The Native Tribes of North Central Australia, by Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen , at sacred-texts.com
General description of Churinga—Mystery attached to their use—Finding of the Churinga when the child is born—The Nanja tree or stone—Relationship between an individual and his Nanja—The Ertnatulunga or sacred storehouse; its sanctity—The earliest rudiment of the idea of a city of refuge—The spirit part placed in the Churinga undergoes reincarnation—The Tundun in the case of the Jeraeil of the Kurnai tribe is associated with a great ancestor—No association between the spirit part of the living man and his Churinga, but between the Arumburinga, the spirit double of the man, and the Churinga—The giving of a sacred or Churinga name—Reticence with regard to secret names—The showing of his Churinga Nanja to a man—Examination of the Churinga at the Ertnatulunga—Ceremony concerned with telling a man his Churinga name—Exact contents of an Ertnatulunga—The term “message-stick” misleading as applied to the Churinga—Descriptions of particular Churinga, and explanation of the designs upon them—Resemblance between the initiation rites and Churinga of the Central tribes and those of Central Queensland, described by Mr. Roth—Absence of stone Churinga amongst southern groups—Ownership of the Churinga—Extinction and subsequent resuscitation of a local totemic group—The Churinga taken charge of by another group—Examples of extinction of local totemic groups—The Churinga are under the charge of the Alatunja—Inheritance of Churinga of men and women—Various forms of Churinga—The Churinga of the Kaitish and Waagai tribes—The borrowing and returning of Churinga; ceremonies attendant upon the same.
CHURINGA is the name given by the Arunta natives to certain sacred objects which, on penalty of death or very severe punishment, such as blinding by means of a fire-stick, are never allowed to be seen by women or uninitiated men. The term is applied, as we shall see later, to various objects associated with the totems, but of these the greater number belong to that class of rounded, oval or elongate, flattened stones and slabs of wood of very various sizes, to the smaller ones of which the name of bull-roarer is commonly applied.
The importance and use of these in various ceremonies such as those attendant upon initiation of the young men, was p. 129 p. 130 first shown in Australia by Messrs. Howitt and Fison, and since then they have been repeatedly referred to by other writers.
Amongst the aborigines of the Centre, as indeed everywhere else where they are found, considerable mystery is attached to their use—a mystery which has probably had a large part of its origin in the desire of the men to impress the women of the tribe with an idea of the supremacy and superior power of the male sex. From time immemorial myths and superstitions have grown up around them, until now it is difficult to say how far each individual believes in what, if the expression may be allowed, he must know to be more or less of a fraud, but in which he implicitly thinks that the other natives believe.
Whilst living in close intercourse with the natives, spending the days and nights amongst them in their camps while they were preparing for and then enacting their most sacred ceremonies, and talking to them day after day, collectively and individually, we were constantly impressed with the idea, as probably many others have been before, that one blackfellow will often tell you that he can and does do something magical, whilst all the time he is perfectly well aware that he cannot, and yet firmly believes that some other man can really do it. In order that his fellows may not be considered in this respect as superior to himself he is obliged to resort to what is really a fraud, but in course of time he may even come to lose sight of the fact that it is a fraud which he is practising upon himself and his fellows. At all events, and especially in connection with the Churinga, there are amongst the Australian natives beliefs which can have had no origin in fact, but which have gradually grown up until now they are implicitly held. It is necessary to realise this aspect of the native mind in order to understand the influence which some of their oldest and most sacred beliefs and customs have upon their lives.
We may say at once that the Churinga are one and all connected with the totems, and that the word signifies a sacred object, sacred because it is thus associated with the totems and may never be seen except upon very rare occasions, p. 131 p. 132 and then only in the distance and indistinctly by women and uninitiated men.
In the last chapter we described the association between men of the Alcheringa and their Churinga. We saw that each spirit individual was closely bound up with his Churinga, which he carried with him as he wandered about his ancestral home, the Oknanikilla, or rested on the Nanja tree or stone which he is supposed especially to frequent.
The tradition of the natives is that when the spirit child goes inside a woman the Churinga is dropped. When the child is born the mother tells the father the position of the tree or rock near to which she supposes the child to have entered her, and he, together with one or two of the older men, who are close relatives of the man, and of whom the father of the latter is usually one, and also an elder brother of the father, goes to the locality, at once if it be near at hand, or when opportunity offers if it be distant, and searches for the dropped Churinga. The latter is usually, but not always, supposed to be a stone one marked with a device peculiar to the totem of the spirit child and therefore of the newly-born one. Sometimes it is found, sometimes it is not. In the former case, which is stated to occur often, we must suppose that some old man—it is most often the Arunga or paternal grandfather who finds it—has provided himself with one for the occasion, which is quite possible, as Churinga belonging to their own totem are not infrequently carried about by the old men, who obtain them from the sacred storehouse in which they are kept. We questioned native after native on this subject—some of them had actually found such stones—but there was no shaking them in the firm belief that such a Churinga was always dropped by the spirit child whether it was found or not. If it cannot be found then they proceed to make a wooden one from the Mulga or other hard wood tree nearest to the Nanja, and to carve on it some device or brand peculiar to the totem.
Ever afterwards the Nanja tree or stone of the spirit is the Nanja of the child, and the Churinga is its Churinga nanja.
As might have been expected, there is a definite relationship supposed to exist between an individual and his Nanja p. 133 tree or stone. Whilst the belief is by no means general at the present time, there is at least one definite case known to us in which a blackfellow earnestly requested a white man not to cut down a particular tree because it was his Nanja tree, and he feared that if cut down some evil would befall him. Very possibly in times past this feeling was more widely prevalent than it is now. At the present time the special association between a man and his Nanja tree lies in the fact that every animal upon that tree is ekirinja or tabu to him. If an opossum or a bird be in the tree it is sacred and must not on any account be touched. There is no special ceremony performed by the individual in reference to his Nanja tree, but it is one in which he is supposed to have a special interest as having been the home of the spirit whose reincarnation he is.
In each Oknanikilla or local totem centre, there is a spot called by the natives the Ertnatulunga. This is, in reality, a sacred storehouse, which usually has the form of a small cave or crevice in some unfrequented spot amongst the rough hills and ranges which abound in the area occupied by the tribe. The entrance is carefully blocked up with stones so naturally arranged as not to arouse suspicion of the fact that they conceal from view the most sacred possessions of the tribe. In this, often carefully tied up in bundles, are numbers of the Churinga, and in one or other of these storehouses every member of the tribe, men and women alike, is represented by his or her Churinga nanja. When, after the birth of a child, one of the latter is found, or made, it is handed over to the headman of the local totem group within the district occupied by which the child was conceived, and is by him deposited in the Ertnatulunga.
