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The Native Tribes of North Central Australia, by Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen [1899], at

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Chapter XII Customs Concerned with Knocking out of Teeth; Nose-Boring; Growth of Breasts; Blood, Blood-Letting, Blood-Giving, Blood-Drinking; Hair; Childbirth; Food Restrictions; Cannibalism

Operation of tooth knocking out in the case of males after the performance of the Quatcha Intichiuma—Explanation of the ceremony given by the natives—Operation in the case of females—Throwing the tooth towards the mother's camp in the Alcheringa—Comparison of the ceremony with that of other parts of Australia—Nose-boring ceremony—Men painting the breasts of a girl with fat and red ochre after charming it—To be regarded as a ceremony of initiation—Customs concerned with menstruation—Drinking blood when starting on an avenging party—Blood-drinking at meetings of reconciliation—Blood-letting at sacred ceremonies—Painting the Kauaua with blood—The blood after the ceremony of Ariltha upon a woman in the Kaitish and northern tribes—Deposits of red ochre associated with women's blood—Giving blood to men and women to strengthen them—Charming fat and red ochre and rubbing it over sick people—Part of the reproductive organs of an opossum or kangaroo used to strengthen women—Distribution of human hair—Customs at childbirth, making the umbilical cord into a necklet—Food restrictions—Totemic—The wild cat must not be eaten—Food killed by certain individuals may not be eaten—The projecting of a man's smell into food—Men who have to be supplied with food by any individual man belong to his wife's side of the tribe—Restrictions during pregnancy—Food restrictions for boys and girls with penalties attached—Cannibalism in the traditions—Killing and eating a younger child in the Luritcha tribe.



THIS is a rite to which individuals of both sexes must sooner or later submit, if they happen to belong to one or other of the various groups which inhabit what is called the Kartwia Quatcha, or rain country, which lies in the north-east of the area of the country occupied by the Arunta tribe. It is evident that the rite is one the significance of which, so far as this tribe is concerned, has undergone very considerable change in course of time. As a general rule it is performed before marriage, but not always, and when not done at an p. 451 early age, the natives give as a reason that the boy or girl was too frightened, an excuse which would not gain a minute's delay if the ceremony were one concerned with initiation, and that such should be made shows that the ceremony is not one to which any very great importance is now attached.

The operation always takes place after the Water Intichiuma ceremony has been performed, and in the case of a fully-grown man, it is performed on the Intichiuma ground. It is impossible to find out why the ceremony has become so especially associated with the rain or water totem, though at the same time it must be remembered that it is performed, not infrequently, on men and women of other totems; in fact any one, whatever his or her totem be, may undergo the rite at pleasure, but in the case of just the one totem it is obligatory, or practically so, though at the same time the non-observance of the custom would not prevent any man from being admitted to the secrets of the tribe, but it would subject him to what is most dreaded by the native, and that is the constant ridicule of the other men and women, with whom he is in daily contact. The explanation, evidently devised by the natives to account for the special association of the custom with the rain totem, is that the object of the rite is to produce in the face a resemblance to what they call Alailinga, which is the name applied to certain clouds, dark with a light margin, which are of peculiar appearance and are said to portend the coming of rain. There evidently was, as will be seen later on, a time when the ceremony had a much deeper meaning than it has at the present day.

If the operation be performed on a man he lies down on his back, resting his head on the lap of a sitting man who is his tribal Oknia (elder brother), or else a man who is Unkulla to him (mother's brother's son). The latter pinions his arms and then another Okilia or Unkulla fills his mouth with furstring for the purpose, partly, they say, of absorbing the blood and partly of deadening the pain, and partly also to prevent the tooth from being swallowed. The same man then takes a piece of wood, usually the sharp hard end of a spear, in which there is a hole made, and, pressing it firmly against the tooth, strikes it sharply with a stone. When the tooth is out, he p. 452 holds it up for an instant so that it can be seen by all, and while uttering a peculiar, rolling, guttural sound throws it away as far as possible in the direction of the Mira Mia Alcheringa, which means the camp of the man's mother in the Alcheringa. The man who has been operated upon then gets up and picks up some boomerangs which he throws at a shield which has been fixed upright in the ground some little distance away, throwing them gently so as not to hurt the shield. There is no singing or demonstration of any kind, other than that described, but the mother of the man must provide an offering of mirna, that is seed food of some kind, or “yams,” and send it to the tribal Okilia or Unkulla who performed the operation, and he, in his turn, must provide an offering of food for the use of the man on whom he operated, which is a curious reversal of the usual rule, according to which it is necessary, in all other cases with which we are acquainted, for the man who has been operated upon to provide the operator with food. 1

In the case of boys the operation is performed away from the Intichiuma ground near to which they may not go, and at this ceremony women may be present, for with regard to the Intichiuma ground the same restriction applies to them as to boys. The performance is carried out in the same way as described, and the same rules apply with regard to the offering of food.

