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The Euahlayi Tribe Part 12

In about four moons' time another leaf-smoke was made ready, and the Boorahbayyi were again brought out and smoked. This time while chanting a song the old women brought a big net and put it right over the boys.

Then they stepped back and danced round to the clicking of boomerangs by the men. The boys were again taken away.

But after this they were allowed to camp nearer the general camp, though they held no intercourse with the people of it. I have often met these Boorah boys in the bush, and on sighting me they have fled as if I were a devil in petticoats.

In about another moon's time, the boys were painted principally white, a waywah put on them, a yunbean--a piece of beefwood gum with two kangaroo teeth stuck in it, and a hole through it--was tied to their front lock of hair. A number of these yunbean were tied to forehead bands, which they wore too. Armlets of opossum's hair string were put on their arms, and feathers stuck in them. Feathers were also stuck upright in the forehead bands.

Some of the old men added to their own decorations by putting on wongins, from which were hanging those most precious possessions to inland blacks--seaside shells. Some had fresh beads of gum fastened on to their hair, hanging round their heads in dozens.

The women, too, had coiffured themselves with fresh gum beads; the mothers of the Boorahbayyi were painted, too, in corroboree style. They had made a smoke fire, but the logs instead of being put on it, were placed at a little distance; on these the painted boys sat, the smoke enveloping them.

After they had been seated there some time, their mothers came up behind them, and put their hands on their sons' shoulders. Then they rubbed all the paint off the boys' bodies; the boys never once looking at them. When the paint was all off, the women sang and danced, until the men in charge took the boys away again.

After this, supervision was relaxed except at night. During the day-time the boys might wander at will, so as they kept clear of the general camp. They might not receive food from nor speak to a woman for twelve months, as if they were monks of Byamee in training.

At his second Boorah a young man was allowed to see the sacred fire ceremony, throwing in of weapons, walking on burning coals, and the rest. He saw the huge earthen figures of Byamee, Birrahgnooloo, and Baillahburrah, or Dillalee, and was told all about them; that Byamee having initiated the Boorah, only such as have been through its rites can go to his sky-camp.

Three sins are unforgiveable, and commit a spirit of a guilty one to continual movement in the lower world of the Eleanbah Wundah, where, but for big fires kept up, would be darkness.

There the guilty one had to keep his right hand at his side, never moving it, but he himself perpetually moving. Those who know the blacks and their love of a 'dolce far niente,' will understand what a veritable hell this perpetual movement would make.

The three deadly sins were unprovoked murder, lying to the elders of the tribe, or stealing a woman within the forbidden degrees--that is, of the same hereditary totem, i.e. of the same blood, or of the prohibited family name clan.

But by a curious train of reasoning two wrongs make a right. Should by any chance a man succeed in getting a wife he had no right to, having lived with her, he could keep her, if he came unhurt from the trial he had to stand; he only having a shield to defend himself with, the men of the stolen woman's kin threw weapons at him. Only the men of her kin are assailants, not as in a murder trial, when the men of all kins can throw at the guilty man. Should he defend himself successfully, he can keep the woman on the understanding that a woman of his family is given to a man of hers, to square things. A man who stands his trial is called a Booreenbayyi.

Kindliness towards the old and sick is strictly inculcated as a command of Byamee, to whom all breaches of his laws are reported by the all-seeing spirit at a man's death, and he is judged accordingly. Sir Thomas Mitchell, writing in 1837 his experiences of the blacks during his explorations, notices as very striking their care and affection for the aged of their race.

At his second Boorah a man is allowed to see the carvings on the trees and to hear the legends of them. Also to hear the Boorah song of Byamee, which Byamee himself sang; and to hear the prayer of the oldest wirreenun to Byamee, asking him to let the blacks live long, for they have been faithful to his charge as shown by the observance of the Boorah ceremony.

The old wirreenun says words to this effect several times imploringly, his head turned to the east; facing this direction the dead are mostly buried.

Though we say that actually these people have but two attempts at prayers, one at the grave and one at the inner Boorah ring, I think perhaps we are wrong. These two seem the only ones directly addressed to Byamee. But perhaps it is his indirect aid which is otherwise invoked. Daily set prayers seem to them a foolishness and an insult, rather than otherwise, to Byamee. He knows; why weary him by repetition, disturbing the rest he enjoys after his earth labours? But a prayer need not necessarily be addressed to the highest god. I think if we really understood and appreciated the mental attitude of the blacks, we should find more in their so-called incantations of the nature of invocations. When a man invokes aid on the eve of a battle, or in his hour of danger and need; when a woman croons over her baby an incantation to keep him honest and true, and that he shall be spared in danger, surely these croonings are of the nature of prayers born of the same elementary frame of mind as our more elaborate litany. I fancy inherent devotional impulses are common to all races irrespective of country or colour.

When the prayer was over the old men chanted Byamee's song, which only the fully initiated may sing, and which an old black fellow chanted for us as the greatest thing he could do.

