjects towards women and children. I apprehend therefore, that any pious attempt of any class of missionaries will never prove otherwise than abortive, unless perhaps to the extent of gaining the natives to utter parrot-like and unmeaning mockeries of hymns and prayers of no lasting moral or religious value and effect. The natives of New Holland must, it is to be feared, continue in their ignorance; and those good men who might wish to reclaim them to the Christian faith will, I think, have to content themselves with a consciousness that those blacks have a religion implanted in them which exercises a beneficial effect upon their moral intercourse with each other; and that the hope that if they obey the Divine laws of their own God as given to them by his Son "Grogoragally," through "Moodgeegally," their great lawgiver, on Mount "Dallambangel," they will inherit eternal; life and happiness in Ballima or heaven. This latter remark, unfortunately only applies to the men and adult youths. It would be well if their women rejoiced in the same belief, and were not kept under such strange and debasing, and superstitious ignorance. It must be palpable to any one who has seen much of the natives of this country how very inferior the women are to the men in intellect—an effect which can readily be traced to the cause of their not sharing with the men the beneficial influence of of a religion which, however strange and absurd in some respects, works for good in the development of the men, by producing on their savage minds a superstitious awe and reverence towards their ideal God and the God of their forefathers.
Cumbumuzzo, Jugyong Creek, January, 1848.
In answer to a question from the President, Mr. Manning related an interview he
had with Goethe, the great German poet, fifty-one years ago, and just eight
months before he died,
at the age of eighty-five. At that interview the question of foreign missions
had been brought up, in which Goethe showed himself well informed, but
concerning which his guest had but little knowledge. The
conversation made an impression upon Mr. Manning, and it was in some measure due
to it that he set to work in afterlife to gather information concerning the
religious beliefs of the aborigines of New Holland.
Mr. J. F. Mann gave very interesting reminiscences of his intercourse with native tribes in the Colony, he having spent about thirty years of his life in the bush. He had taken a great interest in their customs and mode of life, but he had never met one aborigine, notwithstanding the paper read, who had any true belief in a Supreme Being. They sometimes spoke of a god, but upon cross-examination admitted that what they told the auditor they had learned from a missionary or some resident in the district. With all uncivilised tribes, as it is with not a few members of civilised communities, curiosity is a leading trait. When the blacks were numerous and the whites few the greatest possible curiosity was shown by the former in the movements and actions of their "pale-faced brothers," and gathering scraps of information from them they carried the news from tribe to tribe, and some of the gossips having fully developed imaginative powers, the stories lost nothing in the telling. From missionaries and residents they obtained a dim insight into the Christian religion, and by this fact some of those who had associated with the tribes and had been admitted to the confidence of many of their members, accounted for wonderful revelations made by some of the blacks with regard to their religion, which, as described by Mr. Manning interesting "notes," has a strange relationship to that of Christians in the belief in a Divine Being, a Son of God, a future heaven and a hell. Messengers were occasionally sent from tribe to tribe. One of these couriers would often travel through the bush a distance of 100 miles. On the arrival of one of these messengers at a camp the talking at once ceased, and one of tribe nodded in this direction of a certain portion of the bush. Looking in that direction I saw a blackfellow coming slowly through the forest. He had gradually advanced to the camp and sat down about 50 yards distant from it. He appeared to pay no attention at all to those in the camp. He held a sprig of a branch in his hand. Then one of the tribe advanced, and taking up a twig lit it at the fire and held it up as a token of friendship. The messenger then came forward, and was warmly, [p.171] greeted. On his journey he had doubtless picked up many odds and ends of news, and listening to his story the tribe sat round the fire all night, and no doubt wove into fictitious traditions many a story to be told in the future to the white man. There would appear to have been among the tribes a national or religious custom of burying the members after death on the spot where they had been born. In one case a dying boy had been carried on the shoulders of his father, and accompanied by the tribe, a distance of about 40 miles to the bank of the Hunter River, where he died about twenty-four hours afterwards. A deep hole was dug and lined with grass, the boy was rolled in a blanket, and placed in the grave. Then the virgins cut their heads with tomahawks in token of their grief, and the men and women dividing, the one class went in one direction, the other on the opposite, and, rubbing their hands, raised a mournful song. On one occasion a gentleman was dining at the house of a friend, residing near the M'Gregor River, when the cook ran into the room and said that there was a black man outside, who insisted on cutting down one of the posts of the kitchen door. Going out to expostulate