Pubic tassels and aprons.--Waist-belts.--Armlets.--Head ornaments.--Pendants made from birds' feathers in imitation of flowers.--Ornaments made of beeswax and Abrus seeds.
THE northern coastal tribes are not much troubled with clothing. Out on the central uplands and around the coasts of the Gulf of Carpentaria the nights in winter are bitterly cold--often below freezing-point, and yet the natives have never learned to make fur rugs out of the skins of the kangaroos, wallabies, and opossums that they can, and often do, secure in plenty. In the more northern coastal districts the climate is different and clothes are not much needed. To keep themselves warm the natives there will often use sheets of paper bark.
The only things that can perhaps be strictly described as articles of clothing are the pubic tassels which are worn amongst many tribes by men and women, and the curious paper bark aprons that the women wear on Melville and Bathurst Islands. The former are often of considerable size. They consist of a large number of human-hair string pendants, forming a tassel that may be a foot in length and four to six inches across. The tassel is always attached to a belt made of the same material. In the Central tribes the belt consists of, perhaps, twenty strands that are only
attached to each other at the two ends of the loop. In the Northern tribes there are many more strands, and it, addition to being thus attached, there are two, three, or four cross bands, at regular intervals, through which the strands of the belt are woven and which serve to flatten it out, so that it may have a width of three or four inches. The native is very pleased if he can secure some coloured wool with which to make the cross bands.
In the Kakadu, Iwaidji, and other northern coastal tribes bark waist-belts are sometimes worn. They are made from the bark of the cypress-pine and are called Kupelbi. Their nature can be seen from the photographs of the three reproduced in Fig. 71, which were obtained from natives on the South Alligator River. In the middle one the belt consists of a length of some ninety inches of bark four inches in width, wrapped round so as to form three circles. The two ends, one on the inside and one on the outside, are close together, and a circle of string is tied round in such a way that it passes between the free end on the outside and the free end on the inside. The nature of the design can be seen in the illustration, It is always drawn so that it starts close to the edge of the belt on the outside, and occupies the greater part of the outermost circle. In this example it commences at a distance of two and a quarter inches from the outer end. The general colour of the ground is dull red, with white bands and cross lines, leaving lozenge and crescent-shaped spaces between them. The four bands running across the width of the belt in the middle line in front are, however, bright red. The one on the left-hand, though essentially the same, measures only fifty-four inches in length and has only two circles. The one on the right hand measures seventy-eight inches in length and has three circles.
A series of ornaments of various kinds is represented
in Plate XXVIII.; Figs. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, are ordinary armlets, made of very closely woven vegetable-fibre string. Fig. 1 measures three and a quarter inches in width, three in diameter, and has nineteen rows of strands. Fig. 2 is two inches in width, three in diameter, and has fourteen rows. Fig. 3 is one inch in width, and has six rows. Fig. 4 is three and a half inches wide, has a diameter of two and three-quarter inches and consists of twenty-two strands. Fig. 5 is two and a half inches wide, three in diameter, and has fourteen strands. The colours used in decoration are only red and white. In the Kakadu tribe these string ornaments are called Muraradi, and are made out of banyan-bark string.
In Figs. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 a distinct form of armlet is represented which is worn by almost every man and youth. It is called Winbegi, and is made out of split cane and may be very thin as in Fig. 10, where it only measures an eighth of an inch, or, as in Fig. 8, it may be an inch and three-quarters in width and consist of many strands. In some cases, as seen in Fig. 11, representing a specimen from Bathurst Island, a number of plaited armlets may be carried about together. In this case they are made of palm leaf, and have been gathered into two groups, twenty-two in one and fourteen in the other. One end of a loop, consisting of a few strands of human-hair string, is tied round each group of armlets, the free end being then attached to the main strand by means of a lump of beeswax.
The special armlet represented in Fig. 12, called Kundama, has been referred to in connection with the burial ceremonies of the Kakadu tribe. It is never coloured and is always made of banyan-bark string in the fashion seen in the illustration.
