Folk-Lore/Volume 14/Notes on the Aborigines of Roebuck Bay, Western Australia
|←Minutes of Meetings: Wednesday, June 24th, 1903||Folk-Lore, Volume 14.
Number 4 (December).
Notes on the Aborigines of Roebuck Bay, Western Australia.
|Old-World Survivals in Ross-shire→|
NOTES ON THE ABORIGINES OF ROEBUCK BAY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA.
BY ADA JANET PEGGS.
(Read at Meeting, 20th June, 1903).
[The following paper consists of extracts selected from letters written by Mrs. J. A. Peggs, [née Tabor), to Mrs. C. J. Tabor between the years 1898 and 1901. Mrs. Peggs acquired her taste for anthropology and its kindred sciences by attending the meetings of the Folk-Lore Society, and when upon her marriage she accompanied her husband to Roebuck Bay, she began a regular series of letters home, descriptive of the manners and customs of the native races with whom she came into contact. These notes are here printed as received, without addition, alteration, arrangement, or criticism by myself. Mrs. Peggs, who is now in England, has read the manuscript and made some trifling corrections.
The plate (XV.) of the principal objects exhibited at the meeting, all of which have been in actual use, is taken from a photograph by myself of the articles which are now in my private collection. (They may be seen upon application.) The photographs of tribesmen and tribal marks were forwarded at different times with the letters (Plates X-XIV.)
Roebuck Bay, W. A., December 12th, 1898. Although first impressions are not always the truest, still what strikes one as strange on first coming into a new country may by a closer association pass unnoticed, or become so familiar as to be part of one's life, and lose all significance. Therefore, just so much as I have seen since we have been here I am jotting down for you, and also some odd bits of information that I have gained. It may or may not be of folklore interest, but I think as we are in so primitive a place with the "bush" so close—in fact one could by plunging into the bush within five minutes from the house get lost and wander for hours with nothing to guide one again to the place from which one started—we shall after a time be able to send you much information of the habits and superstitions of the aborigines who are all about and around us.
As we were walking up from the jetty on the day of our arrival we passed a woman in whose hair were an innumerable quantity of lumps of red mud. On inquiry I found that this was a sign of mourning amongst the natives. Later I heard that only the women "decorated" their heads and so went into mourning, and then they were exempt from working, with the exception of attending to the fire. Afterwards I noticed many women in mourning, and was told their tribe so intermarried (or rather were so interconnected) that the mourning might be for the remotest of connections.
The natives here are so primitive that they do not know the value of money, and instead, for a day's work, are paid with a stick of tobacco and a pannikin of either flour or rice. We have several on the station here; and while at work the men wear an old pair of pants or trousers and a vest; the women, a vest and sarong. The children go perfectly naked, but as soon as work is finished by the men, off come the clothes, excepting a string round the waist to which is attached an old bit of rag in front, or their hair belt and chastity shell. Soon they disappear into the bush, the men carrying a long spear of sharpened wood, a small wooden shield, and two or three boomerangs (kylies). The women sometimes carry a kylie too, and always what are known as digging-sticks (a long thick stick shaped somewhat like a spud at one end), which they use as weapons of defence, as well as to procure for their husbands certain roots and sweet potatoes [see sequitur. They do not walk abreast, but a few paces behind each other. There is the perpetual pipe amongst them, which after one has had a whiff or two is passed along to another; men, women, and children smoking alike. They go to catch birds, animals, or food generally; or perhaps to bring the cattle or horses in for the station, for the latter are sent adrift to feed themselves, and should the horses be wanted a native is sent out to track and bring them in. As a rule the cows do not need tracking, as the calves are kept penned up and the mothers return to feed them. I can, from where I am sitting, see a civilised aboriginal home; it is made with a tree as primary support, with two props a few feet out, no sides, but a thatch of scrub bush; a wooden box placed on end, makes it an aboriginal mansion. The day before yesterday my husband came to me and took me into the nigger camp to see a man making a kylie; and with the most primitive of tools, scrape, scrape, scraping away, he had been for hours, apparently making no impression on the wood yet very gradually shaping it. Jack saw it in the morning, I in the evening, and then it was far from finished. Next day we went again; it was done, and embellished with the decoration of that man's tribe and given to me, "him good pfeller boomerang." The man had been trying it. They throw them on the wind to cause them to turn again to near where they were thrown.
The boomerangs used for fishing are concave on both sides; those for catching birds, on one side only; those used in warfare are different. Yesterday I saw them making a spear, just a pointed stick, but the point is sharp; the other part of the stick was in its rough state, but has to be smoothed down, which is done by scraping with glass after it has been straightened and toughened by fire. It is subsequently finished by being polished.
The natives here when on the march rub a white pigment in circles or lines over their faces and bodies. The bodies
TRIBAL MARK. ROEBUCK BAY.
To face p. 327.
of those too who have reached a certain age are covered with wheals. Cuts are made into the flesh of the arms, back, and breast with a bit of glass bottle, and ashes or sand is rubbed into the wound to prevent the flesh closing up.
This morning we were out for a walk before the sun was up, and passed a group of natives. In the midst of them was a man wearing what my husband told me was a girdle of chastity, in the form of a large pearl oyster shell decorated with a sort of key-pattern, the pattern scratched in with a pointed nail and wilgy rubbed in until the shell has the appearance of being inlaid. . . . .
The aborigines obtain fire by rubbing two sticks together—a very long process. I think I mentioned that they covered themselves with a decoration in red and white, black and grey. The three latter are made from the ashes of the wood fire mixed with beef fat; the red pigment by scraping the blocks of ironstone together, and making a paste in the same manner, which is streaked in all sorts of devices, according to tribe, over their faces and bodies. 'Possum fur is also used for decorative purposes, and is made to adhere by blood and spinifex gum. The whole of the soil here is of loose red sand or ironstone. Yesterday while out walking we came across a camp of aborigines on the seashore; the houses, or "biggars," to use the native term, look like haycocks. Round about were the fires, and children were playing at throwing the boomerang. I made inquiries about a man we recently saw whose face and body were covered with wilgy, and I hear that when a man becomes engaged to be married, he smears himself or is smeared entirely over from head to foot with the ironstone clay mixed as aforementioned. Then he has to sit perfectly still for three days and nights. The tribe holds a big feast meanwhile, and so that none of the clay may come off, the engaged man is fed by his friends. The clay remains on the man as far as possible for him to keep it on until his marriage.
On Tuesday, Mr. Macpherson (the Superintendent) gave me over a dozen black cowrie shells, and Mr. Kenny three glass spear-heads, which the prisoners in the prison opposite where we are living had made; one is of white glass, one green, and one dark smoke-colour. He also gave me a stone tomahawk, the head most beautifully finished, as smooth as possible, representing an infinite amount of labour; he showed me also a very fine necklace made of round shells looking like long bugles, which he says he will divide and give me part of. Old William, who does an occasional day's work here, had one on something like it, but this came from a tribe the other side of the Bay. Our only means of getting about, unless one possesses a horse, is by walking; our only means of communicating with the outer world is by the steamers which run from Singapore to Fremantle. It takes, if one give an order for anything in way of rice, flour, potatoes, and almost everything in the way of eatables, six weeks before they are received from the town. Beef is cheap, and so is mutton when we can get it
Jan. 30th, 1899.—The weather is furiously and phenomenally hot here just now, the glass standing at 106, and more, in the shade all this week. Everyone, even the natives are feeling it; not that the glass is so high as is sometimes experienced, but that there is a peculiar something in the air which is making all suffer very badly with paroxysms of intense pain.
Just opposite our little home there is a sand-hill on which stands a Binghi camp (so the natives are called in this district), and whilst the moon has been approaching the full every night there has been a Kobba-Kobba or corroboree,
To face p. 329.
which in our language means conversation or meeting to talk (a sort of social evening or night, for until long into the night the Kobba-Kobba continues). The camp stands on the top of the hill, and as there are good fires burning as well as the pure clear light of the moon, the men appear silhouetted against the sky, and advance or retire as if a wrestling match (but a very long-continued one) were on. The women sing in a peculiar way and screech occasionally, urging the men on. All the while there is a beating of sticks for music, as the dancing goes on. While I was ill a fight took place in the bush, in which one of the Cable House niggers was wounded very seriously. Our nigger, a man named Sheep (since dismissed) was out with him, and finding his friend overpowered and hurt, gave himself a very severe blow on the head, laying the bone bare, and rushed streaming with blood to tell the Cable House people, and so procure assistance: a usual practice with the niggers, who when they find their friends are on the losing side, hurt themselves and then go for help.
