Amongst the Mungulkabultu group of the great Chepara tribe of Queensland tbere was once a king who ruled most severely over his people, but who was extraordinarily lenient with those of any neighbouring tribe or group.
There was a time when all the groups were so very friendly as to make the whole tribe accessible to one another, but the discipline was such that there could be no undue fraternising and no trespasses. But now there was a laxness. People of the forbidden totems were received into each group, and forbidden marriages became somewhat common.
Yunguipan was the son of Paira the king, and he was an emu man.
He, according to the age-old laws should not have been permitted to look at an emu woman. We can see the wisdom of this rule.
Wakolo was the daughter of Kari, and Kari was also an emu woman.
Wakolo was about thirteen years of age and her sister had gone over to the camp of the marriageable maidens and the widows.
A great tribal fight had just taken place. The "pukkan" that led from the top of the mountain right down to the coast wound in places between great rocks, and was so overgrown in others that it was easy to leave it and wander far amongst the great towering Stenocarpus trees, and the eucalypti, and the ferns, before the traveller discovered that he was wrong.
Several men of the coast group had wandered lost in the jungle, and some had been speared by the Mungulkabultu people.
Then came a threat brought by a messenger with a message-stick, and it was answered by jeers.
The Mungulkabultus demanded many things of the men of the mountain and included in them was the girl Wakolo.
The coast people were of the same tribe as those of the mountain, but of a group that should have no dealings with them. Still they bore the same name.
Perhaps there would have been no trouble had the disciplining been as strict as it should have been.
Then after a time, there being no lasting decision in consequence of the fight, another king who was a strict king, ruled over the mountain people and he insisted that no more marriages take place between the groups except under special circumstances, and he was obeyed. In time they came to consider themselves a different people and they called themselves the Riste-burras. And another messenger picked his way amongst the thick undergrowth and the fallen brambles and between the giant trunks of gum-trees and the stems of palms. He was from the Riste-burras of the mountain and he came to the Mungulkabultus of the coast. Wakolo watched. She knew of that message and those demands of some years ago, and as yet she was not married.
This new messenger carried also demands. Wakolo was not specially mentioned, but women were demanded, and she thought that she would have to leave her people if there was a fight and her men were defeated. The Coast people were victorious and they returned to their lands carrying spoil and driving women before them. Wakolo was not amongst them. She returned to her camp and she found it broken and the women scattered about in the bush and the men standing apart.
Amongst them was Yunguipan. Paira the king was dead.
Suddenly Yunguipan spoke. He gave orders regarding the burial of his father and the disposal of his widows, and he ordered a march to another ridge and a camp to be fixed there. In this new camp Wakolo's sister went to the wurlies of the widows and those maidens that chose that place.
Yunguipan watched her go.
As was the custom several young men visited this camp in the evening, but not until some weeks had passed away since its formation.
Then the sister of Wakolo found a young man standing close to her wurlie, and as soon as she looked into his eyes be asked the question of a suitor.
"What do you eat, my girl?"
This question was put to find out for a certainty whether or not the two were of different totems and the suit might therefore be continued.
But it will be remembered that it was not a long time since the careless king had allowed the laxity.
Often an emu man of the now Riste-burras had been allowed to woo and win and take an emu girl, not only of the Mungulkabultus but even of the Riste-burras.
Wakolo's sister and the young man had spent some hours talking, and at several of the other wurlies, including some of the widows, were other young men talking in low tones.
And to this camp came, too, the young king.
He also looked at Wakolo's sister. He and Yunguipan often went to the same place.
One night as they sat talking Wakolo came up and without a word she entered the wurlie of her sister. The young king followed her in.
That night one of the old wise men-a councillor and a priest of the group-visited the king in his own camp. He instructed him in many things pertaining to the marriage rules and the married state. He told him that it was certainly wrong for an emu man to marry an emu woman, and he gave instances of the transgression of this law resulting in much harm to the whole tribe, and of course he ascribed the happening to magic.