The spot at which the child was born and brought up, and at which it will spend probably the greater part of its life, has nothing whatever to do with determining the resting place of the Churinga nanja. That goes naturally to the storehouse of the locality from which the spirit child came—that is to the spot where the Churinga was deposited in the Alcheringa. In the case, for example, which has already been quoted, in which a witchetty woman conceived a child in an emu p. 134 locality, twelve miles to the north of Alice Springs, the latter place being the woman's home, the child was born at the latter and lives there, but the Churinga nanja was found at the place of conception and is now deposited in the store-house of that group.
So far as the possession of Churinga nanja is concerned, men and women are alike, each possesses one or, as will be seen later, very rarely more than one. Whilst, however, there comes a time when each man is allowed to see and handle his, the women not only may never see them but, except in the case of the very old women, they are unaware of the existence of any such objects. Into the mysteries of the Ertnatulunga and its contents no woman dare pry at risk of death. The position of the Ertnatulunga—not their exact position, but their locality—is known to the women, who are obliged to go long distances round in order to avoid going anywhere near to them. One of these storehouses was on the side of a deep gap which, for several miles in either direction, is the only way of passing through the ranges which lie to the south of Alice Springs, and, until the advent of the white man, no woman was ever allowed to walk through the gap, but, if she wished to traverse the ranges, she had to climb the steep declivities in order to pass across, and this also at some distance from the gap. Even at the present day, unless in the company of a white man, she carefully avoids the side on which lies the cleft which serves as a store-house for Churinga, and it is only the presence of white men in this locality which has resulted in women being allowed to walk through the gap.
The immediate surroundings of one of these Ertnatulunga is a kind of haven of refuge for wild animals; once they come close to one of these they are safe, because any animal—emu or kangaroo or wallaby—which, when pursued, ran by instinct or by chance towards the Ertnatulunga was, when once it came close to it, tabu and safe from the spear of the pursuing native. Even the plants in the immediate vicinity of the spot are never touched or interfered with in any way.
The sanctity of the Ertnatulunga may be understood when it is remembered that it contains the Churinga, which are p. 135 associated not only with the living members of the tribe, but also with the dead ones. Indeed, many of the Churinga are those of special men of the Alcheringa, who, as tradition relates, wandered about and descended at these spots into the earth where their Churinga, the very ones which are now within the storehouse, remained associated with their spirit part. Each Churinga is so closely bound up with the spirit individual that it is regarded as its representative in the Ertnatulunga, and those of dead men are supposed to be endowed with the attributes of their owner and to actually impart these to the person who, for the time being, may, as when a fight takes place, be fortunate enough to carry it about with him. 1 The Churinga is supposed to endow the possessor with courage and accuracy of aim, and also to deprive his opponent of these qualities. So firm is their belief in this that if two men were fighting and one of them knew that the other carried a Churinga whilst he did not, he would certainly lose heart at once and without doubt be beaten.
The Ertnatulunga may be regarded as the early rudiment of a city or house of refuge. Everything in its immediate vicinity is sacred and must on no account be hurt; a man who was being pursued by others would not be touched so long as he remained at this spot. During the Engwura ceremony, when temporary storehouses were made to hold the large number of Churinga which were brought in to the ceremonial ground, and when, as always happens when men from different parts are assembled in large number, there arose any small quarrel, no display of arms was allowed anywhere near to the stores of Churinga. If the men wanted to quarrel they had to go right away from the Churinga stores.
The loss of Churinga is the most serious evil which could befall a group, but, though it might have been expected that
stealing them would have been resorted to in times of fighting between different groups, yet this does not seem to take place. This is probably to be accounted for in various ways. In the first place the exact spot, which is under the charge primarily of the headman of the group and of the older men associated with him, is only known to the initiated men of the group, all of whom are equally and deeply interested in keeping the secret. Beyond this any interference by a stranger would surely result sooner or later in the death of the latter. The knowledge also that retaliation of a similar kind would inevitably follow must have acted as a strong deterrent on any individual or group who was at all anxious to interfere with other peoples' Churinga. Whatever the reasons for it may be the fact remains that on the very few occasions on which we could find out that the Ertnatulunga had been robbed the aggressors were white men. On each occasion also the natives have attempted to kill the member of the tribe who had shown the spot to the white men, and would certainly have been successful in so doing but for the protection afforded to the guide by the latter. In the case of the removal of the Churinga from one of these Ertnatulunga, the men of the group to which they belonged stayed in camp for two weeks weeping and mourning over their loss and plastering themselves over with white pipeclay, the emblem of mourning for the dead.
Whilst, on the one hand, the Churinga seem to be safe from robbers, so far as the natives are concerned, on the other hand, as we shall see shortly, they are occasionally lent as an act of courtesy by one group to another friendly group.
We have already said that the original Churinga—that is those of the Alcheringa, with regard to the origin of which the natives have no tradition—are all, or at least the great majority of them, supposed to have been of stone. What was the origin of these we have been unable to determine; they were present in the Alcheringa, and behind that it is impossible to penetrate. Once we ventured to inquire whether there was no story relating how the Alcheringa men came to have them, but the mirth which the question provoked showed us that to the mind of the Arunta native the idea p. 137 of the possibility of anything before the Alcheringa was a ridiculous and an incomprehensible one. In this tribe “It was so in the Alcheringa” takes the place of the more usual form of expression: “Our fathers did it, and therefore we do it,” which is so constantly the only reply which the ethnological inquirer receives to the question: “Why?”
We have evidently in the Churinga belief a modification of the idea which finds expression in the folklore of so many peoples, and according to which primitive man, regarding his soul as a concrete object, imagines that he can place it in some secure spot apart, if needs be, from his body, and thus, if the latter be in any way destroyed, the spirit part of him still persists unharmed. The further extension of the idea according to which the spirit can undergo reincarnation is, at least so far as Australian tribes are known, a feature peculiar to the Central tribes. At the same time we are not without indications that possibly other tribes, though the system is not so highly developed as in the case of the Arunta, may to a certain extent associate with the bull-roarer the idea of the spirit part of some great ancestor. We are not referring to the fact that, as Mr. Howitt first showed, and as has since been abundantly verified by other workers, the women and children are taught to believe that the voice of the bull-roarer is that of some spirit such as Daramulun, but in Mr. Howitt's paper dealing with the Jeraeil of the Kurnai tribe 1 we meet with the still more suggestive fact that at a certain time during the initiation ceremonies the men who are in charge of the novices say to them, “This afternoon we will take you, and show your grandfather to you.” “This,” says Mr. Howitt, “is the cryptic phrase used to describe the central mystery, which in reality means the exhibition to the novices of the Tundun, and the revelation to them of ancestral beliefs.” The Tundun is the native name amongst the Kurnai for the bull-roarer. In this account we see, first, that the bull-roarer is identified with a man who is regarded as a great ancestor or Weitwin, that is father's father of the Kurnai. He it was who conducted the first ceremony of initiation, and he made the bull-roarer which
bears his name and also made another smaller one which represents his wife. It is quite possible that under a somewhat modified form we have in this legend of the Kurnai an expression of the same idea as that which has undergone still further development in the case of the tribes in the centre of the continent.
