The Native Tribes of North Central Australia, by Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen , at sacred-texts.com
Five phases of the Engwura—Summoning the members of the tribe to the Engwura—Plan of the ground on which the ceremonies were held—Division of the tribe into two moieties—Disposal of the Churinga in two corresponding groups—General remarks on the ownership and names of the ceremonies—Control of the Engwura—First phase—Performance of two ordinary corrobborees—Passing on of corrobborees from one group to another—Building of the Parra on the Engwura ground—Separation of the younger men from the women—Second phase—Performance of sacred ceremonies—Description of the last eight days of the second phase—The making of a Nurtunja—Examination of Churinga—“Singing” the ground—Various ceremonies—Handing over of Churinga which had been taken care of by a neighbouring group during the temporary extinction of the group to which they belonged—The making and meaning of a Waninga—Making the younger men abmoara to certain of the older ones—The younger men are now called Illpongwurra.
THE Engwura, or, as it is called in some parts of the tribe, Urumpilla, is in reality a long series of ceremonies concerned with the totems, and terminating in what may be best described as ordeals by fire, which form the last of the initiatory ceremonies. After the native has passed through these he becomes what is called Urliara, that is, a perfectly developed member of the tribe. We cannot fully translate the meaning of either term, but each of them is formed, in part, of the word ura, which means fire. The natives themselves say that the ceremony has the effect of strengthening all who pass through it. It imparts courage and wisdom, makes the men more kindly natured and less apt to quarrel; in short, it makes them ertwa murra oknirra, words which respectively mean “man, good, great or very,” the word good being, of course, used with the meaning attached to it by the native. p. 272 Evidently the main objects of it are, firstly, to bring the young men under the control of the old men, whose commands they have to obey implicitly; secondly, to teach them habits of self-restraint and hardihood; and thirdly, to show to the younger men who have arrived at mature age, the sacred secrets of the tribe which are concerned with the Churinga and the totems with which they are associated.
The Engwura may be performed in various places, but, as it is a ceremony at which men and women gather together from all parts of the tribe, and sometimes also from other tribes, a central position is preferred if it be intended to carry it out on a large scale. It is, indeed, a time when the old men from all parts of the tribe come together and discuss matters. Councils of the elder men are held day by day, by which we do not mean that there is anything of a strictly formal nature, but that constantly groups of the elder men may be seen discussing matters of tribal interest; all the old traditions of the tribe are repeated and discussed, and it is by means of meetings such as this, that a knowledge of the unwritten history of the tribe and of its leading members is passed on from generation to generation. Not only this, but while the main effect is undoubtedly to preserve custom, yet, on the other hand, changes introduced in one part of the tribe (and, despite the great conservatism of the native such changes do take place) can by means of these gatherings, become generally adopted in much less time than would be the case if they had to slowly filter through, as it were, from one locality to another.
Some idea of the importance of the ceremony may be gathered from the fact that the one which we witnessed commenced in the middle of September, and continued till the middle of the succeeding January, during which time there was a constant succession of ceremonies, not a day passing without one, while there were sometimes as many as five or six within the twenty-four hours. They were held at various hours, always one or more during the daylight, and not infrequently one or two during the night, a favourite time being just before sunrise.
Whilst the whole series of ceremonies followed one another p. 273 p. 274 without a break, yet there were five clearly marked phases, each of which was characterised by certain important features peculiar to it, and these phases we will describe in succession. They may be briefly outlined as follows:—
Phase 1. Sending out the messengers. Assembling of the tribe. Performance of introductory corrobborees. Building of the Parra on the Engwura ground, and the commencement of the sacred ceremonies. The characteristic feature of this phase is the holding of ordinary dancing corrobborees at night-time, in which the women take part. When once these are over, which takes place between two and three weeks from the start, the women take no further share until close to the end of the ceremonies.
Phase 2. The men are separated from the women and live on the Engwura ground, where sacred ceremonies are performed day and night. This extends over, perhaps, six weeks, and lasts until the men who are being initiated are made abmoara to certain elder men who take charge of them. After this they are called Illpongwurra.
Phase 3. The sacred ceremonies are continued, the Illpongwurra being distinguished by wearing twigs of a special shrub, and may not speak to their abmoara men. This phase lasts until a special ceremony connected, in this instance, with the frog totem is performed, to witness which the young men are brought on to the Engwura ground to the accompaniment of the sound of bull-roarers, which, after this, are much used. This phase extends over about eight days.
Phase 4. The Illpongwurra are taken out of camp in the morning and brought in at night-time by old men who carry bull-roarers. This is the most important phase, and during its continuance the fire ceremonies are passed through. It extends over two weeks or more, and after the final ceremony of this phase the initiated men rank as Urliara.
Phase 5. The newly-made Urliara are kept out in the bush. Corrobborees, in which women take part, are held at night-time, and at intervals sacred ceremonies are performed in connection with the removal of the ban of silence between those who are abmoara to one another. This phase lasts an indefinite length of time, but after its commencement the p. 275 camp breaks up and the different members begin to return to their respective localities.
When it has been decided by any particular group to hold an Engwura,—and the initiation rests with the Alatunja, the latter, after consultation with the older men, sends out messengers to other groups. Each of these carries with him one or two Churinga irula, that is, wooden Churinga, carefully concealed from view in a casing of emu feathers. The Engwura messenger is called Ilchinkinja, a term derived from the two words ilcha, a hand, and ilkinja, to raise or lift up, so that it may perhaps be best rendered by the phrase “the beckoning hand.” In the normal condition of the tribe no native dare disobey the summons thus received under penalty of most serious ill to himself, which would be certain to ensue should he neglect to follow the Churinga. Sometimes the one set of messengers passes through from group to group, sometimes each Alatunja, to whom the Churinga comes, provides fresh men, and so, in course of time, after having travelled many hundreds of miles, the Churinga at last returns to the original sender.
When a messenger reaches any group he shows the Churinga as an emblem of his bona fides to the Alatunja and elder men, and then delivers his verbal message, saying when and where the tribe will assemble. Amongst the Arunta and Ilpirra there is no such thing as a message stick in the true sense of the term, that is, there is no such thing as a stick cut with notches or other marks for the purpose of reminding the bearer of the message, such as is frequently met with amongst other Australian tribes.
Gradually the various local groups begin to arrive at the chosen spot, the group inhabiting which has meanwhile been gathering in stores of food such as grass seed, or munyeru. A spot is chosen for the Engwura ground which is more or less secluded, and so placed that the women and children who are in the main camp cannot see what is taking place on it. The plan on the following page shows the arrangement of the camp during the Engwura. In the particular instance now described the ground was a level stretch bounded on the east by the river Todd, with its belt of low scrub and gum trees, p. 276 and on the west by a rough quartzite range. At the base of the range ran a small creek, in the bed of which—for there was, as usual in Central Australia, no water in either river or creek—the performers were decorated without any risk of their being seen by any one who had no right to do so.
The natives who assembled came from all parts of the tribe, some travelling a distance of two hundred miles to be present, and a few of them came from the Ilpirra tribe, which lies immediately to the north of the Arunta, and in which a ceremony similar to the Engwura is held.
As the various contingents reached Alice Springs, each one p. 277 comprising men, women and children, camps were formed on the eastern side of the creek, the position of any camp indicating roughly the locality of its owner. Thus the southern men camped to the south and the northern men to the north, and, as is always the case, Bulthara and Panunga men on the one hand, and Kumara and Purula men on the other hand, camped close together. A very noticeable feature also was the disposal of the Churinga. Those belonging to the Panunga and Bulthara men were all placed together on a small platform which was built in a mulga tree on the hill-side at the south-west end of the camp, where they were under the immediate charge of the Alatunja of the Alice Springs group, who is himself a Bulthara man. Those belonging to the Purula and Kumara men were under the charge of a Purula man, and were placed on a small platform at the northern end of the ground. To this storing place of the Churinga during the Engwura the name of thanunda is given.
This division of the tribe into two moieties, which stands out so clearly on the occasion of a ceremony such as the Engwura, points to the fact of the original division of the tribe into two halves, each of which has again divided into two; as a matter of fact the division has gone on to a greater extent, with the result that in the northern section of the tribe we find eight divisions, four corresponding to each of the original moieties.
