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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 XIII The Customs of Kurdaitcha and Illapurinja and the Avenging Party or Atninga

No idea of natural death—Death of one individual must be avenged in the normal condition of the tribe by the death of another—Organisation of a Kurdaitcha party—The ceremony of dislocating a toe before a man becomes entitled to wear the so-called Kurdaitcha shoes—The Kurdaitcha man accompanied by a Medicine man—Decoration of the two men—Killing the victim and operations of the Medicine man—Another form in which the Kurdaitcha man goes alone—The shoes do not serve to hide the tracks, and can only prevent who made them from being known—The Illapurinja—A form of female Kurdaitcha—The decoration of the woman—How the enemy is killed—Object of the Illapurinja is to punish a woman who has not mourned properly on the death of a daughter, blood or tribal—The Atninga or avenging party—Account of the proceedings of a party—Offering the use of women to the party—Agreement between the avenging party and the old men of the attacked party to kill three of the latter—A special fire is built at each camp—Spearing the victims—The actual slayers must not touch the bodies—Seizure of a woman—Immirinja who actually slew the men and Alknalarinika, the on-lookers—Return to the home camp—Precautions to prevent the Immirinja being injured by the spirits of the dead men—The women strike the shields—The spirit of the dead man assumes the form of a bird which must be watched for as it flies over the camp, otherwise it will produce paralysis.

AMONGST the Central Australian natives there is no such thing as belief in natural death; however old or decrepit a man or woman may be when this takes place it is at once supposed that it has been brought about by the magic influence of some enemy, and in the normal condition of the tribe the death of one individual is followed by the murder of some one else who is supposed to be guilty of having caused the death. Not infrequently the dying man will whisper in the ear of a Railtchawa, or medicine man, the name of the man whose magic is killing him. If this be not done then there is no difficulty, by some other method, of fixing sooner or later on the guilty party. Perhaps when digging the grave a hole will be found leading out of it on one side, which at once p. 477 shows the direction in which the culprit lives; or this may be indicated, perhaps as long as a year after the death, by a burrow made by some animal on one side of the grave. The identity of the guilty man is always revealed by the medicine man.

When it is known who the culprit is a Kurdaitcha party may be arranged to avenge the death. This custom is, so the natives say, much less frequently carried out at the present day than in former years, and in the southern parts of the tribe seems to have died out altogether. 1 When it is decided who is guilty, a council of the old men of the group to which the dead man belonged is held and, if it be decided that vengeance is to be exacted by means of a Kurdaitcha party, then the man who is to play this part is chosen. The name Kurdaitcha is applied to the latter 2 and he wears the shoes to which by white men the name of Kurdaitcha shoes has been given. In the north the native name for them is Interlinia and in the south Intathurta.

These shoes have the form of a thick pad of emu feathers matted together with human blood drawn from the arm of some young man. They are so ingeniously made however that the use of anything like blood in their construction would never be suspected; indeed it is difficult to detect, even with the shoes in one's hands, how the feathers are matted into such a compact mass without apparently the use of anything like stitching. On the upper surface is a network of human hair string made from the hair of any living man or woman—it does not in the least signify who the individual is—and in the middle of the network is a hole through which the foot passes and across which stretches a cord made of several

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strands of hair string twisted together. As we have said, it is is by no means an easy matter to make the shoes and, as usual, in the manufacture of any special article, there are certain individuals who are famed for their skill in making them. No woman or child may see them and they are kept wrapped up in skin or else placed for safety in the sacred store house along with the Churinga. It is said that they may be used more than once, but the nature of the shoe is such that it could not last more than one journey over the hard ground characteristic of the interior.

Before a man may wear the shoes he has to submit to a most painful ordeal. A stone is heated to redness and then applied to the ball of the small toe of either foot, it does not matter which, until, as the natives say, the joint is softened when with a sudden jerk, the toe is pulled outwards and the joint is thus dislocated. There is no doubt that some such ordeal as this is passed through, as we have examined feet of men who claim to be what is called Ertwa Kurdaitcha at Charlotte Waters, Crown Point on the Finke River, Owen Springs and Alice Springs amongst the Macdonnell Ranges, all of which show the remarkable peculiarity of the dislocation. In correspondence with this is the fact that the true Kurdaitcha shoe has, at one side, a small opening made in the hair network through which the toe is thrust. 1

