Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/191

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109
DEATH, AND BURIAL OF THE DEAD.

was cleared of rotten wood, and well swept. The bottom was lined with leaves and small twigs, well beaten down with a stiff piece of bark. Over those was placed a piece of bark, cut neatly, so as to fit the aperture. The body was placed in a rude bark coffin. This was made by peeling the bark off a sapling, which formed a sort of tube, in which the deceased child could be securely encased.

The coffin was placed in the hollow, twigs and leaves thrust in between the coffin and the sides of the hollow branch, more leaves and twigs over the top, and, finally, a lid of bark so adjusted as to make a very close covering, almost impervious to rain.

The manner of burning the dead is simple enough. The men gather dry branches, dry logs, and dry brushwood, and raise a pile about three feet in height, three feet in width, and six or seven feet in length. The woods are selected of those kinds which not only ignite easily, but which will continue to burn without attention until quite consumed. When the pile is ready—when it is of the proper height, and every cranny has been stuffed with dry leaves and brushwood—two blacks place the dead body on a rude hurdle made of branches, and carry it to the pile. Without touching any part of it, they gently and carefully slide it on to the heap, where it is laid in a becoming attitude. Preceding the carriers are three or four aged blacks, who, with their spears raised, walk solemnly and silently. Throughout the proceedings no word is spoken. Green boughs and bark are laid over the body, and the pile is built to a height of five feet or more. While the men are busy building the pile, there may be seen, about thirty yards off, a black woman sitting by a very small fire. The smoke is barely perceptible. She is silent and mournful, and gazes now and again at the pile. At the right time, an older woman goes to the fire, and takes a lighted stick. Thereupon the younger female weeps passionately, but never speaks. The old woman says nothing, but slowly takes her way to the heap of brushwood, and lights it. In a moment the whole is in a blaze; and all the men at once return to the encampment. Thus silently do they complete their part of the duty. After lighting the pile, the old woman returns to the younger, who sits by the fire. The elder is really, or affects to be, in great grief, and the two mourn together and weep, and wait until the body is entirely consumed.[1]

The Goulburn blacks made graves altogether different from those of the Yarra or Western Port tribes. For the burial of the body of a deceased warrior they dug a grave about five feet in depth, and from the bottom of it they made an excavation in a horizontal direction, about three feet in length and two feet six inches in height. A bed composed of leaves and small twigs was made in the cave thus formed, and the body was placed on it, and the spaces between it and the sides packed with leaves and twigs. The mouth of the cave was closed with a door, formed of a thick piece of bark, and was fastened securely by stakes driven into the ground. The grave was then filled in with earth. At the end of the grave most remote from the body, and at right-angles to it, was raised a low tumulus in the shape of a shield (Gee-am).


  1. Amongst the Romans it was the next of blood that performed the ceremony of lighting the pile.