When a woman or girl is to be operated on, a little space is cleared near to the main camp where men and women all assemble, except only those who are Mura to the girl. A tribal Okilia sits down and the girl lies with her head in his lap, and the operation is conducted as in the case of the men and boys, being almost always performed by a tribal Okilia. The tooth when taken out is lifted up with the same guttural sound and thrown in the direction of the mother's Alcheringa camp. The girl now springs to her feet, and seizing a small pitchi which has been placed close at hand for the purpose,

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fills it with sand, and dancing over the cleared space agitates the pitchi as if she were winnowing seed. When it is emptied she resumes her seat amongst the women. Previous to the operation the Okilia places in her hair a topknot of feathers of a cockatoo, which is returned to him later on. The girl, not her mother, must now provide an offering of seed food for the use of the operating Okilia, and he in his turn must send her an offering of meat.

Amongst the Kaitish tribe the operation on men is performed by tribal Okilia, and on women and girls by tribal Ungaraitcha (elder sisters), and in both cases, just as in the Arunta and Ilpirra tribes, the tooth is, when extracted, thrown in the direction of the mother's Alcheringa camp.

The existence as well as the details accompanying the performance of this custom in these central tribes is of considerable interest. As is well known, it forms amongst many of the eastern and south-eastern tribes of Australia the most important initiation ceremony, after passing through which the young men are admitted to the status of manhood. Amongst the central tribes it has no such significance, and it is not even of universal occurrence amongst them. At the same time, the ceremony which accompanies the operation may in all probability be regarded as indicative of a time when it was a more important rite than it is at the present day. Circumcision and sub-incision are amongst these tribes the initiation rites, and they are as characteristic in this respect of the central tribes as the knocking out of teeth is of certain tribes of the east and south-east of the continent.

If, however, we examine more in detail the accounts of the ceremony as conducted in the Arunta and certain of the latter tribes, we find unmistakable points of agreement which are difficult to account for on any supposition except that the two have had a common origin in times past.

Blandowski 1 in writing of certain Victorian natives, says, that on arriving at manhood, a youth was conducted by three leaders of the tribe into the recesses of the woods, where he remained two days and one night. Being furnished with a suitable piece of wood, he knocked out two of the front teeth

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of his upper jaw, and on returning to the camp gave them to his mother. Then he again returned to the woods for the same length of time. During his absence, his mother selected a young gum tree and inserted in the bark of the fork of two of the topmost branches the teeth which had been knocked out. This was ever afterwards in some sense held sacred. It was only known to certain persons of the tribe, and the youth himself was never allowed to know where his teeth had been placed. If the youth died, then the base of the tree was stripped of its bark, and it was killed by fire, so that it might remain as a monument of the dead man. It may be remarked, that it would be more likely to remain as a monument if it were not killed, and that probably this was not the real reason for destroying it.

Collins, 1 in an excellent account of the rite as practised amongst the natives of a New South Wales tribe, describes how a throwing stick was made, and with this the tooth was knocked out by means of hitting it with a stone. The last performance before the actual operation consisted in a man standing out with a shield in one hand and a club in the other, “striking the shield with the club, at every third stroke the whole party poised and presented their spears at him, pointing them inwards and touching the centre of the shield. This concluded the ceremonies previous to the operation; and it appeared significant of an exercise which was to form the principal business of their lives, the use of the spear.” Further on he says, “The natives when speaking of the loss of the tooth always use the word yor-lahng era-ba-diahng,” which “appears to be compounded of the name given to the spot where the principal scene takes place, and of the most material qualification that is derived from the whole ceremony, that is, the throwing of the spear.”

Though Collins does not state anything very definite with regard to whom the teeth were given, we can gather indirectly, but at the same time quite clearly, that they came into the possession of certain women. He says, “Ben-nil-long's sister and Da-ring-ha, Cole-be's wife, hearing the author express a great desire to become possessed of some of these

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teeth, procured them for him;” and again, “one of the boys who had undergone the operation had formerly lived with the principal surgeon of the settlement till that gentleman's departure for England. A female relative of this boy brought the teeth to the author with a request that he would send them to Mr. White; thus with gratitude remembering after the lapse of some years the attention which that gentleman had shown to her relative.”

In these accounts we see, certainly modified in detail but yet agreeing in essential points, the two significant features of spear-throwing and of the presenting of the teeth to some female relative of the person operated upon. The idea which evidently lies at the root of the ceremony in both the Arunta and Kaitish tribes on the one hand, and the Victorian and New South Wales tribes on the other hand, is that the individual operated upon has ceased to be a mere boy or girl as the case may be, and has passed from the control of the mother into the ranks of the men or women, and the tooth is probably given to the mother or female relative as an indication of this. In those tribes in which the ceremony is one of initiation it is not of course practised, at the present day, upon women, but when it ceases to be an important ceremony of initiation, then the same idea is, as it were, carried over to the women along with the ceremony itself.

In the Central Australian tribes for example, the rite has ceased to hold the importance which it still retains, or rather did until the advent of the white man and their consequent extinction, amongst the tribes of the eastern coastal district. In the former it has given place to a new and presumably more recently developed form of initiation ceremony—that of circumcision followed by sub-incision. Whilst this change has been brought about, the original rite has persisted in the form of what we have before spoken of as a rudimentary custom, and, losing its original significance, as applied to men only, has been extended, so that now it is common to both sexes. In its earlier form, the tooth when extracted is given to the mother, or at least (judging from Collins's account) to some female relative. In its rudimentary state, as in the Arunta tribe, we find that the tooth is thrown in the direction p. 456 of the camp of the Alcheringa mother, which may perhaps be explained as indicating that in the Alcheringa, or rather the early times to which this name is given, the mother was entitled to the tooth. The natives can, as might have been expected, give no reason for the custom, and the performance of this is certainly not now associated with the idea of showing to any living woman that the boy has passed out of her control this idea being, as we have already seen, expressed in one of the ceremonies connected with initiation, as now practised.