Each Kurdaitcha man when going on his errand is accompanied by a medicine man and the two men are rubbed over with charcoal—black being in the Arunta tribe the colour associated with magic—and decorated with bands of white down. The hair of both men is tied up behind and a small conical helmet of twigs is fastened on with hair string. The Kurdaitcha himself has lines of down passing across the front of the helmet, down the side of the face and front of the body and legs as far as the knees. The medicine man has a median line running from the top of the helmet to the tip of his nose; another curved line meeting this at both ends encloses

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the eye of each side; and on the body a broad band of charcoal runs across from shoulder to shoulder and downwards till, at the level of the sternum, it divides into two, one passing on either side of the mid line and so on as far down as the knee. The bands are outlined with white down, and, as the pattern is a constant one, the Kurdaitcha man can always be distinguished from the medicine man.

Both of the men wear the Interlinia or shoes which, when thus in use, are decorated with lines of white and pink down, and, while they are being put on and attached to the feet and legs with human hair string, the Kurdaitcha sings

“Interlinia turlaa attipa
Interlinia attipa.”

which literally translated means “Interlinia to me hold fast, interlinia hold fast.” There is not, either at the making or at the putting on of the shoes, anything in the way of an incantation beyond this simple one.

Like the man who is on any particular occasion acting as a Kurdaitcha, the doctor himself must be an Ertwa Kurdaitcha who has qualified by passing through the ordeal by fire in which the toe is dislocated. Both men carry shields and spears, and also one or more Churinga, which are supposed as usual to impart to them strength, courage, accuracy of aim, and also to render them invisible to their enemies, and in addition they act as charms to prevent their wearers being wounded. Around his waist each one wears the Kirra-urkna, or girdle, made from the hair which has been cut from a warrior after his death and which is supposed to add to the wearer all the war-like virtues of the dead man.

Followed by the medicine man the Kurdaitcha takes the lead until the enemy is sighted. Then the medicine man falls into the rear while the Kurdaitcha stealthily creeps forward towards his quarry and suddenly rising up, spears him before he is aware of the presence of an enemy. Both medicine man and Kurdaitcha have meanwhile put the sacred Churinga between their teeth and when they are thus armed the spear cannot fail to strike the victim. As soon as this is done the Kurdaitcha man goes away to some little distance from the p. 481 fallen man and from which he cannot see the operations of the medicine man who now approaches and performs his share in the work. By aid of his magic powers and by means of the Atnongara stones he heals the victim. These Atnongara stones are small crystalline structures which every medicine man is supposed to be able to produce at will from his own body throughout which it is believed that they are distributed—in fact it is the possession of these stones which gives to the medicine man his virtue. Into the spear wound he rubs a white greasy substance called Ernia which he obtains by pressure of the skin glands on the outside of the nostril. After all external traces of the wound have disappeared he goes quietly away and, together with the Kurdaitcha man returns to his own country. Having been touched by the Atnongara stones, the victim returns to life, but is completely ignorant of all that has taken place. He returns to camp and in a short time sickens and dies. His death is attributed to Kurdaitcha or to some other form of magic influence, but no one will be able to trace the tracks of the Kurdaitcha.

Another form of Kurdaitcha which has not the sanction of the council of elders but is said to be the more favourite method of procedure is for the Kurdaitcha to go alone without the medicine man accompanying him. After killing his enemy he allows the body to lie out in the sun for an hour or two and then he makes an incision in the tongue through which he sucks away the blood which is supposed to have accumulated internally. Then he plugs up the spear wound with the Alpita (a rat tail tip ornament worn as a conventional covering) and leaves it there a short time while he sings a magic chant. Then the Alpita is removed and a small fire stick is held close to the wound so that the skin contracts and the wound closes up and heals. Sometimes instead of sucking the tongue, the Kurdaitcha catches a special kind of slender, smooth bodied lizard (Rhodona bipes) which frequents the roots of Mulga trees and inserts the head of the animal into the wound through which it is supposed to suck up all the blood. Finally he either bites the tongue of the victim or else presses a charmed bone p. 482 called an Injilla under it, the effect of either of which actions is to cause the victim to completely lose all recollection of what has taken place when, a short time afterwards, he comes to life again. The man who has thus been killed returns to his camp having no idea of what has happened, and soon sickens and dies.