We were hoping that on the occasion of the Engwura, when the two moieties were so markedly distinct from one another, it might be possible to discover the original names applied to them prior to their division, but this was not the case, nor were we able to discover any meaning attached to the present names of the divisions.
For the purpose of making things clear we may briefly refer again to the constitution of the tribe. The whole area over which it extends is divided up into a large number of localities, each of which is owned and inhabited by a local group of individuals, and each such locality is identified with some particular totem which gives its name to the members of the local group. The term used by the native, which is here translated by the word totem, is Oknanikilla. If you p. 278 ask a man what is his Oknanikilla he will reply Erlia (emu), Unchichera (frog), Achilpa (wild-cat), &c., as the case may be.
Special men of the Alcheringa are associated with special localities in which they became changed into spirit individuals, each associated with a Churinga, and with each locality are associated also certain ceremonies which in the Alcheringa were performed by these individuals, and have been handed down from that time to the present. Each local group has also, as already described, its own Ertnatulunga, or sacred storehouse, in which the Churinga are kept. The men assembled at the Engwura represented various local totem groups, and they—that is, the older men of each group—had brought with them numbers of the Churinga from the storehouses.
Each totem has its own ceremonies, and each of the latter may be regarded as the property of some special individual who has received it by right of inheritance from its previous owner, such as a father or elder brother, or he may have, in the case of the men who are supposed to possess the faculty of seeing and holding intercourse with the Iruntarinia or spirits, received it as a gift directly from the latter, who have at some time, so he tells his fellows, performed it for his benefit and then presented it to him. This means either that he has had a dream during which he has seen a ceremony acted, which is quite as real a thing to him as actually seeing it when awake, or that being of a more original and ingenious turn of mind than his fellows—as the men skilled in magic certainly are—he has invented it for himself and has then told the others, who implicitly believe in his supernatural powers, that the spirits have presented it to him. 1
Each ceremony, further, is not only connected with some totem, but with a particular local group of the totem, and its name indicates the fact. Thus we have the Quabara Unjiamba
of Ooraminna, 1 which is a performance connected with the Unjiamba or Hakea flower totem of a place called Ooraminna, the Quabara Ulpmerka of Quiurnpa, which is a ceremony concerned with certain Ulpmerka, or uncircumcised men of the plum tree totem of a place called Quiurnpa, and so on.
Naturally the ceremonies performed at any Engwura depend upon the men who are present—that is, if at one Engwura special totems are better represented than others, then the ceremonies connected with them will preponderate. There does not appear to be anything like a special series which must of necessity be performed, and the whole programme is arranged, so to speak, by the leading man, whose decision is final, but who frequently consults with certain of the other older men. He invites the owners of different ceremonies to perform them, but without his sanction and initiation nothing is done. Very often the performance is limited to one or perhaps two men, but in others a larger number may take part, the largest number which we saw being eleven. The man to whom the performance belongs may either take part in it himself, or, not infrequently, he may invite some one else to perform it, this being looked upon as a distinct compliment. The performer, or performers, need not of necessity belong to the totem with which the ceremony is concerned, nor need they of necessity belong to the same moiety of the tribe to which the owner does. In some cases while preparations are being made for the ceremony only the members of one moiety will be present, but very often there is no such restriction as this. In many instances those who are present during the preparation are the men who belong to the district with which the ceremony is associated. Frequently we noticed, for example, that the men from a southern locality would be associated in preparing for a ceremony connected with a southern locality, and, in the same way, men from the north would be present during the preparations for a ceremony concerned with a northern locality.
Not infrequently two performances would be prepared
simultaneously, and when this was so one of them would be a ceremony concerned with Panunga and Bulthara men and the other with Purula and Kumara men. Under these circumstances one group would consist of the one moiety and the other of the other moiety, and they would be separated by some little distance and so placed in the bed of the creek that they could not see one another.
Speaking generally, it may be said that every man who was a member of the special totem with which any given ceremony was concerned would have the right of being present during the preparation, but no one else would come near except by special invitation of the individual to whom it belonged, and he could invite any one belonging to any class or totem to be present or to take part in the performance. The mixture of men of all groups is to be associated with the fact that the Engwura is an occasion on which members of all divisions of the tribe and of all totems are gathered together, and one of the main objects of which is the handing on to the younger men of the knowledge carefully treasured up by the older men of the past history of the tribe so far as it is concerned with the totems and the Churinga.
On this occasion everything was under the immediate control of one special old man, who was a perfect repository of tribal lore. Without apparently any trouble or the slightest hitch he governed the whole camp, comprising more than a hundred full-grown natives, who were taking part in the ceremony. Whilst the final decision on all points lay in his hands, there was what we used to call the “cabinet,” consisting of this old man and three of the elders, who often met together to discuss matters. Frequently the leader would get up from the men amongst whom he was sitting, and apparently without a word being spoken or any sign made, the other three would rise and follow him one after the other, walking away to a secluded spot in the bed of the creek. Here they would gravely discuss matters concerned with the ceremonies to be performed, and then the leader would give his orders and everything would work with perfect regularity and smoothness. The effect on the younger men was naturally to heighten their respect for the old men and to bring them p. 281 under the control of the latter. With the advent of the white man on the scene and the consequent breaking down of old customs, such a beneficial control exercised by the elder over the younger men rapidly becomes lost, and the native as rapidly degenerates. On the one hand the younger men do not take the interest in the tribal customs which their fathers did before them, and on the other the old men will not reveal tribal secrets to the young men unless they show themselves worthy of receiving such knowledge.
After these few general remarks we may pass on to describe more in detail certain of the ceremonies which will serve to illustrate the long series.
The first phase of the proceedings was opened by the Alice Springs natives performing the Atnimokita corrobboree, which occupied ten evenings. As a mark of respect and courtesy it was decided by the Alatunja of the group, after, as usual, consultation with the older men, that this corrobboree should be handed over in a short time to the man who took the leading part in the Engwura and who belonged to a more southern group. When once this handing over has taken place, it will never again be performed at Alice Springs. 1 As soon as the Atnimokita performance was concluded, another called the Illyonpa was commenced, and this also occupied ten nights. Two days after it had begun the old leader of the Engwura went down to the ground which had been chosen—the corrobborees mentioned taking place at a separate spot visited by men and women alike—and digging up the loose, sandy soil he made a low mound called the Parra, measuring about thirty feet in length, two feet in width and one foot in height. It was ornamented with a row of small gum tree boughs, which were fixed one after the other along the length of the mound, and is said to represent a tract of country, but, despite long inquiry, we have not
been able to find out what is the exact meaning of the word Parra. All that the men could tell us was that it had always been made so during the Engwura—their fathers had made it and therefore they did—and that it was always made to run north and south, because in the Alcheringa the wild cat people marched in that direction. On the level flat to the western side of this Parra the sacred ceremonies forthwith began to be performed.
When the Illyonpa corrobboree had come to an end, no more ordinary dancing festivals were held until the close of the whole proceedings some three months later. From this time onwards, and until the last act of the Engwura is performed, the younger men who are passing through the ceremony must separate themselves completely from the women, and are entirely under the control of the older men. They must obey the latter implicitly. Their days are spent either in hunting, so as to secure food, the greater part of which is supposed to be brought in to the older men who remain in camp, or in watching the ceremonies, or in taking part in them under the guidance of the old men, and their nights are spent on, or close to, the Engwura ground.
With the opening of the second phase, the performance of the sacred ceremonies concerned with the totems began in earnest, and as descriptive of this, we may relate what took place during the last eight days of the five weeks which it occupied.
About ten o'clock on the morning of the first day it was decided to perform a ceremony called the Quabara Unjiamba of Ooraminna. This is concerned with certain women of the Unjiamba or Hakea totem, who in the Alcheringa came down from the north and marched southwards as far as a spot called Ooraminna, about twenty-five miles to the south of Alice Springs. The head man of the local group is the owner of this ceremony, and together with six Purula men and one Panunga man, he repaired to the bed of the small creek, where they all sat down under the shade of a small gum tree. The other men remained in various places round about the Engwura ground, but no one came near to the place where the preparations were being made.