Of equal interest with the disposal of the tooth is the curious custom in the Arunta of the erection of a shield at which the man who has been operated upon throws boomerangs, but without hurting it. This is clearly the equivalent of the gentle striking of the shield by the spears in the New South Wales tribe, as described by Collins. In the one case the men assembled touch the shield with their spears, in the other the man who has been operated upon throws boomerangs at it, but in both we have the fundamental idea represented that the individual passing through the ceremony has arrived at the age of manhood when he may use the weapons by which the men both defend themselves and secure their prey.

In the Arunta and Kaitish tribe we find, when the rite is extended to include women as well as men, that the same two fundamental ideas are expressed. The tooth is thrown in the direction of the mother's Alcheringa camp, a feature carried over from the man's to the woman's ceremony, and secondly, we have the curious ceremony of the emptying of the pitchi which the girl carries on her head, and which may be regarded as indicative of the fact that she has reached the age when she can enter upon the duties of a woman, not the least important of which is symbolised by the pitchi filled with food, gathered in the bush, which she carries daily poised on the top of her head.

It can scarcely be doubted that there is a common origin for these customs in the central and coastal tribes—the details of agreement just referred to are, it seems to us, inexplicable except on this hypothesis. This would seem to imply, inasmuch as in one group of tribes we find tooth extraction p. 457 the important ceremony, with no trace of the form of ceremonies (circumcision, &c.) practised in the other group, whilst in the latter, side by side with the present initiation rite, we find tooth extraction in the form of a rudimentary custom, that the more ancient ceremony is that of tooth extraction.

We have spoken hitherto as if it might be almost taken for granted that the latter rite was in all cases originally restricted to men, and that when, as in the central tribes, we find it practised by both sexes, it is to be regarded as a custom which, losing its sacred significance, was, as it were, passed on to the women, who then shared in it equally with the men. We do not in reality, by any means, desire to imply that this was of necessity the case. Into the question of what was the origin of the custom it seems hopeless to inquire. Whether it always had a sacred significance as it has at the present day, or whether it is a custom to which in course of time the present sacred nature as an initiation ceremony became, as it were, tacked on to its previous attributes, is a problem which will probably never be settled. What we wish to draw attention to now is the fact that in the traditions of the Arunta tribe we have, so far as they are worth anything as evidence in this direction, the clearest possible indication of a past time when the things now regarded as so sacred that if seen by a woman she would be put to death, were not thus tabu to women. In tradition after tradition we have accounts set out in great detail of how particular women of the Alcheringa carried the sacred Nurtunja just as the men did, and of how they had Churinga just as the men had, and further, of how they performed sacred ceremonies exactly as the men did. It can scarcely be held that these traditions are merely fanciful creations of the men; if so it is a curious feature that they have been built up amongst a people to whose ideas of the fitness of things as they are now and probably have been for some time past, any such acquaintance of the women with the sacred objects is utterly foreign. It seems more probable that the traditions do really indicate the former existence of a time when, in this respect, men and women were upon terms of greater equality than they are now. This being so it will be seen that it is at p. 458 all events unsafe to take for granted that even as a rite of initiation the knocking out of teeth has always been confined to men. There are, it appears to us, two theories, in favour of either of which many arguments might be adduced. According to the first of these the knocking out of teeth may be regarded from the very first as a sacred rite of initiation confined to the men; in those tribes in which it has remained as the rite of initiation it has always been so confined to the men, while in others it has been superseded by more elaborate rites and has been passed on to the women when once its sacred character was lost. A second theory would regard the custom of knocking out of teeth as, at first, unconnected with any rite of initiation, and as practised by both men and women. Starting from this basis the customs, as we find them now developed, may be supposed to have followed one or other of two lines. Along the first, for some unknown reason, the rite came to be associated with initiation to, in the early days, both manhood and womanhood. After a time (and as pointed out it seems certain that changes in this direction have taken place) the rite came to be confined to men, and dropped out so far as women were concerned until, as in the eastern and south-eastern parts, it came to be a sacred ceremony confined to the men. Along the second line the rite came also to be associated with initiation both to manhood and womanhood, but its place, for some also unknown reason, came to be taken by a quite different ceremony in the case both of men and of women; for it must be remembered that in the tribes of the Centre the women have initiation rites just as the men have, only that the same sacredness is not attached to them as to those of the men. With the introduction of the new rites the old one of knocking out of a tooth lost its original significance and persisted as a rudimentary custom, the relationship of it to the same custom, still practised as an initiation rite in other tribes, being unmistakably shown by a remarkable similarity in the details of the ceremony as performed in the different tribes.

