Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/192

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110
THE ABORIGINES OF VICTORIA:

The Barrabool blacks generally stuck a fighting-stick (Worra-worra) at the eastern end of the grave of a young man.

Mr. Daniel Bunce,[1] an intelligent observer, and a gentleman well acquainted with the habits of the blacks, says that no tribe that he has ever met with believe in the possibility of a man dying a natural death. If a man is taken ill, it is at once assumed that some member of a hostile tribe has stolen some of his hair. This is quite enough to cause serious illness. If the man continues sick and gets worse, it is assumed that the hair has been burnt by his enemy. Such an act, they say, is sufficient to imperil his life. If the man dies, it is assumed that the thief has choked his victim and taken away his kidney-fat. When the grave is being dug, one or more of the older men—generally doctors or conjurors (Buk-na-look)—stand by and attentively watch the laborers; and if an insect is thrown out of the ground, these old men observe the direction which it takes, and having determined the line, two of the young men, relations of the deceased, are despatched in the path indicated, with instructions to kill the first native they meet, who they are assured and believe is the person directly chargeable with the crime of causing the death of their relative.

Mr. John Green says that the men of the Yarra tribe firmly believe that no one ever dies a natural death. A man or a woman dies because of the wicked arts practised by some member of a hostile tribe; and they discover the direction in which to search for the slayer by the movements of a lizard which is seen immediately after the corpse is interred.

There are several methods of ascertaining the direction in which the avengers must go for the purpose of finding the wicked person who has compassed the death of an Aboriginal. Mr. F. M. Hughan, who is competent to speak of the habits of the Aborigines of the Lower Murray, thus describes one very curious ceremony which he himself observed in 1851. On the death of an aged headman of a tribe, there gathered together near the grave very many mourners. The women, as is customary, burnt themselves with fire-sticks, and howled dismally; and all the proper rites having been performed around the grave, which was dug in a sandhill having a gentle slope towards the bank of the Tarn Creek, a mound was finally raised and smoothly coated with wet clay. Around the mound a circle of spears was formed, and by each spear sat a warrior. Another set of less prominent men sat in a circle, each by his spear. Around these, and at a little distance, and sitting further apart, the women formed an outer circle. Not a sound was heard from the mourners. Sadly and patiently they awaited an event which was to be caused by the fierce sun overhead. The heat was oppressive, but no murmur arose in the circles. At length the clay which covered the grave cracked. The old men drew nigh, and having ascertained the direction of the first maiu fissure in the drying clay, they indicated the path which the warriors were to take in order to find the person who had practised sorcery on their deceased relative. There, as elsewhere, it was the duty of the avengers to bring back the kidney-fat of the first man of another tribe whom they might meet.

  1. Since deceased. He was Curator of the Botanical Gardens at Geelong.