AT last would come the night when everything was ready. Sports and corroborees would be held as usual, until, at a given signal, the younger women were ordered into bough sheds which were round the ring.
The old women stayed on singing.
The boys, who are painted red, are beckoned into the middle of the ring, where their respective Munthdeeguns daub them with white. That done, each man seizing his charge, hoists him on to his shoulder, and dances round the ring with him. Then the old women are told to bid the boys good-bye.
Forward they come, singing each her own brumboorah, for every oldest woman relation of each of the boys makes a song for him. They corroboree a few steps behind the men, chanting a farewell, then corroboree back a few steps, then hasten to join the younger women in the bough sheds, which are now pulled down on top of them by the men, that they may see nothing further. Then the Munthdeeguns disappear down the track into the scrub.
When they are out of sight the women are released, that they may get ready to travel to where the Durrawunga, or Little Boorah, will be held in about four days' time, at about ten miles distance.
As the Munthdeeguns passed their totem-marked trees, or images, which would be those of the boys in their charge--for each guardian was a relation of the same totem as his charge-they would perform some magical feat, such as producing gubberahs, charcoal, gypsum, and so on, uttering as they did so a little chant about that totem.
The boy's eyes are closed all this time and his head bent down.
Boys at a Boorah always remind me of Wilhelm Meisler's Travels, where, at the school to which Wilhelm takes Felix, he learns, on inquiry as to the three attitudes assumed by the pupils, that these gestures inculcate veneration, which also seems to be the keynote of the eeramooun's instruction. The Boorah over, he too, 'Stands erect and bold, yet not selfishly isolated; only in an union with his equals (his fellow initiates) does he present a front towards the world.'
And only when the fear, the abasement, is gone does the true reverence come, which makes the most primitive creed a living religion.
As the Munthdeeguns pass the sacred fire they throw in a weapon each. This done they place their charges in slightly scooped-out places, already prepared in the inner ring.
Then they bid them, on pain of death, not to look up whatever happens.
Soon a great whirring is heard, telling that Gayandi, the Boorah spirit, is near.
Yudtha Dulleebah, one of the oldest black men in the district, said at this stage once two boys did look up.
The wirreenuns saw them, though the boys did not know it and went on looking. These boys saw the men advance each to the fire where they had thrown their weapons; chanting in a strange tongue, they corroboreed round the fire for some time.
Then the wirreenuns snatched up the coals left from the weapons and rubbed them into their limbs, trampling as they did so on the edge of the fire, which did not seem to burn them, rubbing and chanting until the sacred coals were supposed to be absorbed by them, from which they would derive new powers.
This over, the boys were all ordered to get up, and march round, hands on thighs and heads abased, while they learnt a Boorah song, giving new words for common things, which acted as pass-words hereafter for the initiated. Into a slow chant these words were strung, as the men and boys passed round the ring, two of the oldest men standing beating time with painted spears with tufted tops.
The two boys who had transgressed before looked up again, curious as to their surroundings. Suddenly the men with the spears roared at the boys to lower their heads.
The boys laughed. Their fates were sealed. Out flashed the sacred gubberahs of these two old men.
'Dead is he,' they cried, 'who laughs in the Bunbul where yungawee burns more fiercely than Yirangal, the sun, where near lies the image of Byamee: Byamee, father of all, whose laws the tribes are now obeying.' Then the men chanted to the gubberahs and held them between the fires and the boys, the light of the flames seemed to play on them and stretch its beams to the boys, who began to tremble. As louder grew the chant an answer came from the scrub, the voice of Gayandi; shaking with fear the boys fell to the ground, to all appearance lifeless. Then the old men went forward, each with a stone knife in hand. Stooping over the two boys they opened veins in each, out flowed the blood, and the other men all raised a death cry. The boys were lifeless. The old wirreenuns, dipping their stone knives in the blood, touched with them the lips of all present. Then the bodies were put on the edge of the sacred fire and the other initiates taken a little further into the scrub. There they were tried in many ways.
With the Boorah spirits whistling and whizzing all round them, spears were pointed at them. Their skins were scratched with stone knives and mussel shells. Hideously painted, fiendish-looking creatures suddenly rushed upon them. Should they show fear and quail at the Little Boorah they would be returned to their mothers as cowards unfit for initiation, and sooner or later sympathetic magic would do its work, a poison-stick or bone would end them. Or if one of the initiates was considered stupid and generally incapable, having been brought to the Boorah for that purpose, he was now, after having been made to suffer all sorts of indignities, such as eating filth and so on, bound to the earth, strapped down, killed, and his body burnt.
When the trials were over and the old wirreenuns said to the boys who had not quailed, 'You are brave; you shall be boorahbayyi first and afterwards yelgidyi, and carry the marks that all may know.'