Our late Superintendent, Mr. Macpherson, told me if ever when out shooting he saw a snake, the natives with him would not attempt to kill it; they were afraid to go near, and he had to strike it on the head himself and tell the boys to bring it along, which they would do by coiling it all round their bodies. As you know, unless the backbone be broken, eels and also snakes still twist about: well, the snake occasionally untwisted and fell off the boys. Still they would not break its back, but picked up the carcase, wound it round them, then on again after "Ross" (as Mr. Macpherson was always called by them), until from the constant wriggling off of the reptile they were left far behind.
The niggers in our service are of a different tribe to those hereabouts. They came from Lagrange Bay. A few nights back Billie told us there would be a big Kobba-Kobba just over the other side of the plain near our house. and invited us; the man with the mail was coming over from Lagrange, and as the moon was at first quarter this was to be held. When Billie heard we would go, away he went to the camp on the hill, and did not return until I had cooked mv dinner (he helps generally), and then he was in full war paint. Round his head was what appeared a wreath of white flowers (shavings they were); and the same round the upper part of the arm, where the cord bound tightly above the elbow of the right arm is worn by initiated men. Since Billie has been with us he has attained to the age when he may have that cord decoration round his arm, and painful he must have found it the first few days, for the flesh was swollen. Besides this, he has another mark across his chest. In his case the marks are not raised, but look long deep scars made by cutting with a piece of wood, and afterwards burning. Maggie too has a fresh mark made in the same way on the lower part of her neck, from the shoulder towards the right breast. To return to decoration for Kobba-Kobba. Over the trunk part of Billie's body, which appeared shiny, as if oiled, was a dotted decoration done all in white, which, on since questioning, he has told me was the decoration of his tribe, and represented a big white tree. Round his loins a red handkerchief was tightly fixed. In his hands during the dance he held two thin white sticks. When we had finished dinner, we were led by Maggie (for Billie had again disappeared) through one of the nigger-tracks to the place of meeting. On our appearance at the top of the opening leading to the small lower land, the music commenced—the said music being made by the clapping of two kylies together, either rapidly or slowly, and a singing accompaniment of the player; in this instance, one man only. I want you to see what we saw, but hardly know how to put it into words. The small opening formed a plain of sandy earth, from which practically all scrub was cleared. In the centre of this was the camp-fire of grass, which was constantly being replenished by tiny black boys, who ran backwards and forwards to the rising ground around, getting fresh fuel. In all this corrobboree we saw only two black women, and they were quite outside the circle of light. The rising ground was covered with bushes, high grass, &c. Just round the fire were the musician and between twenty and thirty niggers, generally the older men and quite young boys. From the distended appearance of their stomachs they had evidently all had an enormous meal. After the music had commenced a minute or two—from his turning first to one side then to the other, I should think the musician was singing a description of the dance—there came stealing along with much hesitation and feigning to return, a long line of weird black figures out from the bushes, advancing to the light, and making as they came several sudden stoopings to earth (not bendings, but almost sitting on the heels), as if to avoid, perhaps, a flight of kylies. This movement was accompanied by shuddering sounds, and all the time their whole bodies appeared shaking all over, as first they turned to one side and then the other. Suddenly a twist, and all had disappeared again. Once more they appeared, and a second line came from the opposite direction, advancing, stooping, coming in towards the flickering firelight, turning to one side and then to the other; then suddenly they rushed away. By-and-by they circled round, looking like high-stepping horses, so high they raised their feet. Then they appeared to sing, but it required a quick ear to catch the sound, which was a mere whisper, accompanied by occasional nasal or guttural noises, the singers advancing to or retiring from the fire, beating the earth in parts with their feet to keep time. By-and-by a man rushed in among the dancers with a wisp of grass in each hand. By the laughter of the niggers round the fire and the sudden break-up and disappearance of the performers it seemed that he formed the disturbing element in shape of the clown. Then for a little while the dancers were gone. Meanwhile the musician sang a fresh song, and a most emphatic one. We did not understand a word of course, but should fancy, from the fire he put into it, it was a war song. This was in parts accompanied by the clapping of the kylies of those round the fire. Then when this was finished the other music began again, and the dance was renewed until the old nigger came along and kicked out the fire. Then our Billie said "phinishum missus." It seemed we had only been away from home a few minutes, but we found it was nearly two hours. I must say all the dancers were not decorated as was our Billie—only about three others—the rest had various markings, some up and down the body, some across; others looked almost like skeletons. All had either wands or kylies in their hands. There were about twenty or thirty in the dance, and the same ones the whole time. The tribe or rather tribes about here (for according to their marriage laws two of a tribe may not marry) are those of whom my husband told Mr. Tabor when in England, and which is gradually exterminating itself. . . .
Concerning marriage laws. There are say four tribes. A, B, C, D. A male of A marries a female of B, the children of this marriage are C. A male of C tribe marries a female of D, and the children are A. A male of D tribe marries a female of C tribe, and the children are B. A male of B tribe marries a female of A tribe, and the children are D. If such a thing occur as a marriage into a forbidden tribe, the man is immediately speared.
I am not taking any notes of what I write to you, but have one or two corrections to make, from further information, with respect to an engaged man painting his face. I have heard on good authority that when a man is wanting a wife he plasters himself with the mud. Practically the engagement and marriage are one—it is by capture. A few days back, a very laughable incident occurred the other way
TRIBAL MARK, LAGRANGE BAY.
To face p. 333.
about just near our house. Two women wanted the same man in marriage. He had ideas of another woman, and consequently was running away from the first two. They were after him, and it ended up in having a regular fight over him. Such screeching and excitement amongst the other niggers! However, 'twas soon over; the man got off, and only returned to camp next day.
I have told you Billy belongs to Lagrange. The other day he came from his camp with his head bound round with a red handkerchief, and sticking out from the back was what I imagined to be a small kylie. However, when Jack came home, Billie in high glee presented him with the ornament, for that is what it turned out to be. He described it as a hairpin. The native name is Laurie. [Plate XV., figs. 20, 24.] As the language is an unwritten one, I do not know if I spell words correctly: the "a" in the word has a long, soft sound. He said, "From my country, master." A Sunday or two back Billie's father, by name Duncan, came with the mails from Lagrange Bay. (The natives by their known tracks cover the distance in three days' walking; it takes a white man five days on horseback.) His payment for bringing the mails was his food and a couple of sticks of tobacco. He remained here two days, during which time Billie gave him his Ki-ki (very hard i), then went back.
Another correction to make is, that men and children go nude, but the women are different. Both Jack and I notice that however little covering they have elsewhere the breasts are always covered. I have only seen one or two women with breasts bare. They look comical with their covering, either a sarong or skirt, tied above the breasts and under the arms. The last few Saturdays and Sundays in the piece of ground near us there has been great kylie-throwing, and Jack has taken those we have for you out to be thrown; the natives immediately they touch them know if they be good—"that pfeller im no good"—"that pfeller go fishum." So we find two of yours are fishing ones, the bad ones Jack has thrown away.
As to the chastity girdle, such small bits of information as I have gained I will put down here. As I said before, it takes the form of a pearl-shell—in many cases carved—and is worn by the man or woman as a signification that they have had no sexual intercourse. After marriage the wearing of it is discontinued by the woman. This Jack got out of Billie last night. Before a male can take a wife he has to be what the niggers call "made a man of." It appears when a "boy" is to be "made a man of," he is taken to "bush," where a number of buck-niggers are collected each with stick in hand; the boy is made to run through the bush until he drops with exhaustion; he is then beaten, and made to rise and run again, and so on. When he is nearly dead with fatigue a fire is made, and the operation of circumcision is very roughly performed by cutting with two bits of glass. After the wound has healed a further operation is performed. Girls go through an operation too, that of being forced to sit for a certain time on various sized cones, but it often happens that both boys and women have before the operations had intercourse, and there is a child or two. The boy after the foregoing ceremony is sworn not to tell the younger ones of his acquaintance, and is then left to recover under chargfe of an old ffin or buck native who feeds and looks after him. When recovered he may again show his face in the camp, and may choose a wife. An old hag is usually the first one; he then has to fight for the younger women. No women are admitted to the man-making ceremony. Even a wife can return to her own camp if she likes, and is not happy, and each time the man has to fight afresh to regain her.
The man I mentioned in my first letter [p. 327] was afterwards our nigger for a time, but a very surly one. He had a most wonderful hair girdle wound round and round his body, and the mode of making is by plucking the hair out of the head and weaving it into a long rope. If some hair of a dead warrior can be woven with it, so much the more brave and successful in battle does the wearer expect to become. He wears also a piece of shell behind his ear. Jack says it is an ornament only.