Whilst there is much of a mythical nature about the Kurdaitcha it is quite possible that there is a certain amount of truth underlying a good deal that is, of course, a matter of pure imagination. It is very possible that the shoes, if not actually used at the present day, have been used in past times for the purpose of aiding in secret killing and, to the present day, the fear of the Kurdaitcha man lurking around is always present with the native. We have met several Kurdaitcha men who claim to have killed their victim and many more men who are perfectly certain that they have seen Kurdaitcha One group of men will tell you that they do not go Kurdaitcha but that another group does do so, and if you then question the latter they will tell you that they do not, but p. 483 that their accusers do. It is in fact a case of each believing the other guilty and both being innocent. At the same time many will at once confess that they do go Kurdaitcha, when as a matter of fact they do not.

As to the question of tracking, the idea which has been generally held, that the shoes are used to prevent the tracks being seen will not be regarded as at all satisfactory by those who are acquainted with the remarkable power of the Australian native in this respect. They will neither hide the track nor, though they are shaped alike at each end, will they even suffice to prevent any native who cares to look from seeing at a glance which direction the wearer has come from, or gone towards. Any even moderately experienced native will, without the slighest difficulty, tell from the faintest track—from an upturned stone, a down-bent piece of grass or a twig of shrub—not only that some one has passed by but also the direction in which he has travelled. The only way in which they can be of use in hiding tracks is by preventing it from being recognised who was the particular individual, and in this way they might be of service, for when once an experienced native—almost incredible though it may sound to those who have not had the opportunity of watching them—has seen the track of a man or woman he will distinguish it afterwards from that of any other individual of his acquaintance.

Most probably the explanation is, not that the native cannot follow the track, but that either he persuades himself that he cannot, or, what is still more likely, that the fear of the magic power of the dreaded Kurdaitcha causes him, if he catches sight of such a track, to avoid as much as possible the spot where he has seen it, in just the same way in which an ordinary European peasant will avoid the spot haunted by a ghost.

Our impression with regard to the Kurdaitcha is that at the present day it is merely a matter of myth, though at the same time every native is firmly convinced that some other native does actually “go Kurdaitcha,” and is quite prepared, as a general rule, to allow others to think that he himself does; he will even go to the length of suffering the pain of having his toe dislocated in order to “prove” that he is a genuine Ertwa Kurdaitcha. p. 484 To those who are personally acquainted with the Australian native there will not appear to be anything at all improbable in this. He delights in mystery, and for the purpose of standing high in the estimation of his fellow men will submit to inconveniences and discomforts which perhaps appear to a white man to be ludicrously out of all proportion to the advantages to be gained, but to him it is far otherwise, and the mystery which surrounds and lends importance to the individual who has actually, for example, “gone Kurdaitcha,” is just what appeals to the imagination of the Australian native. At the same time it is not by any means improbable that at some time past some such custom associated with secret killing was even largely practiced, and formed a kind of endless vendetta. Possibly some old Oknirabata whose superior wisdom had gained for him great repute (just as it would do at the present day), perceiving the endless deaths which it entailed, introduced the curious and painful ordeal of dislocation of the toe as a means of checking the practice.

During the Engwura which we witnessed a special ceremony was performed which had reference to the Kurdaitcha custom. This was called the Ininja, the word being the name applied to a small party of men sent out by the older men of any group to kill some special individual. The ceremony was in the possession of the Alatunja of a group of Ullakupera (little hawk) men and had been received by him from a group of natives living out to the east. In connection with the performance five men were decorated with bands of charcoal edged with white down, a line of the latter running straight from the top of the helmet along the bridge of the nose and then over the upper lip and beard, which was tied back upon the face with hair string. A semi-circle of white down, each end of which touched the median line surrounded the eyes. Every man carried a shield, and was either armed with a spear-thrower or boomerang, while one of them carried a long spear, the pointed end of which was decorated with down.

One by one the men ran out with exaggerated high knee action from the group of natives who were assembled at one side of the Engwura ground. Crouching down in various spots, each man lay on the ground with his shield over his p. 485 head and his body huddled up so as to occupy as little space as possible. They all lay perfectly still while an old man armed only with a fighting club came and walked about, wandering here and there as if he were looking for some track. Then the Kurdaitcha men arose and one after the other crept stealthily up to him from behind. Suddenly he turned round and caught sight of the Kurdaitcha who were just about to kill him with a boomerang or spear. Then a mock fight took place, in which the Kurdaitcha was always worsted and tumbled down, the old man each time giving him a final tap with his club, which particularly pleased the audience, for in these performances there are certain conventional actions which must be observed by the actors. One after another the Kurdaitcha men came up, and each was worsted in his turn. When apparently all had been killed the old man still went wandering about, and the same performance was again gone through. After about fifteen minutes had been spent in this way the old man leisurely walked back to the group of spectators, once more killing each of the men before he got there. When close home a combined attack was made upon him, but with no success, as he killed them all and the performance ended with him standing, brandishing his club over their dead bodies, which were heaped together in front of him. The actions of the old man and of the Kurdaitcha men might have been copied from a stage fight.

