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The Euahlayi Tribe Part 11

The boys, who are painted red, are beckoned into the middle of the ring, where their respective Munthdeeguns daub them with white. That done, each man seizing his charge, hoists him on to his shoulder, and dances round the ring with him. Then the old women are told to bid the boys good-bye.

Forward they come, singing each her own brumboorah, for every oldest woman relation of each of the boys makes a song for him. They corroboree a few steps behind the men, chanting a farewell, then corroboree back a few steps, then hasten to join the younger women in the bough sheds, which are now pulled down on top of them by the men, that they may see nothing further. Then the Munthdeeguns disappear down the track into the scrub.

When they are out of sight the women are released, that they may get ready to travel to where the Durrawunga, or Little Boorah, will be held in about four days' time, at about ten miles distance.

As the Munthdeeguns passed their totem-marked trees, or images, which would be those of the boys in their charge--for each guardian was a relation of the same totem as his charge--they would perform some magical feat, such as producing gubberahs, charcoal, gypsum, and so on, uttering as they did so a little chant about that totem.

The boy's eyes are closed all this time and his head bent down.

Boys at a Boorah always remind me of WILHELM MEISLER'S TRAVELS, where, at the school to which Wilhelm takes Felix, he learns, on inquiry as to the three attitudes assumed by the pupils, that these gestures inculcate veneration, which also seems to be the keynote of the eeramooun's instruction. The Boorah over, he too, 'Stands erect and bold, yet not selfishly isolated; only in an union with his equals (his fellow initiates) does he present a front towards the world.'

And only when the fear, the abasement, is gone does the true reverence come, which makes the most primitive creed a living religion.

As the Munthdeeguns pass the sacred fire they throw in a weapon each.

This done they place their charges in slightly scooped-out places, already prepared in the inner ring.

Then they bid them, on pain of death, not to look up whatever happens.

Soon a great whirring is heard, telling that Gayandi, the Boorah spirit, is near.

Yudtha Dulleebah, one of the oldest black men in the district, said at this stage once two boys did look up.

The wirreenuns saw them, though the boys did not know it and went on looking. These boys saw the men advance each to the fire where they had thrown their weapons; chanting in a strange tongue, they corroboreed round the fire for some time.

Then the wirreenuns snatched up the coals left from the weapons and rubbed them into their limbs, trampling as they did so on the edge of the fire, which did not seem to burn them, rubbing and chanting until the sacred coals were supposed to be absorbed by them, from which they would derive new powers.

This over, the boys were all ordered to get up, and march round, hands on thighs and heads abased, while they learnt a Boorah song, giving new words for common things, which acted as pass-words hereafter for the initiated. Into a slow chant these words were strung, as the men and boys passed round the ring, two of the oldest men standing beating time with painted spears with tufted tops.

The two boys who had transgressed before looked up again, curious as to their surroundings. Suddenly the men with the spears roared at the boys to lower their heads.

The boys laughed. Their fates were sealed. Out flashed the sacred gubberahs of these two old men.

'Dead is he,' they cried, 'who laughs in the Bunbul where yungawee burns more fiercely than Yirangal, the sun, where near lies the image of Byamee: Byamee, father of all, whose laws the tribes are now obeying.' Then the men chanted to the gubberahs and held them between the fires and the boys, the light of the flames seemed to play on them and stretch its beams to the boys, who began to tremble. As louder grew the chant an answer came from the scrub, the voice of Gayandi; shaking with fear the boys fell to the ground, to all appearance lifeless. Then the old men went forward, each with a stone knife in hand. Stooping over the two boys they opened veins in each, out flowed the blood, and the other men all raised a death cry. The boys were lifeless. The old wirreenuns, dipping their stone knives in the blood, touched with them the lips of all present. Then the bodies were put on the edge of the sacred fire and the other initiates taken a little further into the scrub. There they were tried in many ways.

With the Boorah spirits whistling and whizzing all round them, spears were pointed at them. Their skins were scratched with stone knives and mussel shells. Hideously painted, fiendish-looking creatures suddenly rushed upon them. Should they show fear and quail at the Little Boorah they would be returned to their mothers as cowards unfit for initiation, and sooner or later sympathetic magic would do its work, a poison-stick or bone would end them. Or if one of the initiates was considered stupid and generally incapable, having been brought to the Boorah for that purpose, he was now, after having been made to suffer all sorts of indignities, such as eating filth and so on, bound to the earth, strapped down, killed, and his body burnt.

When the trials were over and the old wirreenuns said to the boys who had not quailed, 'You are brave; you shall be boorahbayyi first and afterwards yelgidyi, and carry the marks that all may know.'

Then they made on the shoulder of each boy a round hole with a pointed stone; this hole they licked to feel no splinter of stone remained, then filled it with powdered charcoal.

After this, leaving the boys there, the men went back to the Bunbul ring. The bodies of the Boorah victims were cooked. Each man who had been to five Boorahs ate a piece of this flesh, no others were allowed even to see this done. Then the bones and what was left of the bodies were put into the middle of the fire, and all traces of the victims so destroyed.

The men then sang a song, saying that so must always be served those who scoffed at sacred things; that the strength they had wasted should go into other men who would use it better; while the spirits of the victims should wander about until reincarnated if the Boorah spirit gave them another chance. Perhaps he would only let them be reincarnated in animals.

