Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/197

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115
DEATH, AND BURIAL OF THE DEAD.

Should it be absolutely necessary to indicate a deceased person, it is done in the following manner:—I am a widow—I am fatherless, brotherless, or the like, as the case may be, instead of saying my husband, my father, or my brother is dead. The last ground on which Mr. Shurmann bases the sincerity of their grief is that they risk their lives to revenge their deceased friend, if suspecting his death to have been caused by foul means.

"Although at the interment of the dead certain rites and customs are generally observed, these are at times dispensed with, as was instanced in the case of an old man. After having dug a hole five feet deep and four feet long, and spread some dry grass in the bottom, they lowered the corpse into it, with the legs bent upwards, as the hole was too short to receive it in its proper position. [This is surely a mistake. The dead bodies of the natives are not laid at full length.] The head, as is invariably done, was placed at the west end, from the notion that the departed souls all reside in an island situated eastward. The body was then covered with a kangaroo skin, and sticks having been driven immediately above it lengthwise into the sides of the grave, leaving a vacant space above it, the whole was then filled up with earth. As the last of this simple proceeding, some branches or bushes were collected around the grave, with the view, as I should think, of preventing stray cattle and horses from trampling upon it. In the immediate neighbourhood only of European settlements, where they can obtain the necessary tools, are they able to dig such deep graves. Further up in the interior, where they are confined to the yam-sticks for the operation of digging, the graves are made only sufficiently deep to admit the body, the sticks being driven in immediately above it. This custom is always observed, very probably in order to prevent the wild dogs from scraping up the body."

These observations appear to refer to the practices of blacks who have been contaminated by intercourse with the lower class of whites. They are in other respects not in accord with what is known of the wild Aborigines. A black-fellow with a yam-stick can dig out a wombat, and two or three or four would quickly dig a grave four or five feet in depth, if they considered it proper to make it of that depth. Mr. Wilhelmi's observations, however, are not without value.

Capt. Grey very graphically describes the burial ceremonies of the natives of Perth, in Western Australia:—

"Yen-na and Warrup, the brothers-in-law of Mulligo, were digging his grave, which, as usual, extended due east and west; the Perth boyl-ya, Weeban by name, who, being a relation of the deceased, could of course have had no hand in occasioning his death, superintended the operations. They commenced by digging with their sticks and hands several holes in a straight line, and as deep as they could; they then united them and threw out the earth from the bottom of the pit thus made. All the white sand was thrown carefully into two heaps, nearly in the form of a European grave, and these heaps were situated one at the head and the other at the foot of the hole they, were digging, whilst the dirty colored sand was thrown into two other heaps, one on each side. The grave was very narrow, only just wide enough to admit the body of the deceased. Old