Tradition relates that the incident to which the performance refers actually took place in the far past when a noted warrior slew five Kurdaitchas who followed him as he went out tracking animals for food.


Illapurinja, a word which means “the changed one,” is the name given to a woman who may be spoken of as, in a modified form, a female Kurdaitcha, and whom we may regard, at all events at the present day, as being entirely a mythical personage, whose existence in the mind of the native is concerned mainly with the observance of certain p. 486 customs in connection with mourning for dead relatives. The natives' idea with regard to her is as follows.

On very rare occasions a woman may, at her own request, be sent out by her husband to avenge some injury done, or supposed to be done, to one of her own kindred. There is no such thing as any consultation of the old men in connection with this; in fact, if they knew of its being prepared, they would prevent her going, so that the affair is a secret one, known only to the woman and her husband. It seems as if the Illapurinja has never been a very popular form of avenging an injury, and is very rarely mentioned except when a medicine man discovers that one of his patients, who has been seized with sudden and unaccountable illness, is suffering from the attack of an Illapurinja. As usual, the natives when questioned on the subject said that though they knew all about it, yet it was a custom which they did not practise, or, rather, had not practised for many years, but that it was prevalent out to the east. It is only a few years since a man was out hunting euros near to Alice Springs, and was attacked by an Illapurinja who had come from an outlying group. He was picked up insensible (the day was a very hot one, and in all probability the case was one of sunstroke), and brought into camp in a dazed condition. Under the treatment of an able medicine man, whose services were fortunately available, he recovered, after the extraction from his body of a number of pieces of a wooden Churinga.

When being prepared, the Illapurinja is rubbed all over with grease and red ochre and decorated with white down, which is fixed on to her body with blood drawn from her husband, this being the only occasion known to us on which a woman is thus decorated. Her head is ornamented with head rings and tufts of tail tips. In one hand she carries a long fighting club, the ends of which are decorated with down, and in the other a large wooden Churinga, which has been specially made for the occasion by her husband.

When the decoration, which is done in perfect secresy, is complete, no one but just the man and woman knowing anything whatever about it, the husband takes one of her digging p. 487 sticks, fixes it upright in the ground, and ties on to the upper end a small tuft of Alpita or rat tails. This he carefully watches while she is away. Should she be killed, then the Alpita at once falls to the ground of its own accord; and p. 488 the husband, understanding what this means, will immediately destroy his camp and everything in it which belonged to the Illapurinja, and move to a new spot, leaving, however, the digging stick and Alpita untouched.

It is always night time when the woman sets out, and after having been decorated, she first of all lies down in the camp as if nothing unusual were about to happen; but when her husband is asleep she steals quietly away quite alone, and goes to the place where she hopes to find the man or woman whom she is in search of. It it be a man, then she lies down concealed, and waiting her opportunity, which comes when his attention is occupied in stalking a kangaroo or emu. If a woman be her quarry, then she hides close to some favourite “yam” ground, and when the former is busy digging up the tubers she creeps up. In either case the Churinga is thrown from behind so as to hit the victim's neck, when it enters the body, becoming, as it does so, broken up into a number of small pieces.

The victim at once becomes insensible, and remains so for some little time, and, when consciousness is once more recovered, suffers great pain. In the case of an old woman death is sure to follow, but in that of a man or younger woman, recovery is possible with the aid of a clever medicine man, who, after much trouble and by dint of long-continued rubbing and sucking, may succeed in extracting the broken bits of Churinga from the patient's body.

If successful, the Illapurinja returns at once to her husband's camp, always waiting, however, till it be dark before she comes close up to it. During her absence he has made, and kept burning, a small fire at some little distance. By the side of this she lies down quietly until her husband discovers her presence, when he goes and takes her by the arm and leads her into his camp, where both of them sit down without speaking a word, while he removes all traces of the decorations and rubs her with fat and red ochre. The woman then takes up the stick to which the Alpita is tied, and sits down, while the man asks questions to which she replies, but she must not volunteer any information.