To return however to the Arunta. We meet in tradition with unmistakable traces of the idea that the Churinga is the dwelling place of the spirit of the Alcheringa ancestors. In one special group of Achilpa men, for example, the latter are reported to have carried about a sacred pole or Nurtunja with them during their wanderings. When they came to a camping place and went out hunting the Nurtunja was erected, and upon this the men used to hang their Churinga when they went out from camp, and upon their return they took them down again and carried them about. In these Churinga they kept, so says the tradition, their spirit part.
Whilst this is so with regard to the Alcheringa men and women it must be clearly pointed out that at the present day the Arunta native does not regard the Churinga as the abode of his own spirit part, placed in the Ertnatulunga for safe keeping. If anything happens to it—if it be stolen—he mourns over it deeply and has a vague idea that some ill may befall him, but he does not imagine that damage to the Churinga of necessity means destruction to himself. In the native mind the value of the Churinga, at the present day, whatever may have been the case in past time, lies in the fact that each one is intimately associated with, and is indeed the representative of, one of the Alcheringa ancestors, with the attributes of whom it is endowed. 1 When the spirit part has gone into a woman and a child has, as a result, been born, then that living child is the reincarnation of that particular spirit individual.
Not only does each member of the tribe have a Churinga nanja but, shortly after the birth of the child, the headman of
the particular group in whose Ertnatulunga the Churinga is deposited consults with the older men of the group and bestows upon him (and the same holds true in the case of a female child) his Aritna churinga, or secret name. 1 Every member of the tribe has his or her secret name, which may be either a new one or that of some celebrated man or woman of the Alcheringa whose name has been handed down in the traditions. This secret name is never uttered except upon the most solemn occasions when the Churinga are being examined, and that of any particular individual is only known to the fully initiated men of his own local totem group. To utter such a name in the hearing of women or of men of another group would be a most serious breach of tribal custom, as serious as the most flagrant case of sacrilege amongst white men. When mentioned at all it is only in a whisper, and then after taking the most elaborate precautions 2 lest it should be heard by anyone outside the members of his own group. The native thinks that a stranger knowing his secret name would have special power to work him ill by means of magic.
Before being allowed to see the Ertnatulunga the native must have passed through the ceremonies of circumcision and subincision, and have shown himself capable of self-restraint and of being worthy by his general demeanour to be admitted to the secrets of the tribe. If he be what the natives call irkun oknirra, that is, light and frivolous and too much given to chattering like a woman, it may be many years
before he is admitted to the secrets. When he is thought worthy of the honour, and at a time appointed by the Alatunja of the local group to which he belongs, he is taken, accompanied by the older men, to the Ertnatulunga. There he is shown the sacred Churinga which are examined carefully and reverently, one by one, while the old men tell him to whom they now belong or have belonged. While this is going on a low singing of chants referring to the Alcheringa is kept up, and at its close the man is told his Churinga name and cautioned against ever allowing any one, except the men of his own group, to hear it uttered. Then, at least in the witchetty group in which we have witnessed the performance, he is painted on the face and body with a kind of pinkish soapstone and red ochre by the Alatunja and the older men who stand to him in the relationship of Oknia, that is actual or tribal father. The pattern with which he is decorated represents the particular device belonging to the totem, and in this instance consisted of long parallel bands copied from the sacred painting which from time immemorial has existed on a smooth rock surface in the Emily gap, the local centre of the witchetty grub totem. When this has been done the party returns to camp and the painting is allowed to remain on the man's body until in course of time it wears off. The old women are aware that he has been to the Ertnatulunga, but even they have no idea of the nature of the ceremony, and to the younger ones it is still more a matter of deep mystery, for no women in the natural condition of the tribe dare go near to the gap in which is the sacred rock painting, and near to which lies the Ertnatulunga.
The exact contents of the Ertnatulunga vary of course from group to group, important ones containing a large number of Churinga many of which will be stone, but perhaps in the majority of cases the wooden ones will predominate. It does not, of course, follow that even a majority of them will belong to the totem with which the locality is associated; for, owing to, first, the way in which Churinga are inherited, and second, the fact that one group will sometimes lend a certain number to a friendly group, Churinga belonging to various totems will always be found in one Ertnatulunga.
We give as a fair example of a small-sized Ertnatulunga an account of the contents of a sacred storehouse of the Yarumpa or honey-ant totem at a place called Ilyaba, away to the north-west of Alice Springs. The Ertnatulunga itself is a round hole in the side of a rocky hill, which hole was in the Alcheringa an ant nest. What may be called the prize of the collection is the Churinga, though it is only a small wooden one, of a celebrated Alcheringa leader of the Yarumpa people named Ilatirpa, who sent out the wandering bands of Yarumpa from Ilyaba, the great centre of the totem. A long stone Churinga represents a mass of honey which he carried with him and fed upon, and a slender stone Churinga pointed at each end, represents a piece of wood which he used for digging out the honey-ants. These two are the only stone ones in the storehouse which in this respect is rather poor. There are sixty-eight wooden Yarumpa Churinga and several Echunpa or lizard ones, three of which are very old and boomerang-shaped, and have been borrowed from a lizard group living near Hermannsburg on the Finke. In addition to these there are two Achilpa or wild cat Churinga which have been lent to a Yarumpa man by his son-in-law for a time.
We may now describe more in detail the Churinga themselves—that is the Churinga which are associated with the individuals and which, by various writers, have been described as ceremonial sticks and stones, festival plates, message-sticks or magic-sticks. The term message-stick is misleading; it is quite true that one or more of them is carried by certain messengers sent to summon other members of the tribe to ceremonies of various kinds, but there is nothing in common between them and other message-sticks such as are found in other parts of the continent, on which notches and marks of different kinds are cut as an aid to the memory of the messenger, but which without the verbal explanation of the messenger would, in no case, so far as we have reliable evidence, be capable of being deciphered by the recipient of the message. The Churinga carried by an Arunta messenger is, in reality, a badge of office showing the bona fides of the bearer, whose person is safe so long as he carries the sacred p. 142 emblem, and though the showing of the Churinga is regarded in the light of a summons which cannot, except at the risk of a serious quarrel, be neglected, yet it is misleading to apply the same term, message-stick, both to the sacred emblem, and to the stick, the marks, if any, on which are quite arbitrarily drawn by the sender and cannot be deciphered without his assistance. We may remark in passing, that though we have made careful inquiry we have been unable to discover the use of any real message-stick in the Arunta tribe. 1
The Churinga of the Arunta—that is the particular ones with which we are now concerned—are of two descriptions, stone ones and wooden ones, the latter being sometimes spoken of as Churinga irula. The wooden one, just like the stone one, is Churinga—indeed, the term irula, which simply means “dressed wood,” is seldom used by the natives, and then only as a qualifying term, and never by itself. The stone is no more sacred than the wooden one, and is most highly valued if it be, as many of them are, associated with some special Alcheringa ancestor. At the same time there are often wooden ones of evidently great antiquity, pieced together with sinew of kangaroo or emu to prevent them falling to pieces through decay of the less durable portions, and with holes carefully filled up with porcupine-grass resin, and such as these, though insignificant in appearance, are yet as highly valued as the stone ones. It may be generally said that the value of any particular Churinga, in the eyes of the natives, varies inversely with its value from a decorative point of view; the more obliterated the design, the more it has been patched with resin and bound together with sinew, the more highly is it valued, and the careful way in which many of them have been thus preserved shows the value which is placed upon them by the natives.