When Billie came up Jack asked him to read the laurie, or as Billie pronounces it lowrie. I learned last week that was also known as a talking-stick, a means of communication between the natives. Jack at same time got him to make his marks in a book we keep for putting down the native words in, and afterwards made him read what he had written. This is the translation: "By-and-by s'pose I go along country see brother and father, see mother, see my uncle, see my sister and wife" (or as he put it, store). It turned out that he has another wife "along of his country," whom his mother looks after for him. The same day that he read the talking-stick, he had asked permission to go to his own country, and had arranged with two other niggers to come and take his and Maggie's place while they were away, which would be for a fortnight. Jack told him the plain was impassable owing to the rain, but he said he had had message, or Milly-Milly—"all same wood"—and that told him "all same road other side plain could go along." However, the continued stormy weather has either flooded the road or washed it away, so he has not gone yet. He wanted to go—had had message from his father. This is how he told us: "You savey my father, my father savey you, you good pfeller, my father have catchee green farret and red farret, along a bush, him wantum box, can bring um 'long a you, and a lot of other birds too." From what we could make out, a farret is a parrot. He goes alone to his own country, and while he is away Maggie goes along a bush get other pfeller nigger; it's the same with them all.
A Mr. Rowe who dined with us last week has made many notes on the ways of natives, and has said he will let us see them. Amongst other things he told us, if a big Kobba-Kobba was being held the natives could always tell what friends would join by just glancing round the horizon; and by the way the smoke from the fires rose they knew whether contingents from other parts would come to the invitation sent on talking-sticks some time before, say twenty days. Niggers cannot count to such a number, but the man who presents the stick puts up his hands and points to a certain joint. If he has been one day from his startingplace then he points to the second joint of the little finger, which means one day less than what the stick says. When he goes on to another tribe he is, perhaps, two days, and then he points to the first joint of the third finger (beginning always at the root of the finger), which means three days less, and so on, until he has taken the invitation all round. Again (this both from Mr. Rowe and Mr. Murphy), supposing anyone dies:—in one case it was a baby, the father and mother (both employed now at the hotel here) wept and howled and finally banged their heads together until the blood ran, which blood was allowed to drip on the dead child lying on the ground. Two friends, in this case women, who had not met for a long time, both sat down by the fire facing each other, neither taking any notice of the other, until either the younger or inferior one (that is, tribally inferior) rose, banged herself on the head with a stick and made blood run, then banged her friend; and there was a mingling of blood, which is a sign of renewal of friendship. According to Brother Daly, where his mission is at Lagrange Bay, until quite recently it was a very usual thing for the mothers to bury their (superfluous) babies alive, especially if female. . . . . .
Yesterday Billie brought me a lizard about the length of the whole size of this paper and half as broad—(sixteen inches by five)—which Maggie had found in bush. I asked him if he ate it. No, only old men and women ate that sort, he had a larger sort; and he stooped down and made marks on the kitchen floor to show me. After the dogs had worried it a bit, it was taken to camp and cooked in the ashes. . . . . .
A short account of the funeral ceremonies of the aborigines may interest you. One of them died in the camp near us, March 29th, . The first intimation I received of it was a great screeching and howling. I went to the verandah to see, and after a short time a long line of black figures appeared, headed by three natives in full war paint, the centre man bearing what appeared a heavy load, as he was supported on either side by a man. I could not think what the long object tied up in sacking could be, until Billie and Maggie came along in a great hurry, Billie to fetch his kylies, spears, &c.; then I heard "black pfeller had died," and they were taking him to bury him in bush. The long thin black line of figures passed by the side of the house, and away into bush, wailing going on all the time. and dying away in the distance. Again it grew nearer and nearer, and the long trail of howling figures appeared once more and made their way to the camp. The wife and children were the last to return, and at some distance from the rest. By this time dusk had set in. The warriors returned as they went, carrying their spears over their shoulders, their kylies and shields in their other hands. The women all brought bundles of wood, and soon the reflection from the camp fires rose above the hill. On the Saturday following the same wailing took place at midday, and the same long lines of black warriors and gins. On questioning Maggie she said they had gone to the grave. I dined that evening with the resident magistrate, and asked him what are the funeral rites? He told me the body was buried in a sitting position; the wife and women connected with the man cut themselves on the head with broken glass and bits of tin to make blood flow, and after the ceremony of the funeral was fully over would neither go near the place of burial nor mention the man's name, and if asked about him would say they had forgotten such a man had existed. On the Monday following the funeral there was another visit to the dead man's grave, and Maggie told me "phinishum," or that was the end; "not go again." Several women, at present attached to a Malay camp in the next compound to ours, wear wilgy, (that is, a mixture of red sand and fat), in their hair; and the widow, whom I passed the other day, had also a shark's tooth dangling in front of her eyes, another sign of mourning. The evening of the death, a Mr. Pilkington was with us, and as the wailing was still going on, our conversation turned on the ceremony. He had travelled for twenty years backwards and forwards on camels, in caravans, on horseback, &c., through certain tracts of Central and South Australia. He gave me a few. bits of information. It appears the natives are very jealous of allowing a white man to attend their ceremonies, especially those of the man-making, and the funeral rites, but he told us that in Central Australia when a man dies a large shallow hole, eight feet by four, is scooped out, and before the body is buried it is taken up and held above the head or as high as possible, and thrown down into the hole three times; then part of the body is uncovered, generally the face, sometimes the chest, and a lump of flesh cut out, which is given to the oldest gin in the camp. He could not discover what eventually became of it. The camp was then moved away from where the man died. It is the same here with regard to camp moving. We asked Billie what became of the wife of the dead man, and in a very off-hand manner he said, "Oh! she soon get other warrior!!" I noticed that all those wearing chastity girdles had something—a handkerchief or a bit of rag—in front of them, and only when moving I noticed the glitter of the shells in the rays of the setting sun as the men walked. . . . . .
Mr. Rowe tells me [that when] two friends marry, two brothers may be, and each says to the other, "Suppose your wife (loobra) has a child and a girl, I make her my wife"—if a daughter be the first issue of the one, the other man takes her for wife, but she only occupies a subordinate position, and has to fetch water, chop wood, and becomes "maid" generally to the first wife. Supposing seven sons come to the second man, and should the eighth be a girl, then she goes to the friend for wife. I have since heard that a man can have several wives here. . . . . .
I have lately become possessed of a fire-stick which made the fire for the Kobba-Kobba at last full moon—I believe a very large one which lasted four days—also a broken kangaroo-stick. The one I have is decorated. I asked Billie how it was done. He said "all same nail." Jack has a piece of pearl-shell. It formed a letter of introduction for a man coming from Beagle Bay, passing through Lagrange Bay. [Plate XV., fig 3.] He had met and known some of Billie's relations there, and the writing is asking Billie to do what he can to help the man here. It was worn round the neck by a string, with the piece of shell placed just over the shoulder. To show he received and acknowledged the same, Billie jerked the string to break it, part of which still remains in the hole. Billie brought me a bit of the red stone with which they make the paint to cover their bodies. Some ant-nests I have seen when driving through the bush have been at least six to eight feet high, irregularly built of red earth, very hard, and supposed or rather known to extend underground some distance. I hear the natives use the hard ant-hill earth for medicine in nearly all complaints, but I have not seen it, and all the gentlemen who know I am seeking for folk-history say I am not likely to see it, being a woman!! women not being accounted much amongst the natives. The native doctor is a real sight. If the natives have a man sick, whom the white doctor does not make well as soon as they think he should, then the invalid is taken into bush and the medicine-man attends him. Whatever and wherever the ache, pain, or wound be, the doctor after mumbling some words to exorcise the "debil-debil," as he is called, scoops a hole in the sand, goes to the man, mumbles something, handles the affected part, and makes a pretence of taking a double handful of pain away, and flinging it into the hole; and returning asks, "Is it better?" He does the same again, and continues casting out devils, until the hole is considered full. Suppose then the answer still remains "No," another hole is dug, and that filled until the man be relieved of his pain, or believes that he is so. . . . . .
