Page:Native Tribes of South-East Australia.djvu/773

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XII
747
VARIOUS CUSTOMS

by tying a cobweb round it. When the joint mortifies, the hand is held in an ant-bed for an hour or so, for the joint to be eaten off. This is the fishing branch of the tribe, and this is done to distinguish its women from those of the other branches. It is not done to give them any power of catching fish.[1]

This practice of mutilating the little finger of the woman's hand is recorded by Mr. H. E. Aldridge as obtaining far along the coast both north and south of Maryborough, and, according to him, it always indicated a coast woman. But the custom has evidently a much wider range, for in writing about the Port Stephens tribe, Mr. Robert Dawson says, "A mother amputates the little finger of the right hand of one of her female children as soon as it is born, in token of its appointment to the office of fisher-woman to the family."[2]

In the Dalebura tribe several instances were noticed in which the little finger of the left hand had been severed at the second joint, but no reason for it could be ascertained.[3]

The Children

A Bunya-Bunya woman practises the following custom on her little boy. She lays him on his back on the ground, puts her two hands on his shoulders and pulls his hands gently down to his heels, making a peculiar clucking noise with her mouth. This is to make him grow, and is done three or four times a day, especially when he wakes in the morning. A woman with a boy child on her lap or close to her is liable to severe punishment if she does not see that the child is turned away from a man who is walking towards it. Should she not be looking, and a man is coming towards the front of the boy, the man will stop and say pretty sharply, "Turn that boy!" and the woman at once turns the boy with his back to the approaching man. This is to prevent illness, the man being supposed to be able, if he wishes, to put a "stone" into any one. A woman will also rub her hand under her arm and then rub her son's

  1. Tom Petrie
  2. Op. cit. p. 314.
  3. R. Christison.