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The Euahlayi Tribe Part 9

Perhaps the old fellow will already have a wife or so, a man can have as many as he pleases. I have heard of one with three; I have known some with two; but the generality of them seem content with one.

Should a young girl marry a man with an old wife, the old wife rules her to any extent, not even letting her have a say about her own children, and no duenna could be stricter. Should the young wife in the absence of her husband speak to a young man, she will probably get a scolding from the old wife and a 'real hiding' from the old man, to whom the old wife will report her conduct. Quite young men often marry quite old women; a reason sometimes given is that these young men were on earth before and loved these same women, but died before their initiation, so could not marry until now in their reincarnation.

Certainly, amongst the blacks, age is no disqualification for a woman; she never seems to be too old to marry, and certainly with age gains power.

At whatever age a girl may be betrothed to a man he never claims her while she is yet Mullerhgun, or child girl; not until she is Wirreebeeun, or woman girl.

A girl's initiation into womanhood is as follows. Her granny probably, or some old woman relation, takes her from the big camp into the scrub where they make a bough shade. As soon as this is made, the old woman sets fire to a thick heap of Budtha leaves and makes the girl swallow the smoke. She then bids her lie down in a scooped-out hollow she has made in the earth, saying to her, 'You are to be made a young woman now. No more must you run about as you please. Here must you stay with me, doing as I say. Then in two moons' time you shall go and claim your husband, to do for ever what he bids you. You must not sleep as you lie there in the day time, nor must you go to sleep at night until those in the camp are at rest. I will put food ready for you. Honey you must not eat again for four moons. At first streak of day you must get up, and eat the food I have placed for you. Then when you hear a bird note you must shake yourself all over, and make a noise like this.'

And the old woman makes a ringing noise with her lips.

'That you must do every time you hear a fresh bird note; so too when you hear the people in the camp begin to talk, or even if you hear them laugh or sneeze. If you do not, then grey will your hair be while you are yet a young woman, dull will your eyes be, and limp your body.'

Girls have told me that they got very tired of being away with only the old woman for so long, and were glad enough when she told them they were to move to a new camp, nearer to the big one, which the women had prepared for them.

When they reached this the old woman rubbed off the mud with which she had plastered the girl's limbs when first they went away to camp, and which she had renewed from time to time. When this was all off she painted the girl in different designs with red ochre and white gypsum, principally in spots. She put on her head a gnooloogail, or forehead band, made of Kurrajong fibre, plaited and tied with some Kurrajong string, from over the cars to the back of the head; in this band, which she had painted white, she stuck sprays of white flowers. Sweetly scented Budtha and clustering Birah were the flowers most used for this ceremony. Should neither of these be in bloom, then sprays of Collarene or Coolibah blossom were used. When the flowers were placed in the band the old woman scattered a handful of white swansdown over the girl's head. Next she tied round her a girdle of opossum's sinews with strands of woven opossum's hair hanging about a foot square in front. Round her arms she bound goomils--opossum hair armlets--into which she placed more sprays of flowers, matching those in the girl's hair.

To show that the occasion was a sacred one a sprig of Dheal tree was placed through the hole in the septum of the nose. The toilet of a wirreebeeun was now complete.

The old woman gave her a bunch of smoking Budtha leaves to carry, and told her what to do. Note here the origin of bridal bouquets.

Having received her instructions, the girl, holding the smoking twigs, went towards the big camp.

When the women there saw her coming they began to sing a song in, to her, a strange language.

On a log, with his back towards her--for he must not yet look on her face--sat the man to whom she was betrothed. The girl went up to him.

As the women chanted louder she threw the smoking Budtha twigs away, placed a hand on each of his shoulders and shook him. Then she turned and ran back to her new camp, the women singing and pelting her with dry twigs and small sticks as she went. For another moon she stayed with her granny in this camp, then the women made her another one nearer.

In a few weeks they made her one on the outskirts of the main camp.

Here she stayed until they made her another in the camp, but a little apart. In front of the opening of this dardurr they made a fire. That night her betrothed camped on one side of this fire and she on the other. For a moon they camped so. Then the old granny told the girl she must camp on the same side of the fire as her betrothed, and as long as she lived be his faithful and obedient wife, having no thought of other men. Should he ill-treat her, her relations had the power to take her from him. Or should he for some reason, after a while, not care for her, he can send her back to her people; should she have a child he leaves it with her until old enough to camp away from her, when it is returned to him.

The wedding presents are not given to the bride and bridegroom, but by the latter to his mother-in-law, to whom, however, he is never allowed to speak. Failing a mother-in-law, the presents are given to the nearest of kin to the wife. You can hardly reckon it as purchase money, for sometimes a man gives no presents and yet gets a wife.

In books about blacks, you always read of the subjection of the women, but I have seen henpecked black husbands.

There are two codes of morals, one for men and one for women. Old Testament morality for men, New Testament for women. The black men keep the inner mysteries of the Boorah, or initiation ceremonies, from the knowledge of women, but so do Masons keep their secrets.

