Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/187

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105
DEATH, AND BURIAL OF THE DEAD.

and becoming frantic, seizes fire-sticks, and burns her breasts, arms, legs, and thighs. Rushing from one place to another, and intent only on injuring herself, and seeming to delight in the self-inflicted torture, it would be rash and vain to interrupt her. She would fiercely turn on her nearest relative or friend and burn him with her brands. When exhausted, and when she can scarcely walk, she yet endeavours to kick the embers of the fire, and to throw them about. Sitting down, she takes the ashes in her hands, rubs them into her wounds, and then scratches her face (the only part not touched by the fire-sticks) until the blood mingles with the ashes which partly hide her cruel wounds. In this plight, scratching her face continually, she utters howls and lamentations and quick-voiced curses on the murderer of her husband, which interrupt strangely and harshly the soft and tender sounds of woe which come from the groups of women in the distance.[1]

Neither the cries of the bereaved woman nor her frantic movements are much noticed by the men who are charged with the duty of interring the corpse. An opossum rug is now put over the body, and carefully wrapped about it, and the spaces between it and the walls of the grave are filled in with leaves and tender twigs; and the body itself is now covered with leaves. Another piece of bark, similar to that lying in the bottom of the grave, and as well and as neatly trimmed, is laid over the covering of leaves and twigs, and little pieces of bark are so placed at the sides as to prevent the earth from falling upon the coverings of the dead man. This brings the whole within two feet and a half of the surface of the ground. These arrangements being satisfactorily completed, a few of the principal mourners approach. Each one after the other steps into the grave, and, standing on the bark, mournfully contemplates for a few moments the last bed of his departed friend. With eyes cast down, and lip and brow expressive of deep sorrow, he is not surely far removed from his white brother in performing this last not unholy office. Mourners not nearly related to the deceased merely cast a glance towards the covered body, and give place to others.

As soon as these simple rites are performed, the men, not hastily and not without respect to the dead, fill in the grave with earth, using their hands, and sometimes a stone tomahawk. They stop now and again, and trample the earth, and when the work is finally accomplished the sorcerer cries, "No-gee-mee," "That is enough."

This voice is the signal to the women, whose wild music is at once stilled—the dogs are let loose, and the members of the tribe are again in motion, and mingle with one another as before. A few women assemble around the widow, minister to her wants, and attempt to console her.

The grave is finally completed by raising over it a mound of earth, which is generally twelve or eighteen inches in height, and about nine yards in length, and six yards in width. If the surface of the ground is level, a gutter is made to

  1. "The custom among the Australians of putting dust or ashes on the head, of shaving the head, of clipping the heard, and of lacerating the body at death or in sign of mourning, appears very similar to the practices among the Israelites in the time of Moses.—Vide Leviticus xix., 27, 28; Leviticus xxi., 5; Jeremiah xlviii., 37; Ezekiel xxvii., 30, 31, 32; Revelation xviii, 19, &c."—Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia, by Edward John Eyre, 1815, vol. li., p. 353.