The Euahlayi Tribe Part 8

To begin at the beginning, Bahloo, the moon, is a sort of patron of women. He it is who creates the girl babies, assisted by Wahn, the crow, sometimes.

Should Wahn attempt the business on his own account the result is direful; women of his creating are always noisy and quarrelsome.

Bahloo's favourite spot for carrying on the girl manufacturing is somewhere on the Culgoa. On one of the creeks there is to be seen, when it is dry, a hole in the ground. As water runs along, the bed of this creek, gradually a stone rises from this hole. As the water rises it rises, always keeping its top out of the water.

This is the Goomarh, or spirit-stone, of Bahloo. No one would dare to touch this stone where the baby girls' spirits are launched into space.

In the same neighbourhood is a clear water-hole, the rendezvous of the snakes of Bahloo. Should a man go to drink there he sees no snakes, but no sooner has he drunk some of the water than he sees hundreds; so even water-drinkers see their snakes.

The name of the hole is Dahn.

Spirit-babies are usually despatched to Waddahgudjaelwon and sent by her to hang promiscuously on trees, until some woman passes under where they are, then they will seize a mother and be incarnated. This resembles the Arunta belief, but with the Euahlayi the spirits are new freshly created beings, not reincarnations of ancestral souls, as among the Arunta. To live, a child must have an earthly father; that it has not, is known by its being born with teeth.

Wurrawilberoo is said to snatch up a baby spirit sometimes and whirl along towards some woman he wishes to discredit, and through the medium of this woman he incarnates perhaps twins, or at least one baby. No doubt were it not for signs of teeth in a spirit-baby of immaculate conception, many a camp scandal would be conveniently nipped in the bud.

Babies are sometimes sent directly to their mothers without the Coolabah-tree or whirlwind medium.

The bronze mistletoe branches with their orange-red flowers are said to be the disappointed babies whose wailing in vain for mothers has wearied the spirits who transform them into these bunches, the red flowers being formed from their baby blood. The spirits of babies and children who die young are reincarnated, and should their first mother have pleased them they choose her again and are called millanboo--the same again.

They can instead, if they like, choose some other woman they know, which seems very accommodating in those presiding over the reincarnation department.

Sometimes two baby spirits will hang on one branch and incarnate themselves in the same woman, who as result is the mother of twins, and the object of much opprobrium in the camp. In fact, in the old days, one of the twins would have been killed.

One of my Black-but-Comelys said, on hearing that a woman had twins:

'If it had been me I would have put my fingers round the throat of one of them and killed it.' The woman who made this speech I had always looked upon as the gentlest and kindliest of creatures.

The father of the twins has treated his wife with the utmost contempt since their birth, and declines to acknowledge more than one of the babies.

They say the first-born of twins is always born grinning with his tongue out, as if to say, 'There's another to come yet; nice sort of mother I have.'

No wonder the women cover themselves under a blanket when they see a whirlwind coming, and avoid drooping Coolabah trees, believing that either may make them objects of scorn as the mother of twins.

When a baby is born, some old woman takes the Coolabah leaf out of its mouth. Such a leaf is said always to be found there if the baby was incarnated from a Coolabah tree; should this leaf not be removed it will carry the baby back to spirit-land. As soon as the leaf is taken away the baby is bathed in cold water. Hot gum leaves are pressed on the bridge of its nose to ensure its flatness; the more bridgeless the nose the greater the beauty.

When a baby clutches hold of anything as if to give it to some one, the bargie--grandmother--or some elderly woman takes what the baby offers, and makes a muffled clicking sort of noise with her tongue rolled over against the roof of her mouth, then croons the charm which is to make the child a free giver: so is generosity inculcated in extreme youth. I have often heard the grannies croon over the babies:

Oonahgnai Birrablee, Oonahgnoo Birrahlee, Oonahgnoo Birrahlee, Oonabmillangoo Birrahlee, Gunnoognoo oonah Birrahlee.

Which translated is:

'Give to me, Baby, Give to her, Baby, Give to him, Baby, Give to one, Baby, Give to all, Baby.'

