The women at this stage cease their lamentations—and all thoughts are directed to the result, the thoughts even of those who cannot see but yet know that a solemn enquiry has been commenced.
As soon as the trench is finished, the doctor and the old men examine it. If an aperture or hole or excavation made by some insect or worm be found in the trench, and if that correspond with some other hole between the trench and the dead body, a connection between them is sought for. A straw or a small reed is used to discover the connection, and if it be determined, their future proceedings are settled; but if that cannot conveniently be done, a line is drawn from the corpse to the aperture in the trench.
In some such way a line is finally drawn, and to whatever point of the horizon it is directed, there must the avengers go to get the kidney-fat of the slayer of their friend. They must bring back to the tribe not only the kidney-fat, but the kidneys and a piece of the flank of the murderer, as a peace offering. By the depth of the aperture in the trench the doctor knows and tells the avengers how far they must travel to find the sorcerer who has caused the death of their friend.
- This belief in sorcery is firmly implanted in the minds of all the Aboriginal natives of Australia, and the customs arising out of the belief are various. Mr. Samuel Gason finds a curious form of superstition in the Cooper's Creek district. He says that the natives attribute great power to a bone—Mookooellie-duckana (literally, Mookoo, bone; and duckana, strike); the compound word signifying struck by a bone.
As soon as a native becomes at all unwell, fears are entertained that some enemy has used the power of the bone to his injury, and the council of old men assemble to ascertain who is the guilty person.
"Should the patient remain a considerable time without a change, or his malady increase, his wife, if he have one—or if he have not, the wife of his nearest relative—is ordered to proceed to the person who is supposed to have caused the sickness. She does so, accompanied by her paramour, and on arrival immediately makes a few presents to the person suspected of her relative's illness, but makes no accusation against him, contenting herself with simply stating that her relative is fallen ill, and is not expected to recover; whereupon he sympathises with her, and expresses a hope that the invalid will soon be well again. He knows, however, perfectly well, though not accused, that he is suspected of having caused the malady; and, on the following morning, acquaints the woman that she can return to her relative, as he would draw all power away from the bone by steeping it in water. Accordingly, the woman carries back the joyful tidings that she has seen the party who has the bone, and he has promised to take all the power out of it. Now, should the invalid happen to die, and be a person of any influence, the man who acknowledged to having the bone is murdered on the first opportunity. Men threaten their wives (should they do anything wrong) with the bone, causing such dread in their wives, that mostly, instead of having a salutary effect, it causes them to hate their husbands. The bone is not an ordinary one, but the small bone of the human leg; and one of every two of the natives is charged with having one in his possession wherever he may go; but, in my own experience, I have never seen more than a dozen, and those at one of their ceremonies; as, for instance, when the whole tribe desire to kill at a distance—say from fifty to one hundred miles—some influential man of another tribe, they order several of the old men to despoil the dead—that is, to take the small leg-bones from many skeletons. Of these, the relics of their own tribe, they take from three to eight, which they wrap in fat and emu feathers; all the most noted men of the tribe taking them and pointing towards the place where their intended victim is supposed to reside, while doing which they curse the man they desire to kill, naming the death they would wish him. All present are bound to secrecy, and the ceremony lasts about an hour. Should they learn, after a few weeks, that the man they destine to destruction is alive and hearty, they account for it by supposing that some one of the tribe of the person cursed had stopped the power of the bone. So strongly are men, women, and children convinced of the power of the bone, that no reasoning can shake their belief."