The Euahlayi Tribe Part 20

He principally haunts Boorah grounds. He still has a Boorah gubberrah, a sacred stone, inside him, hence his strength.

He sets string traps for men, touching which they feel ill, and suddenly drop down never to rise again. The wirreenuns know then that Nahgul is about. They find out where he is. Circling, at a good distance, the spot he is on, they corroboree round it. Hearing them, Nahgul comes out. They close in and seize him, kill him, drink his blood, and eat him; by so doing gaining immense additional strength.

Marmbeyah are tree spirits, somewhat akin to the Nats of Burmah. One, a huge, fat spirit--if you can imagine a fat spirit--carried a green boondee, or waddy, with which he tapped people on the backs of their necks: result, heat apoplexy. A few years ago, an old black fellow laid wait for him and 'flattened him out,' since which there has been no heat apoplexy. We think it is because the bad times have made people too poor to overheat themselves with bad spirits of a liquid kind. The blacks differ, and certainly there were some cases of even total abstainers falling victims to the heat wave.

Hatefully frequent devil visitors are those who animate the boolees, or whirlwinds. If these whirl near the house they smother everything with debris and dust.

The Black-but-Comelys say, as they clear the dirt away: 'I wish whoever in this house those boolees are after would go out when they come, not let 'em hunt after 'em here and make this mess.'

The Wurrawilberos chiefly animate these. But sometimes the wirreenuns use whirlwinds as mediums of transit for their Mullee Mullees, or dream spirits, sent in pursuit of some enemy, to capture a woman, or incarnate child spirit; women dread boolees, more even than men, on this account. Great wirreenuns are said to get rid of evil spirits by eating the form in which they appear. I'm sure we all swallowed a good share of the dust devils, but still they came; evidently we were not wizards or witches.

The plain of Weawarra is haunted. Once long ago there was a fight there. Two young warriors but lately married were slain. As their bodies were never recovered, they were supposed to have been stolen and eaten by the enemy. Their young widows spent days searching for them, after the tribe had given up hope of finding them. At last the widows--who had refused to marry again, declaring their husbands yet lived, and that one day they would find them--disappeared.

Time passed; they did not return, so were supposed to be dead too. Then arose the rumour that their ghosts had been seen, and to this day it is said the plain of Weawarra is haunted by them.

Should men camp there at night, these women spirits silently steal into the camp. The men, thinking they are women from some tribe they do not know, speak to them; but silently there they sit, making no answer, and vanish again before the dawn of day, to renew their search night after night.

The high ridges above Warrangilla are haunted by two women, who tradition says were buried alive. Their spirits have never rested, but come out at all times from the huge fissure in the ridges where their bodies were put. Their anguished cries as the stones and earth fell on them are still to be heard echoing through the scrub there; and sometimes it is said one, keener sighted than his fellows, sees their spirit forms flitting through the Budtha bushes, and hears again their tragic cries, as they disappear once more into the fathomless fissure.

There is a tradition--common, I believe, to many black tribes, even outside Australia--that, long before the coming of the white people into this country, two beautiful white girls lived with the blacks.

They had long hair to their waists. They were called Bungebah, and were killed as devils by an alien tribe somewhere between Noorahwahgean and Gooroolay. Where their blood was spilled two red-leaved trees have grown, and that place is still haunted by their spirits.

Amid the Cookeran Lake still wanders the woman who arrived late at the big Boorah, having lost her children one by one on the track, arriving at last with only her dead baby in the net at her back. As she died she cursed the tribes who had deserted her, and turned them into trees.

Some of the blacks were in groups a little way off; those, too, she cursed, and they were changed into forests of Belah, which look dark and funereal as you drive through them; and the murmuring sound, as the wind wails through their tops, has a very sad sound. She wanders through these forests and round the lake, the dead baby still in the goolay on her back, and sometimes her voice is heard mingling with the voices of the forest; and as the shadows fall, she may be seen flitting past, they say.

Noorahgogo is a very handsome bronze and peacock-blue beetle, said to embody a spirit which always answers the cry of a Noongahburrah in the bush. The bright orange-red fungi on the fallen trees are devils'

bread, and should a child touch any he will be spirited away.

Very mournful are the bush nights if you happen to be alone on your verandah. Away on the flat sound the cries of curlews; past flies a night heron; then the discordant voice of a plover is heard. In all these birds are embodied the spirits of men of the past; each has its legend.

Perhaps some passing swans will cry 'Biboh, biboh,' reminding in vain the camp wizards that they too were once men, and long to be again.

Poor enchanted swans! to whose enchantment we owe the lovely flannel flowers of New South Wales, and the red epacris bells.

But in spite of their sadness the bush nights are lovely, when the landscapes are glorified by the magic of the moon. Even the gum leaves are transmuted into silver as the moonlight laves them, making the blacks say the leaves laugh, and the shimmer is like a smile.

No wonder trees have such a place in the old religions of the world, and wirreenuns, even as do Buddhists, love to linger beneath their branches--the one holding converse with his spirit friends, the other cultivating the perfect peace.

There would not be much perfect peace about a wirreenun's communing with the spirits if it happened to be in mosquito time. The blacks say a little grey-speckled bird rules the mosquitoes, and calls them from their swamp-homes to attack us. In the mythological days this bird--a woman--was badly treated by a man who translated her sons to the sky; having revenged herself on him, she vowed vengeance on all men, and in the form of the mosquito bird wreaks that vengeance. Her mosquito slaves have just the same spots on their wings as she has.

I dare say little with an air of finality about black people; I have lived too much with them for that. To be positive, you should never spend more than six months in their neighbourhood; in fact, if you want to keep your anthropological ideas quite firm, it is safer to let the blacks remain in inland Australia while you stay a few thousand miles away. Otherwise, your preconceived notions are almost sure to totter to their foundations; and nothing is more annoying than to have elaborately built-up, delightfully logical theories, played ninepins with by an old greybeard of a black, who apparently objects to his beliefs being classified, docketed, and pigeon-holed, until he has had his say.

After all, when we consider their marriage restrictions, their totems, and the rest, what becomes of the freedom of the savage? As with us, as Montague says, 'Our laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from Nature, proceed from custom.'

I have often thought the failure of the generality of missionaries lay in the fact that they began at the wrong end. Not recognising the tyranny of custom, though themselves victims to it, they ignore, as a rule, the religion into which the black is born, and by which he lived, in much closer obedience to its laws than we of this latter-day Christendom. It seems to me, if we cannot respect the religion of others we deny our own. If we are powerless to see the theism behind the overlying animism, we argue a strange ignorance of what crept over other faiths, in the way of legends and superstitions quite foreign to the simplicity of the beginnings.

To be a success, a missionary, I think, should--as many do, happily--before he goes out to teach, acquaint himself with the making of the world's religions, and particularly with the one he is going to supplant. He will probably find that elimination of some savageries is all that is required, leaving enough good to form a workable religion understanded of his congregation.

If he ignores their faith, thrusting his own, with its mysteries which puzzle even theologians, upon them, they will be but as whited sepulchres, or, at best, parrots.

Chapter end

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