The special breach of custom, with the punishment of which p. 489 the Illapurinja is associated, is the omission of a Mia to cut herself as a mark of sorrow on the death of an Umba, that is, a daughter blood or tribal. Such an omission is a grave offence against a dead Umba, and the dread of punishment at the hands of an Illapurinja must act as a strong inducement to secure the proper carrying out of the ceremony. If one Mia omits to cut herself, then some other one will go in search of her, and, failing the chance of killing her, will strike one of the offending woman's brothers. There is now living at Alice Springs a man who was thus injured by an Illapurinja, and whose life was only just saved, so the natives believe, by the exertions of a medicine man. When his death does occur, it will undoubtedly be attributed to this attack, certain parts of the Churinga—so it will be said—not having been extracted.

This is the only case which has come to our knowledge in which a woman is decorated with down fixed on with blood, and in which she actually handles a Churinga. The latter, of course, is not one of the ancestral Churinga, but it is regarded as being a sacred stick, and is spoken of as a Churinga just as are certain other similarly shaped sticks which are used in various ceremonies, for which they may be specially made. All that the woman is told is that the stick has been sung over, and is what is called Arungquiltha, that is, charged with magic and evil influence.

The whole affair is a superstition kept alive to make some women believe that they, or their brothers, will suffer if certain ceremonies are not duly attended to, and it is worthy of notice that in this instance the victim belongs to the same group as the avenger.



Very often one group of natives, that is, the members of the tribe inhabiting a particular locality, will quarrel with the members of some other group either belonging to the same or to some other tribe. The quarrel is usually due to one of two causes: either some man has stolen a wife from some other group, or else the death of a native is attributed by the p. 490 medicine man to the magic of some member of a distant group. When this is so, the aggrieved party will arrange to make an attack upon the men who are regarded as the aggressors. Most often the attackers, armed with spears and spear-throwers, boomerangs, and shields, will march up to the enemies' camp, and the quarrel will be confined to a wordy warfare, lasting perhaps for an hour or two, after which things quieten down, and all is over; but in some cases a regular fight takes place, in which severe wounds may be inflicted. In other cases the attacking party will steal down upon the enemy, and, lying in ambush, will await an opportunity of spearing one or two of the men without any risk to themselves.

The following incident which happened recently will serve to show what often takes place.

The men living in the country round about Alice Springs in the Macdonnell Range were summoned by Inwurra, that is, properly accredited messengers carrying Churinga, who had been sent out by the Alatunja of the group to assemble for the purpose of making war upon the Iliaura tribe, which occupies the country between eighty and a hundred miles to the north of the Ranges.

For a long time the northern groups of the Arunta tribe had been in fear of the Iliaura, who had been continually sending in threatening messages, or at least it was constantly reported that they were doing so, for it must be remembered that imagination plays a large part in matters such as these amongst the natives. Several deaths, also, which had taken place amongst the Arunta, had been attributed by the medicine men to the evil magic of certain of the Iliaura men. When the messengers and the men summoned had assembled at Alice Springs a council of the elder men was held, at which it was determined to make a raid on the Iliaura, and accordingly a party was organised for the purpose. Such an avenging party is called an Atninga.

When all was prepared the Atninga started away for the north, and, after travelling for several days, came upon a group of Iliaura men, consisting of about a dozen families, near to whom they camped for two days.

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As usual on such occasions, the Iliaura sent some of their women over to the strangers' camp, but the fact that the use of the women was declined by the visitors at once indicated that the mission of the latter was not a friendly one. The women are offered with a view of conciliating the Atninga men, who, if they accept the favour, indicate by so doing that the quarrel will not be pursued any further.

In the Iliaura community were two old men, and with them matters were discussed by the elder men amongst the Arunta at a spot some little distance from the camp of the latter. After a long talk extending over two days, during which the strangers set forth their grievances and gave the Iliaura men very clearly to understand that they were determined to exact vengeance, the two old men said, in effect, “Go no further. Our people do not wish to quarrel with your people; there are three bad men in our camp whom we Iliaura do not like, they must be killed. Two are Iturka (that is men who have married within the forbidden degrees of relationship); the other is very quarrelsome and strong in magic and has boasted of killing your people by means of Kurdaitcha and other magic. Kill these men, but do not injure any others in our camp, and we will help you.”

