Page:Native Tribes of South-East Australia.djvu/532

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506
CH.
NATIVE TRIBES OF SOUTH-EAST AUSTRALIA

from the term which Spencer and Gillen have given as Alcheringa, or the Alcheringa ancestors. Such being the case, how is it, if we are to assume that the All-father belief in the south-east has been due to missionary teachings, that there has not been a similar adoption of it by the western tribes?

If I am correct in saying that the Kurnai belief in Mungan-ngaua is aboriginal, then the similar beliefs of the other coast tribes may also be accepted.

It seems to be usually assumed from the evidences, for instance, of tribes like those of Fiji that ancestor worship has been at the root of primitive religions; but Australian evidence seems to carry us back to a stage before ancestors came to be worshipped, although they were looked upon as having been greater and wiser than their descendants, the present race. This is very evident from the account given by Spencer and Gillen of the Arunta and other tribes having kindred beliefs. I find that among the Lake Eyre tribes it was not the ancestors but a supernatural human race, antecedent to them, who are seen in myth and tradition to have been similarly superior to their successors. Here there is even less of a possible approach to ancestor worship than with the Arunta.

In the tribes of South-east Australia the ancestors appear in the guise of totems or theriomorphic human beings, in some respects resembling both the Alcheringa ancestors and the Mura-muras. But it must be remembered that in these tribes there has been a clearly marked advance in the status of society, from group marriage to a form of individual marriage, from descent in the female to the male line, and from a society organised on the class systems to one based on locality. Here, as I have now shown, the tribe living on the earth is represented by the tribe of the dead, living in the sky-country, but also able to visit the earth, and with a Headman who is spoken of as "father" by the natives from the Murray mouth in South Australia to the Herbert River in North-eastern Queensland.

In this being, although supernatural, there is no trace of a divine nature. All that can be said of him is that he is