Our Billie and Maggie went, with our permission, to their own country, and have not returned yet; in their place we have a Beagle Bay man. (Until within the last twenty years the natives of that district were cannibals, eating their women-children as well as burying them alive.) On June 23rd,  we witnessed a glorious eclipse of the moon (total) on a perfectly cloudless night. A couple of days before this I told Kelly, or, to use his native name, Yamadeir, what was going to happen, fie pondered how I knew. When the night came he told me, while dinner was in preparation, "he belonged frightened pfeller." Jack went out and talked with him, telling him to come and sit with us on the front verandah and watch with us. That, however, would not do, and as soon as he could, he cleared to his camp. A few nights later Jack closely questioned him (as I, being a woman, can gain very little information from them), with this result. He told him that when the moon (Beagle Bay native name, Konyook) goes out, "all same other night," it is a prognostication of death to a man; and it happened. Suppose a child is born during an eclipse of moon, a boy is always born; that happened. In summer, wind is denoted by an eclipse; in winter, rain; the moon being hungry wants to eat someone (a man), so gets dark to do it. "The moon, savey, does not want to eat woman;" and although both sexes are frightened at the phenomenon, the men are more so. The sun does not count. Kelly calls the sun Waalk, while Billy, a Lagrange Bay boy, called it Buddhra. Mr. Rowe's version of the eclipses among his natives is, they think the moon belong sick pfeller, so goes black.
You ask is marriage by capture a real or sham fight? I should say, very real here, for when Kelly came to us he had his head very much bound about, the result of a fight for the possession of a woman whom another man fancied, and won. The victor, however, since there are police about to stop such fights, was taken and imprisoned; nevertheless, by right of conquest the woman belongs to him. So I have no woman about the place. A fight sometimes lasts, if not to the death, to very near it. Speaking with the magistrate the other day, he said probably Billie's other wife [see p. 335] was what is known as a given woman, being yet a child; and until of marriageable age would remain in his mother's care; then afterwards Maggie could make her drudge for her—to carry and fetch water, and so on. . . . . .
There seems to be a strain of the Mohammedan or Jew in these blacks, and I hear of it as being the same in South Australia; they will never touch pork, however hungry they may be. Even away hundreds of miles from civilisation it is the same. . . . .
A fortnight since, a boat containing three men was overturned near here. One man succeeded in swimming ashore, the others were drowned. The water policeman wanted ten niggers to go with him to scour the beach for the bodies, the reward a bag of rice and a pound of tobacco; but try as he would could not obtain the men, they having a fear of dead men. After much urging three or four were persuaded, including Kelly, and search was made, but no result. . . .
We have become possessed of another Bull-Roarer, or Whistling-Stick, the markings on it being entirely different to anything we have, being circular instead of the pointed design. [Plate XV., fig. 23]. Another thing we have; Jack tells me it is of great value, and cannot imagine how I managed to get it out of the native as I did. It is a sort of sacred beheading-sword of very heavy wood, and has seen great service. Jack went to have a wangie (talk) with the native who gave it, with the weapon, to try and get him to tell him what the markings meant; but he was frightened lest some of the other natives should see we had it, and made Jack hide it under his coat. It appears now it had been stolen from a camp, and those natives from whence it came were then out hunting for it. I see no mention of such a sword in the Horn Expedition. [Plate XV., fig. 7.] It seems that our greatest treasure in the way of native things is the mask. No one can believe we have such a thing until they see it; they say the natives are very particular to bury them after use. We keep that under lock and key. . . . .
The other Sunday Mrs. Ellice's girl's dress caught fire. She rushed out into the breeze and was burned from head to foot in consequence. Mrs. Ellice dressed the burns and had the doctor to see her. She got on as well as could be expected, when two days ago a very long deep wound was observed. The girl declared debil-debil had got to her heart and was burning it up; she refused to see the white doctor, and so the native doctor was called. He has begun his incantation, and she is already better. I would greatly like to have seen the man and his work of casting out the devil. Mr. Ellice, however, told me how he proceeded when Dobbin, the man who was so badly wounded on our first arrival, was treated. He was taken to the prison, where Dr. Vines saw and stitched up the wound, but that would not do at all; debil-debil had got him, he must see his loopen gullery-man. The man came, and after stripping both himself and Dobbin to the loin-cloth commenced his incantations. First he drew out the skin of his own stomach with both hands as far as it could be stretched, then let it go back with a smack; did the same to Dobbin, then proceeded to chew an imaginary something from Dobbin, cast it away and spat out. He did the same to the elbows and other joints, and finally declared him all right now; "more better come sit down along a camp." The man, although in collapse from loss of blood, was carried along to camp, where the same proceedings were gone through night and morning. In a fortnight or three weeks the man was walking about. Here the natives are dreadfully frightened of debil-debil; and it is not a night fear, he comes in the day-time too. It appears the debil-debil is invisible also, for on inquiring what he is like I get no answer. In our old Mary's case debil-debil pulled her hair, pulled off her blanket and such-like things. Next morning she was "plenty sick along a head" (I put it down to nightmare); we could get her to do no work, and in the afternoon she got Josepha to walk up and down her chest and stomach by way of cure.
Cannibalism is supposed to be non-existent here, but is it? I asked Mary if she had eaten a baby? She said no, but told me of another woman who had. Although as much is done as possible to prevent infanticide, one sees but few girls about. . . .
Yesterday we wished you had been with us, for we went to a native fight. A short time ago there was a little upset next door to us with the natives, when Jimmy tried to kill Gilly because she would not live with him, she being his given woman, and preferring instead a man named Daylight. Jimmy was taken to prison, and whilst he was away Daylight took Gilly. On Jimmy's release he cleared away into bush, and Jimmy wanted Gilly to live at camp with him. She refused, and a good deal of bickering went on. Then Gilly went to a man named Morgan, remained with him, and was sent by Mrs. Ellice to Mr. Pigott, where Morgan worked. Jimmy becoming tired of Gilly's constant refusal to live with himi, got another woman, as he, being an elderly man, was not strong enough to fight Morgan. He obtained quite a child-wife, but gave Gilly to Daylight. She, however, would not go to him, so one night during last week Daylight, Duncan, and Jimmy forcibly stole Gilly. Hence the fight yesterday, when Morgan and Duncan fought for possession of the woman. It ended in the defeat of Morgan, so the woman now belongs to Duncan; Daylight and Jimmy having again fallen out over her. The fight was with kylies, at which Duncan is an adept, and such a graceful thrower, whilst Morgan, who comes from another country where spear-throwing is the mode of warfare, was no good, and was caught and cut in the leg at the third throw of the kylie. Much was said, and one could see he wanted to finish with the spear, but Duncan refused, and walked away, being declared the victor. Had they fought to the death, and had Morgan won, he being from a cannibal tribe would have taken portions of the body and eaten them. The scene was most picturesque. A clearing in the bush at the back of our house was where the fight took place. We went early, Kelly being our guide. In the distance at either side we could hear shouts, and after a little while the black forms of the natives appeared, coming through the scrub, all carrying spears, woomeras, shields, kylies, &c. The friends of Morgan, who were all in full war-paint, ranged themselves on one side, those of Duncan on the other; the women followed with spare kylies and squatted down about midway. We were directed to a place near by to watch the proceedings, where we were out of danger. By-and-by the seconds (I suppose you might call them) directed the principals to get up, and fighting commenced, the men standing about thirty yards apart. Morgan had first throw, but his kylie struck the ground three or four yards in front of Duncan, and flew over his head each time; whilst Duncan's rose within a few inches of Morgan. He fenced it with his shield. The third one, however, struck and cut his leg, and he retired for short time. Returning, he threw two or three more. Then came the wangie about the spear, which was not taken on, and the fight was over. The warriors retired, and very soon the place was clear. All night the victor was feasted, whilst the vanquished one's friends condoled with him.
The wooden mask of which we have become possessed is not only difficult to obtain but very rarely possessed by a white man. We hear they are not used here, but come from the interior. It is used at the ceremony of man-making. It is placed over the face of the boy after the ceremony is over, and for fourteen days he has to wear it, not showing his face to anyone. Every line on the mask is "talking," telling why the boy is wearing it and so on. During the time the boy wears the mask, an old gin is told off to feed him by means of a tube thrust under it and into his mouth. Just inland, some thirty or forty miles from here, across the plain, the youngsters bind up the wounded organ with a piece of kangaroo hide, and the girl who marries him is entitled to that piece of hide. She would sooner part with her life than that.
