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

p. 640

Appendix B. The Wilyaru Ceremony of the Urabunna Tribe, Together with References to Mr. Gason's Account of the Dieri (Dieyerie) Tribe

THE following is evidently the equivalent in the Urabunna tribe of the ceremony to which, in the case of the Dieri tribe, Mr. Gason in his account refers under the name of Willyaroo1 So far as the fire ordeal is concerned it may, in certain respects, be regarded as the equivalent of the Engwura amongst the Arunta.

A man—perhaps two but rarely more than one—is seized suddenly in camp, apparently against his will, and loosely bound about the hands and neck with native-made string. He is then led away into the bush some distance from the main camp where the party cannot be seen by women or the uninitiated. That night the women build a large mound of earth two or three feet high, upon which they light a fire which is kept burning, and around which they sit quietly. During the evening after the men have been absent sufficiently long to complete their decorations they can be heard singing vigorously in the distance “Yea ka ka ya wo, Yea ka ka ya wo,” upon hearing which the women at once jump up and while running in circles round the fire take up and repeat the refrain. This singing and dancing around the fire is kept up at intervals throughout the night for a week or more, during which time the women have little or no sleep.

When the man who is to be admitted to the status of Wilyaru is taken to the selected spot he is painted by the old Wilyaru men with a thick coating of fat and charcoal from the navel upwards, and a number of the men attending the ceremony are similarly decorated. Each man is freshly painted every day, and the singing goes on all night long as no one is supposed to go to sleep. The novice

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apparently regards himself as a prisoner and does not take part in the singing, but sits in the middle of the group loosely tied about with the string. At the end of a week the whole party, gaily decorated, returns at daylight to the men's camp, the oldest Wilyaru man in the lead carrying a long spear, which is decorated at the end with bunches of eagle-hawk feathers. The column advances in single file at a run, approaching in a serpentine course, the novice being in the middle with his arms loosely tied round his neck. The latter crouches down as he runs and the rear is brought up by an old Wilyaru man, who carries, like the leader, a decorated spear. On arrival at the mound fire the women, who are also gaily decorated, stand aside, and the men run round several times shouting “Yea ka ka ya wo;” they then seat themselves in a circle round the mound, the fire is covered with earth and green branches by the older men, and the novice is taken and placed in a doubled-up attitude upon the now steaming and smoking mound, around which all once more dance shouting as before. In this position the man remains for a short time—sufficiently long to sometimes burn him severely, and is then assisted off by the older men, who take him into the bush, where certain cuts are made on his body. He is then placed in charge of one or two old Wilyaru for the space of perhaps three months, during which time he must not be seen by women or uninitiated men.

A man is fully grown before being made into a Wilyaru. The custom extends into the southern part of the Arunta tribe as far north as Dalhousie Springs.

All game killed by young Wilyaru men is supposed to be taken to old Wilyaru who take what they want, touch the remainder with their lips and hand it back to the younger men. Neglect of this duty is supposed to result in the accumulation of fat within the body which will finally cause death.

When the novice is painted during the ceremony he is supposed to resemble the eagle-hawk.

In his account of the Dieri tribe Mr. Gason has given a description of certain customs and traditions which are evidently closely similar to some met with amongst the Urabunna and Arunta Tribes, and to which reference may be made here.

The first which may be mentioned is what Mr. Gason calls the Pinya, the equivalent of the Atninga or avenging party of the Arunta. In regard to this attention may be drawn to Mr. Gason's statement that the men composing the party are chosen after a council of the elder men has been held. The election of the Pinya party lies in the p. 642 hands of the elder man, whom Mr. Gason speaks of as “chief,” and who is probably the head of the local group. “The women, who have firesticks, lay them in a row, and, while so placing them, call out the name of some native, till one of them calls that of the man previously condemned, when all the men simultaneously spear the firestick of the woman who has named the condemned. Then the leader takes hold of the firestick, and, after one of the old men has made a hole a few inches deep in the ground with his hand, places the firestick in it and covers it up, all declaring that they will slay the condemned, and see him buried like that stick.”

In the Dieri tribe also Mr. Gason describes the custom of Wilyaru (Willyaroo), during which, first of all, blood is poured over the novice from the arms of older men, after which he is laid on the ground and cut on the neck and shoulders with a flint, whereby scars are raised showing that he has passed through the ceremony. After the latter is over he is given “a piece of wood about nine inches long, by two and a half wide, and about a sixteenth of an inch thick, with a hole at one end.” This is called Yuntha, and is whirled round and round, and is evidently the equivalent of the Chimbaliri of the Urabunna and the Churinga of the Arunta.

It is very evident from Mr. Gason's account that in the Dieri tribe ceremonies equivalent to the Intichiuma of the Arunta are held, the object of which is to secure the increase of certain animals. Mr. Gason however gives no particulars as to the special individuals, if there be any such, who take part in these ceremonies. In the case of the “rain makers” a hut is built of logs covered with boughs which the women are permitted to look at before going to their camp. Blood is drawn and poured over the men who sit around while handfuls of white down are also thrown over them which are supposed to represent clouds.

Mr. Gason describes, lastly, certain places covered by trees as being held very sacred “the larger ones (i.e. trees) being supposed to be the remains of their fathers metamorphosed,” a statement which possibly indicates the existence of some such belief with regard to the relationship between trees and the spirit part of individuals as exists amongst the Arunta people.

1 The Native Tribes of South Australia. Adelaide, 1879, pp. 253–307.


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640:1 The Native Tribes of South Australia. Adelaide, 1879, pp. 253–307.

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