These terms were accepted by the Arunta, and it was agreed between the old men of the two parties that an attempt should be made to kill the three men on the next day. At daylight the old men of the Iliaura went some little distance away from their camp, and there made a fire, and called up the other men of their party. This special fire, at which it is intended to surprise and kill the men who have been condemned and handed over to the tender mercies of their enemies, is called Thara (the ordinary word for fire being Ura). At the Atninga camp another fire, also called Thara, was lighted at the same time. Shortly after daylight a number of the Arunta, led by an old man, went over to the Thara of the Iliaura, all of them being unarmed, and here they took special care to engage the condemned men in conversation. The remainder of the Atninga party in full war-paint, with whittled sticks in their hair, their bodies painted with red ochre, carrying spears, boomerangs, and shields, and each one p. 492 wearing the magic Kirra-urkna or girdle made of a dead man's hair, crept up unseen and, suddenly springing up, speared two of the condemned men from behind. The third man—one of the two Iturka—had grown suspicious during the night and had accordingly decamped, taking his women with him.

A large number of spears were thrown into the bodies of the men who were killed. When they were dead the Atninga party danced round the bodies, and taking the whittled sticks or Ilkunta from their heads, broke them up and threw the pieces on to the bodies. These Ilkunta are always worn by certain groups of the Northern Arunta when they really mean to fight, and amongst the same natives also under these circumstances little curved flakes are cut by means of flints on their spears about a foot from the pointed end.

The Iliaura men looked on quietly while the killing took place, and when all was over, the spears were taken out of the bodies by the men of the Arunta who had acted as decoys, and were handed back to their respective owners. It is supposed that if the latter themselves removed them some great evil would befall them, as the body and anything in contact with it of a victim killed in this way is strictly tabu to the killer.

When this had been done, the Arunta went to the main camp of the Iliaura and took the Unawa of one of the dead men, and she became and is now the property of the old man who seized her, she being a woman of the class into which he could lawfully marry. One girl child was annexed by one of the younger men, who carried her on his back for the greater part of the return journey for about a hundred miles. The two women who belonged to the Iturka man were away, but no attempt was made to capture them, as being themselves Iturka, they would not be taken as wives by the men of the avenging party. They would when captured meet with severe punishment at the hands of the Iliaura men and in all probability would be put to death. Had they been the proper Unawa of the dead man, they would, if present, have been appropriated by men of the Atninga party to whom they were also Unawa. The special name of Immirinja is given to the men who p. 493 actually took part in the spearing, those who acted as decoys and who thus merely took a passive part, being called Alknalarinika which means “onlookers.”

Travelling back to the Arunta country, the Atninga party separated into various contingents, each of which went to its own locality, upon arrival at which certain ceremonies had to be observed. The Alice Springs contingent, which will serve to illustrate what took place in each instance, halted some distance away from the main camp and decorated their bodies, painting them all over with powdered charcoal and placing on their foreheads and through the septum of the nose small twigs of a species of Eremophila. As soon as they came in sight of the main camp they began to perform an excited war-dance, approaching in the form of a square and holding and moving their shields as if to ward off something which was being thrown at them. This action is called Irulchiukiwuma and is intended to beat off the Ulthana or spirit of the dead man.

The Immirinja men were in the lead and, upon arrival within sight of the camp, they separated from the others and formed a single extended line with spears at rest and their shields held in front of them with the convex side outwards. Not a word was spoken and the Immirinja stood perfectly still looking straight ahead. The Alknalarinika men, who now formed an irregular square in the rear, shouted out, with evident enjoyment, the result of the expedition. Then a number of old women approached carrying fighting clubs and performing, as they came along, a kind of exulting skip movement. Each one with her club struck the shield of every one of the Immirinja, and when this had been done the men who did not go on the expedition followed suit, using their boomerangs.

The striking of the shields is called ulquita atuma (ulquita shields, atuma to strike). This is a ceremony of very considerable importance, and every one listens intently to the sound which is produced by the blow. It it be hollow (atalya), the owner of the shield is under some malignant influence and he will not live long; if, on the other hand, the the sound is firm and strong (elatilkima), then he is safe and is not a victim of magic.