Amongst the Churinga in each storehouse are usually a certain number of especially large ones made by Alcheringa men, or by specially celebrated men of olden times who lived since the Alcheringa, for the purpose of being used in the
performance of ceremonies connected with the totems. These are spoken of as Churinga, but they differ from the majority in that there is not associated with them the idea of a spirit individual. In addition to these there are also at times other forms of Churinga present in the storehouse which represent such objects, for example, as the eggs of the witchetties, or in some cases a special object such as a pitchi which was carried about by an Alcheringa man, or a yam-stick carried by a woman.
In size and shape they differ much. The smallest will be perhaps three or four inches in length, the longest five feet or more. In the Arunta tribe all, with very rare exceptions, are more or less flattened and either oval (rarely roughly circular) in outline, or, most usually, elongate with either end tapering to a more or less rounded point. Five very old wooden Churinga which belonged to two lizard totems differed from all the others of which, in company with the members of the various groups to which they belong, we have seen and examined many hundreds, in having the shape of a curved boomerang.
The stone ones are always flat on either side, the wooden ones may be of the same form or more usually have one side flat, and the other slightly concave, or they may frequently be concavo-convex in transverse section. A certain number of the smaller ones—but this is not usual in those of more than a foot in length—have a hole pierced through them at one end to which is attached a string usually made of human or opossum hair. Those that are bored in this way and are only a few inches in length are used as bull-roarers during certain ceremonies, the sound being produced by whirling them rapidly round with the string kept taut between the hand and the bull-roarer, the latter rotating as it whirls through the air, and tightening the string which vibrates and produces the roaring sound. A certain number of the stone ones are bored like the wooden ones, but such are never used as bull-roarers, nor indeed, at the present day, for any purpose which would require them to be thus bored. At the same time it may be pointed out that we have traditions according to which, in the Alcheringa, the men used to hang up their Churinga on the Nurtunja; for this purpose they p. 144 would require to be bored, and though at the present day there is no need for this, yet that it is sometimes practised is no doubt to be associated with the myths of the Alcheringa.
The stones are usually micaceous in nature, being split off from suitable rock, and then carefully ground down to the desired shape and size. The wooden ones are generally made of Mulga (Acacia aneura) for the simple reason first, that this wood is the hardest and most durable known to the natives, and second, that the tree is perhaps the most widely distributed of any species throughout the great Central area and therefore easily obtainable. If, however, Mulga be not obtainable, then it may be made of the pine (Callitris sp.) or of some species of Eucalyptus the wood of which (such as that of E. tesselaris) the natives have learnt by long experience, is not touched by white ants.
In the great majority of cases the Churinga, wooden ones and stone alike, have patterns incised on their surfaces, the tool used being usually an incisor tooth of an opossum, with which also the hole at one end, if present, is bored. In some cases, though these are quite in a minority, they are perfectly plain and show no markings of any kind, and in others, such as were once present, are now scarcely decipherable, owing to the constant rubbing to which they have been subjected at the hands of generation after generation of natives.
Whenever the Churinga are examined by the old men 1 they are, especially the wooden ones, very carefully rubbed over with the hands. First of all dry red ochre is powdered on to them, and then rubbed in with the palm of the hand, the grease of which doubtless assists in preserving the wood to a certain extent. The stone ones are, some of them, rubbed with red ochre, but others with charcoal, which is never used in the case of the wooden ones.
We now come to deal with the patterns on the Churinga all of which have a definite meaning attached to them, though to decipher each individual one, it is essential to gain the information from a man of the totem to which it belongs. Other natives may volunteer information, but as the same
device will mean one thing to a native of one totem and quite another thing to a man who belongs to another totem, and as a man's knowledge is strictly confined to the designs of his own totem, it is quite unsafe to ask, say, an emu man to describe to you the markings on a wild cat Churinga, or vice versâ.
The whole design consists, with few exceptions, of a conventional arrangement of circular, semi-circular, spiral, curved and straight lines together often with dots. The most frequent design met with is that of a series of concentric circles or a close set spiral, the sets of circles or the spirals varying in number from two or three to as many as twenty, or even more; and these, when present, usually indicate the most important object which it is intended to represent in the whole design. In one Churinga each will represent a tree, on another a frog, on another a kangaroo and so on, so that it will easily be realised that to obtain a true interpretation of any one Churinga, it is absolutely essential to obtain the information from some one to whom it is personally known, and such an one can only be an old man of the particular local totemic group to which it belongs; it is only the old men who continually see and examine the Churinga of the group, which are very rarely indeed seen by any one who does not belong to the latter. Time after time, when the Ertnatulunga is visited, the Churinga are rubbed over and carefully explained by the old men to the younger ones, who in course of time come to know all about them that the old men can impart, and so the knowledge of whom the Churinga have belonged to, and what the design on each one means, is handed on from generation to generation.
We will now explain the meaning of the designs on a few of the Churinga, as these will serve to illustrate and to give some general idea of them. The descriptions now given were obtained from the special individual in charge of whom the Churinga was, which is described in each instance.
Figure A. represents the Churinga nanja of a dead man of the frog totem. On either side of the Churinga, which is a wooden one 39 cm. in length, are three large series of concentric circles (a), which represent three large and p. 146 celebrated gum-trees which grow by the side of the Hugh River at Imanda, the centre of the particular group of the frog totem to which the owner of the totem belonged; the straight lines (b) passing out from them on one side of the Churinga p. 147 represent their large roots, and the two series of curved lines at one end (c) their smaller roots. These trees are intimately associated with the frog totem, as out of them frogs are supposed to come, which is doubtless an allusion to the fact that in the cavities of old gum-trees one species of frog is often found, and can be always heard croaking before the advent of rain. The smaller series of concentric circles on the same side of the Churinga (d) represent smaller gum-trees, the lines attached to them being their roots, and the dotted lines (e) along the edge are the tracks of the frogs as they hop about in the sand of the river bed. On the opposite side of the Churinga the large series of double concentric circles represent small frogs which have come out of the trees, and the lines connecting them are their limbs. This device of small concentric circles united by lines is a very common one on frog Churinga.
Figure B. represents the Churinga nanja of the celebrated Ilatirpa of the Yarumpa or honey-ant totem, and is in the storehouse at Ilyaba. The series of circles (a) with a hole bored in the middle of them represent the eye. The circles (b) represent the intestines, (c) the painting on the stomach, and (d) the posterior part of the man. On the reverse side the circles (g) represent the intestines of the Alatirpa, a little bird which is regarded as the mate of the Yarumpa.
