Page:The aborigines of Australia.djvu/140

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SORCERY. 127

remote period — intended as a sacrifice to a superior being, or as a propitiatory offering to the only spiritual being at present known to them — the spirit of evil; and the restriction of the ceremony to females may be explained by supposing that it is intended to counter- balance the loss of a front tooth among the male portion of the tribes, as before described. This may be the more readily believed as the knocking out of the tooth, which takes place at a mature age, is a much more painful operation than the excision of a joint of the finger when performed during infancy.

The practice of sorcery and incantations among the New Hollanders is attested by all who have had any degree of intercourse with them, being exhibited to travellers, on their first interviews with the aborigines, in a somewhat amusing manner. Thus, a party travelling in the far interior once came suddenly on a tribe of blacks who had never before been in close contact with Europeans. The latter, terrified at the appearance of the strangers with their horses, hastily collecting their gear, darted into the bush, in the depths of which they were soon effectually concealed and fortified. It being near evening the travellers prepared to encamp for the night, and having erected their tents and lighted their fires, were expending an hour in conversation previous to retiring to rest. Presently a slight rustling was heard among the surrounding brushwood, and the travellers, apprehensive of a hostile visit from the people whom they had previously so unceremoniously disturbed, grasped their arms,