On occasions such as this every man carries about with him a small wallet, which contains the few odds and ends needed for decoration in the performance of the various ceremonies. The wallet consists of a piece of the skin of some animal, such as one of the smaller marsupials, with the fur left on, or else some flat strips of a flexible bark tied round with fur string are used. In one of these wallets will be found a tuft or two of eagle-hawk and emu feathers, bunches of the tail feathers of the black cockatoo, some porcupine-grass resin, pieces of red and yellow ochre and white pipe-clay, an odd flint or two, balls of human hair and opossum fur string, a tuft or two of the tail tips of the rabbit-kangaroo, and not least, a dried crop of the eagle-hawk filled with down.
The men squat on the ground, and their wallets are leisurely opened out. There is no such thing as haste amongst the Australian natives. On this occasion the owner of the Quabara had asked his younger brother to perform the principal part in the ceremony. He was a Purula man of the Hakea totem, and he had also invited another man who was a Panunga of the Achilpa or wild cat totem, to assist in the performance. The reason why the latter man was asked, though he belonged neither to the same moiety nor totem as those to which the owner of the ceremony did, was simply that his daughter had been assigned as wife to the owner's son, and therefore it was desired to pay him some compliment. After some preliminary conversation, carried on in whispers, which had reference to the ceremony, the performers being instructed in their parts, and also in what the performance represented, a long spear was laid on the ground. One or two of the men went out and gathered a number of long grass stalks in which the spear was swathed, except about a foot at the lower end which was left uncovered. Then each man present took off his hair waist-girdle and these were wound round and round until spear and grass stalks were completely enclosed, and a long pole, about six inches in diameter and about eight feet in length, was formed. Then to the top of it was fixed a bunch of eagle-hawk and emu feathers. When this had been done one of the men by means of a sharp bit of flint—a splinter of glass, if obtainable, p. 284 is preferred—cut open a vein in his arm, which he had previously bound tightly round with hair string in the region of the biceps. The blood spurted out in a thin stream and was caught in the hollow of a shield, until about half a pint had been drawn, when the string was unwound from the arm and a finger held on the slight wound until the bleeding ceased. Then the down was opened out and some of it was mixed with red ochre which had been ground to powder on a flat stone. Four of the Purula men then began to decorate the pole with alternate rings of red and white down. Each of them took a short twig, bound a little fur string round one end, dipped the brush thus made into the blood, and then smeared this on over the place where the down was to be fixed on. The blood on congealing formed an excellent adhesive material. All the time that this was taking place, the men sang a monotonous chant, the words of which were merely a constant repetition of some such simple refrain as, “Paint it around with rings and rings,” “the Nurtunja of the Alcheringa,” “paint the Nurtunja with rings.” Every now and again they burst out into loud singing, starting on a high note and gradually descending, the singing dying away as the notes got lower and lower, producing the effect of music dying away in the distance. Whilst some of the men were busy with the Nurtunja, the Panunga man taking no part in the work beyond joining in the singing, another Purula man was occupied in fixing lines of down across six Churinga, which had been brought out of the Purula and Kumara store for the purpose of being used in the ceremony. Each of them had a small hole bored at one end, and by means of a strand of human hair string passed through this it was attached to the pole from which, when erect, the six hung pendant. Of the Churinga the two uppermost ones were supposed to have actually belonged to the two Hakea women who in the Alcheringa walked down to Ooraminna. Of the remaining four, two belonged to women and one to a man of the same totem, and the remaining one was that of a man of the Achilpa totem.
The decorated pole which is made in this way is called a Nurtunja, and in one form or another it figures largely p. 285 in the sacred ceremonies, especially in the case of those which are associated with northern localities. Its significance will be referred to subsequently.
As soon as the Nurtunja was ready, the bodies of the performers were decorated with designs drawn in ochre and bird's down, and then, when all was ready, the Nurtunja was carried by the Purula man to the ceremonial ground, and there, by the side of the Parra, the two men knelt down, the hinder one of the two holding the Nurtunja upright with both hands behind his back. It is curious to watch the way in which every man who is engaged in performing one of these ceremonies walks; the moment he is painted up he adopts a kind of stage walk with a remarkable high knee action, the foot being always lifted at least twelve inches above the ground, and the knee bent so as to approach, and, indeed, often to touch the stomach, as the body is bent forward at each step.
The Purula man who had been assisting in the decoration now called out to the other men who had not been present to come up. This calling out always takes the form of shouting “pau-au-au” at the top of the voice, while the hand with the palm turned to the face, and the fingers loosely opened out is rapidly moved backwards and forwards on the wrist just in front of the mouth, giving a very peculiar vibratory effect to the voice. At this summons all the men on the ground came up at a run, shouting as they approached, “wh'a! wha! wh'r-rr!” After dancing in front of the two performers for perhaps half a minute, the latter got up and moved with very high knee action, the Nurtunja being slowly bent down over the heads of the men who were in front. Then the dancers circled round the performers, shouting loudly “wha! wha!” while the latter moved around with them. This running round the performers is called Wahkutnima. Then once more the performers resumed their position in front of the other men, over whose heads the Nurtunja was again bent down, and then two or three of the men laid their hands on the shoulders of the performers, and the ceremony came to an end. The Nurtunja was laid on one side, and the performers, taking each a little bit of down from it, pressed p. 286 this in turn against the stomach of each of the older men who were present. The idea of placing hands upon the performers is that thereby their movements are stopped, whilst the meaning of the down being pressed against the stomachs of the older men is that they become so agitated with emotion by witnessing the sacred ceremony that their inward parts, that is, their bowels, which are regarded as the seat of the emotions, get tied up in knots, which are loosened by this application of a part of the sacred Nurtunja. In some ceremonies the Nurtunja itself is pressed against the stomachs of the older men, the process receiving the special name of tunpulilima.
The whole performance only lasted about five minutes, while the preparation for it had occupied more than three hours. As soon as it was over the performers sat on the ground; the down was removed from their bodies and preserved for future use and the Nurtunja was dismantled, the hair string being carefully unwound and returned to its respective owners.
The ceremony refers to two Alcheringa women of the Unjiamba or Hakea totem. As they travelled they kept close to the tracks of one party of Achilpa or wild cat men, but do not appear to have ever seen or come in contact with the men, who were travelling in the opposite direction. It is a remarkable fact that in some way or other the Achilpa and Unjiamba totems seem to be connected together, but what the exact connection is we have been unable to discover. The Unjiamba women referred to followed as they travelled close by, but not actually along, the track of one of the main Achilpa parties, and the two groups walked in opposite directions. Again, very many of the Achilpa ceremonies refer to the men eating Unjiamba, a feature which is not met with in the ceremonies of any other totem, and it will further be noticed that in the ceremony just described, out of six Churinga attached to the Nurtunja, no fewer than five belonged to Unjiamba individuals.
When the ceremony was over there was a rest for an hour or two, and then, early in the afternoon, two lots of Churinga were brought in from the Panunga and Bulthara store to be p. 287 p. 288 examined. Men of all groups—about fifteen in number—gathered together in the bed of the creek, with the Churinga in the middle of the group. The first lot belonged to the Achilpa of Ooraminna, the second to the Irritcha, or eaglehawk men of a place called Undoolya, out to the east of Alice Springs. During the examination certain of the younger men were present, and in this instance the Churinga, which were bound up in parcels tied tightly round with human hair string, were unpacked by the sons of the Alatunjas of the two localities to which they respectively belonged. While this was taking place the men sang as usual, pausing every now and then while some old man leant over to whisper in the ear of some one opposite to him. No loud talking was allowed, and every one looked as solemn as possible. The Churinga having been at last unpacked—for in these ceremonies everything is done with the utmost and, to the onlooker, often exasperating deliberation—they were taken up one by one by the Alatunja, in whose charge they were, and after a careful examination of each he pressed them in turn against the stomach of some one or other of the old men present. The man thus honoured held the Churinga, gazing down upon it, while a whispered conversation was kept up with regard to each one and its former possessor. Amongst them was one which was the Churinga nanja of one of the wives of the Alatunja of the Alice Springs group, and this was handed over to the woman's son for him to carefully examine.