Figure C. represents the Churinga of an Achilpa or wild cat man. The three series of circles (a) represent Unjiamba or Hakea trees, while the circles of spots (b) represent p. 148 the tracks of the men dancing round them. The lines (d) represent the Wanpa sticks, which are beaten together to keep time to the dancing; and the dots (e) represent again the tracks of dancing men. This Churinga is in the store-house at Imanda, and was used during the Engwura ceremony.
Figure D. represents the Churinga of an Udnirringita or witchetty grub man, and is in the Emily Gap store-house. The curved lines (a) represent a large grub, (b) represents a lot of grubs in a hole which is scooped out in the ground, p. 149 and (c) represents a man sitting down and squeezing the dirt out of the animals preparatory to cooking them. On the reverse side, (d) represents a grub, (e) the eggs of various sizes, and (f) marks on the body of the grub.
Figure E. represents one side of the Churinga nanja of the elder of the two women who accompanied the Ulpmirka men of the Ukakia or plum-tree totem (Santalum sp.) in the Alcheringa, and were taken away to the north by a celebrated individual called Kukaitcha. The three series of concentric circles (a) represent frogs, the two outer rows of dots represent the tracks of the women. The lines across the Churinga (b) represent bark of gum-trees, and the curved lines at one end (c) represent an old woman collecting frogs.
Figure F. represents one side of the Churinga nanja of the younger of the same two women. Here again the p. 150 concentric circles (a) represent frogs, the semi-circles (b) represent women sitting down opposite to each other, while the dots between them (c) are the holes which they make in scratching the frogs out of the sand. The three dotted lines at the end (d) bored through represent the vulva.
Figure G. represents the Churinga nanja of an Echunpa or lizard man (the large lizard, Varanus giganteus), and is remarkable as being one of the only five Churinga of this shape which we have seen amongst a very great number. On one side the greater part is occupied by four roughly parallel, sinuous lines which represent the long tail of the animal; the semi-circular lines are the indications of ribs, and the dotted lines at one end are the tracks. On the other side, (a) represents the shoulder of the animal; (b) the spotted black marks across the chest; (c) the large ribs—those, as the natives say, with much fat on them; (d) the smaller ribs, and (e) the spotted marks along the under surface of the animal. This Churinga was evidently a very old one; it was slightly broken at one end, and by constantly repeated rubbing the design was indistinct in parts.
The workmanship of the Churinga varies to a considerable extent in its quality p. 151 on some the lines are clearly cut, and, considering the hardness of the material and the crudity of the tool used, the result is surprisingly good so far as the regularity of the design is concerned; but in all cases the design is a purely conventional one, and never attempts to indicate in form the specific object which it is supposed to represent, or rather to indicate. The most important feature is almost always indicated by a series of concentric circles or by spiral lines, while tracks of men and animals seem to be represented by dots arranged in circular or straight lines. Individual men and women appear to be uniformly represented by semi-circular lines, and may be said, speaking generally, to be regarded as subordinate to the animal or plant indicated in the design by complete circles or spirals, though, as will be noted, the latter is not by any means of necessity the totem of the individual to whom the Churinga belongs. When dealing later on with the decorative art of the natives we shall refer further to these designs; meanwhile it may be pointed out here that the concentric circles appear to have been derived from what was originally a spiral, and not vice versa. Whence the Central natives derived a style of decoration of their sacred objects which is so entirely different from that of the tribes living both on the east coast and to the west of them, it is difficult to understand. One thing is certain, and that is that wherever they derived it from they have had it for long ages, as it is associated with their oldest traditions. The entirely different scheme of ornamentation found amongst the tribes of the eastern and south-eastern coasts, of the centre and of the west, points to the fact that these three large groups, each of which consists of many tribes, must have diverged from one another at an early date, and that each one has since pursued its own path of development practically uninfluenced by the others. In connection with this it may be noted that, though as yet but little is known concerning the West Australian natives, the initiation rites of the Eastern coastal tribes, whilst they agree in all important points amongst themselves, are markedly different from those of the Central tribes, including amongst these those of the internal parts of Queensland and New p. 152 South Wales, in regard to certain of which we have recently had most valuable information published in the monograph by Mr. W. E. Roth, dealing in great detail with the northwest-central Queensland aborigines. The physical conditions of the continent have also been such as to shut off for probably long ages the Central tribes from those of either the eastern and south-eastern coastal districts, or those of the west.
At the same time, though the initiation rites of the tribes described by Mr. Roth are closely similar to those of the Central tribes, and though certain of the bull-roarers figured by him are identical in form and ornamentation with those of the latter, and are, as he describes, used in connection with initiation ceremonies and as love charms, and may not be seen by women, yet there does not appear to be the significance attached to them in the tribes studied by Mr. Roth that there is in the Central tribes.
Various local groups differ to a great extent in the number of the Churinga in their possession, and amongst some, especially in the southern part of the tribe, stone ones may be absent, and only wooden ones present. Why this is so we cannot say; the natives themselves simply say that originally all totem groups had stones ones, and that those which have not got them now have lost them; but if this be so, it is not easy to understand why, as is actually the case, it is only in the south that we meet with groups without any stone Churinga. A group without any of the stone ones is certainly regarded as inferior to a group which does possess them; and possibly this absence of them in the south may point back to a time when they were stolen.
We now come to deal with the question of ownership of the Churinga. It will be seen from a consideration of the way in which each individual acquires his own totem name, that it is not at all improbable that every now and again a particular local group of some totem may become extinct. If no child happens for some length of time to be conceived in some particular totem locality—and some of these are very limited in extent—then there may come a time when that particular group has no men or women representing it.
Every local group is regarded as owning collectively the p. 153 locality in which lies its Ertnatulunga. The boundaries of this locality are well known, and if it happens that all the individuals associated with it die, then a neighbouring group will go in and possess the land. It is not, however, any neighbouring group which may do this, but it must be one the members of which are what is called Nakrakia to the extinct group—that is, they belong to the same moiety of the tribe as the latter. For example, supposing the extinct group consisted mainly of Purula and Kumara men, then the new occupiers must be of the same sub-classes, and not Bulthara and Panunga.
It is also clear that a group temporarily extinct may be resuscitated at any time, for the Churinga of the Alcheringa and their associated spirit individuals still inhabit the spot, so that no one knows when one of these may enter a woman, and the once extinct group spring into human existence again.