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In the Arunta and Ilpirra tribes when a boy's nose has been bored, that is as soon as the operation has been completed, he strips a piece of bark off a gum tree, if possible, and throws it as far as he can in the direction of the Alcheringa camp of his mother, that is where the spirit individual of which his mother is the reincarnation lived in the Alcheringa. This little ceremony is called ilyabara iwuma or the bark-throwing, and the boy is told to do it by men who stand to him in the relation of Arunga, Oknia, and Okilia, who also tell him that the reason for doing it is that it will lessen the pain and promote the healing of the wound. When the nose of a girl is bored, which is usually by her husband very soon after she has passed into his possession, she fills a small wooden vessel with sand, and facing in the direction of the Alcheringa camp of her mother, executes a series of short jumps, keeping her feet close together and her legs stiff, while she makes the pitchi move as if she were winnowing seed until she gradually empties it, after which she simply resumes her ordinary occupation. Neglect to perform this ceremony would, so say the natives in explanation of it, be regarded as a grave offence against her mother.



To promote the growth of the breasts of a girl, the men assemble at the Ungunja or men's camp, where they all join in singing long chants, the words of which express an exhortation to the breasts to grow, and others which have the effect of charming some fat and red ochre which men who are Gammona, that is, brothers of her mother, have brought to the spot, as well as head and arm bands of fur-string. These men belong to the other moiety of the tribe to that to which the girl belongs; if she, for example, be a Panunga, then they will be Kumara. At daylight one of them goes out and calls her to a spot close to the Ungunja, to which she comes accompanied p. 460 by her mother. Here her body is rubbed all over with fat by the Gammona men, who then paint a series of straight lines of red ochre down her back and also down the centre of her chest and stomach. A wide circle is painted round each nipple and straight lines below each of these circles. Long strings of opossum fur-string are passed across each shoulder and under each arm-pit; numbers of neck-rings are put round her neck, several head-rings are placed on her forehead, and a number of tail tips are fixed so that they droop down over the forehead and ears. All these things have been charmed by the Gammona singing over them.

When this has been done the girl is taken out into the bush by her mother, who makes a camp there at some distance from the main one, and here the girl must stay until the ilkinia or lines on her body wear off, when, but not until when, she may return to the main camp. The girl wears the charmed necklets and head-rings until one by one they drop off and become worn out. As we have pointed out previously, this is to be regarded as a form of initiation ceremony concerned with women, 1 and may be looked upon as the equivalent of the first ceremony of throwing up and painting the boy.



In the Arunta and Ilpirra tribes a girl at the first time of menstruation is taken by her mother to a spot close to, but apart from, the Erlukwirra or women's camp, near to which no man ever goes. A fire is made and a camp formed by the mother, the girl being told to dig a hole about a foot or eighteen inches deep, over which she sits attended by her own and some other tribal Mia, who provide her with food, one or other of them being always with her, and sleeping by her side

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at night time. No children of either sex are allowed to go near to her or to speak to her. During the first two days she is supposed to sit over the hole without stirring away; after that she may be taken out by one or other of the old women hunting for food. When the flow ceases she is told to fill in the hole. She now becomes what is called Wunpa, returns to the women's camp, and shortly afterwards undergoes the rite of Atna-ariltha, and is handed over to the man to whom she has been allotted. She remains Wunpa until such time as her breasts assume the pendent form so characteristic of the native women who have borne one or more children, after which she is spoken of as Arakutja, the name for a fully-grown woman.

Blood may be given by young men to old men of any degree of relationship and at any time with a view to strengthening the latter. When it is given to a man of the same moiety of the tribe as the donor it is drawn from a vein in the middle of the arm, and when to a man of the other moiety, it must be taken from a vein at the inner side of the arm. Occasionally it is drawn from the back of the hand, and still more rarely by the painful process of deeply puncturing the finger tips under the nail.

When starting on an avenging expedition or Atninga every man of the party drinks some blood, and also has some spurted over his body, so as to make him what is called uchuilima, that is, lithe and active. The elder men indicate from whom the blood is to be drawn, and the men so selected must not decline, though the amount drawn from a single individual is often very great; indeed, we have known of a case in which blood was taken from a young and strong man until he dropped down from sheer exhaustion.

In addition to the idea of strengthening the recipient, there is the further important belief that this partaking together of blood prevents the possibility of treachery. If, for example, an Alice Springs party wanted to go on an avenging expedition to the Burt country, and they had with them in camp a man of that locality, he would be forced to drink blood with them, and, having partaken of it, would be bound not to aid his friends by giving them warning of their danger. If he p. 462 refused to drink the blood, then, as actually happened in one case known to the authors, his mouth would be forced open and blood poured into it, which would have just the same binding influence as if the drinking had been a voluntary one.

Blood-drinking is also associated with special meetings of reconciliation which sometimes take place between two groups who have been on bad terms with one another without actually coming to a fight. In this instance the group which is supposed to have suffered the injury sends a messenger to the old men of the offending group, who says, “Our people want you to come and have a friendly fight.” This peculiar form of meeting is called Umbirna ilirima, which means “seeing and settling (things).” If the offending group be willing, which they are almost sure to be, then the meeting is held, and at the commencement each party drinks the blood of its own members, and a more or less sham fight takes place with boomerangs, no one being any the worse.

When a young man for the first time takes blood from another man, the latter becomes for a time tabu to him until he chooses to release the young man from the intherta, or ban of silence, by singing over his mouth.

Apart from these special occasions, blood is not infrequently used to assuage thirst and hunger; indeed, when under ordinary circumstances a blackfellow is badly in want of water, what he does is to open a vein in his arm and drink the blood.

