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The Euahlayi Tribe Part 14

On emerging from the grave the spirit finds the spirits of his dead relations waiting to go with him to Oobi Oobi, that is, a sacred mountain whose top towers into the sky, nearly touching Bullimah. The new spirit recognises his relations at once; they had, many of them, been round the death-bed visible at the last to the dying, though not to any of the watchers with him, though these are said sometimes to hear the spirit voices.

The spirit from the grave carried with him the twigs of the sacred Dheal tree which were placed over and under his body; he follows his spirit relations, dropping these twigs as he goes along, leaving thus a trail that those who follow may see. At the top of Oobi Oobi he finds the spirits called Mooroobeaigunnil, whose business it is to bridge over the distance a spirit has to traverse between the top of the mountain and Bullimah, the great Byamee's sky-camp.

One of these Mooroobeaigunnil seizes him and hoists him on to his shoulders; then comes another and hoists the first; and so on, until the one holding the spirit can lift him into Bullimah. As the spirit is hoisted in, one of the Mooroobeaigunnil, knocks the lowest one in the ladder of spirits down; thud to the earth come the rest, making a sound like a thunderclap, which the far away tribes hear, and hearing say:

'A spirit has entered Bullimah.'

Should a big meteor fall followed by a thunderclap, it is a sign that a great man has died. Should a number of stars shoot off from a falling star, it is a sign that a man has died leaving a large family. When a star is seen falling in the day-time, it is a sign that one of the Noongahburrah tribe dies.

In the olden time some of the tribes would keep a body at least five days. Then they would rub the outside black skin off, make an opening in the side of the body, take out the internal parts, fill it up with Dheal leaves. They would place the rubbed-off skin and internals in bark and put it in hollow trees. They would then bury the body, which they said would come up white.

Sometimes they would keep their dead for weeks, that they might easily extract the small joint bones with which to make poison.

A baby's body they would sometimes carry for years before burying, but it would usually have been well smoke-dried first, though not, I believe, invariably so.

Sometimes a body was kept so that relations from a distance might come and see for themselves the death was not the result of foul play.

After the body was filled up with Dheal leaves it was put into its bark coffin and smoke fires made round it.

As each relation arrived he was blindfolded and led up to the corpse, which was held up standing by some of the men. When the blindfolded relation came near, the bandage was taken off him and before him he saw standing his relation, whom he examined to see if wounds were visible.

If signs of violence were apparent, the murderer had to be discovered and stand his trial. He was given a shield to defend himself with.

Every man had a right to throw a weapon at him; should he manage to defend himself successfully, as far as that crime was concerned he would be henceforth a free man, no stigma attaching to him whatever. In which, I fancy, the blacks show themselves a larger-minded people than their white supplanters, who make this world no place for repentance for wrong-doers, 'though they seek it with tears.' In the world's opinion there is no limit to a man's sentence. We read the letter of the Gospel, and leave the spirit of it to the blacks to apply.

Should there be a difficulty as to discovering the criminal, all the men of the tribes amongst whom the murderer could be stand round the coffin. A head man says to the corpse, 'Did such and such a man harm you?' naming, one after another, all the men. At the guilty one's name the corpse is said to knock a sort of rap, rap, rap.

That man has to stand his trial.

But as a rule the blacks like to bury their dead quickly, because the spirit haunts their neighbourhood or its late camp until the body is buried. Mysterious lights are said to be seen at night, and there is a general scare in camp-land until a corpse is safely buried.

There are variations in the funeral rites of nearly every tribe. Even in our district the dead were sometimes placed in hollow trees. I know of skeletons in trees on the edge of the ridge on which the home station was built. These are said to be for the most part the bodies of worthless women or babies.

In the coastal districts there are platforms in trees on which dead bodies were laid. In some places corpses are tied up in a sitting posture. The tying, they say, is to keep them secure when spirits come about, or body-snatchers for poison bones.

In some places the graves are covered with a sort of emu egg-shaped and sized lumps of copi; and also, when a widow's term of mourning was over, she would take the widow's cap--which was a sort of copi or gypsum covering put on wet to her head--and place it on the grave of her husband.

On the Narran the widows plaster their heads with copi or bidyi, as they call it, but so thinly that it cakes off. They renew it, and keep their heads covered with it for the allotted term of mourning, then just let it gradually all wear off.

Those widows' caps, having the imprint of nets inside them, are very old; for hair nets have been out of fashion for very many years in camp-land, so such rank as antique curios.

I don't think the small girl who thought when she grew up she'd choose to be a widow, would have thought so if she had been born black.

When a black woman's husband dies she has to cover herself with mud, and sleep beside a smouldering smoke all night. Three days afterwards, black fellows go and make a fire by the creek. They chase the widow and her sisters, who might have been her husband's wives, down to the creek. The widow catches hold of the smoking bush, puts it under her arm, and jumps into the middle of the creek; as the smoking bush is going out she drinks some of the smoky water. Then out she comes, is smoked at the fire; she then calls to those in the camp, and looks towards her husband's grave and calls again; his spirit answers, and the blacks call to her that they have heard him.

After that she is allowed to speak; she had been doomed to silence since his death, but for lamentations. She goes to the new camp, where another big smoke is made. She puts on her widow's cap, which, as it wears out, has to be renewed for many months; for some months, too, she keeps her face daubed with white.

