Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/186

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104
THE ABORIGINES OF VICTORIA:

chosen, and the grave, when formed, is about three feet six inches in length, two feet or a little more in width, and five feet in depth. With rude implements, and sometimes deeply affected by the circumstances attending this, one of the last rites to be performed in disposing of the body of their deceased friend, it has again and again been observed that the diggers of the grave are never careless or slovenly, and never fail to make it neatly. The sides are straight, and the lines are truly parallel. When the excavation is finally completed, the sides pared clean, and the whole interior carefully swept, it is ready for the reception of the body. At this moment the women renew their lamentations; and the voices of the mourners are raised suddenly, so as to startle those amongst the Aborigines who have not attended many burials. But the sounds are not suffered to interfere with the serious work of interment. One of the men cuts a piece of bark from a suitable tree in the vicinity, and trims it until it is exactly the size of the bottom of the grave, where, as soon as it is finished, it is placed, and over it are strewn fresh leaves and very small twigs of the gum-tree, so as to form a soft bed. The chief mourner now approaches, and standing over the grave, one foot on one side of it and one on the other, he suddenly, and with passion and energy, tears off his reed-necklace and the band which encompasses his forehead, and throws them into the grave. He then runs from the grave towards the women, and attempts or seems to attempt to spear them. This attack is well understood by the old women, and generally by both old and young, and the sorrowful man is allowed to expend his energy, each one taking care to avoid injury. The dead man's effects are produced while this is going on, and the sorcerer now takes the foremost place. He opens the small bag, and slowly and mournfully shakes out the contents; and in like manner empties the large bag. The contents—consisting of pieces of hard stone suitable for cutting or paring skins, small relics, twine made of opossum wool, bones for boring holes, and perhaps some articles obtained from Europeans—are placed in the grave; and the bags and the rugs of the deceased are torn up and thrown in likewise. The sorcerer enquires if there is any other property belonging to the dead man: if there is, it is brought forward and placed beside the bags and rugs. All the articles which he owned in life must be laid beside his body now that he is dead.

On the completion of these duties, the body is borne towards the grave. This is done without ceremony, and in some cases hardly with decency. A stout blackfellow takes the deceased on his shoulders, and hastens with his load to the grave, where he drops it suddenly into its resting-place, but not so as to disturb the earthen walls of the grave. After the breath is out of the body it must not be brought into contact with human hands nor with the earth. As the heavy weight falls with a dull sound on the resounding bark, the sorcerer cries aloud "Koor-re-koor!" He cries "Blood for blood!" or "Life for life!" And though a savage cry, not more mournful is the voice of the officiating priest who says over the body of one of our nation "Ashes to ashes—dust to dust." The wild and weird and mournful cry of the sorcerer has scarcely died away when one of the men steps into the grave and adjusts the body. The widow—as this is done—begins her sad ceremonies. She cuts off her hair above her forehead,