When any group becomes thus extinct, the Churinga are either taken care of by the new comers, or they may be handed over to some other local group of the same totem. Two instances which came under our notice will illustrate what actually takes place. In the first, all the members of a wild dog group, consisting mainly of Kumara and Purula men, died out; a contiguous group of the same sub-classes, but of a different totem, took possession of the land, but carefully sent the Churinga from the Ertnatulunga to a distant group of wild dogs. 1 In the second case, all the men of a lizard totem, situated some twelve miles to the north-east of Alice Springs, died out. They belonged to the Bulthara and Panunga moiety, and accordingly their locality was taken possession of by a neighbouring group of Bulthara and Panunga, who belonged to the Unchalka totem (a little grub), and in this instance these men also took care of the Churinga, leaving them undisturbed in the Ertnatulunga, the old men periodically examining them and rubbing them over with red ochre, so as to keep them in good state, just as if they were
their own. After some time a child was conceived in the old lizard locality, and thus the local totemic group was again brought to life, and the child—a boy—having reached mature age, was given charge of the Churinga which belonged to his totemic ancestors. The ceremony of handing over the Churinga which we witnessed took place during the Engwura and is described in connection with this.
Whilst the Churinga are always under the immediate charge of the Alatunja, or head man of the local totem group, various individuals are regarded as having a special proprietary right in certain Churinga. Every one, in the first instance, has his own Churinga nanja, but in addition to this he most probably has others which have come to him by right of inheritance, the line of descent which they follow being strictly defined. Supposing a man dies, if he has a son of mature age, the latter—the eldest son, if there be more than one—is given charge of the dead man's Churinga. If he has no son of mature age, they are handed over to a younger brother, never to an elder one, and the former will take care of them until such time as the son is old enough to be entrusted with the duty of periodically rubbing and polishing them. It must be understood that they are always under the control of the Alatunja, without whose consent they cannot be touched even by the man who has, under his direction, special charge of them. If there be no son, then the younger brother retains charge of them, and in course of time they descend to his son or younger brother, and so on from generation to generation.
In the case of a woman's Churinga they do not descend to her son, but to a younger brother, if she has one. It never descends to an elder brother, and if she have no younger brother-in-blood, then the men who stand in the relationship of Oknia (blood and tribal fathers) and Arunga (blood and tribal grandfathers) decide upon some man younger than herself, standing to her in the relationship of Witia—that is blood or tribal younger brother—and to him the charge of the Churinga is given.
It will be seen that in the descent of the Churinga of men and women they always remain in the custody of a man p. 155 belonging to the moiety of the tribe to which the individual belonged. If a woman's Churinga went to her son, then, as descent is counted in the paternal line, they would pass into the possession of a man belonging to the moiety to which she did not belong.
The question of totem does not enter into consideration in regard to the descent of the Churinga, and the fact that this is so accounts for what was at first a matter of considerable perplexity to us. Whilst the Churinga during the Engwura were, as frequently happened, brought on to the ceremonial ground to be examined and rubbed over with red ochre, a man would show us perhaps as many as twenty belonging to various totems, and in which it was evident that he had a special proprietary right. He would speak of them as belonging to him, though the great majority were Churinga of totems other than his own, and it was only after inquiry into a number of special cases that we came to understand how the Churinga of dead men and women were inherited by particular individuals. A man, for example, would tell us that such and such Churinga in the store lying in front of us had belonged to his Oknia, and that when the latter died then they came to him. Now a man calls his actual father Oknia, and also his father's brothers, and a man may inherit, as we have already seen, Churinga which belonged to his own father and to the elder brothers of the latter. As we found frequently, you cannot tell, without further inquiry, whether a particular Churinga belonged to a man's actual father or to an elder brother of his father.
A man may thus inherit (1) the Churinga which belonged to his own father—that is, not only his father's Churinga nanja, but any which have descended to him by right of inheritance; (2) the Churinga which belonged to an elder brother who has died, leaving no son to inherit them; and (3) the Churinga nanja of an elder (but not of a younger) sister. Not only does he inherit these Churinga, but at the same time, and along with them, he also inherits certain sacred ceremonies which belonged to the Alcheringa individuals who are represented by the Churinga—a matter to which we shall have to again refer when we are dealing p. 156 with the Quabara or ceremonies concerned with the totems.
In addition to these which have already been dealt with, and all of which belong—so far as their shape is concerned—to the type of object popularly called a bull-roarer, there are other objects which are equally called Churinga, but both the external form as well as the significance of which renders them quite distinct from the former. The one point in which all the various articles agree, to which the name of Churinga is applied, is this—they are all in some way associated with individual men, women, plants, or animals of the Alcheringa, and at the present day are strictly tabu to women. Thus, for example, at Undiara, the great centre of the Okira (kangaroo) totem, there lies buried beneath the ground a slab of stone, triangular in section and about three feet in length, which represents part of the tail of a celebrated kangaroo which was killed there in the Alcheringa, and has ever since remained in the form of this stone, which is Churinga, and only to be seen by initiated men during the performance of certain totemic ceremonies. Again, in the witchetty grub totem each man has associated with himself, in addition to the usual Churinga, a few small rounded stones called Churinga unchima. Each of these is usually about an inch in diameter, and represents one of the eggs with which the bodies of the Alcheringa individuals were filled. Large numbers of these were deposited at various camping places of the Alcheringa witchetty ancestors, the greater number being left at the central camp in the Emily Gorge near to the present site of Alice Springs. The spirit individual carries a certain number of these about with him as well as his usual Churinga, and deposits them around the base of his Nanja tree, where they may be found after the birth of the child to which he gives rise. Usually the older witchetty men carry a small number of these about with them, and when a man is dying a few of them are always placed under his head, being brought from the Ertnatulunga for this special purpose, if he does not happen to have any in his possession, and after death they are buried with him. Of the origin and meaning of this particular custom the p. 157 natives have no idea, and this was the only occasion on which we could discover that anything of a sacred nature was buried with the men. This of course applies to men of the witchetty grub totem, but it is quite possible that in other totems there may be somewhat similar objects present, though we have not been able to learn of the existence of any amongst the representatives of a large number of totems with whom we have come into contact.
Stones which are evidently Churinga are met with amongst other Central Australian tribes. In the Ilpirra and Luritcha we can say from personal knowledge that their use and meaning is precisely similar to that already described amongst the Arunta. In the case of the Kaitish and Warramunga tribes, which are located further to the north, the Churinga are distinct in shape from those of the Arunta. Each consists of a flat, micaceous slab, which in outline is characteristically pear-shaped, with always a small lump of resin affixed to the narrow end. The stone may either be quite plain, or ornamented with designs similar to those of the Arunta Churinga, or, again, in the Kaitish tribe it may be decorated with a design painted on with charcoal and pipe-clay, the stone itself having been previously coloured red with ochre. Those in our possession are enclosed in a covering of emu feathers, both to preserve them from getting chipped and to prevent their being seen by the women (Fig. 21).
Amongst the Waagai, both flat and somewhat spherical shaped stones are known, the latter looking much like one of the Churinga unchima of the witchetty men. The flattened stone (Fig. 22) has, unlike the Churinga of the Arunta or Ilpirra, its edge marked with very definite serrations; the incised design consists of concentric circles, while at one end a hole is bored, to which a strand of hair string is attached.