Then they made on the shoulder of each boy a round hole with a pointed stone; this hole they licked to feel no splinter of stone remained, then filled it with powdered charcoal.
After this, leaving the boys there, the men went back to the Bunbul ring. The bodies of the Boorah victims were cooked. Each man who had been to five Boorahs ate a piece of this flesh, no others were allowed even to see this done. Then the bones and what was left of the bodies were put into the middle of the fire, and all traces of the victims so destroyed.
The men then sang a song, saying that so must always be served those who scoffed at sacred things; that the strength they had wasted should go into other men who would use it better; while the spirits of the victims should wander about until reincarnated if the Boorah spirit gave them another chance. Perhaps he would only let them be reincarnated in animals.
After another dance and chant round the yungawee, the men went and brought the boys back again. They came with their hands on their thighs, and their heads abased; each was taken to his allotted place near the outer edge of the ring. There each Munthdeegun told his boy he could sleep that night; he would go to sleep the boy he had been, to wake in the morning a new man; his courage had now been tried, and in the morning a new name and a sacred stone would be given to him. The Gayandi would settle their names that night and tell the wirreenuns.
The next morning the boys were awakened by the Munthdeegun chanting and dancing before them. They stopped in front of the first boy, called him to rise by a new name; as he did so all the men clapped their thighs and shouted
'Wah! wah! wah!'
Then an old wirreenun gave him a small white gubberah, which he was bidden to keep concealed for ever from the uninitiated and the women, and he must be ready to produce it whenever called upon to do so. The result of failure would be fatal to him. With the loss of the stone his life spirit would be weakened, and the strength of the Boorah spirit, with which he was now endowed, be used against him instead of for him, as would be the case as long as he kept the stone.
These stones seem somewhat in the way of 'Baetyli' of pagan antiquity, which were of round form; they were supposed to be animated, by means of magical incantations, with a portion of the Deity; they were consulted on occasions of great and pressing emergency as a kind of divine oracle, and were suspended either round the neck or some other part of the body.
As each boy received his stone another loud chorus of 'Wah! wah! wah!' went up from that crowd, making the scrub ring with the sound.
Some of those, of whose tribe it was the custom-it is not invariably so-now had a front tooth knocked off; this done a wirreenun chanted to the boy, who had been blindfolded and almost deafened by the whirring of Gayandi.
One chant was as follows:--
Now you can meet the Boorah spirit,
Now will he harm you not.
He will know his spirit is in you.
For this is the sign,
A front tooth gone.
That is his sign,
He will know you by it.'
Some of the wirreenuns buried these teeth by the Boorah fire, others carefully wrapped them up to keep as charms, or to send to other tribes, each according to the individual custom of his tribe.
This all over, once more there was a marching and chanting round the fire, then the boys were taken away and given food for the first time since they left their mothers.
No wonder that the ' supernatural' was mixed up with their impressions of the Boorah: fasting nourishes hallucinations. While the boys were eating, they could hear in the distance other chants, and knew that ceremonies were going on to which they were not yet to be admitted, there being degrees of initiation.
On the fourth day the men took them about ten miles, and camped with them where they could hear faintly in the distance the noise of the main camp; so they knew they were near the place chosen for the Durramunga, or Little Boorah.
Just before dawn next morning each Munthdeegun took his Boorahbayyi, or partially initiated one, to the Durramunga. There was a Boorah ring, but instead of earth grass was heaped all round it. No young women were visible, only the old women, who sang and corroboreed towards the boys. Slowly they came forward, peered at their shoulders, and seeing there the marks, embraced them, shrieking out cries of joy that their boys had borne the tests. They danced round them, then at a sign from the old men embraced them again; and while, the women sang their brumboorah and danced, the boys were taken away by their guardians.
For two moons they remained away, learning much as to sacred things. They were told that the oldest wirreenuns could see in their sacred crystals pictures of the past, pictures of what was happening at a distance in the present, and pictures of the future; some of which last filled their minds with dread, for they said as time went on the colours of the blacks, as seen in these magical stones, seemed to grow paler and paler, until at last only the white faces of the Wundah, or spirits of the dead, and white devils were seen, as if it should mean that some day no more blacks should be on this earth.
The reason of this must surely be that the tribes fell away from the Boorah rites, and in his wrath Byamee stirred from his crystal seat in Bullimah. He had said that as long as the blacks kept his sacred laws, so long should he stay in his crystal seat, and the blacks live on earth; but if they failed to keep up the Boorah rites as he had taught them, then he would move and their end would come, and only Wundah, or white devils, be in their country.
It is said that this prophetic vision was the reason that so many of the first-born half-caste babies were killed, the old wirreenuns seeing in them the beginning of the end.
