Page:The aborigines of Australia.djvu/138

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aboriginal inhabitants of America. This custom consists in the amputation of the little finger of the left hand. Among the New Hollanders the operation is confined to the females, and is performed during the infant years, being technically called "malgun" by the Port Jackson blacks when first observed by the European settlers. The true meaning or origin of this mutilation has never been properly explained, although numerous conjectures have been hazarded on the point. Like many other customs, not alone among the aborigines of Australia, but among barbarous nations of a much higher standing, the cause or object of the practice is utterly forgotten or unknown among the tribes by whom it is practised; or, if known to some of the sages, is kept a secret with scrupulous care. A somewhat ostensible though not very erudite method of solving the mystery, discovered by some Europeans, consists in the supposition that the small finger of the left hand of all females was amputated for the purpose of affording greater facility in winding up the lines which the aboriginal women exclusively use in fishing, and which they coil up on the left hand when their labour is done. In this latter process no doubt the absence of the little finger, or a portion of it, may be an advantage; but that the advantage is the cause of the finger being removed is a supposition which closely approximates to absurdity. It would, moreover, be attributing to the New Hollander a degree of wanton cruelty which would be hardly credible, to