Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/199

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117
DEATH, AND BURIAL OF THE DEAD.

hands, which rested on one end of a meerro, whilst the other was placed on the ground."

The following suggestive and highly interesting account of the ceremonies of the blacks of the Vasse River, in Western Australia, as described by Mr. Bussel in Capt. Grey's work, is valuable:—

"The funeral is a wild and fearful ceremony. Before I had finished in the stockyard, the dead man was already removed, and on its way to the place of interment, about a quarter of a mile from the place where the death took place, and I left our house, entirely guided by the shrill wailing of the female natives, as they followed, mourning, after the two men who bore the body in their arms. The dirge, as distance blended all the voices, was very plaintive—even musical; nor did the diminution of distance destroy the harmony entirely. Some of the chants were really beautiful, but rendered perhaps too harsh for our ears, in actual contact; for as I joined myself to the procession, and became susceptible of the trembling cadence of each separate performer—the human voice in every key which the extremes of youth and age might produce—there was a sensation effected which I cannot well describe—a terrible jarring of the brain. The fact that the involuntary tears rolled down the cheeks of those infants who sat passively on their mothers' shoulders, not appreciating the cause of lament, but merely as listeners, must prove that these sounds are calculated to affect the nervous system powerfully. The procession moved slowly on, and at length arrived at the place fixed upon for the burial. There had been a short silence previous to coming thus far, as if to give the voice a rest; for as the body touched the ground, and the bearers stood erect and silent, a piercing shriek was given, and as this died away into a chant, some of the elder women lacerated their scalps with sharp bones, until the blood ran down their furrowed faces in actual streams. The eldest of the bearers then stepped forward and proceeded to dig the grave. I offered to get a spade, but they would not have it; the digging-stick was the proper tool, which they used with greater despatch than from its imperfect nature could have been expected at first sight. The earth, being loosened with this implement, was then thrown out with the hands with great dexterity, in complete showers, so as to form, in the same line with the grave, at both ends, two elongated banks, the sand composing them so lightly hurled as to seem almost like drift sand on the sea-shore. In the throw, if perchance the right limit was out-stepped, the proper form was retained by sweeping. The digging, notwithstanding the art displayed, was very tedious; they all sat in silence, and there were no chants to understand, or to fancy one understood, or perhaps to make meanings to. But at length the grave was finished, and they then threw some dry leaves into it, and setting fire to them, while the blaze was rising up, every one present struck repeatedly a bundle of spears with the mearu, which they held with the butts downwards, making a rattling noise; then, when the fire had burnt out, they placed the corpse beside the grave, and gashed their thighs, and at the flowing of the blood they all said, 'I have brought blood,' and then stamped the foot forcibly on the ground, sprinkling the blood around them; then, wiping the wounds with a wisp of leaves, they threw it, bloody as it was, on the dead man; then a loud scream