Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/196

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114
THE ABORIGINES OF VICTORIA:

of the corpse runs some risk if he does not provide himself with good string; as, if the string should break, it is attributed to the displeasure of the deceased, who is supposed to make known in this manner that he has been charmed by him: also if the small quill used as a needle should not be sufficiently sharp to penetrate the flesh easily, the slightest movement caused by pressing the blunt point into the flesh is supposed to be spontaneous motion of the corpse, and to indicate that the sewer is the guilty person. Rather aged persons are not treated with all the ceremonies above mentioned, but are merely wrapped up in mats and placed upon an elevated platform, formed of sticks and branches, supported by a tree and two posts, and, after the flesh has decayed, the bones are burned. The very old are buried immediately after death."

In these observances the Aborigines of the Encounter Bay tribe appear to transgress the rule which forbids the touching by the naked hands of a dead body. The above is given in Mr. Meyer's own language. It is undoubtedly an accurate statement, and serves to show that no particular description of burial ceremonies can be held applicable to all tribes, or even to any one tribe if the age, character, or position of the deceased was such as to procure for him more than ordinary respect. It is probable, however, that the customs of any one tribe were rarely departed from without some strong and sufficient reason, even when the most distinguished amongst them was consigned to his final resting-place.

Mr. Charles Wilhelmi gives the following account of the practices of the Aborigines of the Port Lincoln district, South Australia:—

"Although, on the one side, they possess a fierce and hostile spirit, still, on the other, it must be observed that they are capable of the more noble feelings of pity and compassion. This is called forth by a dangerous wound, as also by a severe sickness, but still clearer is it observed at and after the death of a friend. On such occasions they are accustomed, and particularly the female sex, to assemble and to weep bitterly. The loud lamentations to which they give vent upon the death of a relative or friend may perhaps be a custom inherited from their forefathers, for they always weep together and at the same time. They also employ foreign means to produce tears. They rub the eyes and scratch the nose, if their own frame of mind should not be sufficiently sorrowful, or if the example of others should fail to produce tears. Their weeping and groans at the commencement of a lamentation seem to be somewhat formal and forced, and thus the suspicion arises that they seem more sorrowful than is warranted by their true feelings. Nevertheless, the Rev. Mr. Shurmann believes that the Aborigines feel deeply and mourn heartily the death of a friend. One of them is accustomed to break out suddenly into a long-protracted plaintive tone, and gradually his example is followed by the others. After this lamentation, a profound silence is observed, and in truth their behaviour is such as belongs to persons oppressed by great grief. For years after the death of a friend on no occasion whatever do they pronounce his name. This, as one might suppose, does not proceed from superstition, but from the simple reason that they do not wish again to awake their slumbering feelings, or, to use their own expression, that they do not wish to weep too much.