When the examination was complete they were all carefully wrapped up and taken back to the store, and then preparations were made for another ceremony. Previous to this, however, at a signal from the head man, all the Purula and Kumara men had left the ground with the exception of two old ones, who were the Gammona of the head man and who were especially invited by him to stay and watch.
The Quabara to be performed was one associated with the Ulpmerka of Quiurnpa, the latter being a group of men belonging to the Akakia or plum tree totem; the men are called Ulpmerka because in the Alcheringa they were, as will be explained in another chapter, left uncircumcised—that is, p. 289 they remained Ulpmerka, or boys. The materials having been opened out, singing began, the burden being a constant repetition of the words “the sand hills are good.” This Quabara was in the possession of the Alatunja of Alice Springs, and he invited a man to perform it who was a tribal son to himself, belonging to the Panunga division and to the Irriakura totem. First of all the Alatunja's eldest son went over to where the man sat and rubbed his forehead against the latter's stomach, then embraced him round the neck and ended by rubbing his stomach against that of the man in question. Then a Bulthara man came up, that is a tribal father, and the same process of embracing was repeated. The meaning of this was that the young man had expressed a sense of his unfitness to undertake the duty, but when he p. 290 had once been embraced in this way by men who were especially associated with the ceremony it was impossible for him to refuse any longer. As soon as this was over the Alatunja of Alice Springs at once went over to where he sat and began to decorate his head. Twigs of a species of Cassia were fixed on to the top of his head enclosing his hair, which was gathered into a bunch so as to form, with the twigs, a long rounded structure about two and a half feet in length, projecting upwards and slightly backwards on the top of his head. The twigs were bound round and round with hair string. The Alatunja of the Undoolya group, who was the father of the performer, bled himself, the blood being taken on this occasion, as it very often was, from the subincised urethra, which was probed with a sharp pointed piece of wood. As the decorations proceeded—that is, while the head-dress was being covered with a design in white and red down, the men sitting around sang of the hair top-knot of Kukaitcha, the latter being a celebrated man of the Alcheringa associated with the plum tree totem, the top-knot having reference to the manner in which the hair is worn previous to the boys passing through the ceremony of circumcision.
“Yai yai Kukai
Ul lal arai
Yai yai Kukai
Yai yai Acheri
Time after time some such simple refrain was repeated while the down was fixed on to the performer's head-dress and body. When all was ready the performer, preceded by an old man, walked in a crouching attitude along the creek bed until he came opposite to the Parra, when he ran straight across and squatted in front of and close beside it.
It was just sunset as he came on to the ground, and at the same moment the arrival of a fresh contingent of natives from the south was announced. They had come into camp on the other side of the river and had, according to strict etiquette, sat down there for some little time apart from the other men. By way of welcome a party of the natives with spears, shields and boomerangs ran across to where they sat p. 291 p. 292 and, with the usual high stepping action, danced round and round them, brandishing spears and boomerangs and shouting loudly; suddenly they turned, crossed the river and came, still running, up the bank, threw their weapons on one side amongst the bushes and, without stopping, came on and circled round and round the performer, shouting “wah! wah!” After a short time two Purula men went and sat down, one in front of and one behind the performer; then a third came and, as he bent forward over the front one, the three placed their hands on the shoulders of the performer and he ceased the quivering and wriggling movements which he had been executing, while the men danced round him. The performer then got up and embraced the older men one after the other, this being done to assuage their feelings of emotion.
The evening was spent, as it usually was, singing on the ground close to the Parra. During all the first six weeks a p. 293 considerable length of time was always occupied during the night in what was called “singing the ground.” The young men who were passing through the Engwura for the first time stood up forming two or three lines close behind one another, like lines of men in a regiment of soldiers, and, led by one or two of the older men, either moved in a long line parallel to the Parra mound, shouting “wha! wha!” alternating this at intervals with a specially loud “whrr-rr-rr,” when with one accord they bent forwards and, as it were, hurled the sound at the Parra, or else they would sometimes rush closely round and round the mound in a single line, shouting in just the same way. The noise was deafening, and the loud “wha,” and still more penetrating cry of “whrr-rr-rr,” could be heard a mile or two away echoing amongst the bare and rocky ranges surrounding the Engwura ground. When this singing was over—that was about midnight—they all lay down around their camp fires, and for a p. 294 few hours there was a welcome silence. Usually at night there were a few of the men awake preparing, by the light of scattered fires, for ceremonies which often took place in the dead of the night or else just before the day broke.
The morning of the second day was entirely occupied with the examination of Churinga. Early in the afternoon the Quabara Iruntarinia Irritcha was performed. This will serve as a good example of what is called an Iruntarinia ceremony, that is, one which is supposed to have been imparted to a special individual by the Iruntarinia or spirits. The favoured person to whom this particular one had been shown was a celebrated medicine man, or Railtchawa, the son of the Alatunja of an Irritcha or eagle-hawk locality, but who was himself an Udnirringita or witchetty grub man. The Iruntarinia can present Quabara to whomsoever they choose to honour in this way, quite regardless of the recipient's totem. The latter may retain possession of the ceremony himself or he may pass it on, as a gift, to some other man, but in that case the individual must be of the totem with which the ceremony is concerned. Naturally the possession of such a ceremony is a mark of distinction, and it also gives the possessor a peculiar advantage over others, not only because he is so favoured by the spirits, but because he has something in his possession which enables him to confer a favour on some other man to whom he may decide to hand on the Quabara. On this occasion the recipient had handed on the ceremony to his own father, who was the head of the eagle-hawk group, and from whom, in course of time, it will descend to an eagle-hawk son.
Two men were invited to perform, both of them being sons of the Alatunja, and they were respectively of the eagle-hawk and emu totems. Only Panunga and Bulthara men were present during the preparations. The hair of each man was bunched up and, together with a conical crown of Cassia twigs, was bound round and round with hair string. Then blood, drawn in the usual way, was smeared over the front part of the head-dress and across the body in the form of a broad band round the waist and a band over each shoulder, the two uniting back and front. Each band was p. 295 p. 296 about six inches broad, and had the form when the decoration was complete of a solid mass of pink down, edged with a line of white. Into the hair-girdle behind was fixed a large bunch of the black feathers of the eagle-hawk, and into the top of each man's head-dress were fixed three Churinga, decorated with close rows of down coloured alternately red and white, each Churinga being about three feet in length and decorated at its end with a tuft of eagle-hawk feathers. In his mouth one man carried a small cylindrical mass, about eight inches in length and two in diameter, made of grass surrounded with hair string and covered with lines of down.
When the decoration was complete they came into the open and each of them sat down on his haunches on the convex side of a shield, so that they faced one another at a distance of about eight feet. Each man had his arms extended and carried a little bunch of eucalyptus twigs in his hands. They were supposed to represent two eagle-hawks quarrelling over a piece of flesh which was represented by the downy mass in one man's mouth. At first they remained squatting on their shields, moving their arms up and down, and still continuing this action which was supposed to represent the flapping of wings, they jumped off the shields and with their bodies bent up and arms extended and flapping, began circling round each other as if each were afraid of coming to close quarters. Then they stopped and moved a step or two at a time, first to one side and then to the other, until finally, they came to close quarters and began fighting with their heads for the possession of the piece of meat. This went on for some time and then two men stepped out from amongst the audience and took away the Churinga, which were a great weight and must have caused a considerable strain on the head, especially in the great heat of the afternoon sun, for it must be remembered that it was now well on into the summer. Then once more they began going round and round each other flapping wings, jumping up and falling back just like fighting birds, until finally they again came to close quarters, and the attacking man at length seized with his teeth the piece of meat and wrenched it out of the other man's mouth. The acting in this ceremony was especially good, the actions p. 297 and movements of the birds being admirably represented, and the whole scene with the decorated men in front and the group of interested natives in the background was by no means devoid of picturesqueness.
