Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/1007

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
ABORIGINES]
957
AUSTRALIA

no longer appear. The ingenuity of the race is mostly exhibited in the manufacture of their weapons of warfare and the chase. While the use of the bow and arrow does not seem to have occurred to them, the spear and axe are in general use, commonly made of hard-wood; the hatchets of stone, and the javelins pointed with stone or bone. The characteristic weapon of the Australian is the boomerang (q.v.). Their nets, made by women, either of the tendons of animals or the fibres of plants, will catch and hold the kangaroo or the emu, or the very large fish of Australian rivers. Canoes of bent bark, for the inland waters, are hastily prepared at need; but the inlets and straits of the north-eastern sea-coast are navigated by larger canoes and rafts of a better construction. As to food, they are omnivorous. In central Queensland and elsewhere, snakes, both venomous and harmless, are eaten, the head being first carefully smashed to pulp with a stone.

The tribal organization of the Australians was based on that of the family. There were no hereditary or formally elected chiefs, nor was there any vestige of monarchy. The affairs of a tribe were ruled by a council of men past Tribal organization. middle age. Each tribe occupied a recognized territory, averaging perhaps a dozen square miles, and used a common dialect. This district was subdivided between the chief heads of families. Each family, or family group, had a dual organization which has been termed (1) the Social, (2) the Local. The first was matriarchal, inheritance being reckoned through the mother. No territorial association was needed. All belonged to the same totem or totemic class, and might be scattered throughout the tribe, though subject to the same marriage laws. The second was patriarchal and of a strictly territorial nature. A family or group of families had the same hunting-ground, which was seldom changed, and descended through the males. Thus, the sons inherited their fathers’ hunting-ground, but bore their mothers’ name and therewith the right to certain women for wives. The Social or matriarchal took precedence of the Local or patriarchal organization. In many cases it arranged the assemblies and ceremonial of the tribe; it regulated marriage, descent and relationship; it ordered blood feuds, it prescribed the rites of hospitality and so on. Nevertheless the Local side of tribal life in time tended to overwhelm the Social and to organize the tribe irrespective of matriarchy, and inclined towards hereditary chieftainship.

The most intricate and stringent rules existed as to marriage within and without the totemic inter-marrying classes. There is said to be but one exception to the rule that marriage must be contracted outside the totem name. This exception was discovered by Messrs Spencer and Gillen among the Arunta of central Australia, some allied septs, and their nearest neighbours to the north, the Kaitish. This tribe may legally marry within the totem, but always avoids such unions. Even in casual amours these class laws were invariably observed, and the young man or woman who defied them was punished, he with death, she with spearing or beating. At the death of a man, his widows passed to his brother of the same totem class. Such a system gave to the elder men of a tribe a predominant position, and generally respect was shown to the aged. Laws and penalties in protection of property were enforced by the tribe. Thus, among some tribes of Western Australia the penalty for abducting another’s wife was to stand with leg extended while each male of the tribe stuck his spear into it. Laws, however, did not protect the women, who were the mere chattels of their lords. Stringent rules, too, governed the food of women and the youth of both sexes, and it was only after initiation that boys were allowed to eat of all the game the forest provided. In every case of death from disease or unknown causes sorcery was suspected and an inquest held, at which the corpse was asked by each relative in succession the name of the murderer. This formality having been gone through, the flight of the first bird which passed over the body was watched, the direction being regarded as that in which the sorcerer must be sought. Sometimes the nearest relative sleeps with his head on the corpse, in the belief that he will dream of the murderer. The most sacred duty an Australian had to perform was the avenging of the death of a kinsman, and he was the object of constant taunts and insults till he had done so. Cannibalism was almost universal, either in the case of enemies killed in battle or when animal food was scarce. In the Luritcha tribe it was customary when a child was in weak health to kill a younger and healthy one and feed the weakling on its flesh. Cannibalism seems also to have sometimes been in the nature of a funeral observance, in honour of the deceased, of whom the relatives reverently ate portions.

They had no special forms of religious worship, and no idols. The evidence on the question of whether they believed in a Supreme Being is very contradictory. Messrs Spencer and Gillen appear to think that such rudimentary idea Religion. of an All-Father as has, it is thought, been detected among the blackfellows is an exotic growth fostered by contact with missionaries. A. W. Howitt and Dr Roth appear to have satisfied themselves of a belief, common to most tribes, in a mythic being (he has different names in different tribes) having some of the attributes of a Supreme Deity. But Mr Howitt finds in this being “no trace of a divine nature, though under favourable conditions the beliefs might have developed into an actual religion.” Other authorities suggest that it is going much too far to deny the existence of religion altogether, and instance as proof of the divinity of the supra-normal anthropomorphic beings of the Baiame class, the fact that the Yuin and cognate tribes dance around the image of Daramulun (their equivalent of Baiame) and the medicine men “invocate his name.” A good deal perhaps depends on each observer’s view of what religion really is. The Australians believed in spirits, generally of an evil nature, and had vague notions of an after-life. The only idea of a god known to be entertained by them seems to be that of the Euahlayi and Kamilaori tribe, Baiame, a gigantic old man lying asleep for ages, with his head resting on his arm, which is deep in the sand. He is expected one day to awake and eat up the world. Researches go to show that Baiame has his counterpart in other tribes, the myth varying greatly in detail. But the Australians are distinguished by possessing elaborate initiatory ceremonies. Circumcision of one or two kinds was usual in the north and south, but not in Western Australia or on the Murray river. In South Australia boys had to undergo three stages of initiation in a place which women were forbidden to approach. At about ten they were covered with blood from head to foot, several elder men bleeding themselves for the purpose. At about twelve or fourteen circumcision took place and (or sometimes as an alternative on the east coast) a front tooth was knocked out, to the accompaniment of the booming of the bullroarer (q.v.). At the age of puberty the lad was tattooed or scarred with gashes cut in back, shoulders, arms and chest, and the septum of the nose was pierced. The gashes varied in patterns for the different tribes. Girls, too, were scarred at puberty and had teeth knocked out, &c. The ceremonies—known to the Whites under the native generic term for initiatory rites, Bora,—were much the same throughout Australia. Polygamy was rare, due possibly to the scarcity of women.[1] Infanticide was universally recognized. The mode of disposing of the dead varied. Among some tribes a circular grave was dug and the body placed in it with its face towards the east, and a high mound covered with bark or thatch raised over it. In New South Wales the body is often burned and the ashes buried. On the Lower Murray the body is placed on a platform of sticks and left to decay. Young children are often not buried for months, but are carried about by their mothers. At the funeral of men there is much mourning, the female relatives cutting or tearing their hair off and plastering their faces with clay, but for women no public ceremonies took place.

The numbers of the native Australians are steadily diminishing. It was estimated that when first visited by Europeans the native

  1. The existence of “Group Marriage” is a much-controverted point. This custom, which has been defined as the invasion of actual marriage by allotting permanent paramours, is confined to a special set of tribes.