At the end of two moons they make back towards the place where the Boorah had begun, and where preparations were now being made to receive them.
They camped in the scrub near the old camp of the tribe who had started the Boorah.
That night in the camp the Gayandi was heard again, another ceremony was at hand.
The next day the women at the big camp made a big fire, a little distance away. When this fire was nearly burnt out they covered it thickly with Budtha, Dheal, and Coolabah leaves to make a great smoke. On the top of these leaves, which were piled about two feet high, logs were placed; this fire was round a Dheal tree.
When the thick smoke was seen curling up in a column, the Boorahbayyi were brought out of the scrub by the Munthdeegun, while in the distance sounded the whizzing voice of the Boorah spirit. As it ceased, when the women's chanting rose above it, the painted boys came into the open. On they came, heads down and hands on thighs, looking neither to the right nor to the left, but walking straight ahead until they stood on the logs on the fire. They leaned over and placed a hand each on the tree in the centre, there they stood while the smoke curled all round them. The women past child-bearing were singing all the time, while the men danced outside the leaf-smoke, clicking boomerangs as they did so.
For some time this went on, then the men took the boys back into the scrub.
In about four moons' time another leaf-smoke was made ready, and the Boorahbayyi were again brought out and smoked. This time while chanting a song the old women brought a big net and put it right over the boys. Then they stepped back and danced round to the clicking of boomerangs by the men. The boys were again taken away.
But after this they were allowed to camp nearer the general camp, though they held no intercourse with the people of it. I have often met these Boorah boys in the bush, and on sighting me they have fled as if I were a devil in petticoats.
In about another moon's time, the boys were painted principally white, a waywah put on them, a yunbean--a piece of beefwood gum with two kangaroo teeth stuck in it, and a hole through it--was tied to their front lock of hair. A number of these yunbean were tied to forehead bands, which they wore too. Armlets of opossum's hair string were put on their arms, and feathers stuck in them. Feathers were also stuck upright in the forehead bands.
Some of the old men added to their own decorations by putting on wongins, from which were hanging those most precious possessions to inland blacks--seaside shells. Some had fresh beads of gum fastened on to their hair, hanging round their heads in dozens.
The women, too, had coiffured themselves with fresh gum beads; the mothers of the Boorahbayyi were painted, too, in corroboree style. They had made a smoke fire, but the logs instead of being put on it, were placed at a little distance; on these the painted boys sat, the smoke enveloping them.
After they had been seated there some time, their mothers came up behind them, and put their hands on their sons' shoulders. Then they rubbed all the paint off the boys' bodies; the boys never once looking at them. When the paint was all off, the women sang and danced, until the men in charge took the boys away again.
After this, supervision was relaxed except at night. During the day-time the boys might wander at will, so as they kept clear of the general camp. They might not receive food from nor speak to a woman for twelve months, as if they were monks of Byamee in training.
At his second Boorah a young man was allowed to see the sacred fire ceremony, throwing in of weapons, walking on burning coals, and the rest. He saw the huge earthen figures of Byamee, Birrahgnooloo, and Baillahburrah, or Dillalee, and was told all about them; that Byamee having initiated the Boorah, only such as have been through its rites can go to his sky-camp.
Three sins are unforgiveable, and commit a spirit of a guilty one to continual movement in the lower world of the Eleanbah Wundah, where, but for big fires kept up, would be darkness.
There the guilty one had to keep his right hand at his side, never moving it, but he himself perpetually moving. Those who know the blacks and their love of a 'dolce far niente,' will understand what a veritable hell this perpetual movement would make.
The three deadly sins were unprovoked murder, lying to the elders of the tribe, or stealing a woman within the forbidden degrees--that is, of the same hereditary totem, i.e. of the same blood, or of the prohibited family name clan.
But by a curious train of reasoning two wrongs make a right. Should by any chance a man succeed in getting a wife he had no right to, having lived with her, he could keep her, if he came unhurt from the trial he had to stand; he only having a shield to defend himself with, the men of the stolen woman's kin threw weapons at him. Only the men of her kin are assailants, not as in a murder trial, when the men of all kins can throw at the guilty man. Should he defend himself successfully, he can keep the woman on the understanding that a woman of his family is given to a man of hers, to square things. A man who stands his trial is called a Booreenbayyi.
Kindliness towards the old and sick is strictly inculcated as a command of Byamee, to whom all breaches of his laws are reported by the all-seeing spirit at a man's death, and he is judged accordingly. Sir Thomas Mitchell, writing in 1837 his experiences of the blacks during his explorations, notices as very striking their care and affection for the aged of their race.
At his second Boorah a man is allowed to see the carvings on the trees and to hear the legends of them. Also to hear the Boorah song of Byamee, which Byamee himself sang; and to hear the prayer of the oldest wirreenun to Byamee, asking him to let the blacks live long, for they have been faithful to his charge as shown by the observance of the Boorah ceremony.
