Page:Ethnological studies (Roth).djvu/9

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PREFACE.

Since 1894 my tenure of office as Surgeon to the Boulia, Cloncurry, and Normanton Hospitals, respectively, has afforded unrivalled opportunities for making inquiry into the language, customs, and habits of the North-West-Central Queensland aboriginals. The following pages embody the notes collected during that period.

At Boulia, where strictly professional work was conspicuous by its absence, almost my whole time was devoted to a careful study of the local (Pitta-Pitta) language: only when this was sufficiently mastered did I find it possible to understand the complex system of social and individual nomenclature in vogue, and ultimately to gain such amount of confidence and trust among the natives as enabled me to obtain information concerning various superstitions, beliefs, and ceremonial rites which otherwise would in all probability have been withheld. To any future observers of, and writers on, the Queensland aboriginal, I would most strongly recommend this method of making themselves familiar with the particular language of the district before proceeding to make any further inquiries.

I would also draw the attention of the reader to the chapter on the Sign Language, which I first accidentally hit upon at Roxburgh Downs, on the Upper Georgina, I was out on horseback one day with some blacks when one of the "boys" riding by my side suddenly asked me to halt, as a mate of his in front was after some emus, consisting of a hen-bird and her young progeny. As there had been, apparently to me, no communication whatsoever between the boy in front and the one close to me, separated as they were by a distance of quite 150 yards, I naturally concluded that my informant was uttering a falsehood, and told him so in pretty plain terms, with the result that, after certain mutual recriminations, he explained on his hands how he had received the information, the statement to be shortly afterwards confirmed by the arrival of the lad himself with the dead bird and some of her young in question. The reported use of "masonic" signs attributed to the blacks by Captain Sturt, who had been in close proximity to these districts some half a century ago, immediately flashed across my mind, and the possibility of such signs being ideagrams, the actual expressions of ideas, led me on step by step to making a study of what I subsequently discovered to be an actual well-defined sign-language, extending throughout the entire North-West-Central districts of Queensland. It may be interesting to note that I have during the past few months discovered traces of a gesture-language, with some of the ideagrams expressed by identical signs, in the coastal district around Rockhampton.

The pronunciation of all aboriginal words from Chapter IV. onwards will be found in the Index and Glossary.

With regard to the chapter on Ethno-pornography, I am well aware that it is far from suitable for the general lay reader; the subject matter, however, being essential to a scientific account of these aboriginals, I have decided upon