Page:Dawson - Australian aborigines (1900).djvu/56

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AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINES.

Malformations, however, were so rare before the arrival of the white man that no instances could be remembered. When a woman has children too rapidly for the convenience and necessities of the parents, she makes up her mind to let one be killed, and consults with her husband which it is to be. As the strength of a tribe depends more on males than females, the girls are generally sacrificed. The child is put to death and buried, or burned without ceremony; not, however, by its father or mother, but by relatives. No one wears mourning for it. Sickly children are never killed on account of their bad health, and are allowed to die naturally.

No attention is paid to nævus marks on infants—which, in the aborigines show darker in colour than the surrounding skin—as these marks are attributed by them, not to the spells of enemies, but to frights, falls, or blows sustained by the mother.

Mischievous and thievish children are not personally punished by the individuals whom they may injure, as that would lead to quarrels, but the parents are held responsible; and, should they refuse redress, they are dealt with according to the laws of the tribe.

Every person speaks the tribal language of the father, and must never mix it with any other. The mother of a child is the only exception to this law, for, in talking to it, she must use its father's language as far as she can, and not her own. At the same time, she speaks to her husband in her own tribal language, and he speaks to her in his; so that all conversation is carried on between husband and wife in the same way as between an Englishman and a Frenchwoman, each speaking his or her own language. This very remarkable law explains the preservation of so many distinct dialects within so limited a space, even where there are no physical obstacles to ready and frequent communication between the tribes. The only explanation which is given by the aborigines for this law is, that the attempt of one tribe to speak or to intone the language of another is a caricature of it, and is never made except in derision, with the intention of provoking a quarrel. Since the arrival of the Europeans this law has, to a certain extent, been disregarded, and individuals are now to be found who can speak three distinct languages, besides their own, and also very correct English. Yarruum Parpurr Tarneen, the very intelligent chiefess of the Morpor tribe, is an instance of this; and she states that there are only four languages between Geelong and the South Australian boundary that she does not understand.