The aboriginal funeral ceremonies vary somewhat in different parts of the Continent, as may be well supposed over such a vast area.
For the readers' information on this lugubrious subject, I will set down briefly two or three description; culled from various sources.
The first funeral we will refer to took place at Perth in June, 1839. There were but few men present, as they were watching the widows in Perth. The two
blackboys, Yeuna and Warrup, were digging the grave, which, as usual, extended east and west. They commenced by digging with their sticks and hands several holes in a straight line, and then united them. All the white sand was thrown carefully into two heaps, and these heaps were situated one at the head and the other at the foot of the hole, whilst the dirty coloured sand was thrown into two other heaps, one on each side. The grave was very narrow, just wide enough to admit the body. During the process of digging--an insect having been thrown up--its motions were watched with intense interest, and as it thought proper to crawl off in the direction of Guildford, strong proof was furnished that the sorcerer resided there; for as I have already said, there must be a sorcerer somewhere to account for a death. When the grave was completed, they set fire to some dried leaves and twigs, and throwing them in, soon had a large blaze. Old Weeban knelt on the ground at the foot of the grave, his head bowed to the earth in profound attention. He was watching to discover in which direction the "boyl-yas," or the aforesaid sorcerer, when drawn from the earth by the fire, would take flight.
At last he indicated a due east direction with his spear, and a smile of satisfaction irradiated the faces of the young men, for they knew that it was towards Guildford they must go to avenge the foul witchcraft which had slain their brother-in-law.
The next part of the proceedings was to take the body from the females. They raised it in a cloak, the poor old mother making no objection to the removal,
but passionately kissing the cold rigid lips, which she could never press again. The corpse was then lowered into the grave, and seated upon a bed of leaves, which had been laid there directly the fire was extinguished, the face being turned towards the east. The women grouped together, sobbed forth their mournful songs, Whilst the men placed small green boughs upon the body, until they had more than half filled up the, grave. Then cross pieces of wood were fixed in the opposite sides of the grave, green boughs were placed on these, and the earth from the two side heaps thrown in until the grave was completed, which then, owing to the heaps at the head and foot, presented the appearance of three graves nearly similar in size and form lying due east and west.
The men having completed their task, the women came with bundles of blackboy-tops which they had gathered, and laid these down on the central heap, so as to give it a green and exceedingly pleasing appearance. So much for the first funeral.
The corpse at another obsequy (this time on the Vasse River), was that of a native herdsman, who had been murdered. His master writes:--"The funeral was a wild and fearful ceremony. Before I had finished in the stock-yard, the dead man was already removed and on its way to the place of interment, about a quarter of a mile distant. I was guided to the spot by the shrill wailing of the females, as they followed mourning after the two men who bore the body in their arms. The dirge, as distance blended all the voices, was very plaintive, nor did the distance destroy the harmony. Some
of the chants were really beautiful; but, perhaps, rather harsh for our ears. They produced a terrible jarring on my brain, and caused tears to flow even from the eyes of children, who knew little of the cause of the lament.
At length the procession reached the place, and there was a short silence. When the body touched the ground a piercing shriek was given; and, as this died away into a chant, some of the elder women lacerated their scalps with sharp bones, until the blood ran down their faces in streams. The eldest of the bearers stepped forward and proceeded to dig the grave. I offered to dig the grave, but they refused: the digging stick was the proper tool. When with this the earth was loosened, it was thrown out in showers with the hands, forming, in the same line with the grave, two elongated banks.
At length the grave was finished, and they then threw some dry leaves into it and kindled a fire. When this had burnt, they placed the corpse beside the grave and gashed their thighs saying--
"I have brought blood!"
They stamped their feet forcibly on the ground while repeating this, and splashed the blood around them. Then, wiping their wounds with wisps of grass, they took up the dead man. A loud scream ensued, and they gently lowered the body into the grave, resting it on the back.
After that they filled up the grave with soft brushwood, and piled logs on this to a considerable height; after which they constructed a hut over the top of the wood work. Thus ended the funeral number two.
The third, and closing account, I take from the sketch of a funeral at King George's Sound.
The death ceremonies in the neighbourhood of King George's Sound are invariably accompanied by specially loud lamentations. A grave is dug about four feet long and three wide, and perhaps also a yard in depth. The earth that is removed is arranged on one side, in the form of a crescent. At the bottom of the hole is placed some bark, and then some green boughs; and upon this is laid the body, ornamented and enveloped in its cloak, with the knees bent up to the breast, and the arms crossed. Over the body are heaped more green boughs and bark, and the whole is then filled in with earth. Green boughs are finally placed over the earth, and upon these are deposited the spears, knife, and hammer of the deceased, together with the ornaments that belonged to him; his throwing-stick on one side and his kiley and dowak on the other side of the mound. The mourners then carve circles in the bark of the trees that grow near the rave and lastly, making a small fire in front, they gather small boughs, and carefully brush away any portion of earth that may adhere to them. Their faces are coloured black or white in blotches across the fore. head, round the temple, and down the cheek bones; and these marks are worn as mourning for a considerable time. They also cut the end of the nose, and scratch it for the purpose of producing tears.
There is thus, it will be seen, considerable diversity in the burial rites of the different tribes. One point, however, which they all appear to attend to, is the careful
investigation regarding the boyl-yas, or sorcerer, who has caused the death. They are always objects of mysterious dread, having power, they believe, to transport themselves through the air in invisible form. Sometimes another monster is to blame, called the wan-gul. It resides in fresh water, and usually attacks females, who pine away and die under its baleful influence.