Blood-letting is a prominent feature of certain sacred ceremonies, such as the Intichiuma rite, as practised by the kangaroo men at Undiara, the great centre of their totem, where the young men open veins in their arms and allow the blood to stream out on to, and over, the edge of the sacred ceremonial stone which represents the spot where a celebrated kangaroo of the Alcheringa went down into the earth, its spirit part remaining in the stone which arose to mark the place. In the same way at the Intichiuma of the Unjiamba or Hakea flower totem held at Ilyaba, blood from the arm is sprinkled over the stone which represents a mass of Unjiamba.

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The sacred pole called the Kauaua, which is erected at the close of the Engwura ceremony, is painted all over with blood, and, in all sacred ceremonies, in fact, in many of the ordinary corrobborees down derived from either birds or plants is attached to the human body by blood drawn either from the arm or the subincised urethra.

Women are never allowed to witness the drawing of blood for decorative purposes; indeed, the feeling with regard to women seeing men's blood is such that when a quarrel takes place and blood is shed in the presence of women, it is usual for the man whose blood is first shed to perform a ceremony connected with his own or his father or mother's totem. This is in some manner supposed to be by way of reconciliation, and to prevent the continuance of ill-feeling. The special term given to these ceremonies is Alua uparilima, which means “the blood fading away.” After a fight which took place recently, one of these ceremonies was performed by an Apungerta man of the witchetty grub totem. He personated a Chankuna (small berry) woman, to which totem his mother belonged, and was decorated with an elaborate head-dress representing the woman's digging-sticks, to which were affixed pendent bunches of feathers representing Chankuna bushes with the berries on them, which the woman was eating.

There are also various customs relating to the blood of women which may be referred to here.

In the Kaitish and other northern tribes, when the rite of Atna ariltha kuma is performed on a young woman by an Ungaraitcha or elder sister, the blood is collected in a special pitchi which is made for the purpose by an elder brother of the woman, and is taken to the camp, where the Mia, Uwinna, and other women both smear their bodies with it and drink some. It has been already described, in the account of the initiation ceremonies, that the blood which flows at the operation of lartna on a boy is taken to the women's camp and rubbed over the breasts and foreheads of women who are the elder sisters of the boy and of his mother.

The deposits of red ochre which are found in various parts are associated with women's blood. Near to Stuart's Hole, on p. 464 the Finke River, there is a red ochre pit which has evidently been used for a long time; and tradition says that in the Alcheringa two kangaroo women came from Ilpilla, and at this spot caused blood to flow from the vulva in large quantities, and so formed the deposit of red ochre. Travelling away westward they did the same thing in other places. In much the same way it is related of the dancing Unthippa women that, at a place called Wankima, in the eastern part of the Arunta district, they were so exhausted with dancing that their organs fell out, and gave rise to the large deposits of red ochre found there.

Blood is occasionally given to both men and women to strengthen them when they are ill. When given to a man—and it is only given in very serious cases—it is drawn from the labia minora, and one of the women, taking first of all one of the several kinds of witchetty grubs which are eaten, dips this in the blood and gives it to the man to eat, after which his body is rubbed over with the blood and afterwards with grease and red ochre. When a woman is very ill and weak, one of her male Umba, to whom she is Mia alkulla, that is, he is the son of one of her younger sisters, may volunteer to strengthen her with his blood, in which case all the women and children are sent away from her. The man draws a quantity of blood from the subincised urethra, and she drinks part of it while he rubs the remainder over her body, adding afterwards a coating of red ochre and grease. If the woman recovers, she must not speak to the man, or to the men who accompany him, until such time as she has sent to him an offering of food. In all cases when a man or woman feels ill, the first thing that is done is to rub red ochre over the body, which may possibly be regarded in the light of a substitute for blood, just as sometimes a ceremonial object may be rubbed over with red ochre instead of blood.

We may mention here also certain customs, which are concerned with the curing or strengthening of weak men and women.

In some cases of serious illness women will charm by “singing” it a mixture of fat and red ochre, which they rub into the body of the sick man, all classes taking part in the p. 465 operation. If the man recovers he must not speak to any of the women, except his own Unawa, who took part in the ceremony, until after such time as he has made them an offering of meat. When this is done, the women assemble at some little distance from the Erlukwirra or women's camp, while the man, accompanied by his own and tribal Okilia (elder brothers) and Oknia (fathers), carries the meat, which is most likely kangaroo or euro flesh, and silently places it in front of the women, who then rub him over with red ochre, thus removing the ban of silence. The men and women then return to their respective camps, and the meat is cooked and eaten at the women's camp.

In the northern and western Arunta and in the Ilpirra tribe, for the purpose of strengthening a delicate woman, a part of the internal reproductive organs (called ertoacha) is taken from a male opossum, wallaby, euro, or kangaroo. The woman lies down on her back, and her husband placing the ertoacha upon the mons veneris, “sings” over it for some time after which the woman swallows it whole.

In some cases the same part of the animal is taken by the man and half cooked, after which he coats it with grease, charms it by singing over it, and then presents it to his wife; she has to swallow it whole without having any idea of the nature of the object, which, in this case, is given for the purpose of promoting sexual desire. For the same purpose fluid material from the ertoacha may be squeezed into the vulva.


