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

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Chapter XVII Methods of Obtaining Wives

Four methods of obtaining wives—Charming by magic—Capture—The rarest method of obtaining a wife—Capture of a woman by an avenging party—Method of allotment of a woman thus captured—Elopement—Punishment after elopement—Instance of a method in connection with this—Custom of Tualcha mura, the most usual way of obtaining a wife—Custom of Unjipinna, when a man waives his right to a woman allotted to him—Example of the establishment of the relationship of Tualcha mura—No absolute necessity for a man to marry out of his own local group.

THE methods of obtaining wives may be classified under-four heads, so far as the Arunta and Ilpirra tribes are concerned. These are: (1) charming by means of magic; (2) capture; (3) elopement; and (4) the custom of Tualcha mura, by means of which a man secures a wife for his son by making an arrangement with some other man with regard to the latter's daughter.

Taking these in order we may pass over the method of charming by means of magic, as this has been already dealt with under the head of magic in connection with the description of the use of the Lonka-lonka, Chilara, Ulpmira, and Namatwinna. The use of these objects is a well recognised method of obtaining wives, as is shown by the fact that a man's right to a woman, secured by means of one or other of them, is supported by the men of his own local group, provided always that the woman stands to the man in the relationship of Unawa or lawful wife.

The second method, that of capture, is of much rarer occurrence, a fact which is to be associated with the existence of the custom of Tualcha mura, according to which practically every man in the tribe is provided with at least one woman, to whom he is lawfully entitled. Indeed, the method of p. 555 capture which has been so frequently described as characteristic of Australian tribes, is the very rarest way in which a Central Australian secures a wife. It does not often happen that a man forcibly takes a woman from some one else within his own group, but it does sometimes happen, and especially when the man from whom the woman is taken has not shown his respect for his actual or tribal Ikuntera (father-in-law) by cutting himself on the occasion of the death of one or other of the latter relations. In this case the aggressor will be aided by the members of his local group, but in other cases of capture he will have to fight for himself.

At times, however, a woman may be captured from another group, though this again is of rare occurrence, and is usually associated with an avenging party, the women captured by which, who are almost sure to be the wives of men killed, are allotted to certain members of the avenging party. The following which occurred not long ago in the case of a party sent out by the northern groups of the Arunta to take vengeance on the tribe living away to the north of them, on account of some real or supposed hurt done to the Arunta people, will serve to illustrate what takes place with regard to women captured on such an occasion. Shortly before arriving at their destination, the men who formed the party halted, and the old man, who was acting as leader, sitting in front of the others, scraped two long shallow holes in the ground. To these the name of Aura is given, and they represented, one the man whom it was intended to kill and the other the woman; had there been more than one woman, then there would have been one hole to represent each of them. 1 The meaning of the holes was explained by the leader, and pointing to the one which indicated the woman he asked who wanted to have her. Two or three men said, “I do;” and then the leader, after a short pause, during which he made up his mind what to do, taking a handful of earth out of the hole, presented it to the man to whom he decided to allot the woman saying, “She belongs to you.” When captured, as she was shortly afterwards, she became the property of that man, no one of the others disputing his right, nor, it may be

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remarked, was there any question of the other men having the right of access to the woman. In all such cases the woman is allotted to a man who is Unawa to her, for, even when she belongs to a different tribe to the man, the equivalent groups in the two are well known and regulate marriage just as if the man and woman belonged to the one tribe.

The third method, that of elopement, is to a certain extent intermediate between the method of charming on the one hand and that of capture on the other. It differs from the first of these in that no magic element comes into play, though in reality, of course, there may be no difference whatever between the two so far as this is concerned. In the case of charming, however, the initiative may be taken by the woman, who can of course imagine that she has been charmed, and then find a willing aider and abettor in the man whose vanity is flattered by this response to his magic power, which he can soon persuade himself that he did really exercise; besides which, an extra wife has its advantages in the way of procuring food and saving him trouble, while if his other women object the matter is one which does not hurt him, for it can easily be settled once and for all by a stand-up fight between the women and the rout of the loser. From capture it differs in the fact that the woman is a consenting party.

