To begin at the beginning, Bahloo, the moon, is a sort of patron of women. He it is who creates the girl babies, assisted by Wahn, the crow, sometimes.
Should Wahn attempt the business on his own account the result is direful; women of his creating are always noisy and quarrelsome.
Bahloo's favourite spot for carrying on the girl manufacturing is somewhere on the Culgoa. On one of the creeks there is to be seen, when it is dry, a hole in the ground. As water runs along, the bed of this creek, gradually a stone rises from this hole. As the water rises it rises, always keeping its top out of the water.
This is the Goomarh, or spirit-stone, of Bahloo. No one would dare to touch this stone where the baby girls' spirits are launched into space.
In the same neighbourhood is a clear water-hole, the rendezvous of the snakes of Bahloo. Should a man go to drink there he sees no snakes, but no sooner has he drunk some of the water than he sees hundreds; so even water-drinkers see their snakes.
The name of the hole is Dahn.
Spirit-babies are usually despatched to Waddahgudjaelwon and sent by her to hang promiscuously on trees, until some woman passes under where they are, then they will seize a mother and be incarnated. This resembles the Arunta belief, but with the Euahlayi the spirits are new freshly created beings, not reincarnations of ancestral souls, as among the Arunta. To live, a child must have an earthly father; that it has not, is known by its being born with teeth.
Wurrawilberoo is said to snatch up a baby spirit sometimes and whirl along towards some woman he wishes to discredit, and through the medium of this woman he incarnates perhaps twins, or at least one baby. No doubt were it not for signs of teeth in a spirit-baby of immaculate conception, many a camp scandal would be conveniently nipped in the bud.
Babies are sometimes sent directly to their mothers without the Coolabah-tree or whirlwind medium.
The bronze mistletoe branches with their orange-red flowers are said to be the disappointed babies whose wailing in vain for mothers has wearied the spirits who transform them into these bunches, the red flowers being formed from their baby blood. The spirits of babies and children who die young are reincarnated, and should their first mother have pleased them they choose her again and are called millanboo--the same again.
They can instead, if they like, choose some other woman they know, which seems very accommodating in those presiding over the reincarnation department.
Sometimes two baby spirits will hang on one branch and incarnate themselves in the same woman, who as result is the mother of twins, and the object of much opprobrium in the camp. In fact, in the old days, one of the twins would have been killed.
One of my Black-but-Comelys said, on hearing that a woman had twins:
'If it had been me I would have put my fingers round the throat of one of them and killed it.' The woman who made this speech I had always looked upon as the gentlest and kindliest of creatures.
The father of the twins has treated his wife with the utmost contempt since their birth, and declines to acknowledge more than one of the babies.
They say the first-born of twins is always born grinning with his tongue out, as if to say, 'There's another to come yet; nice sort of mother I have.'
No wonder the women cover themselves under a blanket when they see a whirlwind coming, and avoid drooping Coolabah trees, believing that either may make them objects of scorn as the mother of twins.
When a baby is born, some old woman takes the Coolabah leaf out of its mouth. Such a leaf is said always to be found there if the baby was incarnated from a Coolabah tree; should this leaf not be removed it will carry the baby back to spirit-land. As soon as the leaf is taken away the baby is bathed in cold water. Hot gum leaves are pressed on the bridge of its nose to ensure its flatness; the more bridgeless the nose the greater the beauty.
When a baby clutches hold of anything as if to give it to some one, the bargie--grandmother--or some elderly woman takes what the baby offers, and makes a muffled clicking sort of noise with her tongue rolled over against the roof of her mouth, then croons the charm which is to make the child a free giver: so is generosity inculcated in extreme youth. I have often heard the grannies croon over the babies:
Gunnoognoo oonah Birrahlee.
Which translated is:
'Give to me, Baby,
Give to her, Baby,
Give to him, Baby,
Give to one, Baby,
Give to all, Baby.'
As babies are all under the patronage of the moon, the mothers are very careful every new moon to make a white cross-like mark on the babies' foreheads, and white dabs on cheeks and chins.
And very careful are the mothers not to look at the full moon, nor let their babies do so; an attack of thrush would be the result.
Bahloo, too, has a spiteful way of punishing a woman who has the temerity to stare at him, by sending her the dreaded twins.
If babies do not sleep well their mothers get the red powdered stuff like pine pollen, from the joints of the Bingahwingul, or needlebush tree, and rub it on the babies' skulls and foreheads.
If the babies cry too much their mothers say evil spirits are in them, and must be smoked out. They make a smoke fire of Budtha twigs and hold the baby in the thick of the smoke. I have seen the mother of a fretful child of three or four years even, apply the smoke anodyne.
Whenever the mother of a young child woke in the night, if well up in her mother duties, she was supposed to warm her hands, and rub her baby's joints so that the child might grow lissome and a good shape, and she always saw that her baby's mouth was shut when the child was asleep lest an evilly disposed person should slip in a disease or evil-working spirit. For the same reason they will not let a baby lie on its back unless they cover its head.