There seemed very little in this song, for no, one can translate it, the meaning having been lost in the 'dark backward,' if it was ever known to the Euahlayi.

'Byamee guadoun.

Byamee guadoun.

Byamee guadoun.

Mungerh wirree.

Mungerh wirree.

Mungerh wirree.

Birree gunyah, birrie gunyah.

Dilbay gooran mulah bungarn.

Oodoo doo gilah.

Googoo wurra wurra.

Bulloo than nulgah delah boombee nulgah.

Delah boombee. Nulgah delah boombee boombee.

Buddereebah ... ... Eumoolan.

Dooar wullah doo. Boombee nulgah delah.'

The old fellow said wherever Byamee had travelled this song was known, but no one now knew the meaning of the whole, not even the oldest wirreenuns.

Another stone was given to a Boorahbayyi when he first heard this song.

The wirreenuns, they say, swallow their stones to keep them safe.

At each Boorah a taboo is taken off food. After a third Boorah a man could eat fish, after a fourth honey, after a fifth what he liked. He was then, too, shown and taught the meanings of the tribal message-sticks, and the big Boorah one of Byamee. As few men now have ever been to five Boorahs, few know anything about these last. At each Boorah a stone was given to a man, and when he had the five he could marry.

After each Boorah all the figures and embankments are destroyed.

After the fifth Boorah the mystery of the Gayandi was revealed and the bull roarers shown--oval pieces of wood pointed at both ends, fastened to a string and swung round; but though this was shown, the wirreenuns told them that the spirit's voice was really in this wood animating it.

After a man has been to one Boorah he can have war weapons and is a warrior, but not until he has been to five can he join or be one of the dorrunmai--sort of chiefs--who hold councils of war, but have few privileges beyond being accepted authorities as to war and hunting.

With the wirreenuns rests the real power, by reason of their skill in magic.

Besides Boorahs are minor corroboree meetings where marriages are arranged; meetings where the illegality of marriages is gone into, and, if necessary, exchanges effected or arranged; meetings where the wirreenuns of the Boogahroo produce the bags of hair, etc., and vendettas are sworn; meetings of Boodther, or giving, where each person receives and gives presents. A person who went to a Boodther without a goolay full of presents would be thought a very poor thing indeed.

Of course every meeting has a corroboree as part of it.

Every totem even has its own special corroboree and time for having it, as the Beewees, or iguanas, when the pine pollen is failing and the red dust-storms come. And if you abused these dust-storms to a Beewee black, you would insult him: it is not dust, it is the pollen off the pines, and so a multiplex totem to him!

The winds belong to various totems, and the rains are claimed by the totem whose wind it was that blew it up.

If a storm comes up without wind it belongs to Bohrah, the kangaroo.

The big mountainous clouds when they come from the south-west are said to be Mullyan, the eagle-hawk, who makes the south-west wind claimed by Maira, paddy melon totem, one of whose multiplex totems Mullyan is.

The crow keeps the cold west wind in a hollow log, as she was too fond of blowing up hurricanes; she escapes sometimes, but the crow hunts her back. But they say the log is rotting and she will get away yet, when there will be great wreckage and quite a change in climates. [Here we see the usual antagonism of crow and eagle-hawk.--A. L.]

Away to the north-west a tribe of blacks have almost a monopoly in wind-making, holding great corroborees to sing these hurricanes up. One of this tribe came to the station once and wanted to marry a girl there. She would not consent, and told him to go home. He went, threatening to send a storm to wreck the station. The storm came; the house escaped, but stable, store, and cellar were unroofed. I told my Black-but-Comelys to kindly avoid such vehemently revengeful lovers for the future.

CHAPTER X

CHIEFLY AS TO FUNERALS AND MOURNING

I was awakened one morning on the station by distant wailing.

A wailing that came in waves of sound, beginning slowly and lowly, to gain gradually in volume until it reached the full height or limit of the human voice, when gradually, as it had risen, it fell again. No shrieking, just a wailing inexpressibly saddening to hear.

I lay for some minutes not realising what the sound was, yet penetrated by its sorrow. Then came consciousness. It was from the blacks' camp, and must mean death. Beemunny, the oldest woman of the camp, who for weeks had been ill, must now be dead.

Poor old Beemunny, who was blind and used to get her great-granddaughter, little Buggaloo, to lead her up to the tree outside my window, under whose shade she had spent so many hours, telling me legends of the golden age when man, birds, beasts, trees, and elements spoke a common language. But the day before I had been to the camp to hear how she was. The old women were sitting round her; one of the younger ones told me her end had nearly come.

The Boolees, or whirlwinds, with the Mullee Mullees of her enemies in, had been playing round and through the camp for days, they said, watching to seize her fleeting spirit--a sure sign the end was near.

That night surely would come Yowee, the skeleton spirit, with the big head and fiery eyes, whose coming meant death.

Chapter end

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