Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/181

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
99
DEATH, AND BURIAL OF THE DEAD.

The northern tribes in the Colony of Victoria seem to have placed the dead body on a funeral pile, and, with prescribed formalities, lighted the dry wood, and thus consumed the corpse. Some placed the body in a running stream; some threw it across the limb of a tree, so as to be out of the way of the wild dog, but not secure from other flesh-eating creatures; some deposited the dead hunter in a cave; others wrapped the remains in rugs or mats, and placed them on an artificial platform, formed of sticks and branches—where the sentinel-crow was sure to perch, and add a grim solemnity to the picture; many interred the corpse, or put it in an old mirrn-yong heap, or laid it with others—sacred in their memories—in a stone-lined trench cut in the ground.

Perhaps the most common of all methods, as practised by the Aborigines of this period, is that of interring the body.

The southern tribes have no appointed burial grounds for their people.[1]

  1. The blacks on the Bogan River, in New South Wales, bury their dead in cemeteries resembling those of Europeans. The graves are numerous, and the grounds are ornamented, and there are curved walks or tracks through them. On the Lachlan River the graves are marked by high mounds of earth, around which are placed rude seats. On the Murrumbidgee and Murray (north of Victoria) the graves are covered with thatched huts. On the Darling River they raise mounds and cover them with branches of trees, and form a ditch around each mound; and sometimes, for greater security, enclose the mound with a fence of dead limbs of trees and branches. Throughout the continent, however, it is the practice to bury the body near the spot where the death occurred.

    Oxley gives a description of a grave which he found on his journey. He thinks it was probably that of some person of consideration among the natives. The form of the whole was semicircular. Three rows of seats occupied one half, the grave and the outer row of seats the other; the seats formed segments of circles, fifty, forty-five, and forty feet each, and were formed by the soil being trenched up from between them. The central part of the grave was about five feet high and about nine long, forming an oblong pointed cone. Oxley caused the tomb to be opened, and he found beneath the solid surface of the ground three or four layers of wood lying across the grave, and serving to support the cone of earth above; then several sheets of bark, underneath these dry grass and leaves, and at a depth of four feet was the body. The grave was oval, about four feet in length and from eighteen inches to two feet in width. The feet of the corpse were bent quite up to the head, the arms having been placed between the thighs. The face was downwards, the body lying east and west, with the head to the east. It had been carefully wrapped in a great number of opossum skins, the head bound round with the net usually worn by the natives, and also the girdle. It appeared, after having been enclosed in the skins, to have been placed in a larger net, and then deposited in the manner before mentioned.

    To the west and north of the grave were two cypress trees, distant between fifty and sixty feet; the sides towards the tomb were barked, and curious characters deeply cut upon them, in a manner which, considering the tools they possess, must have been a work of great labor and time. The drawing in Oxley's work shows the figures. On one tree I think an attempt has been made to represent snakes, and on the other there is probably a copy of the device that the deceased had carved on his shield.

    Major Mitchell says that on the Bogan, not far from Oxley's table-land, he found the burial ground of Milmeridien, and the natives scarcely lifted their heads as they passed it. It is thus graphically described:—"This burial ground was a fairy-like spot, in the midst of a scrub of drooping acacias. It was an extensive space, laid out in little walks, which were narrow and smooth, as if intended only for 'sprites.' All these ran in gracefully-curved lines, and enclosed the heaving heaps of reddish earth, which contrasted finely with the acacias and dark casuarinas around. Others, gilt with moss, shot far into the recesses of the bush, where slight traces of still more ancient graves proved the antiquity of these simple but touching records of humanity. With all our art we could do no more for the dead than these poor savages had done."—Vol. I., p. 317.

    At another spot he saw a large lonely hut of peculiar construction; it was closed on every side, the materials consisting of poles and sheets of bark. It stood in the centre of a flat of bare earth