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After the shield striking was over the women and children returned to their camp and the Atninga party marched to the corrobboree ground, the Immirinja men remaining perfectly silent. There, all sat perfectly silent, the Immirinja in the front and the Alknalarinika behind them. After singing and beating of boomerangs had gone on for some time two of the Immirinja jumped up and, making a wide circuit of the gathering, ran round with exaggerated knee action and went through a performance in which they imitated the different attitudes of attack and defence. They then halted with spears at rest and shields held as before, until all of the men who had not been with them came up and struck their shields with a boomerang, after which they walked back to the party and sat down. The same performance was passed through by all the Immirinja two at a time. It is supposed to be very effective as a means of frightening the Ulthana, that is the spirit of the dead man. One of the shields gave out a hollow sound at which all appeared to be much distressed, while some shouted out telling the man to hold it straight up. After slightly altering the position it was again struck and to the apparent relief of the listeners gave out the right sound. While this ceremony was in progress the Alknalarinika men were vying with each other in relating the details of the expedition, only stopping to listen when the shields were struck.

Shortly afterwards the men separated and went to their respective camps. During that night, and for some days afterwards, none of the Immirinja would speak of the incidents of the expedition, and they continued to paint their bodies with charcoal and to decorate their foreheads and noses with green twigs; finally they painted their bodies and faces with bright colours and became free to talk about the affair. Their troubles were not yet over however. The Ulthana or spirit of the dead man is supposed to follow the party in the form of a little bird called Chichurkna and is constantly on the look-out to injure the Immirinja. While flying it makes a noise like a child crying in the distance, and, should any one of the men fail to hear this, he would become paralysed in his right arm and shoulder. At night time p. 495 especially, when the Chichurkna is flying over the camp, they have to be wakeful, and, when lying down, are always careful to conceal the right arm and shoulder lest the bird should look down upon and injure them, and every man wears Alpita in his hair which is supposed to help him to keep awake, the rabbit-kangaroo from which it comes being a nocturnal animal and so acts as a charm against his being surprised by the Chichurkna. When once the voice has been heard there is no further fear, because the Ulthana recognises that it has been watched for and detected and is therefore powerless to do any harm.

Some little time afterwards the shields of all the men were again tested to see that they were sound.

This killing of Iturka men by strange blacks belonging to other groups has been a common practice amongst the tribes. When a case of this kind arises, the old men of the group to which the offender belongs hold a meeting to discuss the matter, and if all of them vote in favour of the death of a man or woman, a neighbouring group is asked to come and carry out the sentence. Sometimes it is agreed that the offending parties are to be punished in some less severe way, perhaps by cutting the man's legs or by burning the woman with a fire-stick, and then if after this the two still continue to live together, the death penalty will be carried out.

Sometimes, but only rarely, a man is strong enough to resist, but even if he be successful his life is at best a miserable one as he dare not come anywhere near the camps, but is forced to live in inaccessible parts in constant fear of being surprised and put to death. At Charlotte Waters, for example, there has been in recent years a case of this kind. One of the finest men of the group carried off a woman who was not his lawful Unawa, both the man and the woman belonging to the Purula class. 1 For two or three years the two led a wandering life away from the usual haunts and several attempts were made to kill them, the woman being very severely wounded

p. 496

on one occasion. The man, however, was a formidable antagonist of well-known prowess, and after having killed two of the men who attempted to punish him and nearly killing the proper husband of the woman, it was thought best to leave him alone, though up to the present day when quarrels occur in which he is concerned he is often taunted with being Iturka.


477:1 An excellent account of the Kurdaitcha custom as it formerly existed in the southern part of the Arunta tribe has already been published by Mr. P. M. Byrne, Proc. Roy. Soc., Victoria, vol. iii. (new series), p. 65. Various accounts have from time to time been published with regard to the so-called Kurdaitcha shoes associating them with “rain-making,” etc., but the most accurate and reliable account is that given by Mr. Byrne, and quoted subsequently by Dr. Stirling in the Anthropological Report of the Horn Expedition. An interesting account containing various ideas with regard to the shoes is given by Mr. R. Etheridge, jun., Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W., 1894, p. 544.

477:2 In the Urabunna tribe the same custom prevails, but the name Kūthi is given to the man.

478:1 A considerable number of these shoes are made apparently more for models than for use, and such are usually much too small to be worn on a native foot, and do not have the small hole, though probably this is not made until the time of actual use.

495:1 They were, according to our terms of relationship, cousins. Their mothers were the daughters of the same woman by different husbands.

Next: Chapter XIV. Customs Relating to Burial and Mourning