The Euahlayi Tribe Part 19

The sing-song seems to suit it, and the well-timed clicking of the boomerangs and thudding of the rolled-up rugs. The blacks are great patrons of art, and encourage native talent in the most praiseworthy way; although, judging from one of their legends, you might think they were not.

This legend tells how Goolahwilleel had the soul of an artist, and when his family sent him out to hunt their daily dinner, he forgot his quest and perfected his art, which was the modelling of a kangaroo in gum.

When his work was finished, with the pride of a successful artist he returned for applause.

His family demanded of him meat; he showed his kangaroo.

His masterpiece was unappreciated. Even as did Palissy's--of pottery fame--wife, so did Goolahwilleel's family revile him.

His freedom to wander at will, seeking inspiration and giving it form, was taken from him. He was driven out: daily to slay, that his family might feed, and never again was he let go alone--a crowd of relations went with him!

Figure to yourself what a damper to inspiration must have been that crowd of relations; how it must have slain the artist in Goolahwilleel.

How the old legend repeats itself, and now as then, how often the artist is woman--slain that she by the caterer may live. Surely in the interests of intellect was the prayer made: 'Give us our daily bread.'

Perhaps the old legend of Goolahwilleel was originally told with a moral, and that may be: why black artists are so well treated now.

A maker of new songs or corroborees is always kept well supplied with the luxuries of life; it may be that such an one is a little feared as being supposed to have direct communication with the spirits who teach him his art. A fine frenzy is said to seize some of their poets and playwrights, who, for the time being, are quite under the domination of the spirits--possessed of devils, in fact. When the period of mental incubation is over and the song hatched out, the possessed ones return to their normal condition, the devils are cast out, and the songs are all that remain in evidence that the artist was ever possessed.

Some songs do not require this process of fine frenzy they come along in the course of barter, handed from tribe to tribe.

Ghiribul, or riddles, play a great part in their social life, and he who knows many is much sought after.

Most of these ghiribul are not translatable, being little songs describing the things to be guessed, whose peculiarities the singer acts as he sings--a sort of one-man show, pantomime in miniature, with a riddle running through it.

Some which I will give indicate the nature of others.

What is it that says to the flood-water, 'I am too strong for you; you can not push me back'? ANS. Goodoo, the codfish.

What is it that says, 'You cannot help yourself; you will have to go and let me take your place; you cannot stay when I come'? ANS. The grey hairs in a man's beard to the black ones.

'If a man hide himself so that his wife could not see him, and he wanted her to know where he was, yet had promised not to speak, laugh, cry, sneeze, cough, nor move his hands nor feet, how could he do so?'

ANS. Whistle.

'The strongest man cannot stand against me. I can knock him down, yet I do not hurt him. He feels better for my having knocked him down. What am I?' ANS. Sleep.

'I am not water, yet all who are thirsty, seeing me, come toward me to drink, though I am no liquid. What am I?' Ans. Mirage.

'What is it that goes along the creek, across the creek, underneath it, and along it again, and yet has left neither side?' ANS. The yellow-flowering creeping water-weed.

'Here I am, just in front of you. I can't move; but if you kick me, I will knock you down, though I will not move to do it. Who says this?'

ANS. A stump that any one falls over.

'You cannot walk without me, yet you grease your body and forget me and let me crack, even though but for me you could neither walk nor run.

Who says that?' ANS. A black fellow's feet, which he neglects to grease when doing the rest of his body.

With riddles ends, I think, the list of the blacks' amusements, unless you count fights. The blacks are a bit Celtic in that way; some are real fire-eaters, always spoiling for a row. But in most everyday rows the feelings are more damaged than the bodies.

An old gin in a rage will say more in a given time, without taking breath, than any human being I have ever seen; it is simply physiologically marvellous. From the noise you would think murder at least would result. You listen in dread of a tragedy; you hear the totem and multiplex totems of her opponent being scoffed at, strung out one after another, deadly insult after deadly insult. The insulted returns insult for insult; result, a lively cross fire.

It lulls down; the insults are exhausted, quietude reigns. Some one makes a joke, all are laughing together in amity. From impending tragedy to comedy the work of a few minutes. A mercurial race indeed, but not a forgetful one. A black fellow never forgives a broken promise, and he can cherish a grudge from generation to generation as well as remember a kindness.