There can be little doubt but that the same essential idea underlies the Churinga in all these tribes. We have traced through them all the same system of social organisation, with descent counted in the paternal line, together with corresponding terms of relationship, and, judging by the p. 158 nature of their Churinga, 1 it seems highly probable that the same, or at least essentially the same, totemic system exists amongst the Waagai, Kaitish and Warramunga as we know to exist among the Arunta, Luritcha and Ilpirra tribes.
In the Urabunna tribe the equivalent of the sacred stick of the Arunta is called Chimbaliri, and has the form of a plain piece of wood with each end rounded, so that it has the general form of a wooden Churinga. It differs from the latter in being very distinctly concavo-convex in section, in having no incised pattern, and in not being red-ochred. The one figured (Fig. 20) measures 67 cm. in length and 9 cm. in width. After the initiation ceremony a Chimbaliri is given to the youth to carry about until the wound is healed.
We have previously stated that one group will occasionally lend Churinga to a neighbouring and friendly group as a very special mark of good-will. It is somewhat difficult to find out the idea which is present in the native mind with respect to the lending and borrowing of Churinga beyond the fact that it is universally regarded as a most desirable thing to have possession of as large a number as possible, because
with them the spiritual part of their former possessors is associated. So far as we can find out, they are not borrowed or lent for any very definite purpose, but only because, on the one hand, a particular group is anxious to have in its possession for a time a large number, with the general idea that it will in some vague and undefined way bring them good fortune, and, on the other hand, the second group is willing to lend them, and thus show a kindness which at the same time reflects a certain amount of dignity upon itself owing to the very fact that it has a large number to lend. Beyond this there is the important item from the point of view of the lenders that the borrowing group is always supposed to make presents to the former on the occasion of returning the Churinga.
It is not necessary for the two groups concerned to belong to the same totem—they may or they may not.
The following is an account of what actually took place, when, two or three years ago, an Erlia, or emu totem, group, living in the Strangway Range, lent some of its Churinga to another Erlia group which lives about twelve miles to the east of Alice Springs. These Churinga have only recently been returned, and the ceremonies enacted at both the borrowing and returning will serve to show what takes place on these occasions, though in various parts of the tribe and in the case of different totems there are, of course, differences in detail.
The Alatunja or headman of the group which is anxious to borrow the Churinga sends a properly accredited messenger to the Alatunja of the group from which it is desired to borrow them. This messenger, who is called Inwurra, carries with him as his credentials a few Churinga, perhaps three or four, and they are usually stone ones. When he reaches the country of the strange group, he remains at some little distance from the main camp, the fact of his acting as a messenger being known at once from his behaviour. After some little time, during which he is left entirely to himself, as is usual on the approach of a stranger to a camp, the Alatunja and some of the older men go out to the spot at which he has remained seated since his approach. He then, p. 160 in a whisper, asks the Alatunja to take care of the few Churinga which he has brought with him and to keep them safe for the group which he represents. Nothing whatever is said on either side as to the real object of his visit, but what this is is at once known from the fact of his asking the Alatunja to take care of his Churinga. If the Alatunja in whose hands, after consultation with the older men, the matter lies, does not feel disposed to lend Churinga, he politely declines to keep the Inwurra's offering, and the messenger at once returns to his own group, carrying his Churinga with him. In this particular case the Alatunja accepted the Churinga, thereby implying that he was willing to lend a larger number in return, though no words to that effect passed on either side, and the messenger at once went back and reported the success of his mission. As soon as he had returned, the Alatunja of the borrowing group organised a deputation, which, headed by himself, went across to the Strangway Range group of emu men.
When the party came within a distance of about half a mile of the main camp, a halt was ordered by the Alatunja, and a messenger was sent on to announce the advent of the party. Presently the Alatunja of the local group and some of the older men, as usual, came out to the halting-place and sat down in perfect silence. After a short time they embraced the visitors; and during the next two or three hours the embracing was repeated at intervals, conversation with regard to the Churinga being carried on in whispers. As a general rule there are upon these deputations one or two of the more recently initiated men who are being gradually inducted into such ceremonies, but are not, as yet, allowed to see everything which takes place. For example, though they come with the others, they will not be shown the stone Churinga, at least not close to, as this is the first important mission with which they have been associated.
As usual on such occasions, the deputation had arrived about mid-day. Until sunset the men remained at the meeting-place, and then, when it had grown dark, they were conducted by their hosts to the ordinary corrobboree ground, where a performance was given in their honour. On such occasions p. 161 it is esteemed a polite attention to guests to perform a part of an Altherta or ordinary corrobboree, belonging to the district from which the visitors come, and in which one or two of the latter are usually asked to take part.
When the dancing was over the visitors were conducted to the camp of the single men, where the night was spent. The performance lasted several days, while the visitors remained as guests in the camp. At its termination, and when all the women had been sent away from the corrobboree ground, the local Alatunja, accompanied by some of the older men, went to the Ertnatulunga, or sacred store-house, and, choosing out the Churinga to be lent, returned with them to the ground where the visitors had remained. During the night the Churinga were carefully inspected, greased, rubbed with red ochre, and stacked in an elaborately decorated shield. At daylight they were solemnly handed over to the visiting Alatunja, the lender saying in low tones, “Keep the Churinga safely, they are of the Alcheringa; we lend them to you freely, gladly; do not be in a hurry to return them.” While he was saying this, the older men murmured approvingly; the young men present who had only recently been initiated had been sent some little distance away. Then the leader of the deputation replied, speaking in low tones, and supported by the fervent “Auatta, auatta” (“Yes, yes”) of his colleagues on the deputation. He said, “We will watch over them with care, and return them to you after some time; the emu Churinga are good, the emu men are strong and good.” After a further conversation in whispers, during which the virtues of the Churinga were dilated upon, the deputation departed, waving spears and shouting loudly, “Uwai! Uwai! Uwai!”—an exclamation used to denote fear or danger, or to frighten women and children, who, when they hear it, will quickly make off out of the way.
The return journey was made by the least frequented path, so as to avoid as far as possible any chance of meeting women. On arrival in camp, the Churinga were carefully examined by the old men, and then hidden away amongst their own in the Ertnatulunga. There then followed a corrobboree, p. 162 in which those who took part introduced a Strang-way Range performance.
After rather more than two years had elapsed, the Churinga were returned. It is usual for this to take place within the area occupied by the lending group, but on this particular occasion it was arranged that the ceremony should take place at a spot on the Todd River, just within the district of the borrowing group.
To this spot accordingly came the Alatunja of the Strang-way Range group, attended by his men. While camped here and awaiting the coming of the party returning the Churinga, various ceremonies concerned with the emu totem were performed at night-time, in the centre of a large space which had been specially cleared for the purpose.
