Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/698

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680
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINES.
By GABRIEL MARCEL.

THE recent work by Mr. Brough Smyth relative to the aborigines of the colony of Victoria contains also many curious details respecting the manners and customs of the natives of other parts of Australia. It is evident that the native race is not everywhere equally pure. In the northern part of the continent traces may be observed of immigrations in earlier times of Papuans from New Guinea; of Chinese, whose visits are attested by the lacquered articles, cotton cloths, bamboos, etc., which have been found in the hands of the natives; and of the Malays, who have frequented the northwest coasts for fishing from time immemorial. Nevertheless, the figures of the natives, their arms, their workmanship, have everywhere a strikingly uniform character. Their numbers have fallen off very fast in the face of the extension of the white settlements, partly on account of the fierce wars that have prevailed between them and the colonists, but more in consequence of the inroads of the vices and maladies which they have contracted from the whites. The missionaries have been able to make but small headway in their efforts to convert them, and have exerted no appreciable effect in staying the progress of extermination. Recently the Government has established a bureau for their protection, has allotted lands to them, and opened schools for them, and the few of them that are left enjoy at least a promise of better times.

The disappearance of the Australian race has been promoted by certain peculiarities of its own, among which are the

Fig. 1.
PSM V19 D698 Aboriginal stone hatchet.jpg

belief that no person can die a natural death, and the general practice of infanticide. When a member of a family is about to die, the natives believe it is the result of witchcraft practiced by some neighboring tribe. The relatives of the deceased arm themselves at once, and follow the course that is taken by the first insect or fly that they see light upon the grave of the deceased. It is not from any lack of affection that the mother kills her child, but most frequently because it is impossible to give it food, or because it cries too much, or is stupid, or deformed, or weak; and, along with this incomprehensible hardness of heart, these savages give to their children numerous marks of affection. The same man who will half kill a girl to make her his wife will protect her and love her tenderly after she has submitted to his will. The part of the wife is far from being agreeable. The slave of her husband, she has to carry, besides her child, all the burdens when they travel, to do the hard work, and be ready at any moment to obey the orders of her