with the man, they found him very obstinate, and it was not till the friendly medium of a bottle of rum had been produced that he could be persuaded to desist from his attack. Afterwards he selected a spot not far distant from the kitchen, where he commenced digging operations, and they learned then that at that spot had been born one of the tribe who had died, and whom His countrymen wished to bury there. Women had also been seen carrying about the skeletons of men wrapped in hides, and seeking a place of burial for them. In Queensland, upon the death of her husband, a gin had to go in mourning sometimes for the space of two years. During this time she was interdicted from eating certain kinds of food—for example, anything that climbed upon trees—and on no account could she be again married till the time of mourning had expired. She plastered clay on her face and mingled it with her hair. A general impression prevailed that thunder and lightning came from the evil spirit or "devil-devil," and during the continuance of a storm great respect was paid to the manifested power of the "bad fellow." Once during a storm a white man, who was assisted at his work by an aborigine, told his fellow-worker in a loud voice to put the saw he was using under a log, and to go under shelter. He found that the saw had been put away and the blackfellow who had got under cover was very indignant at his master having spoken at he had. "What for speak so loud?" said he, "now um thunder hear and know where um saw is," and he went out and shifted the saw to a new hiding-place. Between the missionaries and the rum the unfortunate blackfellows occasionally got very mixed in their newly acquired theological doctrines. A blackfellow went up to a gentleman on a visit to a [p.172] homestead, and remarked to him, with an air of conciliation and friendship, "White one steal peach." The gentleman, knowing that there was a large orchard near to the homestead, thought some of the men had been pilfering, but upon making further inquiry from this informant he was told, "No, no: first fellow steal peach." The little transaction referred to was that between Adam and Eve. The account of Noah's Ark was a very general cause of confusion. As a rule, the aborigines were totally incapable of remembering quantity, number, time, or space. A pleasant little ceremony the admission of a tribe, on coming of age, into the participation of certain secrets and privileges. For some time previous to the initiation, about six months, the boys were starved down, and on the day appointed the tribe assembled and the chief elder of the number knocked out the front tooth of each with a stone hatchet. The secrets of the tribe were then told them apart from the women, and they were compelled to sleep the night on the graves of the departed patriarchs of their families, they being thus supposed to absorb the virtues of the deceased. One lad who related the story of his initiation stated to the narrator that he had trembled with fear and the perspiration had poured from him whilst he was taking in the essence of his deceased great-great-grandfather. The old gentleman had been a celebrated fisher-man and it was hoped he would follow in his footsteps. Certain men who held the rank of doctors in their tribes always carried with them a crystal, which was supposed to be possessed of some supernatural power. A blackfellow, in whom he had the greatest confidence, once took him aside in a most mysterious manner. The black man led him to an inner room in the house, and after looking carefully around that no prying eye should watch their movements or listening ear hear their words, he said he would show the white man his crystal, he being a doctor in his tribe. The man was divested of all his clothing except his loin cloth. He saw the man lift his head, and then there gradually rose in his throat a little lump which ascended slowly to the man's mouth. He opened his mouth again, replaced the "fetish," and the crystal returned down the throat. Mr. Mann assured his auditors that he in person had seen what he related, and incredible as it might appear, it was nevertheless true, and if the possessor had not transferred the amulet he had no doubt it was now in the grave in the stomach of its owner. These crystal charms were supposed to render their owners invulnerable. The aborigines possessed a very extensive knowledge of the properties and uses of plants, and they were ready in connecting stories which afterwards they told to white men as traditions of their tribes, whereas in truth they were but fictions founded on scraps of information they had picked up from associating with the whites.
Mr. Palmer said that his experience of the aborigines of
Northern Queensland supported
what had been stated in Mr. Manning's notes. He was quite convinced that there
existed among them a belief in a Supreme Being. He offered to, at some future
time, embody his notes in a paper to be read before the Society.
Other members referred to the customs of the aborigines and their religious observances.
A suggestion was made at the meeting that as it would soon be very difficult to collect any information from the blacks, who were so rapidly dying out that they would soon be extinct, it would be wise to collect all the notes in the possession of those white residents who had had intercourse and constant conversation with the aborigines in the early days of the Colony, in order that some of their manners might be preserved.
Mr. Manning, in reply, again expressed his full belief in the authenticity of the information he had received from Andy, his aboriginal informant.