On the day on which the deputation was to come in, the men assembled here, all painted with charcoal and birds' down in front, and with designs on their backs copied from the Churinga Ilkinia, or designs peculiar to the totem. About half an hour before the main deputation reached the spot, a single messenger arrived and, approaching the Alatunja with an air of great deference, told him that the Inwurra bearing the sacred Churinga were close at hand. Two shields were placed on the ground in front of the Alatunja, who sat down in the native fashion, with his legs bent up under him, so that his knees projected towards the shields. All the other men with him, between forty and fifty in number, sat down, forming a solid square, the front row of which was occupied by the elder men, with the Alatunja in the middle. A little to the right of him was a shield, on which had been placed a flat cake called ekulla made from crushed grass seeds, and on the top of this were placed a number of freshly-made Imitnya, or fur string head bands. A few yards distant, on either side of the square, a man was stationed, sitting on the ground, and each of these men alternately struck the ground heavily with a hard flat piece of wood, while those within the square, led by the Alatunja, sang with great gusto, the sidesmen continuing to beat time upon the ground, until, at length, the Inwurra emerged into the pathway which had previously been prepared for them p. 163 p. 164 to traverse by clearing away the stones, bushes, and tussocks of grass.
As soon as they came in sight of the waiting men they at once halted, shouting loudly, “Uwai, Uwai!” and brandishing their weapons, the man who carried the bundle of Churinga being well in front of the column. The men of the waiting group at once stopped singing, and shouted excitedly, “Erlia! Erlia!”—the native name of their totem, the emu. After a short halt, the Inwurra party came on at a trot, with the curious high knee action always adopted by the natives when engaged in performing ceremonies. Spears and boomerangs were waved about, amid shouts of “Uwai! Uwai!” and answering cries of “Erlia, Erlia!” The leading old man, who carried the Churinga, imitated, as he came along, the action and characteristic zig-zag course of a running emu, the bundle of Churinga, which was held at an angle above his head, giving him, indeed, somewhat the appearance of the animal.
At this time, those who were seated in the square began to sing, except only the old Alatunja, whose head was bent low down, as if he were too much overcome with emotion to take any part in the singing.
When the strangers had reached the waiting group, the Churinga were placed on one of the shields, the singing ceased, and the new-comers sat down so that they formed a second square immediately facing the other one. The old men occupied the front row, with the Alatunja in the centre of it.
After a short pause, the leader of the Inwurra bent over and whispered in the ear of the Alatunja, every one meanwhile assuming a strikingly grave demeanour, as if something of the greatest importance were taking place. Then all, except the two leaders, joined in a short chant and when it was over, the leader of the Inwurra and other old men of his party took up the bundle of Churinga and deposited it on the lap of the Alatunja, who took it up, rubbed it several times against his stomach and thighs, and then against those of the older men who were sitting beside him. The object of this rubbing is, so the natives say, to untie their bowels, which become tightened and tied up in knots as a result of p. 165 the emotion felt when they once more see their Churinga. The latter were then placed on the lap of the leader of the Inwurra, and then the Alatunja sitting immediately opposite to him, as well as the old men on each side of him, leaned across and rubbed their foreheads against the stomachs of the front row of the Inwurra party. This was done to show that they were friends, and were not angry with the visitors because they had kept the Churinga for such a long time.
The leader of the Inwurra party now began to unwind the Imitnya, which were quite newly made of opossum fur, and in which the Churinga were swathed, forming altogether a torpedo-shaped bundle about four feet in length. Every now and then they paused and repeated the rubbing of the stomachs with their foreheads, until, finally, when the Imitnya and a number of Uliara, or human hair girdles, lying under them, had all been removed, the Churinga were displayed. Then, one by one, they were handed over to the Alatunja, who carefully examined each one, and rubbed it over his stomach and thighs, and over those of the men of his group, and then placed it on one of the shields in front of him.
This performance occupied a considerable time, and it was conducted with great solemnity. Then the leader of the Inwurra addressed the Alatunja and his men, saying in effect, “We return your great Churinga, which have made us glad. We bring you a present of these Imitnya and Uliara, and we are sorry that we could not bring more, but the Anthinna (opossum) is scarce and hair does not grow quickly.” This was somewhat modest, as there must have been, at the least, fifty large new Imitnya or opossum fur-string bands, besides a great number of Uliara.
The Alatunja replied, “It is good, yes, we are glad you kept our Churinga so well; they are all here. We accept your present and offer you these Imitnya in return; we are sorry we cannot give you more.” Then he handed the Imitnya, about fifteen in number, which were placed on one of the shields, to the leader of the Inwurra, and taking up the ekulla or cake of grass seed, he divided it into two with a Churinga, and, giving one half each to the leader and another p. 166 old man of the latter's party, said, “Eat, feed your men with our ekulla.”
After the old men of the local party had spent a long time in carefully examining the Churinga, the ceremony came to an end, and the Alatunja told the old men, in whispers, that he was about to perform the ceremony of Intichiuma of the emu totem. This is not, however, of necessity performed when the Churinga are returned, and is described in the chapter dealing with the Intichiuma ceremonies of various totems.
135:1 A remarkable custom with regard to stone Churinga may be noticed here. When a man is ill he will sometimes have a stone Churinga belonging to his totem brought from the storehouse. With the flint flake of his spear-thrower he will scrape off some of the edge of the Churinga, mix the dust with water and drink it, the mixture being supposed to be very strengthening. The idea evidently is that in some way he absorbs part of the essence of the stone, thereby gaining strength, as it is endowed with the attributes of the individual whom it represents.
137:1 Journ. Anth. Inst., May, 1885, p. 301.
138:1 In addition to this the Arumburinga of the individual (that is his spirit double) is supposed to be especially fond of paying visits to the storehouse in which the Churinga is kept, and it is feared that if the Churinga be taken away the Arumburinga will follow it, and thus the individual will lose the guardianship of the spirit.
139:1 Aritna means name, and Churinga signifies sacred or secret. The word Churinga is used either as a substantive, when it implies a sacred emblem, or as a qualifying term, when it implies sacred or secret.
139:2 During the course of the Engwura we often had occasion to notice this extreme reticence on the part of the natives. If only men of the same totemic group were present we were then able to learn the secret names, though not easily, as they would only speak in such a low whisper that it was a matter of difficulty to hear what was said. If other men were present then it was impossible to gain the information, for, when questioned, they knew absolutely nothing about the matter, and assumed an air of frigid reticence. We soon learned to know that this meant not that they were unable to reply to our questions, but that tribal custom forbade them to speak in the presence of some member of the party. When talking with them over matters such as this they would send away certain men before saying anything, and these men were those who did not belong to the totemic group about which we were inquiring.
142:1 A most valuable account of true message-sticks is given by Roth, loc. cit., p. 136.
144:1 A full account of this is given in connection with the description of the Engwura.
153:1 In another case a group of wild dogs became extinct, and at the present moment their Churinga are being taken care of in the Ertnatulunga of the witchetty grub group of Alice Springs.
158:1 It must be remembered that the term Churinga which we use is the Arunta term for these sacred objects.