It had no effect. Yunguipan still continued to visit Wakolo and her sister in the camp of the maidens.
Down on the coast the group were satisfied with that victory of many months before, and they were very quiet.
Now the priest who had advised the young king was very wroth upon seeing that his warnings had been disregarded, and he secretly visited the camp of the Riste-burras. He went as a messenger, pretending that he had a message from his king to the effect that a great ceremony was to be enacted-the ceremony of the initiation of the young men.
But as he went from group to group showing his false message-stick he always found someone to whom he said that the young king of his group was breaking the marriage rules and that his transgressions would certainly result in some great disaster befalling the whole tribe now called the Chepara Tribe, and he advised the bringing of weapons to some secret place near the camp. of the Mungulkabultus.
And so it was done, and the false messenger returned to his own people.
While the king was courting the sisters, Wakolo, and the other, the neighbouring groups were preparing, some to avenge the wrong done to the ancestors by young Yunguipan, and some in the belief that a special ceremony was to be performed to which they were invited as a very great favour.
But the false messenger had made one great mistake. He had listened in the Riste-burra group to a tale of woe told him by one captive woman, and her husband knew of it.
Therefore when all was ready for the attack upon the Mungulkabultus this man ran ahead and found Yunguipan.
He quickly told him of the treachery of the priest.
Yunguipan was both angry and afraid. He ran to the father of the girls and told him what he had heard. Kari, the mother, heard the tale, and she counselled her husband to advise the king to go to the place where the sacred rites of the men were performed, and there, perhaps, to find advice and a way out. She herself had never seen this place, but she fully believed that from it men returned with vigour and wisdom. Yunguipan believed this advice to be best.
Down amongst the tribes near the coast the preparations for a journey to the country of the Mungulkabultus were being hurried. The other people had been warned by the false messenger and were already marching to the country of the Riste-burras, or had gathered there. There was unusual secrecy about it all, for many men had sneaked away and had hidden weapons at places near the "pukkan."
When the day came it was very, very hot. The sun poured its dry rays out of a leaden sky, and the rocks of the sparsely-clad mountain side shed the intensified heat.
But down in the gullies the verdure was thick, and in a cool spot there, not far from the track, was the sacred spot that no woman was permitted to look upon.
Thither sped Yunguipan.
The false messenger had done his work well. Those people who believed that they were travelling to a big initiation ceremony were surprised to see a large number of men suddenly appear amongst them with all their weapons, and marking one another with the red ochre of war as they walked.
Soon the fury broke loose. Yunguipan was in the sacred grove. He heard the yells. He had just received communication from the spirits of his ancestors and he rushed to the camp of the widows and maidens. Wakolo and her sister he spied first. Throwing his cloak over them he picked them up in his arms and bore them away, and many others from that camp followed.
In his hurry and his excitement Yunguipan rushed without thinking of possible danger, to the sacred place. He reached it and found that he and the sisters were surrounded by others of the maidens' camp-both maidens and widows.
And now he realised that he had made a very great mistake. What would happen now?
He again called upon the spirits of his ancestors and his prayer was answered. He asked that he might be given something by which he could save the lives of himself and the sisters, and as he could riot kill any of the others who came into the sacred place if he also did not kill Wakolo, he asked that they might be saved too.
The sounds of fighting came nearer. Several men of the Riste-burras came rushing through the bushes, and Yunguipan knew that they were being defeated. It was too dangerous for him to return to his people-more dangerous even than to be seen by the enemy. So he crept into a hollow log, taking several women with him, for there was not room for them all. The others found hollow logs also. There was room for all now.
Then the magical thing happened. Yunguipan felt himself changing. His skin went white and shrank until it was painful, for it was shrinking too fast for his flesh and bones. He made several incisions with the yam-stick of Wakolo around himself, and the surplus flesh and bones came out.