The natives make glass spear arrow-heads from bits of broken bottles by simply chipping with a piece of flint. Two of the specimens we are sending were made by our boy William, and we saw him making them. They are certainly not well finished, for the simple reason that his tribe are more versed in the art of kylies (boomerangs) and wooden spears. Two specimens as marked are just begun and a third also marked in a further stage of completion. These are from Roebuck Bay. The rest were given us by Father Nicholas, head of the Catholic Mission at Beagle Bay, which is away up in King's Sound, and in the North Kimberley district. I have also sent you a specimen to show how the head is stuck on just with mud mixed with sap from the white gum-tree. The half-dozen kangaroo bones are taken from the fore-arm of the animal, and are used by the men as a decoration for the hair. The large bone is used to plug through the nose. [Plate XV., figs. 25,30.] The pieces of pearl-shell with kangaroo teeth attached are used by the women as a charm against sickness, and are generally worn round the neck. The wilgy, a piece of mud suspended by a hair from the beard of a warrior, is used on state (sic!) occasions only. It is attached to the forelock of natives about to be engaged in combat, either for tribal or local affairs. Kelly has given us a carved kylie from his country, and also a necklace, and this is what he told me the necklace signifies. When a woman wants to annex a man she wears the necklace round her throat; and when the marriage is consummated the necklace is put on one side and is only worn on special occasions, such as Kobba-Kobba. I asked Jack to get him to tell why sometimes they wore the necklace round the neck, sometimes round either one or both arms crossing the bosom; he says it is only a fanciful decoration, and does not signify anything. [Plate XV., fig. 14]
Just lately our boy Kelly prepared for and went on his month's holiday. He had provided a substitute, who, however, did not turn up. Now I have what you would consider a most interesting pair—lame William, who is most horribly dirty over all his work, but very willing, and already I am glad to say has improved, and Fred, who is covered with wilgy, being an engaged man. Both work bare to the waist, and are covered with weals—tribal marks. Fred is nephew to the King "Ross," whose acquaintance we have made since Fred has been working for us, and who has invited me to a big Kobba-Kobba this moon. Ross has sfiven us a splendid hair-belt; the king also gave me a fine necklace Pollie his wife sent, as well as a shell charm, which was twisted by a long hair string round and round his neck, and the bit of shell stuck in his hair. [Plate XV., figs. 2, 28.]
Jack and a friend, a Mr. Baines, whom he brought in to tiffin, have just gone to a native fight; it is I believe to be a furious one, and the natives say I must not go. Later on I was occupied in bandaging lame William, who was dreadfully cut about in the fight. Four wounds with kylies, one just under the ear, a part of the lobe of which was carried away. The blood from the wound had poured all over his body. Just at his waist was another gaping wound; others across his hand and leg fill up the sum total. I had no idea he was thinking of fighting. Jack considers it must have been a tribal fight as so many were in it. The fight at first was for the possession of a woman. We hear that after Jack left the fight was resumed, and with spears, when police and trackers rode up and stopped it.
William tells us that the old girl who was beating the ground at the last fight on the antagonist's side was doing that in hopes of taking heart out of the enemy, and to put extra courage into the warriors of her tribe. Roebuck Bay tribe fought Cygnet Bay; kylies were flying around as thick as bees amongst the warriors; everyone had to look after himself, and even the black spectators had to clear once. It was a most impressive and awe-inspiring scene. They had come out to kill and went to work with a will. As soon as a man went down, if not too much hurt, he jumped up again, and although covered with blood, struck out for his opponent furiously. Our boy, lame William, fought like a fiend, but was struck by the first kylie, and went down, and although pouring with blood he was up in a second and with double hands on his walkerberri felled his opponent. Jack had to remove the man's hair before he could dress the wound, and to-day William brought it me made up into a belt, so you will see what a shock of hair he had.
We have become possessed of a couple of kangaroo-teeth which came off a child's hair, but are usually worn by women in wilgy (mourning) tied to their mud-plastered locks, falling in front of the eyes or even as low as the mouth. They are, I believe, worn as charms against evil spirits or ghosts. . . . . .
Ross, the King or Chief of the Roebuck natives, our boy Fred's uncle, is a fine tall man, and speaks English fairly well. On our first introduction to Ross he was wearing twisted by a long hair string round his throat, and then stuck into the side of his hair, a long narrow piece of mother-of-pearl shell; a black end hair twist was fastened on by wilgy. Jack wanted it, and after some demur the King gave it to "Missus." I wanted to know what it was for, but they would not tell me, except that the hair was taken from the beard entirely. Knowing how reticent they are when a white woman is present I retired, and Jack learned it was a charm against sickness. So long as it is worn the "debil-debil no come along, belong all same loopen-gullery (medicine man) when he prick 'em arm along a needle make 'em plenty sick pfeller" in other words it answers the same purpose as vaccination. The next day Ross came again, and brought a splendid hair belt, as well a thick shell necklace which Pollie his wife sent me. Jack told him he wanted a carved shell to "put along belt." Jack got him to write his name on a card. I enclose it for you, also a translation of the writing. The O is his distinctive mark, which is also carved on his shell, while the first two figures on the second line represent Polly. On Saturday William came up to me at dusk mysteriously, and took from his head a tuft of feathers attached to a bone, which he presented to me. I asked what it was, and he said, "Feathers along of kangaroo bone." He told Jack when I was not there that the bone was a human one, taken from the arm of a man killed. It is gruesome to me; however it is not a thing many possess. The feathers are cockatoo. David gave Jack a kangaroo-bone the day he took William to work for us; in gratitude, as William is David's brother. I have already told you they are used for drawing blood at the sacrifices, in some of their ceremonies, when they drink as well as anoint (the word I can think of nearest to what I want to express) in human blood. Yesterday our small collection was further increased by three long wooden spears and a kylie, the woomera and glass-headed spear; also the two "nulla-nulla" sticks used in warfare, as well as a walkerberry. Monday I came across William very busy (when he should have been carrying water for the house) with a bit of glass and a nail; also a piece of stone laid on the sole of his foot, on which the nail was being sharpened, and occasionally the glass rubbed. I asked what it was. The answer, "Spear-head." It is now ours. The only other acquisition we have made is a "Yandie," the native cradle or basket made out of a piece of bark. I am hoping to get one made of wood, but the women will not readily part with them. . . . .
We have questioned Kelly only so far as to black fellows' idea of a Maker of the World. His answer was, "Father Daly tell 'em me Gaud." So we said, "Before Father Daly come along, who you think?" He said, "Me no sabe.". . . .
I was very puzzled the other day when William came to me with the yard-brush, and told me he wanted "plenty nails." I could not at all make out his meaning, as the brush was not broken. I found out soon after he wanted a rake to clear up the grass with—a brush along a nail he designated it. Before Kelly went on his spell he was wearing a ring beautifully cut from a turtle-shell. Jack tried to get it, but he was very loth to part with it. We have acquired just lately a shield [and] a fighting kylie, showing by marks of white across it how many men it has hit. William has made a fire-stick for me—"all same black fellows' match," as he described it—and made fire by it. We have it just as he gave it, but I doubt whether you, not having seen it done, will believe fire can be made by friction of two pieces of wood. Then he has made and given me a whistling-stick, in shape very like a laurie, with a hole in one end by which it is swung, when it makes a humming noise. Here it is used to call a woman to a man, and at the man-making ceremonies (it is the same as the bull-roarer); but Jack tells me in Port Darwin it is used to call the natives together when a fight is on. William soon cut the rough shape out, but the other part, the smoothing it down, was a long process, and was done with a broken piece of glass; then came the markings.
Two days ago Father Nicholas brought me down one of the little Mission girls as a help to me in the house, and since she came I find that when she is in the kitchen William will not go in. I have been told that a gin belonging to one man would not enter a house nor appear to notice anything when another man was by; and even if told to go and fetch anything from the kitchen, would first call out to the man to make him go away before she could do as she was told. Aboriginal etiquette!
A short time ago I inspected the back of a native who had a spear nearly driven through him, and lost for some time the entire use of the lower limbs in consequence, and was not expected to live. However, now he is about again, although when I spoke to him a few days ago he told me the hurt in his back was well, "but it belong plenty sick along a inside, no can sleep, makeum plenty sore."
October 30th, 1899. We have had almost a complete collection of native weapons sent us lately by Father Nicholas, who has also sent us a Bingi skull, minus the lower jaw. The weapons are many of them stained with blood, and were actually taken by the Father from the natives when fighting. There is one of the women's fighting-sticks; that too is covered with blood. It was used in a fight here by a woman named Jenny against another of same name, and to such effect that the brain of one protruded. There is a carrying-stick for the pingyn (wooden cradle) when it is used for water. There are head decorations, charms, a lump of wilgy with hair attached just as cut from the head. He has also sent us two fine turtle-shells, ready
TRIBAL MARK, GORDON BAY.
To face p. 351.
polished. The laurie mentioned in a quite early letter (p. 333) is not worn by the natives until after they become men.
