Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/194

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112
THE ABORIGINES OF VICTORIA:

bier, is placed over a slow fire for a day or longer, and when the skin blisters it is removed. All the apertures of the body are sewn up, and it is rubbed with grease and red-ochre. Finally, it is set up naked on a stage, formed of branches and boughs of trees, and protected by a covering of branches. A small fire is lighted under it, which is kept up by the attendants until it is dry; and finally it is wrapped up in mats and placed in a wurley. The friends of the deceased, both male and female, lament and wail during the performance of these rites. They cut off their hair; they smear their faces with fat and pounded charcoal; they beat and cut themselves; and in other ways give expression to their great grief. Not one is indifferent. Any want of proper feeling would expose a native to the suspicion of sorcery, and might cause his life to be forfeited. While the body is drying, the relatives live, eat, drink, and sleep under the putrefying mass, and the females weep continuously, and, if they can, copiously. One always stands weeping in front of the corpse during the process of drying.

The dead body, all anointed with red-ochre and raised in a sitting posture; the smoke now partially hiding it and now sweeping behind it and spreading in thin wreaths amongst the boughs; the old men moving their long wands, on which they have tied bunches of feathers, in order to paint the body with ochre; the patient grief-stricken groups standing by; the weeping and disordered females—together make up a picture which harmonises with the untilled branch-strewn ground, the gaunt grey limbs of the sparsely-foliaged trees, and the somewhat harsh lights and shadows of an Australian forest.

When any one leaves the wurley for a few days, he is expected, on his return, to place himself in front of the body and to weep and lament. Not until the sorcerer is destroyed, or other expiatory sacrifice made, is the spirit of the dead man appeased. If the person named by the dreamer belongs to some tribe of the Narrinyeri, a difficulty arises. They may not desire to kill the sorcerer. Under such circumstances, they despatch messengers, in order to ascertain the temper of the friends and relatives of the sorcerer. Probably the negotiations result in the injured tribe formally cursing the slayer of their friend, and all his people. If this is done, arrangements are made for a fight, and the hostile tribes meet without delay. The men of the tribe to which the dead man belonged commence to weep and lament as soon as they see their foes. Their opponents mock and deride them, and some of them dance wild dances, flourishing their spears the while. They shout, they laugh wildly, and take all means known to them to provoke a fight. If they have long unsettled disputes between them, in addition to the immediate quarrel, they fight somewhat savagely, and one or two may perchance be killed, and the like number severely wounded; but if they are met merely to "give satisfaction" for the injury done to the dead man, the fight is interrupted, after a few spears are thrown, by some old man, who declares that enough has been done. If the old men on both sides agree, the hostile tribes mingle on friendly terms, and there is an end of the business. The death is avenged.

It is usual to preserve the hair of a dead man. It is spun into a cord and fastened around the head of a warrior. Wearing it, he sees clearly, is more active, and can parry with his shield or avoid the spears of his foes in a fight.