Bood fell upon the women and they had to do similarly, and at last each became a little white grub.
One of the other women came to the log of Yunguipan, and she too was stained with the blood, and when she returned she contaminated all the rest.
So the whole party became grubs, and in one log were Yunguipan and seven women, while how many of the others there were no one knows.
The men of the coast groups were utterly defeated. The sinning king was absent from the fighting, as I have told, and the rest were able to fight strongly, and before night the invaders of the mountain country were in full retreat, leaving some dead and many sorely wounded.
The victorious Mungulkabultus followed down the track and they came upon the waiting people, and, flushed as they were, they fell upon them and captured many prisoners whom they killed.
Then they returned and they asked one another what had become of Yunguipan and the women from the camp of the maidens.
No one knew.
They also asked why they had been attacked. The false messenger stood in fear and trembling. His agitation was noticed, and suspicion fell upon him ' and to escape for the while he went down to the sacred place. He saw there many signs that it had been visited by many people. He saw, too, the yam-sticks lying about. So he sat on a log-the very log in which Yunguipan and his seven followers had taken refuge and were now housed as white grubs all wrinkled over, and he wondered what he was to do and how he might escape the wrath that he knew was so likely to fall upon him.
Then another misfortune befell the people. The side of the mountain burst into flames.
Perhaps the hot sun shining down through the dry air so heated the mica or some other mineral in the rock that it set fire to a tiny wisp of moss or flower or grass and there was just enough breeze to fan it into flame.
From such tiny beginnings many conflagrations have been known to grow into huge destructive forest fires that have destroyed thousands of acres of good bush country and grass lands. The fire came down the mountain as rapidly as a waterfall comes over the rocks, and it swept into the gullies and mounted the tops of tall trees. It sent the heated and expanded air driving up into the heavens, and as the lower air rushed to the space thus caused about the flame a gale was made that drove the fire hither and thither leaving no spot unburned.
An advancing wave of flame sped to the camp.
The blacks ran to the nearest watercourse.
The man on the log at the sacred place saw the fire coming to him.
He was fairly safe, for the place was clear. Only a few very big logs lay about, and in two of them were the strange magic grubs.
The heat became terrific. Yunguipan and the women felt it and they began to wriggle and squirm. The man heard them, and in spite of his danger and in spite of the heat he probed into the log with one of the yam-sticks.
He found Wakolo and she uttered a scream. Immediately Yunguipan came out of his hole and he seized the hand that held the stick.
The fire died down.
Those who escaped it returned to the place of the camp.
New wurlies had to be built, but there was no place where young widows and maidens segregated themselves as was usual.
That there were many grubs in the logs of the sacred place was told by the priest who had hidden there, and permission was given to certain woman to go there and probe for them. This was another transgression of rules. Yunguipan came out from his log and he called to the others.
Wakolo was badly wounded. So Yunguipan spun two nets, into which he gathered all the women -himself and seven in one net, and the rest in another-and when the moon was full and it sent a long beam like a strip of carpet right down to the sacred place, with their legs through the meshes the two netfuls of grubs walked up and up until they reached the sky. The women down below probed the holes in the logs in vain, for there were no grubs to be got.
Bathing in the seas of the moon, Yunguipan and the women became stars, and they had to find a place amongst the other stars in the sky. They crossed the Milky Way, that pukkan of the departed spirits upon which they travel from the earth to heaven, and after wandering for many years they at last settled down.
Yunguipan is now Aldebaran, and the seven maidens are the visible Pleiades. One that seems to be broken is the wounded Wakolo. The other women are there, too, and they are the invisible members of the same group of stars. They are faintly visible when the night is clear with frost and there is no haze anywhere. The net can still be distinguished, and there is a long thread that connects the group of Aldebaran.
This story of the Pleiades is known, with just a little variation, to nearly all the tribes of Queensland, and even to the Kamilaroys in New South Wales.