You ask do the women with us in any case cultivate the soil? So far as I have been able to find out, No! but they have to make long journeys into the bush to find the sweetpotato and other vegetables and fruits for their lords and masters.
The natives in Central District use the down of eagle-hawk to decorate themselves, sticking it on with human blood. Here eagle-hawks are rare, so the fur of the 'possum is substituted. It is affixed with gum of spinnifex-grass, and tinged with human blood. William when going to a certain Kobba-Kobba is always so decorated, but carefully pulls off all the decoration when appearing before me. The reason, so he says, is because he thinks "missus no like 'em." William has left us lately; he was tired of work and desirous of a loaf round. In his place I have a gin, Mary by name, the woman of Ross the king. The said Mary has been sick, so she says, since she has been with me. It appears whilst in the bush catching firewood she walked over a little boy-baby's grave, and has been "sick along a foot" since. How long it is going to last I don't know. Also she was "sick along a legs," and wore bits of white rag tied tightly round the thick part of the calves of her legs. I made inquiries, and find that natives are always affected in the same way if they do walk over a grave. We were about having a new boy to keep in the house, and giving his name asked Mary if she knew him. Her answer, "belong a my boy," we understood it as her child, but found him of the same tribe as she was. Josepha, (Father Nicholas's mission-girl) who is a half-caste (her mother being a native woman here) calls boys and girls her brothers and sisters, whose parents are neither of them hers. My new boy, a Gordon Bay native, and my little Josepha cannot converse with one another, even to ask Bucket to get me such small every-day things as wood or water, their language being so entirely different. . . . .
You ask is female infanticide prevalent here? Owing to strict police supervision it is supposed to be suppressed, but one rarely sees a female child. Further north though, where the natives are cannibals, when the babies are not eaten they are choked with the sand (this from more than one authority). There the female children are of small account; for example, the pingins are used only for male children. . . . .
Mr. Mackay, of the Eastern Telegraph Extension Company, when here showed me on both his arms the two gashes on each, which were made by the natives when he went to a man-making ceremony here. The scars, two to two and a half inches long, were made by a piece of glass by the women, who dipped bits of glass in the blood from the wounds, and then wanted to rub sand or ashes into the cut, so as to raise it above surrounding flesh. A Mr. Gaunt, who has travelled much in bush-lands of Australia, before selling out of the pearling, brought us a lot of cowries of all sorts and colours, together with some exquisite coral specimens in form of kylies, very rare I believe, and found as far as is known on only one reef in the north-west. We experienced the other day what is known as a Willy-willy (a dry wdlly- willy). I call it a six hours' sand-storm. We had everywhere closed up as tightly as possible, but the sand worked in through every crevice, and we could have shovelled it from the floor. Our water was like mud, the only drink that we had. The temperature dropped ten or twelve degrees in about an hour, so that for a few hours at least the temperature stood below 90 degrees. At 85 degrees we were shivering! Now it is hotter than ever.
I learn from Josepha amongst her little sayings that Mary tells her, that the moon eats kangaroos, the evening star 'possum.
I think Professor Skeat would consider the language and gesture of natives here unique, so many words are used twice over, and the "r" is rolled as north-country people roll it, and their pronunciation is decidedly staccato. Their gesture too is wonderful.
I have been making inquiries if there be any utensil which answers the place of a teapot amongst native domestic utensils, but am told no. Here the pingin seems to answer all sorts of purposes; that and an old tin which can be picked up anywhere along the roadside. I hear (this from Bucket, Billie told me the same) that suppose no white fellow come along giv'em tcherbar (tobacco) that a sort of grass is used which answers the same purpose. Josepha has been singing to her doll of a big black man, taking it away if it is not good. I cannot tell you more, as when questioned she does not know why she sings it. I have several times tried to gather from them what the Kobba-Kobba words to the singing mean, but the answer always is, "He no talk missus," only sing. There are numberless varieties of Kobba-Kobbas, and for each a different song. There has been a big one lately at a man-making ceremony; it lasted a fortnight. Mary went away for two days and returned utterly worn out and unfit for work. She had with other women been running round and round the warriors in an inner circle the whole day and night long. Here the boy is thrown up in air and caught in the warriors' arms at the initiation ceremony; only so far could I learn from her. Last week she brought us a slightly carved shell (chastity). [Plate XV., fig. 8.] Ply her as I would, I could only learn it belonged to her goo-goo, dead a long time [goo-goo is father). Jack tried alone; I tried whilst he was there, and when he was away; but no, she was too wary. Last week a native man died. Since then both Mary and Josepha have been haunted, shall I call it? They tell me each morning someone come along, rap along of roof, make noise under house; think him dead man (die man they say) or else "debil-debil."
A gentleman who called here told us he had been out with more than one pioneer exploring-party and collectors, but our collection was in matter of variety and rarity of weapons the best he had seen. He believed we are the only white people who have a mask in the whole of West Australia. We hear the natives are looking for a lost mask, the one we possess; so now it is kept under lock and key. Mr. Clarke said he had never seen one before; also he told us that the carved shells and one or two other things we have were held in superstitious veneration, and were not obtainable. In the photograph of niggers, lame William is the second from the left-hand side, and is wearing his shell half-covered under his loin-cloth. The third man from the right-hand side is King Ross. The fourth, who has in his arm a yande or pingin, is Duncan; he has about as many tribal marks on his body as any native round about, or more. [Plate XIV.] . . . .
Yesterday there was a big fight on here between the Roebuck Bay natives and Beagle Bay. It appears two Beagle Bay natives stole two Roebuck Bay women. The result was a fight. Mary went; her description, if you could but have heard it! "By Cli, (Christ), big pfeller fight—pl-eenty fight—pl-eenty man got hurt. I break 'em kylie all about;" and to judge by her demeanour and the clothes-prop stick she carried I can believe her. All last week she was at Kobba-Kobba; she left at dawn Monday morning and returned Friday afternoon. I did not hear her come, and went into the kitchen to see about the fire. "Hullo, Mary." "Hullo, Missus." Then followed a long list of wants from her, such as tobacco, tea, food, when I left her; but she wanted to tell me she and a woman named Jenny had been fighting because she had her man. There were her wounds to show. It appears she must have been beaten, for she came along before the others
NATIVES OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA.
(Roebuck Bay, 1899.)
To face p. 354.
(a most unusual and unheard-of thing for her). There was too much wangie-wangie (talking, talking). All the time went to make 'em Kobba-Kobba. She had three very bad wounds on her head, from which Jack had to cut the hair before applying vaseline. I thought at first she had a broken finger; but no, it was only badly smashed, and it had to be poulticed. She was satisfied, and seemed all right to-day.
The natives employed here at the hotel have been in an abject state of terror of Debil-Debil, and on mentioning it to other people we find their natives too have been very frightened. We had several buck niggers in to our room the other night and questioned them. Their teeth were chattering so that they could hardly speak. It appears debil-debil had visited the stables—had come sometimes early in the evening, sometimes during the night; in some cases several times in a night, preventing the natives from sleeping. He wanted to kill someone—who, they did not know—whether man, woman, or child. He had a glass-headed spear, and his only dress (?) was a pair of shoes, made not like proper shoes, but leaving no footmarks behind. He had come across the water, but on what we could not find out. Mr. Hager, to satisfy the men, took his gun out and fired a shot to shoot debil-debil. Making inquiry next morning, I was told debil-debil go away now. An old gin working for Mrs. Baldock further told me, when man along a public-house shootem debil-debil, he sing out, all same ibis. She said she had seen him, and he had a long white beard and hair. As the old woman is nearly blind, and she is the only woman who has done so, it is a query. She showed how he sing out, but it is an unpronounceable sound to write. She also showed me four or five long scratches on her upper arm, which she declared debil-debil had made, trying to catch her; and Mrs. Baldock said the woman had tied a string so tightly round the arm above the scratches that it was swollen almost to bursting. Mrs. Baldock made her take it off. I saw old Mary, as she is called, with her head all tied up where debil-debil had pulled hold of her head, the following night; and yesterday again I saw her. She is very sick, and wanted to go about without her clothes. She certainly looked very ill, half-dead with fright. Johnnie, her man, and another of his wives, also a Mary, had other marks on them to show where debil-debil had taken hold of them. Mrs. Ellice's poor gin who was burnt died last Sunday, and was buried wrapped up in her blankets; the other two native men were terribly frightened at debil-debil taking Pollie. The girl wanted the Father from the Mission to baptise her, which he did; and he with some of the Christian gins did the burying of her. Not a man could be found who would take the body to the Binghi (Christian) burying ground. One of the names here for debil-debil is Woomba, which also means warrior; another is Wearown; still a third, Wearyomg. To complete this history of debil-debil, I find both Mrs. Baldock' s and Mrs. Ellice's natives have broken up their "pumpies," and moved them quite from where they were situated, as a final hope that debil-debil will not worry them again. I am told there has been a general removal.