Every time a stranger comes to the camp the widow has to make a smoke and smoke the camp again. The nearest of kin to her husband has a right to claim her as wife when her mourning is over.

Should a woman be left a widow two or three times there are sinister whisperings about her. She is spoken of as having a 'white heart'; and no man can live long, they say, with a woman having a 'white heart.'

The graves in some parts of Australia are marked by carved trees; only a few painted upright posts marked them on the Narran.

A tabooed camp has always a marked tree--just a piece of bark cut off and some red markings made on the wood, which indicate that the place is gummarl.

Any possessions of the dead not buried with them are burnt, except the sacred stones; they are left to the wirreenun nearest of kin to the dead person.

Lately a case came under my notice of the taboo extended to the possessions of dead people.

A black man having two horses died. Neither his widow nor her mother would use those horses, even when he had been dead over a year. They would walk ten or twelve miles for their rations and carry them back, rather than use those horses before the term of mourning was over.

The widow was one of my particular friends, but she would not come to see me because her husband had been at the house shortly before he died. She camped nearly a mile away, and I went to see her there. After he had been dead about a year, she came to see me; but before she did so her mother walked all round the out-buildings, garden, yards, etc., with a bunch of smoking Budtha, crooning little spirit songs.

CHAPTER XI

SOMETHING ABOUT STARS AND LEGENDS

Venus in the Summer evenings is a striking object in the western sky.

Our Venus they call the Laughing Star, who is a man. He once said something very improper, and has been laughing at his joke ever since.

As he scintillates you seem to see him grinning still at his Rabelais-like witticism, seeing which the {aborigines} say:

'He's a rude old man, that Laughing Star.'

The Milky Way is a warrambool, or water overflow; the stars are the fires, and the dusky haze the smoke from them, which spirits of the dead have lit on their journey across the sky. In their fires they are cooking the mussels they gather where they camp.

There is one old man up there who was once a great rainmaker, and when you see that he has turned round as the position of the Milky Way is altered, you may expect rain; he never moves except to make it.

A waving dark shadow that you will see along the same course is Kurreah, the crocodile.

To get to the Warrambool, the Wurrawilberoo, two dark spots in Scorpio, have to be passed. They are devils who try to catch the spirits of the dead; sometimes even coming to earth, when they animate whirlwinds and strike terror into the blacks. The old men try to keep them from racing through the camp by throwing their spears and boomerangs at them.

The Pleiades are seven sisters, as usual, the dimmed ones having been dulled because on earth Wurrunnah seized them and tried to melt the crystal off them at a fire; for, beautiful as they were with their long hair, they were ice-maidens. But he was unsuccessful beyond dulling their brightness, for the ice as it melted put out the fire. The two ice-maidens were miserable on earth with him, and eventually escaped by the aid of one of their 'multiplex totems,' the pine-tree. Wurrunnah had told them to get him pine bark. Now the Meamei--Pleiades--belong to the Beewee totem, so does the pine-tree. They chopped the pine bark, and as they did so the tree telescoped itself to the sky where the five other Meamei were, whom they now joined, and with whom they have remained ever since. But they who were polluted by their enforced residence with the earth-man never shone again with the brightness of their sisters. This legend was told emphasising the beauty of chastity.

Men had desired all the sisters when once they travelled on earth, but they kept themselves unspotted from the world, with the exception of the two Wurrunnah captured by stratagem.

Orion's Sword and Belt are the Berai-Berai--the boys--who best of all loved the Meamei, for whom they used to hunt, bringing their offerings to them; but the ice-maidens were obdurate and cold, disdaining lovers, as might be expected from their parentage. Their father was a rocky mountain, their mother an icy mountain stream. But when they were translated to the sky the Berai-Berai were inconsolable. They would not hunt, they would not eat, they pined away and died. The spirits pitied them and placed them in the sky within sound of the singing of the Meamei, and there they are happy. By day they hunt, and at night light their corroboree fires, and dance to the singing in the distance. Just to remind the earth-people of them, the Meamei drop down some ice in the winter, and they it is who make the winter thunderstorms.

Castor and Pollux, in some tribes, are two hunters of long ago.

Canopus is Womba, the Mad Star, the wonderful Weedah of long ago, who, on losing his loves, went mad, and was sent to the sky that they might not reach him; but they followed, and are travelling after him to this day, and after them the wizard Beereeun, their evil genius, who made the mirage on the plains in order to deceive them, that they and Weedah might be lured on by it and perish of thirst.

When they escaped him Beereeun threw a barbed spear into the sky, and hooked one spear on to another until he made a ladder up which he climbed after them; and across the sky he is still pursuing them.

The Clouds of Magellan are the Bralgah, or Native Companions, mother and daughter, whom the Wurrawilberoo chased in order to kill and eat the mother and keep the daughter, who was the great dancer of the tribes. They almost caught her, but her tribe pursued them too quickly; when, determined that if they lost her so should her people, they chanted an incantation and changed her from Bralgah, the dancing-girl, to Bralgah, the dancing-bird, then left her to wander about the plains.

They translated themselves on beefwood trees into the sky, and there they are still.

Chapter end

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