As to the black women carrying most of the baggage on march, naturally so; the men want their hands free for hunting en route, or to be in readiness for enemies in a strange country.

Black women think a great deal of the Moonaibaraban, or as they more often call them, Kumbuy, or sister-in-law. These are spirit-women who come a few days after the Boorah to bring presents to the women relations of the boys who have been initiated. The Kumbuy are never seen, but their voices are heard--voices like dogs barking; on hearing which the women in the camp have to answer, calling out:

'Are you my Kumbuy?'

An answer comes like a muffled bark, 'Bah! bah bah!'

Then the old men--crafty old men--go out to where the 'bahing' comes from, and bring in the gifts, which take the form of food, yams, honey, fruit principally.

These Kumbuy are among the few beneficent spirits they never hurt any one, simply supply the bereaved women with comfort in the shape of food, for the temporary loss of their male relatives. Should an uninitiate have a wife, which of course is improper, the Kumbuy decline to recognise her; and should she presume to answer their spirit back, they make in token of displeasure a thudding noise as if earth were being violently banged with a yam stick. She has encroached on the Kumbuy preserves, for prior to his initiation a man should only have a spirit wife, never an incarnate one.

If you ask a black woman why the Kumbuy thud the earth in answer to an initiate's wife, she will say:

'Dat one jealous.' jealousy even in the spirit world of women!

Unchaste women were punished terribly. After we went west even the death penalty for wantonness was enforced, though at the time we did not know it.

Should a girl be found guilty of a frailty, it being her first fault, her brothers and nearest male relations made a ring round her, after having bound her hands and feet, and toss her one from the other until she is in a dazed condition and almost frightened to death.

The punishment over, she is unbound and given to her betrothed, or a husband chosen for her.

Should a woman have been discovered to be an absolute wanton, men from any of the clans make a ring round her, she being bound, and tossed from one to the other, and when exhausted is unbound and left by her relations to the men to do as they please to her--the almost inevitable result is death. With this terror before them, it is possible the old blacks are right who say that their women were very different in their domestic relations in olden times.

CHAPTER VIII

THE TRAINING OF A BOY UP TO BOORAH PRELIMINARIES

At the boy manufactory, Boomayahmayahmul, the wood lizard, was the principal worker, though Bahloo from time to time gave him assistance.

The little blacks throw their mythical origin at each other tauntingly.

A little black girl, when offended with a boy friend, says:

'Ooh, a lizard made you.'

'Wah! wah! a crow made you,' he retorts.

Up to a certain age boys are trained as are girls--charms sung over them to make them generous, honest, good swimmers, and the rest; but after that they are taken into the Weedegah, or bachelors' camp, and developed on manly lines.

When he is about seven years old, his mother will paint her son up every day for about a week with red and white colourings. After that he would go to the Weedegah Gahreemai, bachelors' camp. He would then be allowed to go hunting with boys and men. He would see, now when he was out with the men, how fire was made in the olden time, almost a lost art now when wax matches are plentiful.

No boy who had not been to a Boorah would dare to try to make fire.

The implements for fire-making are a little log about as thick as a man's arm, of Nummaybirah wood--a rather soft white wood--and a split flat piece about a foot long and three inches wide. The little log was split open at one end, a wedge put in it, and the opening filled up with dry grass broken up. This log was laid on the ground and firmly held there; the fire-maker squatted in front, and with the flat piece rubbed edgeways across the opening in the log. The sawdust fell quickly into the opening. After about a minute and a half's rubbing a smoke started out. After rubbing on a little longer the fire-maker took a handful of dry grass, emptied the smoking sawdust and dry grass into it, waved it about, and in three and a half minutes from starting the process I have seen a blaze. Sometimes it has taken longer, but just under five minutes is the longest time I have ever seen it take.

They use pine too, I believe, but whenever I timed them it was Nummaybirah they were using.

The boys pick up the woodcraft of the tribes when they begin going out with the men. As the boys began to grow up, when a good season came round, and game and grass were plentiful, the old men were seen to draw apart often and talk earnestly.

At length there came a night when was heard a whizzing, whirling boom far in the scrub. As the first echo of it reached the camp, the women, such as were still young enough to bear children, stopped their ears, for should any such hear the Gurraymi, the women's name for the Gayandi, or Boorah spirit's voice, that spirit will first make them mad, then kill them.

The old women began to sing a Boorah song. To deaden the sound of the dreaded voice, opossum rugs were thrown over the children, none of whom must hear, unless they are boys old enough to be initiated; the sound reveals the fact to such that the hour of their initiation is at hand.

The men all gathered together with the boys, except two old wirreenuns, who earlier in the evening have seemingly quarrelled and gone away into the scrub.

The men and boys in camp march up and down to some distance from the camp. The old women keep on singing, and one man with a spear painted red with a waywah fastened on top, walks up and down in the middle of the crowd of men, holding the spear, with its emblematic belt of manhood, aloft; as he does so, calling out the names of the bends of the creek, beginning with the one nearest to which they are camped.

When he gets to the end of the names along that creek and comes to the name of a big river, all the men join him in giving a loud crow like

Chapter end

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