A man's hair always goes to some one who is either Ikuntera or Umbirna to him. Supposing a man has three sons, then each of them is made son-in-law to some special man whom he calls Ikuntera-tualcha. The latter has the first claim to the younger man's hair. Any which there may be to spare goes to the son of an Ikuntera, that is to a man who is Umbirna of the donor. In this way a man receives hair from (1) his actual mother-in-law (his principal supply), (2) from a Gammona or son-in-law, (3) from an Umbirna or p. 466 brother-in law, while (4) under certain circumstances, already described, he receives a special supply from a particular Umbirna to whom he stands in the relationship of Ungipinna. In addition to these, which may be called his normal sources of supply, he will sometimes receive hair-string as a return for some favour rendered. For example, a man who belongs to a different totem from his father inherits the Churinga of the latter, but they still remain in the store-house of the father's local totemic group. A suitable present of such a valuable article as hair-string will often persuade the head man of the father's group to allow the son to remove, for a time, the Churinga of the former to the store-house in which his, i.e. the son's, Churinga is kept.

A man when cutting or having his hair cut, which he must do periodically, as it is his duty to present it to certain individuals, always squats facing the direction of the Alcheringa camp of his mother. If he fails to do this some great calamity will befall him.

At the close of the initiation ceremony of Ariltha, in the case of the Northern Arunta, the elder sisters of the boy cut off a few locks of his hair, which they keep for themselves.

The distribution of a dead man's hair has been already alluded to, as well as the fact that in these tribes the remarkable customs according to which a man's hair must be given to certain individuals have of necessity prevented the existence of the feeling, so strongly developed amongst many other Australian tribes, that on no account must a stranger be allowed to secure even the smallest fragment of hair.



When a child is born, the fact is notified to the father by his actual or a tribal Mia.

Before the child is born, the woman goes to the Erlukwirra or women's camp. If there be any difficulty in childbirth the husband, who is at his own camp, without saying anything strips off all his personal adornments, and empties his bag or wallet of knick-knacks on to the ground. Then a man who is Mura to him, without in any way referring to the matter, p. 467 takes the hair-girdle, and proceeding to the Erlukwirra, near to which as a general rule no man may go, ties it tightly round the woman's body just under the breasts, and then returns to the husband's camp. Not a word is spoken, but if after a time the birth of the child is not announced, the husband, still quite unadorned, walks once or twice slowly, at a distance of about fifty yards, up and down past the Erlukwirra with a view to inducing the unborn child to follow him, which it is said rarely to fail to do.

After birth the umbilical cord is cut with a stone knife, or sometimes with the pointed end of a digging-stick at a distance of some inches from the body of the child. There is no ligature, but the cut end is frequently dressed with hot ashes. The afterbirth is burnt. After a few days the attached part of the cord is cut off by the mother, who by swathing it in fur-string makes it into a necklace called Akurlaitcha, which is placed round the child's neck. The necklace is supposed to facilitate the growth of the child, to keep it quiet and contented, to avert illness generally, and it also has the faculty of deadening to the child the noise of the barking of the camp dogs.

The painting of a black line over the eyebrow in imitation of the mark on the Erathippa stone has already been alluded to.



In the Urabunna tribe, as in the great majority of Australian tribes with regard to which we have information relating to their totemic systems, each individual is strictly forbidden to eat the animal or plant, the name of which he bears, as that of his totem. That is, for example, an emu man or woman must not in any way injure an emu, nor must he partake of its flesh even when he has not killed it himself.

The exact restrictions vary, however, to a certain extent in different tribes, in some apparently, such as the Urabunna, it applies at all times, in others, as described by Sir George Grey in the case of certain West Australian natives, the rule is observed at some but not at all times. Thus he says, 1 “a

p. 468

certain mysterious connection exists between a family and its kobong, so that a member of the family will never kill an animal of the species to which his kobong belongs; should he find it asleep, indeed he kills it reluctantly, and never without affording it a chance of escape. This arises from the family belief that some one individual of the species is their nearest friend, to kill whom would be a great crime, and carefully to be avoided. Similarly, a native who has a vegetable for his kobong, may not gather it under certain circumstances, and at particular times of the year.”

In the Arunta and other Central Australian tribes, restrictions as to not eating the animal or plant because it bears the name of the individual's totem may be said to agree in actual practice with those just described with, however, this difference, that the Arunta native does not imagine that the animal or plant, or some particular one of the species, is his nearest friend. A man will eat only very sparingly of his totem, though there are certain special occasions on which, as a sacred ceremony, he partakes of his totemic animal or plant.

To this reference has been made elsewhere, 1 meanwhile it may be said here that, in broad outline, the Central Australian agree with the majority of Australian tribes in the general restriction according to which the totem is tabooed. That this has not, however, always been the case appears to be indicated by certain traditions in which we see very distinct references to the eating of the totem by the members, in fact the latter are represented as having a kind of prior claim to it for this purpose.

The only case in which there is any general restriction applying to the eating of an animal is in regard to the Achilpa, or “wild cat,” but in this instance there is something of a very special nature, as the restriction not only applies to members of the Achilpa totem but extends to every member of the tribe except the oldest men and women.