Later on in the afternoon there was performed the Quabara Unjiamba of Ooraminna. In this ceremony, we again find, as in the one already described, the close connection between the Unjiamba and Achilpa totems. The two men who performed, and neither of whom belonged to the totems, were p. 298 decorated each with a broad band round the waist, and one passing over each shoulder and joining, back and front, in the middle line. The area occupied by these bands was first of all rubbed with grease and then with powdered wad, an ore of manganese which gives, when used in this way, a peculiar pearl-gray tint, which harmonises well with the chocolate-coloured skin and stands out in strong contrast to the edging of white down which everywhere margins the bands. Over each ear was suspended a tuft of the tail tips of the rabbit-bandicoot. One of the two men carried a large Churinga on his head, fixed into the usual helmet made of twigs bound round with string. During the preparation the natives sang chants concerning the Kauaua (a sacred pole about which there will be more said subsequently) and referring also to the carrying round of the Nurtunja.
Both of the performers represented Achilpa men and they sat down immediately facing one another near to the Parra, the man carrying the Churinga having a shield in front of him, and in his hands a few twigs supposed to represent the flowering Hakea—that is the Unjiamba. These he pretended to steep in water so as to make the decoction of Hakea flower which is a favourite drink of the natives, and which the man sitting opposite to him pretended to suck up with a little mop made of a twig with fur string tied round it. While they did this the other men ran round and round them shouting “wha! wha!” Suddenly, the man who had been drinking sprang round so as to place his back just in front of the other man, who then put the shield behind his back with his arms holding it there, and the two for a few moments swayed from side to side slightly raising themselves from their squatting position as they did so. Those who were running round dropped out one by one until only three were left and they then put their hands on the performers' shoulders and the performance was at an end. The same ceremony was enacted about eleven o'clock at night, and then after the usual “singing” of the ceremonial ground the day's work came to a close.
On the morning of the third day the Quabara Achilpa of Urapitchera was performed. This was a ceremony concerned p. 299 with a group of wild cat men who in the Alcheringa walked across from south to north of the eastern side of the country now occupied by the Arunta tribe; whilst doing so they camped for a time at a spot called Urapitchera on the Finke River. The ceremony is now in the possession of the Alatunja of the Imanda group of men of the emu totem and he received it from his father who was a wild cat man. At the request of the owner it was performed by an old Purula man who was the head of the Elkintera, or large white bat totem, at a spot close to Imanda which itself lies on the Hugh River. In this performance two Nurtunjas, each of them p. 300 about ten feet in length, were prepared. Unlike most of the Nurtunjas there was no central support such as a spear, but the whole structure was made of a very large number of flexible grass stalks bound round with hair string and decorated with the usual rings of red and white down, so that each of them was somewhat flexible. The performer was decorated with lines and bands of down passing from his head along either shoulder and then down the body as far as the knees. On the Parra ground the Nurtunjas were arranged so that one end of each was under the man's waist-girdle, while the other, ornamented with a bunch of eagle-hawk feathers, rested on the ground, the two diverging from each other. Then the other men were called up and began running round and shouting and then all passed under the Nurtunjas which the performer lifted up for the purpose, the men with their hands and shoulders helping to support them, for they had been carried in that way in the Alcheringa. Finally, the old Purula man to whom the ceremony belongs came up and embraced the old performer, who was in fact about the oldest man upon the ground and almost blind, but as full of energy as the youngest man present.
In the afternoon of the same day a remarkable ceremony was performed which had no special relationship to the Engwura inasmuch as, though owned by the head man of a particular totem—the Ullakuppera or little hawk—it had no reference to either his or any other totem, but was a performance representing the doings of certain Kurdaitcha men. The description of it is therefore given in connection with that of the Kurdaitcha custom to which it more properly belongs. We could not find out why it was given during the Engwura at all, but it was evidently a favourite one with the natives, by most of whom it seemed to be well-known, and the opportunity was taken, while a large number were gathered together, to show it to those who had not previously seen it. It was repeated at a later date and was the only ceremony which was performed which had no special significance as regards the Engwura.
Early on the morning of the fourth day a very special examination of Churinga took place. Some years ago there p. 301 was a small group of Echunpa or large lizard men who lived about twelve miles to the west of Alice Springs. Gradually the group became extinct until finally no man was left to inherit and take care of the sacred storehouse containing the Churinga belonging to the group. Under these circumstances, the extinct group having consisted mainly of Panunga and Bulthara men, a contiguous group which was nakrakia with the extinct one, that is consisted mainly of the same moiety of the tribe, entered into possession. The totem of this group p. 302 was Unchalka, or little grub, and its head man, as no other lizard men lived anywhere near, took charge of the storehouse and of its contents. Some years later it chanced that the wife of a man of the Alice Springs group conceived a child in the old lizard locality and so, in the person of her son, the local Echunpa group was resuscitated. The lizard man had now arrived at maturity and advantage was taken of the Engwura to hand over to him, in the presence of representatives of the tribe, the Churinga of his ancestors.
On the evening before, the head man of the Unchalka had sent out special messengers to bring in the Churinga, and about nine o'clock in the morning they brought them into camp and handed them over to their custodian, who at once took them down into the creek where a number of the older men were gathered together as well as some of the younger ones, amongst whom was the man to whom they were to be handed over. First of all, the Alatunja of the Unchalka totem and those of the two important witchetty-grub groups, the one at Undoolya and the other at Alice Springs, knelt over towards one another and held a lengthy whispered conversation which was now and again shared in by other older men in the group, the most solemn silence being, as usual, observed by all the rest. The purport of this conversation was the holding of an Echunpa or lizard ceremony as soon as the present business had been carried through, so far, that is, as it was to be carried that day. When this matter, and the performers, had been decided upon, the old Unchalka man retired to the edge of the group. Then the Churinga were laid on shields and small boughs cut from the gum tree under which they sat; there were about sixty of them all together, and as soon as they were all unpacked, the man to whom they were being handed over was called up and took his seat along with the older men next to the Churinga. A long conversation, again carried on in whispers and with much solemnity, then ensued between the recipient and the two old men who told the former what the Churinga meant and whom they had belonged to. When this was over the new possessor rubbed his hands over the forehead of the Alatunja of the Undoolya group, who was a very old man, and then embraced him and having done p. 303 this went down on his knees and rubbed the old man's stomach with his forehead. It may be noted here that the deference paid to the old men during these ceremonies of examining the Churinga is most marked; no young man thinks of speaking unless he be first addressed by one of the elder men and then he listens solemnly to all that the latter tells him. During the whole time the presence of the Churinga seems to produce a reverent silence as if the natives really believed that the spirits of the dead men to whom they have belonged in times past were present, and no one, while they are being examined, ever speaks in tones louder than a whisper.
The old man just referred to was especially looked up to as an Oknirabata or great instructor, a term which is only applied, as in this case, to men who are not only old but are learned in all the customs and traditions of the tribe, and whose influence is well seen at ceremonies such as the Engwura where the greatest deference is paid to them. A man may be old, very old indeed, but yet never attain to the rank of Oknirabata.
When the young man had rubbed the stomach of the Oknirabata, the latter went over to where the Alatunja of the Unchalka sat and did the same to him in acknowledgment of the fact that he had safely kept the Churinga. The reason for this action on the part of the Oknirabata lay in the fact that he was the oldest Oknia or father of the young man. Then he went to an old Okira or kangaroo man and did the same. The territory of this man's group lay close to that of the Unchalka men, but not being nakrakia with the extinct lizard men he and his people could not go in and inherit the land. Still the local relationship, which enters in a vaguely defined but unmistakable way into the customs concerned with the totems, found on this occasion its expression in this act of courtesy paid to the head of a neighbouring group by the father on behalf on his son. The natives said that this was done to keep the old kangaroo man from being jealous and unfriendly. As the handing over of the Churinga was a matter of great importance it could not be properly carried through at one sitting and so, after a long time had been spent p. 304 in their examination, the completion of the ceremony was postponed to another day.