As babies are all under the patronage of the moon, the mothers are very careful every new moon to make a white cross-like mark on the babies'

foreheads, and white dabs on cheeks and chins.

And very careful are the mothers not to look at the full moon, nor let their babies do so; an attack of thrush would be the result.

Bahloo, too, has a spiteful way of punishing a woman who has the temerity to stare at him, by sending her the dreaded twins.

If babies do not sleep well their mothers get the red powdered stuff like pine pollen, from the joints of the Bingahwingul, or needlebush tree, and rub it on the babies' skulls and foreheads.

If the babies cry too much their mothers say evil spirits are in them, and must be smoked out. They make a smoke fire of Budtha twigs and hold the baby in the thick of the smoke. I have seen the mother of a fretful child of three or four years even, apply the smoke anodyne.

Whenever the mother of a young child woke in the night, if well up in her mother duties, she was supposed to warm her hands, and rub her baby's joints so that the child might grow lissome and a good shape, and she always saw that her baby's mouth was shut when the child was asleep lest an evilly disposed person should slip in a disease or evil-working spirit. For the same reason they will not let a baby lie on its back unless they cover its head.

If a gilah flies over the camp crying out as it passes, it is a sure sign of 'debbil debbil'; the child, to escape evil consequences, must be turned on to its left side.

If a gooloo, or magpie, did the same, the child had to be laid flat on her moobil--stomach: for the passing of a cawing crow, a child had to be laid on the right side.

As these birds are not night birds, it is evident that they are evil spirits abroad in bird form, hence the precautions. As soon as a baby begins to crawl, the mother finds a centipede, half cooks it, takes it from the fire, and catching hold of her child's hands beats them with it, crooning as she does so:

'Gheerlayi ghilayer, Wahl munnoomerhdayer, Wahl mooroonbahgoo, Yelgayerdayer deermuldayer, Gheerlayi ghilayer.'

Which means:

'Kind be, Do not steal, Do not touch what to another belongs, Leave all such alone, Kind be.'

The accompaniment being a muffled click of a rolled-up tongue against the roof of a mouth.

No child must touch the big feathers of a goomblegubbon, or bustard's wings, nor any of its bones. At the age of about four, the mother takes one of these wings and beats the child all over the shoulders and under the arms with it. Again making the clicking noise, she croons:

'Goobean gillaygoo, Oogowahdee goobolaygoo, Wahl goonundoo, Ghurranbul daygoo.'

Which charm means:

'A swimmer be, Flood to swim against, No water, Strong to stop you.'

And so was a child made a good swimmer.

The wirreenuns would see that the septum of a child's nose was pierced at the right time, and their tribal marks cut on them. The nose was pierced at midwinter when ice was about, with which to numb the place to be pierced; ice was held to the septum, then prod through it went a bone needle.

An old gin who worked about the station had a pierced nose, and often wore a mouyerh, or bone, through it. A white laundress wore earrings.

She said one day to the old gin:

'Why you have hole made in your nose and put that bone there? No good that. White women don't do that.'

The black woman looked the laundress up and down, and finally anchored her eyes on the earrings.

'Why you make hole in your ears? No good that. Black gin no do that, pull 'em down your ears like dogs. Plenty good bone in your nose make you sing good. Sposin' cuggil--bad--smell you put bone longa nose no smell 'im. Plenty good make hole longa nose, no good make hole longa ears, make 'em hang down all same dogs.' And off she went laughing, and pulling down the lobes of her ears, began to imitate the barking of a dog.

There is often a baby betrothal called Bahnmul.

For some reason or another it has been decided that a baby girl is to be given to a man, perhaps because he has been kind to her mother, perhaps she is owed to his kin by her own; any way the granny of the baby girl puts feathers, white swansdown, on the baby's head, and takes her over to the man when she is about a month old. Granny says to the baby:

'Look at him, and remember him, because you are promised to him.'

Then she takes some feathers off the baby's head and puts them on to his; that makes it a formal betrothal, binding to both sides.

I have heard great camp rows because girls made a struggle for independence, having found out they had only been promised, not formally betrothed, to some old chap whom they did not wish to marry.

Chapter end

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