Two shields were given to us the other day; one a new, the other an old one. The new one was given willingly, the other but very reluctantly. "He only old one. Master, he catchem plenty kylie cut 'em—he no good." But it was eventually obtained. Evidently the shield was held in veneration, possibly on account of the number of fights it had been in, probably for having been used during some of their ceremonies of blood, when the hollow made for the hand to go into to grasp it has been used for the blood collected, and afterwards passed round, and either drunk or their fingers dipped into it for smearing over certain parts of their bodies, according to the ceremony.
It is surprising, with their limited means of reckoning, how they manage. Old Mary, when she wanted to go away (a moon, of course) said she wanted a spell that time. If a half-moon she would reckon it on her fingers; but each knuckle joint represented one, so that for fourteen days see only used the one hand: "Finishum that one, missus, me come back."
The bark pingins or yandi are easily procurable, but those hewn out of wood are not so. I have had two of the latter in my hands, almost thinking them mine; but no! at the last minute sentiment stepped in and I could not get them. The bark pingins are made from the bark of the tree which Mary tells me is called Mourrya; another name is the tea-tree or paper-bark. . . . . .
December, 1899. You will be pleased to hear I have, besides Magdalene, my old Mary. My neighbour sent me along word that her boy Yarry had come in from Whistler Creek, Beagle Bay, and with him had come Mary, who was away in camp four miles out of town—the limit for unemployed natives now. I was only too pleased she should return. Early morning she came along, radiant, bearing her whole paraphernalia with her—a very wild woman of the woods. In turns we greeted her, and then, "Missus, bring 'em along scissors, I want cut 'um Mary's hair," and the poor creature was shorn of all her flowing locks; after which "Me wantum yat." I had not one to spare, so Jack gave her his old hard felt hat. Yesterday morning she set Magdalene, who is her daughter, to wash up; and I, going round to the kitchen by the back door, saw her busily weaving her locks into a belt. I was interested in watching her, and tried all my powers of persuasion to induce her to give me the hair twisted on the spindle; but no, she would not. She, however, gave me the empty spindle. [Plate XV., fig. 13A.] It is probable that had not Jack cut her hair, Mary would have put on wilgy, for Magdalene's baby died last week, and a woman with wilgy on is a filthy creature, neither of use nor ornament in a white feller's house.
We are to witness an eclipse of the sun next month. Strange! all the natives know about it; how, we can't imagine. Old Mary, when questioned, said, "Him go out all right." King Ross sent me a kylie by Mary when she went to his camp. Yesterday at six o'clock a.m. he and Pollie came along. He brought me another kylie, two nulla-nullas, and a walkerberrie, for which he wanted sixpence. I gave it him willingly, although it is the first time I have given money. He also had a drink of tea and a piece of bread and jam. Such small attentions please the natives. . . . . .
My old Mary has been very ill. When "sick along a yed," she packed her head into damp sand until I wondered she could breathe, and she got Magdalene to rub her—a sort of massage—to exorcise the debil-debil. The other day I was left all alone. Mary and Magdalene were both away. In the evening I saw something moving in the compound. Mary had returned. I went out to her and wanted to know where she had been all day without telling me. All she answered was, "Woolla, missus, woolla, you go catchem woolla—spose I catchem blood he come inside." I lighted the lamp (a gust of wind had blown it out) and took it out on the verandah. Then I saw her leaning on it, her head and face streaming with blood, which was soaking her singlet back and front. She had tak-en her dress off. I fetched her water; she drank it thirstily. Then I asked, had she been to the fight (there had been a big one in the afternoon). She had been fio-htincf, but not there. She had started out in the morning to call on Ross and Pollie his wife, and was set upon by some gins, who had a grudge against her. She being still weak had not taken her fighting-stick with her, was molested unawares, and having nothing with which to defend herself was badly hurt. She had two terrible gashes on the head. I gave her warm water to bathe her head, food, and tea; but she was too sick to take anything but the tea. Next morning Jack looked at her head and had the doctor to her, who said such blows as she must have had would have killed any ordinary person. She is pretty well again now, but oh! the revenge she is going to take out of those women when she "phinish belong sick pfeller.". . . . .
I heard the other day of another big Kobba-Kobba, and the blacks "suppose I liked to go all right." When Jack returned he also felt inclined, and told a Mr. and Mrs. Bauer, who had expressed a wish to attend one. Off we tramped in single file, Mary and Magdalene leading, a long way into the bush. We reached the place just as the Kobba-Kobba was commencing and before the fires were lit. There were great numbers of blacks there, men, women, and children. It appears there were two other tribes besides Roebuck Bay natives. Most of the men were in full war paint; their numbers were increasing every minute. At first they stood in aline with their backs to us, and each one held in either hand a bunch of grass or twigs. Then the singing began. It seemed as if one voice commenced a verse, gradually all the others joined, and one man did a pas seul, and by the end of the verse he was facing us, the grasses held in his hand covering his face; and so it went on until all were facino- us. You know how high-stepping a thoroughbred horse is; well, it was an action something like that, only the man's body was bent too. As soon as all were facing us, all the women ran up and formed a crowd facing the men, as if peering to find out who each one was through the grass hiding their faces. Then the singing commenced again. And the men did pas seuls until all had their backs to us. When the last man had turned, all the women ran and sat down; then the men came up again singing and beating time with their feet, making a noise as of many horses galloping. Then they started a sinuous dance, waving the grass. First one fire was lit, then another, and Mary told us to get back a little, "plenty sand fly." We moved. At one part of the song the women all ran in to the circle of men and formed a round. The men still continued dancing, holding the grass in either hand; then with their nulla-nullas held above their heads, their bodies bending and straightening. Afterwards they danced, holding sticks aloft ready to strike, and with this dance the vocal accompaniment was that of the gruff baying of dogs. By-and-by a strike, a shriek, and a woman was hit. Finally, "phinish 'em," exclaimed old Mary. "White womanee go away now, he no good." So we left; but the Kobba-Kobba lasted until morning. The next evening we went again, but they said, "No proper Kobba-Kobba, white womanee come along," so we left. The other Kobba-Kobba mentioned was at full moon; this was new moon; that was quite distinct from this.
The eclipse came off, to the fear of many of the natives. It was a glorious afternoon; I used smoked glasses, but could see with the naked eye quite distinctly. There seemed such a rosy hue surrounding the sun, at times changing to yellow. After a good deal of persuasion Jack induced old Mary to look through glasses, but she was half afraid. Then she showed us a bit of blue stuff she had been looking through! Truly the natives are very wonderful, yet we call them ignorant savages. . . . . .
A Mr. Barclay has visited us, son of Sir James Barclay; he is in some way connected with the Perth Museum. He was greatly interested in all we had to show. One thing he told me I had not heard before. There had been several native fights on, and he said, supposing a man were hurt in a fight; if he wanted on his recovery to challenge the man who beat him, he put his knee up, and the victor, if he took up the challenge, had to stick his spear into it as an earnest that he would be willing to renew the combat. If he refused he was a coward. The prospecting party, of which Mr. Barclay was one, out from here to Beagle Bay, went over ground that had not been visited by white men (so far as is known) since 1861, and in all their travels they only came across one mark of the former party cut on a tree. The natives in the parts he had visited are known to be very bad cannibals; but strangely enough they did not come across any on their travels; and only just before embarking on their return trip did they see five in a dugout canoe, which on seeing the whites they promptly overturned and swam for one of the islets near by.
All the natives here are very alarmed just now. They are afraid of a willy-willy, and many have cleared away from town to the bush. They say the only way to save themselves when a willy-willy comes is to tie themselves up to a big tree to prevent being blown away. It is ten years now since one struck Broome.
[The following are some tales which were told to Mrs. Peggs on the voyage from Roebuck Bay to Singapore by a little boy named Willie Jones, who was proceeding to Singapore for his education, and joined the boat at Derby. He had had only Binghi children for playfellows since he was four years old, and could speak their language well. The tales are written as closely as possible in the words in which they were told. They were read to him after having been written down.—C. J. T.]
The Tale of Willy-Willy-Wagtail.