Very characteristic forms of head-dresses are seen in
Plate XXVII., Figs. 16 and 17. Each of them is composed of kangaroo incisor teeth, wax, and string. In the first there are forty-five teeth, each of which is embedded in a small mass of beeswax. They are attached, side by side, by means of two double strands of string. Each single strand passes in front of and behind alternate teeth, and at each end the four strands pass out and are bound round with string so as to form a fairly strong cord, which passes behind the head. The wax is red-ochred and the inner surface of the teeth is whitened. In the second specimen there are forty-four teeth, which are embedded in beeswax in such a way that the whole ornament looks very much like a jaw. The teeth stand out prominently because they are whitened on both sides. The wax is black, and from each end there passes out a strand of vegetable-fibre string, The whole is very pliable and can be easily adapted to the shape of the head, on which it is usually worn, with the points of the teeth hanging down. A simpler ornament, which is one of the commonest, is represented in Fig. 15. It is called Majimbo by the Kakadu, and consists of a flattened central mass of beeswax, from two to three inches across, with kangaroo incisor teeth projecting from the more rounded part of the margin. String is fixed into the centre of a smaller flattened part, and serves to tie the ornament to the hair of the head on which it is worn hanging down over the forehead.
The most picturesque, or, at least, tasteful, ornaments are curious pendants made from birds' feathers. Some idea of these can be gained from those illustrated on Plate XXVIII. They are only made amongst these northern tribes and those on the coasts of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The ones figured were collected amongst the Kakadu tribe. In the specimen represented in Fig. 20, two of then, are attached to an ordinary head ring, which is made of
vegetable fibre. At two places opposite to one another, the strands are bound round with string, and the pendants are attached to this part. Each consists of the light grey feathers of a native companion, all cut down to an even length and arranged so as to resemble the petals of a flower, the stamens in the centre being indicated by a little tuft of down. The stalks of the feathers are embedded in a little tapering mass of wax, from the other end of which the string passes off to attach the pendant to the head band, which is worn in such a way that a pendant hangs down over each ear.
In Figs. 16 and 18 white cockatoo feathers are used, and the human-hair string, by which it is attached to the hair of the head, is largely enclosed in red-ochred beeswax. Fig. 19 is rather more ornate. The two pendants are attached to one another by four strands of vegetable fibre string. The imitation flower is made out of the bright feathers of the Blue Mountain Parakeet and the wax is red-ochred and dotted over with white. The total length of the ornament, which is worn on the head, is twelve inches. Fig. 15 is made out of white feathers crossed by black bars and has a small knob of wax in the centre. Shredded bark is used as string and the wax is banded with white and red. In Fig. 17 the dark coloured goose feathers are used, the whole pendant measuring five and a half inches in length.
Fig. 21 represents one of a pair of similar ornaments of uncommon form. It consists of the head of a Blue Mountain Parakeet with its bright orange bill and metallic blue feathers and a few of the upper, orange-coloured neck feathers. The base of the skull is attached to a short, curved wax handle by means of which it can be fastened to a lock of hair. As the eyes, tongue, and brain have been simply cut out and no preservatives used, this is
more or less a temporary ornament in a moist, warm climate.
On Melville and Bathurst Islands and on the northern coast the natives make very decorative ornaments out of masses of beeswax, studded over with abrus seeds. A few of these are represented on Plate XXVII. The Abrus is a leguminous plant with a pod like that of a pea. Each seed has a bright red coat except for a small black patch where it is attached, and, in most cases, this part of the seed is hidden from view. Each ornament consists of a central mass of beeswax, moulded by the hand to the desired size and shape, and then the seeds are simply pressed on. Fig. 11 is a sphere two and a quarter inches in diameter; Fig. 12 measures four inches by two and has a strong loop of banyan-bark string; Fig 13 represents one of the smaller ones, measuring two inches and a quarter by one inch. Fig. 14 is rather interesting; it came from the East Alligator River; the larger part measures three inches by two and a half, the smaller is an inch and a quarter in diameter, and the ornament is evidently moulded on the form of one of the little spherical bags called Ball-duk that almost every man wears round his neck.