After another dance and chant round the yungawee, the men went and brought the boys back again. They came with their hands on their thighs, and their heads abased; each was taken to his allotted place near the outer edge of the ring. There each Munthdeegun told his boy he could sleep that night; he would go to sleep the boy he had been, to wake in the morning a new man; his courage had now been tried, and in the morning a new name and a sacred stone would be given to him. The Gayandi would settle their names that night and tell the wirreenuns.

The next morning the boys were awakened by the Munthdeegun chanting and dancing before them. They stopped in front of the first boy, called him to rise by a new name; as he did so all the men clapped their thighs and shouted

'Wah! wah! wah!'

Then an old wirreenun gave him a small white gubberah, which he was bidden to keep concealed for ever from the uninitiated and the women, and he must be ready to produce it whenever called upon to do so. The result of failure would be fatal to him. With the loss of the stone his life spirit would be weakened, and the strength of the Boorah spirit, with which he was now endowed, be used against him instead of for him, as would be the case as long as he kept the stone.

These stones seem somewhat in the way of 'Baetyli' of pagan antiquity, which were of round form; they were supposed to be animated, by means of magical incantations, with a portion of the Deity; they were consulted on occasions of great and pressing emergency as a kind of divine oracle, and were suspended either round the neck or some other part of the body.

As each boy received his stone another loud chorus of 'Wah! wah! wah!'

went up from that crowd, making the scrub ring with the sound.

Some of those, of whose tribe it was the custom--it is not invariably so--now had a front tooth knocked off; this done a wirreenun chanted to the boy, who had been blindfolded and almost deafened by the whirring of Gayandi.

One chant was as follows:--

Now you can meet the Boorah spirit, Now will he harm you not.

He will know his spirit is in you.

For this is the sign, A front tooth gone.

That is his sign, He will know you by it.

Some of the wirreenuns buried these teeth by the Boorah fire, others carefully wrapped them up to keep as charms, or to send to other tribes, each according to the individual custom of his tribe.

This all over, once more there was a marching and chanting round the fire, then the boys were taken away and given food for the first time since they left their mothers.

No wonder that the 'supernatural' was mixed up with their impressions of the Boorah: fasting nourishes hallucinations. While the boys were eating, they could hear in the distance other chants, and knew that ceremonies were going on to which they were not yet to be admitted, there being degrees of initiation.

On the fourth day the men took them about ten miles, and camped with them where they could hear faintly in the distance the noise of the main camp; so they knew they were near the place chosen for the Durramunga, or Little Boorah.

Just before dawn next morning each Munthdeegun took his Boorahbayyi, or partially initiated one, to the Durramunga. There was a Boorah ring, but instead of earth grass was heaped all round it. No young women were visible, only the old women, who sang and corroboreed towards the boys.

Slowly they came forward, peered at their shoulders, and seeing there the marks, embraced them, shrieking out cries of joy that their boys had borne the tests. They danced round them, then at a sign from the old men embraced them again; and while, the women sang their brumboorah and danced, the boys were taken away by their guardians.

For two moons they remained away, learning much as to sacred things.

They were told that the oldest wirreenuns could see in their sacred crystals pictures of the past, pictures of what was happening at a distance in the present, and pictures of the future; some of which last filled their minds with dread, for they said as time went on the colours of the blacks, as seen in these magical stones, seemed to grow paler and paler, until at last only the white faces of the Wundah, or spirits of the dead, and white devils were seen, as if it should mean that some day no more blacks should be on this earth.

The reason of this must surely be that the tribes fell away from the Boorah rites, and in his wrath Byamee stirred from his crystal seat in Bullimah. He had said that as long as the blacks kept his sacred laws, so long should he stay in his crystal seat, and the blacks live on earth; but if they failed to keep up the Boorah rites as he had taught them, then he would move and their end would come, and only Wundah, or white devils, be in their country.

It is said that this prophetic vision was the reason that so many of the first-born half-caste babies were killed, the old wirreenuns seeing in them the beginning of the end.

At the end of two moons they make back towards the place where the Boorah had begun, and where preparations were now being made to receive them.

They camped in the scrub near the old camp of the tribe who had started the Boorah.

That night in the camp the Gayandi was heard again, another ceremony was at hand.

The next day the women at the big camp made a big fire, a little distance away. When this fire was nearly burnt out they covered it thickly with Budtha, Dheal, and Coolabah leaves to make a great smoke.

On the top of these leaves, which were piled about two feet high, logs were placed; this fire was round a Dheal tree.

When the thick smoke was seen curling up in a column, the Boorahbayyi were brought out of the scrub by the Munthdeegun, while in the distance sounded the whizzing voice of the Boorah spirit. As it ceased, when the women's chanting rose above it, the painted boys came into the open. On they came, heads down and hands on thighs, looking neither to the right nor to the left, but walking straight ahead until they stood on the logs on the fire. They leaned over and placed a hand each on the tree in the centre, there they stood while the smoke curled all round them.

The women past child-bearing were singing all the time, while the men danced outside the leaf-smoke, clicking boomerangs as they did so.

For some time this went on, then the men took the boys back into the scrub.

Chapter end

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