Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/188

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106
THE ABORIGINES OF VICTORIA:

carry off the rain-water. The grass and weeds for a small space around the grave are cut with a tomahawk and removed, the roots burnt off, and the place is made smooth, and swept. Boughs of trees are placed around it as a fence, a fire is made at the eastern end of the grave, and the tribe then desert the spot.

They desert the spot because they say they believe that the wild black who has taken the kidney-fat of the deceased, or the spirit which has destroyed him, will wander about the site of the old encampment. This is the reason they give for keeping away from the grave; but it is probable that the strong human instinct which leads men to refrain from amusements, cheerful talk, and the common acts of life in the vicinity of tombs and burial places, and the superstitions which are interwoven with all our thoughts of death, rather than any dread of wicked spirits, are the causes which lead them to abandon the sepulchre. No thought of danger nor dread of ghosts deters the widow from performing her duties if the performance of them be practicable. If the new encampment is within any reasonable distance of the grave, she visits it every night before sunset and every morning before sunrise, and remakes the fire, and sweeps the ground, and sits by the lonely bed of her deceased husband, sometimes in silent sorrow, sometimes wailing or singing a dirge[1] as she wanders slowly through the forest. Watching her figure, white with the ashes which cover her wounds, and feeble from torture, we see a picture of real distress which is far more affecting in its simplicity than the more elaborate mourning which civilization requires of one bereaved. The fire at the grave is usually kept burning for about ten days.[2]

If the deceased had in his life performed any remarkable feats, or rendered himself notorious as a great hunter, or as a wise counsellor, the sorcerer would have made a great speech on the occasion of the burial. Sitting cross-legged at the side of the grave, and sometimes lying on his stomach with his head a little raised, and sometimes with ear bent down, as if listening to the words of the deceased, he would have alternately praised him as a valiant man, or a good hunter, or as wise and skilful in deliberation or debate, and then listened for his


  1. On one occasion when Major Mitchell was near Rodrigo Ponds he heard a female singing. He says, "While I stood near this spot attending the arrival of the party, which was still at some distance, I overheard a female voice singing. The notes were pleasing, and very different from the monotonous strains of the natives in general. . . . . The soft Sounds so expressive of tranquillity and peace were in perfect unison with the scene around." . . . . On approaching the natives, he found that they took no notice of him. One young man continued beating out a skin against a tree without regard to the presence of a stranger; and he discovered long afterwards that the female was singing a funeral dirge. It is usual for the relatives of one deceased to seem inattentive and insensible to whatever people may be doing around them.—Vol. I., pp. 117-18.
  2. The late Mr. W. H. Wright made mention of the following incident in a note to me:—"Sometime about 1844-6 I was informed that the tribe of Aborigines living near Wellington Valley were coming—some twenty-five miles—up the Macquarie River on important business. They proceeded by very easy stages—perhaps five miles a day—men, women, and children huddled together—and some of them bore a sort of hand-barrow, or bier, on which a fire was, with much care, kept constantly burning. In this way they proceeded to a grave situated on the Bell River, and there the proceedings terminated, and they dispersed. I saw them en route. An intelligent black, who was my tracker, informed me that their object in proceeding to the grave in question, and of maintaining the fire so vigilantly, was to relieve the widow of the deceased (whose remains were interred in the grave) from the bar to her marriage with another blackfellow. After the performance of certain ceremonies she would be at liberty to marry again—not before."—30th October 1876.