The preparation for the lizard ceremony then began. The old Oknirabata was to perform it, and after his head had been encased in a strong helmet, the whole of this, as well as his face and the upper part of his body and arms, were covered with a dense mass of white down, two half rings of which also adorned the front of each thigh. A large bunch of eagle hawk feathers was fastened behind into his waistband, and on his head he carried no fewer than seven large Churinga belonging to the totem, two of them being remarkable from the fact that they were curved in shape like a boomerang. These were the only ones of this shape on the Engwura ground, and they were evidently very old ones, 1 as the original pattern with which they had been ornamented was almost entirely obliterated by the innumerable rubbings to which they had been subjected in course of time. When decorated the performer went at first some distance along the creek bed so as to be out of sight of the other men, who assembled not far from the Parra at a spot where they spread out a small patch of gum boughs. Standing behind this they waited for a few minutes, after which the lizard was seen in the distance throwing up clouds of dust as he came up from his hiding place in the creek and approached the ground. He came on slowly in a zig-zag course, stooping down and assuming a variety of attitudes, always of course with the high knee action. The younger man, to whom the Churinga were being handed over, now appointed two men to go and meet him. This they did about thirty or forty yards away from the group, after which the performer pretended every now and then to turn back, whereupon the two men circled round him holding their arms up as if to prevent him from going away while they cried out “chrr-chrr,” and did their best to encourage him to come on to where the group of men stood waiting. Gradually he came on, and, when close to, the men forming the audience went to the boughs and spread them out as if inviting him to sit down, which he did after a short time,
and then shouting “wha! wha!” they circled round him in the usual way. The two men who went to meet him represent little birds called Thippa-thippa, which tradition says are the descendants of Alcheringa men who came and watched and ran round and round some lizard men who were travelling along towards Simpson's Gap. The Thippa-thippa changed into birds of the same name, who ever afterwards became the mates of the lizard people.
The night was spent as usual singing on the ground.
On the morning of the fifth day we were introduced to a new form of ceremony. As might have been expected amongst a tribe occupying such an extent of territory as does the Arunta, there are certain features in regard to the ceremonies which vary in different parts. Not only do the Arunta extend in a north and south direction for more than three hundred miles, but at their southern limit they are in contact with tribes whose customs vary much from their own and in p. 306 which the social organisation is radically different. Where two such tribes come into contact with one another each has a certain influence upon the other, and thus we find that the southern Arunta have gained certain things from their southern neighbours which are not found in the north, and vice versa. We have already pointed out that the Nurtunja in one form or another plays an important part in the sacred ceremonies. When we come to the southern Arunta its place is taken to a large extent by what is called the Waninga. This is a structure which varies much in size and form, but consists essentially of a framework of sticks which in its simplest form has the shape of a cross, and to which are fixed lines of string. We will describe first the ceremony as performed at the Engwura, and will then add a few general remarks on the subject of the Waninga. On this occasion it was used in connection with the Quabara Quatcha of Idracowra, that is a rain ceremony associated with what is called by white men Chambers Pillar, not far from the Finke River. Idracowra is a corruption of the native words iturka wura, the native name for the pillar.
Two men, one a Purula the other a Bulthara, both of them belonging to the emu totem, were decorated for the ceremony with white bands of down, two on each side of the body. On the top of their heads each wore a bunch of parings of gum tree wood smeared with human blood. The front man had a freshly cut gum stick about two and a half feet in length with the green bark still on, and, like the parings, smeared with blood. This he carried across his shoulders, one hand holding it at either end. His back was adorned with a bunch of eagle-hawk feathers fixed in to his waist girdle. The other man, who walked immediately behind him, carried the Waninga, which he grasped with both hands at the back of his neck. The strain on his arms must have been very great, as it was carried in an upright position. With particularly high knee action, and with their bodies quivering, they came up out of the bed of the creek while the audience sat on the ground by the side of the Parra, the front row of men, who belonged to the southern district from which the Waninga came, beating the ground with boomerangs. The performers p. 307 advanced slowly for about thirty or forty yards, stopping every now and then, until finally they came close to the seated men. Then a Kumara man got up and took the Waninga away, and placed it carefully on one side. The performers then simply walked up to the group, sat down, and were pressed upon the shoulders in the usual way.
In this instance the Waninga was made out of a long desert-oak spear ten feet in length; at right angles to its length were fixed two sticks about three feet in length, each of them at a distance of two and a half feet from one end of the spear. Between the two, and running parallel to the length of the spear, were strung tightly, and very close together, lines of human hair-string. Each line took a turn p. 308 round the transverse stick at either end, and then passed off in a slanting direction to the central spear round which it was passed, and then ran back again to the transverse bar; from here it was carried back along the length of the structure, between the two bars, close by the side of the first line, and so on, time after time, until the whole space between the two bars was filled in with closely-set parallel bands of string. At either end the strands passing off to the central spear formed a triangular-shaped structure. A certain number of lines forming a band an inch and a half in width, and running all round, about the same distance, within the margin, were made of opossum fur string whitened with pipeclay, the same width of string on each side of it being red-ochred, while the remainder was left in its normal black colour. Tufts of the red-barred tail feathers of the black cockatoo were attached to the upper end of the spear and to each end of the transverse bars, and finally a number of bands of white down were attached in roughly parallel lines across the length of the lines of string, little masses of the same material covering the bases and tips of the feathers. The whole structure took several hours to prepare, and showed no little ingenuity and a considerable amount of artistic capacity on the part of its makers.
The various parts of the Waninga have their different meanings, but it must be remembered that the same structure will mean one thing when it is used in connection with one totem and quite a different thing when used in connection with another. This particular Waninga was emblematic of the Quatcha, or water totem. The red string represented thunder, the white band lightning, and the ordinary uncoloured string was the rain falling. The white patches and bands of down naturally represented clouds, while the red of the feathers and the blood smeared on the parings of wood worn on the men's heads represented the masses of dirty brown froth which often float on the top of flood waters.
This was the only occasion on which, during the Engwura, the Waninga was used, the reason being that in perhaps the greater part of the tribe, and certainly in the northern half, the Nurtunja is most largely employed in totemic ceremonies p. 309 with, it must be remembered, precisely the same significance as the Waninga, that is, in each instance the Waninga, or the Nurtunja, as the case may be, is emblematic of the particular totem with which the ceremony being performed is associated. As we pass right into the south the Nurtunja completely disappears and the Waninga takes its place. At Charlotte Waters, for example, or Crown Point on the lower part of the Finke River, no Nurtunja is ever used; when the rite of circumcision is practised a Waninga is made, and after it has been used in the performance of a sacred ceremony it is fixed up in the ground and the novice embraces it. 1 Occasionally a kind of compound one is made in which a small one is attached to the top of a larger one, in much the same way in which a small Nurtunja is sometimes attached to the top of a larger one.
The use of the Waninga extends far south, right down, in fact, to the sea coast at Port Lincoln, and it evidently passes out westwards, but how far it is impossible to say. At Charlotte Waters various totems use it, such as the Irrunpa or lizard (the equivalent of the Echunpa of the north), Okira or kangaroo, Arunga or euro, and Quatcha or water. The Irrunpa Waninga is similar in structure to that of the Quatcha, but the parts have an entirely different significance; the projecting end represents the head, the triangular part following this the neck, the top transverse bar the fore limbs, the main part the body, the lower bar the legs, and the bottom end of the spear the tail. Exactly as in the case of the different marks on the Churinga, so in the Waninga the different parts represent entirely different objects according to the totem with which the particular one is associated.
In connection with this ceremony and the use of the Waninga, we learned the following particulars with regard to the wanderings of certain Okira, or kangaroo men, in the Alcheringa, which we insert here to give some idea of the nature of the instruction with respect to the doings of their ancestors in the Alcheringa, which is given by the old men to the younger ones during the performance of the Engwura.
