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

p. 561

Chapter XVIII Myths Relating to Sun, Moon, Eclipses, Etc.

The sun regarded as female, the moon as male—Tradition with regard to the origin of the sun—Sacred ceremony connected with the sun totem—Myths with regard to the moon—Names applied to phases of the moon—The evening star a woman whose Nanja stone lies to the west of Alice Springs—Eclipses associated with Arungquiltha—The Magellanic clouds—Pleiades.

THROUGHOUT the Arunta tribe the sun, which is called Alinga or Ochirka, is regarded as female and the moon as male. At Alice Springs there is a tradition that in the Alcheringa the sun came out of the earth at a spot now marked by a large stone in the country of the Quirra or bandicoot people at Ilparlinja, about thirty miles north of Alice Springs. It was in the form of a spirit woman, accompanied by two other Panunga women, who were sisters and were called Ochirka, just as the sun itself is. The descendants of these two women are both now alive, though one of them, when undergoing reincarnation, having chosen an Appungerta mother, is now an Ungalla. We have before drawn attention to the fact that the spirit individual is regarded as free to enter any woman, though as a general, but by no means invariable, rule, as shown in the present instance, a woman of the right division is selected.

The elder of the two women is represented as carrying with her an Ambilyerikira, or newly-born child. Leaving the women at Ilparlinja the sun ascended into the sky, and has continued to do so every day, though at night time it pays a visit to the old spot whence it rises in the morning. In that spot it may be actually seen at night time by very gifted persons such as clever medicine men, and the fact that it cannot be seen by ordinary persons only means that they are not gifted with p. 562 sufficient power, and not that it is not there. The women remained in the country of the bandicoot people, by whom however they were not seen, being very careful to hide themselves, and these two women gave rise to a local centre of the sun totem to which they belonged.

The sun is regarded as having a definite relationship to each individual member of the various divisions. Thus to a Bulthara it is Uwinna, to a Panunga it is Ungaraitcha, to a Kumara Mia, and to a Purula man Unawa—terms which simply imply that it is regarded as belonging to the Panunga division, as did the spirit individual whom it represents.

The following ceremony called the Quabara Alinga of Ilparlinja is associated with the two women and the newly-born child left at Ilparlinja by the sun when she came out of the earth at that spot in the Alcheringa. The performers were two old men who were brothers, one being a Panunga of the lizard totem and the other a Panunga of the bandicoot totem. Their father was a bandicoot man and their sister is the living representative of one of the two women with whom the ceremony is concerned. The two performers, while decorating, were assisted by an old Panunga man and several Purula and Kumara men of the same locality, and during the decorating they sang of the Ambilyerikira, The performers sat facing each other; the lizard man representing the elder woman, held between his thighs an oblong bundle made of grass and hair-string and decorated with alternate red and white circles of down. This represented the child. From his head hung long strings, made of many strands of fur-string and covered with rings of down with a bunch of tail-tips at the end. These strings were supposed to represent the kidneys and fat of the bandicoot upon which the women fed. The bandicoot man represented the younger sister and carried on his head a weighty, disc-shaped bundle made of twigs, which were covered with many yards of hair and fur-string and decorated with a design of alternate red and white circles of down. This was supposed to represent the sun itself. The performance consisted of the usual quivering and swaying about of the bodies of the two men, while the others present ran round. When it was over the head-dress p. 563 p. 564 was removed and pressed against the stomach of all the Panunga and Bulthara men, but not against any of the other moiety, though several were present. It was then handed back to the old man who had worn it during the ceremony, and the latter called up a young Ungalla man of the locality, who had not been present at the decorating, and, while telling him about the woman, kept the head-dress pressed up against the young man's stomach.



The following two myths refer to the moon which, as above stated, is regarded as of the male sex, and is spoken of as Ertwa Oknurcha, or a big man, its name being Atninja.