Apart from restrictions concerned with the totems, there are others which relate on the one hand to food which has been killed by special individuals, and on the other to food which may not be eaten by particular individuals at certain times of their lives.

p. 469

Under the first series of restrictions we find that a man may not eat the flesh of any animal which has been caught and killed, or even handled, by his Ikuntera (father-in-law), Umba (children of his sisters), female Mura and Ipmunna, nor by the man who is the father of his mother-in-law. On the contrary he must share his food with his Ikuntera or actual and tribal fathers-in-law, and it is his duty on killing game to ascertain if any of them are in want of food. As a matter of practice a man will never go out hunting with either his Ikuntera or Umba men, as they will appropriate everything which he kills while he is with them, so that he takes care to keep out of their way as much as possible. In the distribution of food he gives a portion first to his Ikuntera, then after feeding himself and his own Unawa and children, he gives any which he does not require to his Umba, and after that to his Mura and Ipmunna women. It may be added that this giving away of food according to well-established rules is not a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance, but is actually carried out. The Australian native cannot be accused of a lack of generosity; what he has he distributes freely to those to whom tribal custom tells him that he ought to, and, it may be added, that he obeys to the letter the injunction of taking no heed for the morrow.

Not only must a man supply the individuals named with food, but he must also take care that, when he is eating, none of them is sufficiently near to distinguish what he is eating, lest they should spoil it by what is called Equilla timma, which means “projecting their smell into it.” Should a man eat meat which has been killed or seen by any of these persons, the food would disagree with him, and he would sicken and suffer severely, a belief which has the result of securing the observance of the custom.

If we take the case of a particular man, say a Panunga, and refer to the table already given, it can be seen at a glance what are the classes to which the individuals concerned with this restriction belong. They are Kumara men and women. Bulthara women, Uknaria women, together with the Uknaria man who is the father of the man's actual mother-in-law. p. 470 The association in this respect is clearly that between a man and, what we may call, his wife's side of the tribe, and it is somewhat instructive to note that in the Arunta and other Central Australian tribes, in which descent is counted in the male line, a man continues, as it were, to pay a kind of tribute to his wife's group during his lifetime, which may perhaps be regarded as an early form of what obtains in so many other tribes under the different custom of paying, as it were, a lump sum down at the time of marriage.

This is, further, the one important feature, so far as the Arunta and other tribes akin to it are concerned, which appears to indicate in any way a former condition in which a man owed allegiance to the group of his wife; in no Australian tribe, so far as we know, is it the custom for a man to take up his abode with the family of his wife and to work for them, but in this custom we see, clearly expressed, the idea that a man owes something to the group from which his wife comes.

The second class of restriction is of an entirely different nature, and is associated with the idea, firstly, of reserving the best things for the older people, secondly, of reserving certain things for the men as opposed to the women, while, thirdly, there are restrictions which deal with the food of individuals at particular times.

We may take the third series first. When a youth is circumcised, and until he has undergone and recovered entirely from the rite of ariltha or sub-incision, he is forbidden to eat of the flesh of a number of animals; if he were to transgress this rule then his recovery would be retarded and his wounds would become much inflamed. The forbidden animals are—snakes, opossums, echidna, all kinds of lizards, mound birds or their eggs, bandicoots, wild turkey and their eggs, eagle-hawks and their eggs. The idea underlying this is evidently that of disciplining the novice, in just the same way as, during the Engwura, the younger men are not allowed to eat much food of any kind, but have to bring in the greater part of any game which they may secure and present it to the older men who remain in camp.

There are certain restrictions as to food connected with the p. 471 early stages of pregnancy. A woman may, if she likes to do so, eat meat, but the unborn child is supposed to resent this by causing sickness, and therefore the woman at first only eats vegetable food. Further still, during the first three or four months, the husband does not kill any large game necessitating the use of spear or boomerang, but only catches rats, opossums and other small game. It is supposed that the spirit of the unborn child follows him about and gives warning of his approach to large game. Should the man attempt to throw a spear or boomerang at any animal, then the spirit child will cause the weapon to take a crooked course, and the man will know that he has lost his skill in the chase and that the child is angry with him. If, however, despite this warning, the father persists in trying to kill large game, then the sickness and sufferings of the mother would be very largely increased. There is, however, nothing to prevent the man from eating game which has been killed by other men. The natives can offer no explanation of this custom, and it may be pointed out that the restriction with regard to killing game does not appear to have the slightest reference to anything which has to do with the totems.

The list of foods which an Ulpmerka, that is a boy who has not been circumcised, may not eat is of considerable length. We append it with the list of penalties following on transgression of the rules. The idea throughout is evidently that which obtains so largely in savage tribes of reserving the best things for the use of the elders, and, more especially, of the elder men. The forbidden foods are as follows:—

Kangaroo tail (Okirra purra); penalty, premature age and decay.

Wild turkey and its eggs (Ertua); penalty, premature age.

Female bandicoot (Quirra); penalty, probably bleed to death at circumcision.

Large lizards (Ilchaquarra or Parenthie); penalty, become Arro-iwama, that is, one with an abnormal and diseased craving for sexual intercourse, an individual held in much contempt.

Emu fat (Erlia inga); penalty, abnormal development of the penis.

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All kinds of parrots and cockatoos; penalty, development of a hollow on the top of the head and of a hole in the chin.

Large quail (Tulkara) and its eggs; penalty, non-growth of beard and whiskers and general stoppage of growth.

