Page:Aboriginesofvictoria01.djvu/203

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121
DEATH, AND BURIAL OF THE DEAD.

who have partaken of the late deceased; the other men smearing themselves all over with white clay, to testify their grief. The grave is covered in with earth, and a large stack of wood placed over it. The first night after the burial the women dance round the grave, crying and screaming incessantly till sunrise, and so continue for a week or more. Should the weather be cold when a native dies, fires are lighted near the grave, so that the deceased may warm himself, and often they place food for him to eat. Invariably, after a death, they shift their camp, and never speak of or refer to the defunct."

In Fraser Island (Great Sandy Island), Queensland, they have strange methods of disposing of the dead. Old men, old women, and young women that are not fat, are rolled in their blankets or rugs, and buried in a grave which is dug to a depth of about four feet. They place a sheet of bark over the corpse, near the surface, to leave room, as they say, for the spirit or ghost (Mothar-mothar) to move about and come up.

When a young man dies, they first skin him, then cut off his flesh, which is placed on their spears to dry; the bones are then taken to pieces, the large ones are cut asunder, and the marrow emptied out. The various parts—skin, flesh, bones, &c.—are finally distributed among the kinsfolks, and carried about by them in their bags and baskets, as charms to ward off evil. When old and stale, they are placed up in trees, on boughs laid across for this purpose. Sometimes they burn the bones of the dead and carry the ashes about with them. Sometimes the dead bodies are placed (whole) in trees. They do not like to speak about the dead; among themselves, it is generally done in a sort of a whisper; and they are firm believers in ghosts.

There is great mourning and crying when a young man dies, and the female relatives cut themselves about in a frightful manner with shells, &c. But there is very little weeping or wailing when a woman or an old man dies.[1]

Capt. Grey, quoting Dr. Duncan, says that when a black of North Australia dies, or is killed, the body is buried in the earth, and at the end of five days it is dug up again, and the bones, &c., are wrapped up in the bark of trees, and these are carried about by the tribe.

At Cygnet Bay, an officer of the Beagle found a skeleton enveloped in three pieces of papyrus bark. All the bones were closely packed together, and the head surmounted the whole.

Comparing the modes of burial as practised by the Aborigines of Australia with those of other uncivilized races, there are so many customs and rites exactly the same, or similar, that we are not entitled to regard the Australian as peculiar in his habits. A stranger who sees a burial of an Australian black is apt to suppose that he has witnessed ceremonies unknown elsewhere. But, separated by wide seas and vast continents, there are other races who follow the like practices, and strangely even those of them which seem, before we reason as to the causes, absurd and inhuman. For instance, the avenging of the deceased man's blood—under the belief that sorcery has caused his death, and that stratagems and subtleties have been used by some enemy—a man of


  1. From information obtained through the Rev. L. Fison.