The first of these describes how, before there was any moon in the heavens, a man of the Anthinna or opossum totem died and was buried, and shortly afterwards arose from his grave in the form of a boy. His people saw him rising and were very afraid and ran away. He followed them shouting, “Do not be frightened, do not run away, or you will die altogether; I shall die but shall rise again in the sky.” He subsequently grew into a man and died, reappearing as the moon, and since then he has continued to periodically die and come to life again; but the people who ran away died altogether. When no longer visible it is supposed that the moon man is living with his two wives who dwell far away in the west.

The second myth describes how in the Alcheringa a black-fellow of the opossum totem carried the moon about with him in a shield as he went out hunting for opossums to eat. All day long he kept it hidden in a cleft in the rocks. One night another blackfellow of the Unchirka, a seed totem, came up by chance to where he saw a light shining on the ground. This proved to be the moon lying in the man's shield, which he had placed on the ground while he climbed up a tree in search of an opossum which he had seen in the branches. The Unchirka man at once picked up the shield and the moon in it and ran away with them as hard as he could. The opossum man came down from the tree and ran after the thief, but he p. 565 had got such a start that he could not catch him. When he found that pursuit was hopeless and that he could not get the moon back again, he was very angry and shouted out loudly that the thief should not keep the moon, but that the latter was to go up into the sky and give light to every one at night time. Then the moon went up out of the shield into the sky and there it has remained ever since.

The following distinctive names are applied to the different phases of the moon—

The new moon is Atninja quirka utnamma.

Half moon is Atninja quirka iwuminta.

Three-quarter moon is Atninja urterurtera.

Full moon is Atninja aluquirta.



The name of the evening star is Ungamilia. Amongst the natives of the Alice Springs district the evening star is supposed to have been a Kumara woman in the Alcheringa who had a Nurtunja and lived alone. She is associated with a large white stone which arose at a place near to what is now called Temple Bar—a gap in the Macdonnell Ranges—to mark the spot where she went into the earth and left behind, along with her Churinga, her spirit part. Every night the evening star is supposed to go down into this stone which lies away to the west of Alice Springs. It is situated in the middle of a strip of country which belongs to the big lizard totem. If a woman believes that she conceives a child when at this stone, then the child belongs to the Ungamilia or evening star totem, but if it be conceived anywhere in the adjoining country, even close at hand but not actually at the stone, then it is an Echunpa or big lizard. Ungamilia is supposed to have fed in the Alcheringa upon Owadowa, a kind of grass seed, just as did the group of lizard people amongst whom she dwelt. There is, as usual, a special performance connected with this woman which is now in the possession of an Uknaria man of the lizard totem, the woman's Churinga being kept in the storehouse at Simpson's Gap which belongs to the lizard totem. p. 566 Ungamilia has at the present time a living descendant, and during the Engwura the ceremony was performed by the man in whose possession it now is.



Eclipse of the sun is called Ilpuma, and is attributed to the presence therein of Arungquiltha, the general term used in reference to an evil or malignant influence, which is sometimes regarded as personal and at other times as impersonal. This particular form of Arungquiltha is supposed to be of the nature of a spirit individual living away to the west who has the power of assuming the form of any animal. The natives have a very great dread of eclipses, they have naturally no idea of the distance away of the sun, believing it to be close to the earth, and the visible effects of Arungquiltha so close at hand, and so patent, cause them great fear. They believe that the eclipse is caused by the periodic visits of the Arungquiltha, who would like to take up his abode in the sun, permanently obliterating its light, and that the evil spirit is only dragged out by the medicine men who on this occasion withdraw the atnongara stones from their bodies and throw them at the sun while singing magic chants—always with success.

The Magellanic clouds they regard as endowed with Arungquiltha, and believe that they sometimes come down to earth and choke men and women while they are asleep.

Mushrooms and toadstools they will not eat, believing them to be fallen stars and endowed with Arungquiltha.

The Pleiades are supposed to be women who in the Alcheringa lived at a place called Intitakula, near to what is now called the Deep Well. They went up into the sky and there they have remained ever since.

Next: Chapter XIX. Clothing, Weapons, Implements, Decorative Art