Somewhere out from the far west there came two kangaroo men who carried with them a large Waninga. They stayed for some time, first of all at a spot close to Idracowra, at a water-hole called Umbera-wartna, and there they formed an Oknanikilla, that is they deposited some of the Churinga which they carried in the ground, and so left behind spirit individuals of the kangaroo totem; then they walked on down the Finke River to a place called Urpunna, where they erected their Waninga and formed another Oknanikilla. Then, carrying the Waninga, they went underground and crossed beneath the Lilla Creek which enters the Finke from the west, and on the southern side they met a mob of kangaroos and euros who came to look at them. Travelling on they came out of the ground at a group of hills called by the natives Amanda, and probably identical with what is now called Mount Watt, one of a group of silurian sandstone hills which rise out of the level plains and sand hills about forty-five miles to the south-west of the junction of the Finke and Lilla. Here they rested for some time and formed an Oknanikilla. Then they turned south-east, and travelling underground crossed beneath the Wichinga (now called the Hamilton) creek, and then on under the Alberga, until once more they emerged at Marpinna, where they formed an Oknanikilla, and where also they opened veins in their arms and allowed the blood to stream out over the ground, and so made a great level clay plain which has remained to the present time. Then, after going still further south and passing out of what is now the country of the Arunta, they turned to the west and made a big circuit through the sand hill country now occupied by a part of the Luritcha tribe, until finally, turning north, they came to the George Gill Range, and crossed this so as to reach a spot now called Tempe Downs, where they formed an Oknanikilla. Then following this to its junction with the Palmer they went a little way up the latter, and, together with their Waninga, they ceased from wandering, and went down into a well-known water-hole called Illara, where they stayed, forming an important Oknanikilla of the kangaroo totem. The importance of the traditions relating to the wanderings of the p. 311 Alcheringa ancestors has already been pointed out in connection with the discussion of the totems. It must be remembered that it is during the Engwura ceremony especially that a knowledge of these matters is imparted by the elder to the younger men, on whose memory the traditions are firmly fixed by means, to a large extent, of the ceremonies, each one of which is associated with some special spot and some special individual or group.
On the sixth day the ceremonies opened with one relating to Ulpmerka men who belonged to the Inguitchika (a grass seed) totem of a place called Imiunga, on the Jay River. This particular ceremony belonged to a Purula man, who invited a Bulthara man, assisted by a Panunga, to perform it; the former belonged to the witchetty-grub and the latter to the emu totem. The Bulthara man was son of an Inguitchika woman, the other performer being the son of a woman of the Illonka (little yam) totem, the locality of which adjoined that of the former. The man to whom the ceremony belonged p. 312 was Witia, or younger brother, of the Inguitchika woman, and has charge of her Churinga nanja.
For the performance two sticks were taken, each about four feet long; when swathed in grass stalks and bound round with hair-string, each of them was about nine inches in diameter. The ends were ornamented with bunches of white and pink cockatoo feathers and eagle hawk. The two were bound together tightly in the form of a cross, and each was further ornamented with rings of down. The whole structure formed a Nurtunja. During the performance the two men squatted down close to one another, each carrying in his hand a small twig of gum tree, the Nurtunja being fixed on to the head of the hinder of the two men, who simply swayed their bodies about from side to side while the other men ran round and round them, except two old men who squatted down to one side singing about the walking about of the Ulpmerka men in the Alcheringa.
During the evening of this the sixth day, the men seated by the side of the Parra began to sing about the Kulchia or fur armlets being bound around the arms of the young men who were passing through the Engwura, and also began singing about the Kauaua, or sacred pole, which was to be erected later on.
On the seventh day an important Quabara of the Ulpmerka of Quiurnpa was performed. In this there were seven performers, three of whom represented boys who wore top-knots on their heads—the usual style of doing a boy's hair. Two others, who represented an individual called Kukaitcha, the leader of the Ulpmerka, wore decorated Churinga fastened as usual into a head-dress, which was made of twigs bound round with hair-string. One represented an Ulpmerka man, and wore a large tuft of eagle hawk-feathers on his head, while the last man had an enormous head-dress two feet six inches in height, made in the usual way and decorated with broad bands of down. Through this was stuck a bent stick about four feet in length, carrying at each end a tuft of feathers, while from the head-dress were suspended four Ulpmerka Churinga, two of them belonging to women and two to men.
Each of the performers was profusely decorated with bands of yellow ochre, charcoal or wad, edged with down. The preparation for the performance took between two and three hours, and was under the superintendence of the Alatunja of Alice Springs, in whose charge at present are all the Churinga belonging to this group of Ulpmerka men of the plum tree totem. They will some day be handed over to the only living representative of the totem, who is at present too young to receive them.
During the preparations the men sang of putting twigs on to the head of Kukaitcha, of the Paukutta, or top-knots of the boys, and of the walking of the Ulpmerka in the Alcheringa. The man with the special head-dress was supposed to represent a great Alcheringa Kukaitcha, and the head-dress itself was a form of Nurtunja, which in this case represents a plum tree, the stick which passed through it representing the branches. When all was ready the performers divided into three sets. One of the Kukaitchas went to a spot at the north-east end of the ground; the man with the Nurtunja was led by the Alatunja up to the Parra, beside which he squatted, while the other five went to the north-west end of the ground. Of the latter the three representing boys sat down in a line, two facing one way and one the other. At the end of the line, where the first mentioned sat, stood one of the Kukaitchas with two Churinga in his hands which he kept beating together, the idea being that he was teaching the boys to sing. At the other end stood the Ulpmerka man pretending to knock plums off a tree, which the boy in front of him picked up and ate. When all the performers were ready in their allotted places, the other men, who had meanwhile remained out of sight in the bed of the creek, were called up on to the ground. They were supposed to represent a mob of Ulpmerka men, and coming at a run on to the ground they went first of all to the solitary Kukaitcha man and danced, shouting, around him; then suddenly, accompanied by him, they ran across to where the five men were arranged, acting as already described. After the usual dancing, shouting, and laying-on of hands, the whole party ran across to where the great Kukaitcha sat, and p. 314 all joined in a dance round him while he swayed about from side to side. The usual embracing of the old men by the performers brought the ceremony to an end.
There is a curious tradition of the natives which is concerned with this special group of Ulpmerka men, with which we were acquainted before the Engwura took place, and with part of which this ceremony is concerned. About fifteen miles to the S.S.E. of Alice Springs is a plum tree totem locality. In the Alcheringa the totem included a number of men who were designated Ulpmerka of the plum tree totem p. 315 for the simple reason, as explained elsewhere, that they had not been circumcised. In the same way it may be remarked that we meet with Ulpmerka men of other totems such as the grass seed. The plum tree Ulpmerka men had, so says tradition, only two women amongst them, who both belonged to the bandicoot totem, and had joined the Ulmerka party after wandering alone for some time over the country. At first they were considerably alarmed at the Ulpmerka men, but the latter made a large Nurtunja, and after the women had been shown this, then, for some reason, they were no longer afraid. The younger woman was then gorgeously decorated with down, a small, bluntly conical Nurtunja was placed on her head, and the men then danced round her shouting, “wah! wah!” Then she was taken and laid down by the side of the large Nurtunja, which was fixed upright in the ground, and the operation of atna ariltha-kuma, the equivalent ceremony to that of pura ariltha-kuma as practised upon the men, was performed by means of a large stone knife, after which all the men had access to her. The two women were then taken to the camp of the Kukaitcha, who was the headman of the local Ulpmerka men, and who claimed the women as his own, but allowed the others to have access occasionally to the woman who had been operated upon as just described. After a time a special messenger or Inwurra, who was also named Kukaitcha, came down from the north—from the country, as the natives say, of the Quatcha alia—that is the salt water. He called the men to him and told them that they were to leave their own country and follow him. Then he took the two women away from the local Kukaitcha, and a start was made for the north. After travelling as far as a place now called Wigley Springs, four miles to the north of Alice Springs, the Nurtunja which they carried with them was erected, and the elder of the two women was operated upon. All the men as before had access to her; and the party remained at this spot for some little time. Then they went on towards what is now Bond Springs, close to which they camped, and here one man, a Kumara, was left behind. His name was Kukaitcha, and at the present day his reincarnation is living at Alice Springs. p. 316 and his Nanja stone is a small block which arose to mark the spot where his Alcheringa ancestor went down into the earth, leaving behind him his spirit part in his Churinga. From this spot they went on to the Burt Plain close to, and camped at, Allan Waters, after which they went up into the sky and continued in a northerly course for some twenty-five miles, camping at Umbaltna-nirrima, and here it is related that the Ulpmerka played with pieces of bark just as boys do now. Travelling on, they again performed ariltha-kuma on the younger woman, to whom, by permission of Kukaitcha, all had access. The women always travelled along with Kukaitcha, at a little distance to the side of the main party. At Ulathirka one man, named Apallana, had intercourse without permission with the younger woman, and accordingly he was killed, but, though thus killed, his spirit part remained in his Churinga. At the same spot a Purula man was left behind, and his descendant is now living, but as yet he is only a young boy not initiated. Halting at various places, they travelled northwards until at length they came to the country of the salt water, where they remained ever afterwards.
