Page:The Aborigines of Australia (1988).djvu/32

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17
SYSTEM OF CHIEFSHIP.

that no regular system of chiefship prevails among the aborigines receives authority from many facts. In all accounts of their wars and battles derived from various sources, the absence of any allusions to a recognized chief or leader, exercising a supreme and decided command, is striking. Great warriors they certainly have, who on such occasions take prominent positions and play conspicuous parts; but that such exercise any authority or influence over the acts or conduct of the others, except by a tacit understanding, there is reason to doubt. In some minute descriptions of their battles, related by eye-witnesses, the old women of the tribes are often made to occupy the position of chiefs in command on such occasions, stepping in front of the opposing lines, armed with spear and shield, haranguing the warriors in the most animating terms, working themselves into a frightful state of excitement, and ending their parts by hurling their weapons at the ranks of the enemy—thus giving the signal for the general onslaught. Many other particulars could be adduced to show that among the aborigines authority of a fixed and definite character, whether centred in individuals of the body or contained in some well known and well-established laws, is altogether wanting. The mere suggestions of instinct and the most palpable laws of nature alone seem to have any weight amongst them. This absence of authority is also manifested strongly in all their social relations; but in none more strikingly than in their system of courtship and matrimony, the future wife being in almost every