Eagle-hawk (Irritcha), except the legs; penalty, premature age and leanness; the leg is supposed to impart strength and generally to improve the growth of the limb. Boys are often struck on the calf of the leg with the leg bone of an eagle-hawk, as thereby strength passes from the bone into the boy's leg.

Wild-cat (Achilpa); penalty, painful and foul-smelling eruption on head and neck. This restriction applies until very old age is reached.

Podargus (Aurainga) and its eggs; penalty, an ugly enlargement of the mouth.

The following restrictions and penalties concern girls and young women until after they have had a child, or until their breasts begin to be pendent, in the characteristic way of the native women. They may not eat:—

Female bandicoot (Quirra); penalty, continual flow of the menses.

Large lizards; penalty, become Arro-iwama, that is, one with an abnormal craving for sexual intercourse; such a woman would be always tempting men irrespective of tribal laws with regard to class, and would thus, sooner or later, meet with severe punishment, probably with death.

Large quail and its eggs; penalty, non-development of the breasts.

Wild-cat (Achilpa); penalty, the same as in the case of the men.

Kangaroo tail (Okirra pura); penalty, premature age, baldness, non-development of the breasts.

Emu fat; penalty, malformation of the vulva.

Cockatoos and parrots of all kinds; penalty, development of a hollow on the top of the head, and of a hole in the chin.

Echidna (Inarlinga); penalty, general malformation of the genital organs.

Brown hawk (Hieracidea orientalis, native name Irkalanja); penalty, absence of milk from the breasts, which will also p. 473 swell until they burst. Young women are only allowed to eat the young nestlings. The customs connected with this particular bird are curious. Not only is it ekirinja or forbidden to the young women, but, if one of them be suckling a child and she sees one of these birds, she at once makes haste to turn so that her breast cannot be seen by the bird, because, if the bird should catch sight of it, or worse still, if its shadow were to fall on it, then the milk would fail and the breast would swell and burst. The women also believe that if they eat the old birds their sons will be afflicted with varicose veins (ulurkna) on the forehead, causing much disfigurement.

While the Arrakurta is out in the bush the actual Mia, that is, his mother, may not eat opossum, large carpet snake, large lizard, and fat of any sort, or else she would retard her son's recovery.

A curious restriction applying to women during the time of pregnancy, and also during the menstrual period, is that they may not, during the continuance of either of these, gather Irriakura, the bulb which forms, together with Munyeru (Portulaca sp.), a staple vegetable food; the breaking of this rule would result in the failure of the supply of Irriakura. With this exception, there are no restrictions with regard to vegetable food, except in the case of individuals whose totem is one of them.


There is very clear evidence that during a former stage cannibalism was a well-recognised custom. We have already described certain ceremonies performed at the Engwura which can only be regarded as pointing back to the existence of a different state of affairs from that which now obtains. For example, in the Quabarra Ingwurninga inkinja1 two men had their bodies decorated with circles of white down which were supposed to represent the skulls of slain and eaten men. The performers themselves represented the Ulthana or spirits of the dead men wandering about in search of those who had killed and eaten them. In another ceremony two Achilpa men were engaged in cooking the body of a third; in another,

p. 474 p. 475

concerned with the white bat totem, one of the performers carried on his head an object representing a limp, dead body; and in the traditions dealing with the wanderings of the wild dogs, the men are continually referred to as killing and eating other wild dog men and women.

These ceremonies may be regarded as probably indicative of what took place in past times amongst the ancestors of the present Arunta tribe, and of what still takes place amongst the Luritcha tribe where enemies are eaten. Care is always taken at the present day, amongst the latter, to destroy the bones, as the natives believe that unless this is done the victims will arise from the coming together of the bones, and will follow and harm those who have killed and eaten them. It is regarded as especially essential to destroy the skull—an existing belief which may be compared with the tradition referring to the early lizard man, whose head was not destroyed, and who therefore came to life again when his brother spoke to the head.

In the Luritcha tribe also young children are sometimes killed and eaten, and it is not an infrequent custom, when a child is in weak health, to kill a younger and healthy one and then to feed the weakling on its flesh, the idea being that this will give to the weak child the strength of the stronger one.

As usual, in regard to customs such as this, it is by no means easy to find out exactly what takes place, as the natives of one part of the country will assure you that they do not indulge in the habit, but that they know that those of other parts do. When the accused are questioned, they in turn lay the same charge against their accusers and so on, often from group to group.


452:1 Any food is given except the totemic animal or plant of the recipient. This may possibly be a rudimentary form of the more elaborate ceremony of food-giving to novices described by Mr. Howitt in connection with the Jeraeil of the Kurnai tribe. Journ. Anth. Inst., May 1885, p. 317.

453:1 Trans. Phil. Soc. Victoria, vol. i., p. 72.

454:1 An Account of the English Colony of N.S.W., 1804, pp. 367–373.

460:1 In the tribes dealt with by Roth there does not appear to be the equivalent of this ceremony, what he describes as the first initiation ceremony of women being that of introcision, the equivalent of the Ariltha kuma ceremony amongst the central tribes, op. cil., p. 174.

467:1 Expedition in North West and Western Australia, 1841, vol. ii., p. 228.

468:1 Chapter VI.

473:1 Ingwurninga means bones; inkinja, arisen.

Next: Chapter XIII. The Customs of Kurdaitcha and Illapurinja and the Avenging Party or Atninga