Though, when high pitched in quarrels, their voices lose their natural tones, as a rule those of the blacks are remarkably sweet and soft, quite musical; their language noticeable for its freedom from harsh sounds.



Weeweemul is a big spirit that flies in the air; he takes the bodies of dead people away and eats them. That is why the dead are so closely watched before burial.

Gwaibooyanbooyan is the hairless red devil of the scrubs, who kills and eats any one he meets, unless they are quick enough to get away before he sees them, as one woman of this tribe is said to have done on the Eurahbah ridge. It would really seem as if there were a debbil debbil on that ridge; every boundary rider who lives there takes to drink. I think the red spirit must be rum.

Marahgoo are man-shaped devils, to be recognised by the white swansdown cap they wear, and the red rugs they carry. Red is a great devil's colour amongst blacks some will never wear it on that account.

These Marahgoo always have with them a mysterious drink, which they offer to any one they meet. It is like drinking dirt, and makes the drinker dream dreams and see visions, in which he is taken down to the underground spirit-world of the Marahgoo, where anything he wishes for appears at once. The entrance to this world is said to be near a never-drying waterhole, in a huge scrub, near Pilliga. If a man drinks the draught, unless he is made Marahgoo, he dies.

Each totem is warned by its bird sub-totems of the coming of Marahgoo, and after such a warning tribes take care, if wise, to stay in camp; or should a man go out, he will smear his face with black, and put rings of black round his wrists and ankles, and probably have a little charm song sung over him.

Birrahmulgerhyerh are blacks with devils in them, who, armed with bags full of poison-sticks, or bones--called gooweera--are invisible to all but wirreenuns or wizards. Others are warned of their coming by hearing the rattle of the gooweeras knocking together. When the Birrahmulgerhyerh are about, all are warned not to carry firesticks, which at other times after dark they are never without in order to scare off spirits, but now such a light would show the Birrahmulgerhyerh where to point their gooweeras. They are said only to point these poison-sticks at law-breakers, and even then only against persons in a strange country.

Their own land is down Brewarrina way, but there they make no punitive expeditions, travelling up the Narran and elsewhere for that purpose.

The Euloowayi, or long-nailed devils, are spirits which live where the sun sets. Just as the afterglow dies in the sky, they come out victim-hunting. These Euloowayi demand a tribute of young black men from the camp, to recoup their own ranks.

When this tribute has to be paid, the old men get some ten or so young ones, and march them off to a Minggah at about ten or fifteen miles from the camp. There they make them climb into the Ming-ah, to sit there all day. They must not move, not even so much as wink an eyelid.

At night time they are allowed to come down, and are given some meat, which they must eat raw.

The old men from the camp go back leaving their victims with the Euloowayi, who keep the boys up the tree for some days, bringing them raw meat at night. At last they say:

'Come and try if your nails are long and strong enough. See who can best tear this bark off with them.'

They all try, and if all are equally good, the old Euloowayi say:

'You are right. How do you feel?'

'Strong,' they answer.

They are kept on the tree about a month, then taken into the bush to hunt human beings, to deceive whom they take new forms at times. A couple of blacks may be hunting--one will be after honey, another after opossums. The one after opossums will go to a tree, see an opossum, chop into the tree, seize the opossum by the tail as usual. He cannot move him. He'll seize him by the hind legs, still he cannot move him.

Then he will hear a voice say, 'Leave him alone, you can't move him.'

The hunter will look down, see nothing but a rainbow at the foot of the tree. Wonderingly he'll come down, and immediately the Euloowayi, who have been in the form of the opossum in the tree and the rainbow on the ground, seize him, tear him open with their long nails, take out all his fat, stuff him up again with grass and leaves, and send him back to the camp. When he reaches there, he starts scolding every one. Probably they guess by his violent words and actions that he is a victim of the Euloowayi. If so, they are careful not to answer him; were they to do so he would drop dead. Any way, he will die that night. When the magpies and butcher-birds sing much it is a sign the Euloowayi are about.

Gineet Gineet, so called from his cry, is the bogy that black children dread. He is a black man who goes about with a goolay or net across his shoulders, into which he pops any children he can steal.

Several waterholes are taboo as bathing-places. They are said to be haunted by Kurreah, which swallow their victims whole, or by Gowargay, the featherless emu, who sucks down in a whirlpool any one who dares to bathe in his holes.

Nahgul is the rejected Gayandil who was found by Byamee too destructive to act as president of the Boorahs.

Chapter end

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