The Willy-Willy-Wagtail is a curious bird. A long time ago he was a blackfellow; he had a sister and an uncle. The uncle used to go hunting, and when he killed anything he used to give Willy-Willy-Wagtail's sister all the fat meat, and Willy-Willy-Wagtail all the skinny meat. Now he did not like that, so he looked around to see what he should do. He took a long sharp stick and stuck it into the ground, and covered it over with grass. Then he said to the stick, "When I tell you, you shake like a bandicoot" (a bandicoot is a kangaroo-rat). So he went and brought his uncle along with him, and told him he would show him a bandicoot's nest. As soon as he got to where the stick was the stick began to shake. His uncle was just going to throw his spear at it when Willy-Willy-Wagtail said, "No, you must not do that, you must jump on it." At last, after a lot of persuasion, the uncle jumped on it, and the stick stuck right through his foot. All the other blackfellows came along and tried to pull the stick out, but they could not move it, so they went and asked two big fellows, as big as a baobab-tree, to come and try. First they looked around for a big tree and rooted it up to show what they could do. They threw that aside and then they seized hold of the stick, which came out and shot right up into the sky, where it forms a streak of stars across the Milky Way. The blackfellows tried to kill Willy-Willy-Wagtail, but he escaped into the bush.
The Tale of the Emu.
There is a constellation [Willie Jones pointed it out to Mrs. Peggs] close by the Milky Way, which the black fellows call the Emu. Now a long time ago the Emu was a black fellow. He was a womba (warrior), and when he died he went into the sky, where he is an Emu, a big big fellow; and he holds two strings, which are joined to the earth to keep it balanced. If the strings were to break, or be cut, the sky would fall on to the earth, and every one would die.
The Tale of the Eagle and the Eggs.
Once upon a time an eagle built a nest and put some eggs in it. Two white birds [bower-birds?] saw how busy the eagle was, and they thought they would play a trick on her; so one of the birds lay down in the nest under the eggs and ate them, whilst the other watched to see what the eagle would do. The eagle was very angry. Then she laid some more eggs, which the white bird ate again. Then the eagle looked around and saw them, and overcame and killed them. (The birds are all supposed to be men.)
The Eagle-Hawks and the Fire.
There were two eagle-hawks going along when they came across a blackfellows' camp. Now the blackfellows had been fishing and had caught a lot of fish, which they were eating raw. The eagle-hawks said, "Why do you eat your fish raw? Why don't you cook them in the fire as we do?" The blackfellows said, "What is fire?" for they did not then know how to make it. They gave the eagle-hawks some fish, which they took away with them. By-and-by they sent a lubra (gin) to see what the eagles were doing. So the lubra crept along and watched. Byand-by the eagle-hawks saw and called her; so she went along, and they gave her some cooked fish which they had taken out of the fire. The first time she ate it she was very sick. The eagle-hawks gave her some more, and she was sick. The third time she ate it she was all right. Then the eagle-hawks showed her how they made a fire by rubbing two sticks together. The lubra went back to the camp and told the blackfellows, and they made her show them how to produce fire by rubbing a stick quickly in her hands on another piece of wood. By-and-by she made a fire and cooked fish for the blackfellows, who were very sick the first and second time they ate of it, the third time they were all right. After that the blackfellows knew how to make fire.
The Tale of the Big White Bird, Gillemurrango.
There was a big white bird, and he was a very strong bird, and he could throw the spear, but he was a wicked bird. He said to some blackfellows, "I will show you how I can throw the spear." So the blackfellows came to the corrobboree, but before they came he buried his long spear under the sand. When they came, and were going to sit around, he said, "No, you must not do that, you must sit in a row." After a time they sat in a row, and Gillemurrango began to dance and sing, and as he danced and sang he kept pulling the spear out of the sand, so the black fellows should not notice it. At last he got it all out, and he was just at the end of the row, then he took a good aim and drove it through all the tribe, and killed them. By-and-by he told another lot of blackfellows he would show them how he could throw the spear, and he killed them all. At last he told a third tribe he was coming to make corrobboree. Now this tribe were very frightened, because they knew how Gillemurrango had killed the other tribes, so they thought they would make a big shield and try and save themselves. Then they looked around and found and cut themselves a shield out of a big tree. After they had roughly fashioned it they threw three spears, nulla-nullas, and boomerangs at it, but it cracked, so they knew that wood would not do. They then got a shield of harder wood, and then tried that, but that cracked too. At last they found some very hard wood, and they formed a shield roughly of that, and threw all their weapons at it, and they all broke on it, it was so very strong. They finished it, and then they waited for Gillemurrango, first hiding the shield under some bushes so that he should not see it.
WEST AUSTRALIAN OBJECTS IN THE COLLECTION OF
To face p. 365.
Then Gillemurrango came along and made corrobboree, and hid his spear as before. He told them they must sit in a line, so they hid the shield behind them, and they watched how as he danced and sang he kept pulling the spear out of the sand. Then they passed the shield along until at last when the spear was out of the ground, the man at the end of the row held the shield. As soon as Gillemurrango took the spear up to throw, then the womba quickly put up the shield, and when the spear came along, instead of going all through the men, it hit the shield and broke into little pieces. That's all. [Mrs. Peggs inquired the fate of Gillemurrango—he had to hide away in the bush.]
Willie Jones said that the natives have a belief that after they are dead their next existence is to be either a devil, a bird, or "come up white pfeller."
Objects depicted in Plate XV.
1. Emu-feather decorations used by the men, worn either in hair, on upper arm, or just under knee.
2. Charms against sickness, the hair strings made entirely of hair from the beard. The latter given by King Ross. See page 346.
3-4. Pearl-shell letters of introduction (the broken one used by a man coming from Beagle Bay, passing through Lagrange Bay to Roebuck Bay). It was worn round the neck by a string with the piece of shell placed just over the shoulder. See page 339.
5. Woomerra (only a broken specimen). For aiding the throwing of spears a long distance. Not much used in Roebuck Bay district.
6. Back of narrow shield of hard wood used by the Roebuck Bay natives. The front of shield never decorated. Tribal marks on back. At blood ceremonies the blood from the wound is allowed to drip into the haft of the shield, and each native present then dips his fingers in the blood and smears it on his body. See page 356.
7. Ceremonial or sacred beheading-sword. Only second in value to the mask in whole collection. Stolen from a camp, and given secretly to Mrs. Peggs. Of very heavy wood, seen much service. See page 342.
11. Smaller chastity-shell with hair girdle.
12. Ceremonial sword made by lame William. On the back may be seen his peculiar footmark. Before giving the same he had to obtain permission from King Ross.
13A. Mary's spindle on which she used to weave the hair into belts. See page 357.
14. Shell necklace worn by the women when in want of a husband. See page 346.
15. Back of shield in soft wood; the bands signify into how many fights the bearer has carried it. Not used by Roebuck Bay natives. Given by a Lagrange Bay native.
16. Wilgy; a mixture of red earth and fat, lumps of which are worn by the native women as mourning. They are left on till they drop off of themselves. Further north, in the Derby district, white clay is used in the same way. 16a. One of the decorations used at the Kobba-Kobba; white wood shaved finely. See page 330.
17. Fire-stick with which Mrs. Peggs saw fire made. A piece of hard wood is split and a wedge inserted, some shavings or dry grass put into the cleft, and the hard wood rubber applied briskly till fire is obtained. See page 349.
18-19. Fish kylies. The white bands on red wood of 19 denote Roebuck Bay manufacture. See page 326.
25. Bone ornaments for insertion in nose. See page 346.
28. Woven hair for belts, &c.
29. Kylies of natural formation, obtained from the coral reef in West Australia, the only known specimens from that district. See page 352.
30. Bones used in blood ceremonies for piercing the flesh. See page 348.
- All Rights Reserved.
- See further, p. 334.
- Mr. J. A. Peggs.
- Wilgy, see below, p. 338.
- See further, p. 332.
- From a later letter:—"The nearly black cowrie shells Mr. M. gave me are valued at from 5s. to £5. I shall send you some of those too."
- The cord is used much as we use our pockets, the pipe and tobacco being often stuck into it when not in use, though the back of the ear or the matted hair often serves for the same purpose.
- Ki-ki, food.
- Cf. Report of the Horn Scientific Expedition, iv., 169.
- See further, p. 341.
- Ante, p. 336.
- Plate XV., fig. 10. See further, p. 345, 354.
- In our collection. C. J. T.
- Plate XV., fig. 17.
- See ante p. 327.
- See p. 342.
- Plate XV., fig. 6.
- Cf. the description of boomerang-making, ante, p. 326.