If a gilah flies over the camp crying out as it passes, it is a sure sign of 'debbil debbil'; the child, to escape evil consequences, must be turned on to its left side.
If a gooloo, or magpie, did the same, the child had to be laid flat on her moobil--stomach: for the passing of a cawing crow, a child had to be laid on the right side.
As these birds are not night birds, it is evident that they are evil spirits abroad in bird form, hence the precautions. As soon as a baby begins to crawl, the mother finds a centipede, half cooks it, takes it from the fire, and catching hold of her child's hands beats them with it, crooning as she does so:
Do not steal,
Do not touch what to another belongs,
Leave all such alone,
The accompaniment being a muffled click of a rolled-up tongue against the roof of a mouth.
No child must touch the big feathers of a goomblegubbon, or bustard's wings, nor any of its bones. At the age of about four, the mother takes one of these wings and beats the child all over the shoulders and under the arms with it. Again making the clicking noise, she croons:
Which charm means:
'A swimmer be,
Flood to swim against,
Strong to stop you.'
And so was a child made a good swimmer.
The wirreenuns would see that the septum of a child's nose was pierced at the right time, and their tribal marks cut on them. The nose was pierced at midwinter when ice was about, with which to numb the place to be pierced; ice was held to the septum, then prod through it went a bone needle.
An old gin who worked about the station had a pierced nose, and often wore a mouyerh, or bone, through it. A white laundress wore earrings. She said one day to the old gin:
'Why you have hole made in your nose and put that bone there? No good that. White women don't do that.'
The black woman looked the laundress up and down, and finally anchored her eyes on the earrings.
'Why you make hole in your ears? No good that. Black gin no do that, pull 'em down your ears like dogs. Plenty good bone in your nose make you sing good. Sposin' cuggil--bad--smell you put bone longa nose no smell 'im. Plenty good make hole longa nose, no good make hole longa ears, make 'em hang down all same dogs.' And off she went laughing, and pulling down the lobes of her ears, began to imitate the barking of a dog.
There is often a baby betrothal called Bahnmul.
For some reason or another it has been decided that a baby girl is to be given to a man, perhaps because he has been kind to her mother, perhaps she is owed to his kin by her own; any way the granny of the baby girl puts feathers, white swansdown, on the baby's head, and takes her over to the man when she is about a month old. Granny says to the baby:
'Look at him, and remember him, because you are promised to him.'
Then she takes some feathers off the baby's head and puts them on to his; that makes it a formal betrothal, binding to both sides.
I have heard great camp rows because girls made a struggle for independence, having found out they had only been promised, not formally betrothed, to some old chap whom they did not wish to marry. Perhaps the old fellow will already have a wife or so, a man can have as many as he pleases. I have heard of one with three; I have known some with two; but the generality of them seem content with one.
Should a young girl marry a man with an old wife, the old wife rules her to any extent, not even letting her have a say about her own children, and no duenna could be stricter. Should the young wife in the absence of her husband speak to a young man, she will probably get a scolding from the old wife and a 'real hiding' from the old man, to whom the old wife will report her conduct. Quite young men often marry quite old women; a reason sometimes given is that these young men were on earth before and loved these same women, but died before their initiation, so could not marry until now in their reincarnation.
Certainly, amongst the blacks, age is no disqualification for a woman; she never seems to be too old to marry, and certainly with age gains power.
At whatever age a girl may be betrothed to a man he never claims her while she is yet Mullerhgun, or child girl; not until she is Wirreebeeun, or woman girl.
A girl's initiation into womanhood is as follows. Her granny probably, or some old woman relation, takes her from the big camp into the scrub where they make a bough shade. As soon as this is made, the old woman sets fire to a thick heap of Budtha leaves and makes the girl swallow the smoke. She then bids her lie down in a scooped-out hollow she has made in the earth, saying to her, 'You are to be made a young woman now. No more must you run about as you please. Here must you stay with me, doing as I say. Then in two moons' time you shall go and claim your husband, to do for ever what he bids you. You must not sleep as you lie there in the day time, nor must you go to sleep at night until those in the camp are at rest. I will put food ready for you. Honey you must not eat again for four moons. At first streak of day you must get up, and eat the food I have placed for you. Then when you hear a bird note you must shake yourself all over, and make a noise like this.'
And the old woman makes a ringing noise with her lips.
'That you must do every time you hear a fresh bird note; so too when you hear the people in the camp begin to talk, or even if you hear them laugh or sneeze. If you do not, then grey will your hair be while you are yet a young woman, dull will your eyes be, and limp your body.'
Girls have told me that they got very tired of being away with only the old woman for so long, and were glad enough when she told them they were to move to a new camp, nearer to the big one, which the women had prepared for them.