The ceremony, which has been described as it was performed during the Engwura, represents the Ulpmerka men of the south being collected together round the Kukaitcha from the north prior to their accompanying him. First of all there were two performances in which the Ulpmerka men were shown dancing round their own Kukaitcha, who was the head of the local group, and then all of them went and joined together afterwards in dancing round the Kukaitcha from the north, signifying, as it were, that they regarded him as the greater man and as their leader.
In the afternoon the Quabara Interpitna of a place called Uratinga on the Finke River, between Henbury and Idracowra, was performed. The Interpitna is a fish totem, the particular form being known locally as the bony bream (Chatoessus horni), which is plentiful in the water holes, such as the one at the spot known to white men as the Main camp, with which the totem is associated. The possessor, and also in this case the performer, of the Quabara was an old Panunga p. 317 man of the Obma or snake totem, who had inherited it from his father. His hair was done up as usual, and the whole front of the head-dress, as well as his face, was covered with a mass of white down, above which stood out in strong contrast a large bunch of black eagle-hawk feathers. His body was decorated with bands of charcoal, edged with white down. Squatting on the ground, he moved his body and extended his arms from his sides, opening and closing them as he leaned forwards, so as to imitate a fish swelling itself out and opening and closing its gills. Then he moved along, imitating by means of twigs in his hands the action of a man driving before him, with boughs, the fish in a small waterhole, just as the natives do. Four men, all from the same southern locality as himself, but of different totems, squatted down to one side of him singing, while one of them beat time with a stick on the ground. Suddenly one of the latter jumped across and sat down in front of him, gradually approaching p. 318 nearer and nearer, until he came close enough to put his hands on the old man's shoulders.
Late on at night just before midnight another Quabara of the Ulpmerka of Quiurnpa was performed, representing three men eating plums.
On the eighth day a Quabara of the Irriakura totem of a place called Oknirchumpatana, on what is now called Soda Creek, was performed. The Irriakura is a favourite food of the natives, and is the name given to the bulbs of Cyperus rotundus. One man only was decorated, but the design was a very quaint and striking one. A ring of grass stalks bound firmly together with human hair-string, and measuring about two feet in diameter, was made and covered with white down. On the shoulders, stomach, and arms of the performer were drawn broad bands of a light pearl colour, made by rubbing on some wad; each band was edged with white down. The hair was done into a head-dress, all the front of which, as well as the man's face, was covered with down. Then, when he had been thus ornamented, the ring was put over his head and, rested slanting forwards and downwards, on his shoulders. A large number—not less than a hundred—little bunches of the red-barred tail feathers of the black cockatoo had been prepared, half of them tipped with red and half with white down, and these were stuck into the ring so as to radiate outwards all round it, while numbers of others were stuck into his head-dress and beard. The dark chocolate colour of the skin, the black and red feathers, the gray bands on the body and the white and pink down, together with the light yellow sand on which the man sat, formed a striking mixture of colours which was by no means unpleasing, and the whole decoration was extremely quaint. The man seated himself in front of a dozen bunches of cockatoo tail feathers, decorated with down, just like those on his person, and arranged in a straight line in the sand. Then, moving slightly from side to side, he scooped at intervals, and one after another, the bunches up with both hands, pausing every now and then to look around him and to put himself into the most ridiculous attitudes, as if he heard something which frightened him, but could not tell what or where it was. The tufts of p. 319 feathers represented the growing Irriakura, which he was supposed to be gathering. The other men sat to one side watching the performance and singing about Unatunpika, the name of the man whom the ceremony represented, and which was also in this instance the Churinga name of the performer. With the uprooting of the last of the tufts, the ceremony came to an end, and then the ring called Ilyappa was taken off and put in turn on the heads of the other Irriakura men who were present, and also on those of other of the older men. The tradition connected with this performance is as follows. In the Alcheringa, Unatunpika sat p. 320 down eating Irriakura at the other side of Oknirchumpatana, when suddenly he heard the Irripitchas, that is the ringnecked parrots, who were the mates of the Irriakura men, cry out to warn him that a mob of strange men were coming up. He dropped his Irriakura and came across to Oknirchumpatana. The mob, which also consisted of Irriakura men, left two individuals there, whose reincarnations are now living in the form of two individuals, called respectively Irrturinia and Irriakura. Then they went on to the other side of the Jay River, to a place called Unbanjun, where they formed the Oknanikilla, from which sprung, amongst others, some of whom are women, an individual now living at Alice Springs, called Tukerurnia.
After midnight there was performed the Quabara Akakia (plum-tree), of a place called Iliakilia in the Waterhouse Range. This was acted by four men, who were respectively Purula and honey-ant totem; Purula and “native pheasant”; Purula and white bat; Bulthara and illonka. 1 First of all one man came up to where the audience was sitting by the Parra. He pretended to knock plums down and to eat them, and after a short time he sat down amongst the audience. Then two others came up, one of whom remained standing, while he knocked down imaginary plums, which were eaten by the other man, who seated himself on the ground. This over, both of the men went and joined the audience, and the fourth man came and went through the same pretence of knocking down and eating plums. The interesting point in connection with this and many other very similar ceremonies lies in the fact that the Alcheringa ancestors are so frequently represented as freely eating the animal or plant, from which they derive their totemic name. 2 At the present time the conditions with regard to this point are markedly different from those which evidently obtained in times past.
During the evening close by the Parra a dense group was formed with the older men standing in the centre, and the
younger ones on the outside. In this way, as closely packed as possible, they sang together for some two hours, the group as a whole swaying backwards and forwards without ceasing. Then towards midnight they all sat down, and in this position, still closely packed together, they continued singing till between one and two o'clock, when the old men decorated the heads of the younger men with twigs and leaves of an Eremophila shrub. This material, which is worn from now till the end of the ceremonies, is called wetta. The old men who did the decorating were Urliara, who had already been through the Engwura, and to each one of these, four or five young men had been allotted by the presiding old man. There were no restrictions as to the relationship of the men; for example, a Panunga man could take charge of men of any class, but, until the end of the ceremonies, the young men who p. 322 had been decorated became ab-moara to the man who had charge of them, and he to them. They might not either speak to, or in the presence of, the old man without his permission.
From this time on right to the very end of the ceremonies the young men were called collectively by the name Illpongwurra, which means not smeared with grease or colour; and with this the second phase of the Engwura came to an end.
278:1 Attention may be drawn to the fact that in the Arunta tribe the men who are supposed to be able to hold intercourse with the spirits and to receive these ceremonies from them are quite distinct from those usually called “medicine-men,” and that both the former and the latter are characteristically the reverse of nervous or excitable in temperament.
279:1 In the case of names such as this which are in ordinary use, and are indicated on maps, we retain the accepted spelling, though this word, for example, as pronounced by the natives, should be spelt Urüminna.
281:1 Mr. Roth has described this same handing on of corrobborees from group to group in the case of the Queensland tribes, and, as he has already pointed out, the result is that the words are, as a general rule, quite unintelligible to the performers, the corrobboree performed on any occasion having probably originated in a distant tribe speaking a different language. For a full description of one of these ordinary dancing corrobborees, the general features of which are much the same over the whole continent, Mr. Roth's work may be consulted.
304:1 Amongst many hundred Churinga examined we have only seen five of this shape, and, curiously, all of them belonged to a lizard totem.
309:1 Ceremonies in which the Waninga is used are described in connection with the rite of Lartna, Chapter VII.
320:1 Illonka is the fruit of a species of Marsdenia.
320:2 The performers in each ceremony represent, of course, individuals of the totem with which the ceremony is concerned. In this instance each of the four men represented, for the time being, a plum-tree man.