The old wirreenun says words to this effect several times imploringly, his head turned to the east; facing this direction the dead are mostly buried.
Though we say that actually these people have but two attempts at prayers, one at the grave and one at the inner Boorah ring, I think perhaps we are wrong. These two seem the only ones directly addressed to Byamee. But perhaps it is his indirect aid which is otherwise invoked. Daily set prayers seem to them a foolishness and an insult, rather than otherwise, to Byamee. He knows; why weary him by repetition, disturbing the rest he enjoys after his earth labours? But a prayer need not necessarily be addressed to the highest god. I think if we really understood and appreciated the mental attitude of the blacks, we should find more in their so-called incantations of the nature of invocations. When a man invokes aid on the eve of a battle, or in his hour of danger and need; when a woman croons over her baby an incantation to keep him honest and true, and that he shall be spared in danger, surely these croonings are of the nature of prayers born of the same elementary frame of mind as our more elaborate litany. I fancy inherent devotional impulses are common to all races irrespective of country or colour.
When the prayer was over the old men chanted Byamee's song, which only the fully initiated may sing, and which an old black fellow chanted for us as the greatest thing he could do.
There seemed very little in this song, for no, one can translate it, the meaning having been lost in the 'dark backward,' if it was ever known to the Euahlayi.
Birree gunyah, birrie gunyah.
Dilbay gooran mulah bungarn.
Oodoo doo gilah.
Googoo wurra wurra.
Bulloo than nulgah delah boombee nulgah.
Delah boombee. Nulgah delah boombee boombee.
Buddereebah . . . . . . Eumoolan.
Dooar wullah doo. Boombee nulgah delah.'
The old fellow said wherever Byamee had travelled this song was known, but no one now knew the meaning of the whole, not even the oldest wirreenuns.
Another stone was given to a Boorahbayyi when he first heard this song.
The wirreenuns, they say, swallow their stones to keep them safe.
At each Boorah a taboo is taken off food. After a third Boorah a man could eat fish, after a fourth honey, after a fifth what he liked. He was then, too, shown and taught the meanings of the tribal message-sticks, and the big Boorah one of Byamee. As few men now have ever been to five Boorahs, few know anything about these last. At each Boorah a stone was given to a man, and when he had the five he could marry.
After each Boorah all the figures and embankments are destroyed.
After the fifth Boorah the mystery of the Gayandi was revealed and the bull roarers shown--oval pieces of wood pointed at both ends, fastened to a string and swung round; but though this was shown, the wirreenuns told them that the spirit's voice was really in this wood animating it. After a man has been to one Boorah he can have war weapons and is a warrior, but not until he has been to five can he join or be one of the dorrunmai-sort of chiefs-who hold councils of war, but have few privileges beyond being accepted authorities as to war and hunting. With the wirreenuns rests the real power, by reason of their skill in magic.
Besides Boorahs are minor corroboree meetings where marriages are arranged; meetings where the illegality of marriages is gone into, and, if necessary, exchanges effected or arranged; meetings where the wirreenuns of the Boogahroo produce the bags of hair, etc., and vendettas are sworn; meetings of Boodther, or giving, where each person receives and gives presents. A person who went to a Boodther without a goolay full of presents would be thought a very poor thing indeed.
Of course every meeting has a corroboree as part of it.
Every totem even has its own special corroboree and time for having it, as the Beewees, or iguanas, when the pine pollen is failing and the red dust-storms come. And if you abused these dust-storms to a Beewee black, you would insult him: it is not dust, it is the pollen off the pines, and so a multiplex totem to him!
The winds belong to various totems, and the rains are claimed by the totem whose wind it was that blew it up.
If a storm comes up without wind it belongs to Bohrah, the kangaroo.
The big mountainous clouds when they come from the south-west are said to be Mullyan, the eagle-hawk, who makes the south-west wind claimed by Maira, paddy melon totem, one of whose multiplex totems Mullyan is.
The crow keeps the cold west wind in a hollow log, as she was too fond of blowing up hurricanes; she escapes sometimes, but the crow hunts her back. But they say the log is rotting and she will get away yet, when there will be great wreckage and quite a change in climates.
Away to the north-west a tribe of blacks have almost a monopoly in wind-making, holding great corroborees to sing these hurricanes up. One of this tribe came to the station once and wanted to marry a girl there. She would not consent, and told him to go home. He went, threatening to send a storm to wreck the station. The storm came; the house escaped, but stable, store, and cellar were unroofed. I told my Black-but-Comelys to kindly avoid such vehemently revengeful lovers for the future.
[1. Here we see the usual antagonism of crow and eagle-hawk.--A. L.]