When they reached this the old woman rubbed off the mud with which she had plastered the girl's limbs when first they went away to camp, and which she had renewed from time to time. When this was all off she painted the girl in different designs with red ochre and white gypsum, principally in spots. She put on her head a gnooloogail, or forehead band, made of Kurrajong fibre, plaited and tied with some Kurrajong string, from over the cars to the back of the head; in this band, which she had painted white, she stuck sprays of white flowers. Sweetly scented Budtha and clustering Birah were the flowers most used for this ceremony. Should neither of these be in bloom, then sprays of Collarene or Coolibah blossom were used. When the flowers were placed in the band the old woman scattered a handful of white swansdown over the girl's head. Next she tied round her a girdle of opossum's sinews with strands of woven opossum's hair hanging about a foot square in front. Round her arms she bound goomils--opossum hair armlets--into which she placed more sprays of flowers, matching those in the girl's hair.
To show that the occasion was a sacred one a sprig of Dheal tree was placed through the hole in the septum of the nose. The toilet of a wirreebeeun was now complete.
The old woman gave her a bunch of smoking Budtha leaves to carry, and told her what to do. Note here the origin of bridal bouquets.
Having received her instructions, the girl, holding the smoking twigs, went towards the big camp.
When the women there saw her coming they began to sing a song in, to her, a strange language.
On a log, with his back towards her--for he must not yet look on her face--sat the man to whom she was betrothed. The girl went up to him. As the women chanted louder she threw the smoking Budtha twigs away, placed a hand on each of his shoulders and shook him. Then she turned and ran back to her new camp, the women singing and pelting her with dry twigs and small sticks as she went. For another moon she stayed with her granny in this camp, then the women made her another one nearer.
In a few weeks they made her one on the outskirts of the main camp. Here she stayed until they made her another in the camp, but a little apart. In front of the opening of this dardurr they made a fire. That night her betrothed camped on one side of this fire and she on the other. For a moon they camped so. Then the old granny told the girl she must camp on the same side of the fire as her betrothed, and as long as she lived be his faithful and obedient wife, having no thought of other men. Should he ill-treat her, her relations had the power to take her from him. Or should he for some reason, after a while, not care for her, he can send her back to her people; should she have a child he leaves it with her until old enough to camp away from her, when it is returned to him.
The wedding presents are not given to the bride and bridegroom, but by the latter to his mother-in-law, to whom, however, he is never allowed to speak. Failing a mother-in-law, the presents are given to the nearest of kin to the wife. You can hardly reckon it as purchase money, for sometimes a man gives no presents and yet gets a wife.
In books about blacks, you always read of the subjection of the women, but I have seen henpecked black husbands.
There are two codes of morals, one for men and one for women. Old Testament morality for men, New Testament for women. The black men keep the inner mysteries of the Boorah, or initiation ceremonies, from the knowledge of women, but so do Masons keep their secrets.
As to the black women carrying most of the baggage on march, naturally so; the men want their hands free for hunting en route, or to be in readiness for enemies in a strange country.
Black women think a great deal of the Moonaibaraban, or as they more often call them, Kumbuy, or sister-in-law. These are spirit-women who come a few days after the Boorah to bring presents to the women relations of the boys who have been initiated. The Kumbuy are never seen, but their voices are heard-voices like dogs barking; on hearing which the women in the camp have to answer, calling out:
'Are you my Kumbuy?'
An answer comes like a muffled bark, 'Bah! bah bah!'
Then the old men-crafty old men-go out to where the 'bahing' comes from, and bring in the gifts, which take the form of food, yams, honey, fruit principally.
These Kumbuy are among the few beneficent spirits they never hurt any one, simply supply the bereaved women with comfort in the shape of food, for the temporary loss of their male relatives. Should an uninitiate have a wife, which of course is improper, the Kumbuy decline to recognise her; and should she presume to answer their spirit back, they make in token of displeasure a thudding noise as if earth were being violently banged with a yam stick. She has encroached on the Kumbuy preserves, for prior to his initiation a man should only have a spirit wife, never an incarnate one.
If you ask a black woman why the Kumbuy thud the earth in answer to an initiate's wife, she will say:
'Dat one jealous.' jealousy even in the spirit world of women!
Unchaste women were punished terribly. After we went west even the death penalty for wantonness was enforced, though at the time we did not know it.
Should a girl be found guilty of a frailty, it being her first fault, her brothers and nearest male relations made a ring round her, after having bound her hands and feet, and toss her one from the other until she is in a dazed condition and almost frightened to death.
The punishment over, she is unbound and given to her betrothed, or a husband chosen for her.
Should a woman have been discovered to be an absolute wanton, men from any of the clans make a ring round her, she being bound, and tossed from one to the other, and when exhausted is unbound and left by her relations to the men to do as they please to her--the almost inevitable result is death. With this terror before them, it is possible the old blacks are right who say that their women were very different in their domestic relations in olden times.