Not infrequently the elopement of a woman with some man is the cause of serious trouble between the members of different local groups. When an elopement takes place and the man succeeds in getting safely away, some time may elapse before the aggrieved husband takes any action, though at times the eloping couple are at once followed up and then, if caught, the woman is, if not killed on the spot, at all events treated in such a way that any further attempt at elopement on her part is not likely to take place. If the man and woman succeed in getting away to a distant part, then the chances are that sooner or later the original husband of the woman will, accompanied by his friends, go in search of her and the man who has run off with his property. As a general rule the upshot of the matter is a fight between the two interested parties; but at times the result may be that the friends get p. 557 restive and interfere, in which case the fight becomes more serious and leads to a general quarrel between the two local groups, the men of the resident group, to which the man who has taken away the woman belongs, making common side against the men of the other group. There are certain men who are bound to help any given man in a quarrel of this nature, and these are those who stand to him in the relationship of Okilia, or elder brothers, Witia, or younger brothers, and Unkulla, that is mother's brothers sons. If, for example, a man is a Panunga, then the men of his local group, but only of the latter, who are Panunga and Ungalla, will assist him. The question of totem has nothing whatever to do with the matter in the case of these Central Australian tribes; the sons of his mother and father's brothers, blood and tribal, will stand by him to see that, at least, he gets fair play. The fighting may be of two kinds; in the one case, if the aggrieved man wishes to regain the woman, the latter will go to the victor of a real fight, in which both freely use their weapons, but if he be content to hand her over to the other man, then the latter will have to defend himself against the spears and knife of the first man without using his own weapons or attempting to retaliate. He will simply be allowed a shield with which to ward off spears. In either case the chances are that the woman will fare badly.

The following, which is an account of what actually took place during a recent case, will serve to illustrate the matter A man belonging to a group about forty-five miles away to the west of Alice Springs persuaded a woman belonging to a man of the latter group to run away with him from her husband, and the latter, though he gave chase, could not capture the runaway wife. The elopers went away to the south and lived for a year in a distant group, returning finally to Alice Springs, accompanied by some of the man's friends. On arrival at the latter place the man went to the Ungunja, or men's camp, and the woman to the Erlukwirra or women's camp. At the Ungunja a long discussion took place, during which the pros and cons of the case were discussed, the two men most interested remaining silent. After some time the man who had taken the woman got up, and taking with him p. 558 some spears and a shield walked out to a clear space some little distance away from the camp and shouted to the aggrieved man who remained sitting, “Arakutja thale iknukunja yinga iltai,” 1 which meant, “I took your woman, come and growl.” Thereupon the man got up, and standing some distance off threw spears and boomerangs at the first man, who skilfully guarded himself with his shield but made no attempt to retaliate. When all had been thrown he rushed in to close quarters with his enemy and began attempting to cut the thighs of the latter and his back also with a large stone knife, the attacked man doing his best to guard himself but not again attempting to retaliate. After a time the onlookers thought that enough had beendone, and calling out loudly “kulla impara,” which means “enough, leave him” dragged the two apart. The women meanwhile had all assembled; and the aggrieved man walking over to where his erstwhile wife was standing caught hold of her and cut her about the legs and body avoiding however any vital part. Then leaving her he waved his knife in the air and started off for the camp, shouting “Untantimma atnina, ipminja kuta, ipminja kuta,” “You keep altogether, I throw away, I throw away.” After having renounced her in this way she became the property of the man with whom she had eloped.

The fourth and most usual method of obtaining a wife is that which is connected with the well-established custom in accordance with which every woman in the tribe is made Tualcha mura with some man. The arrangement, which is often a mutual one, is made between two men, and it will be seen that owing to a girl being made Tualcha mura to a boy of her own age the men very frequently have wives much younger than themselves, as the husband and the mother of a wife obtained in this way are usually of approximately the same age.

When it has been agreed upon between two men that the relationship shall be established between their two children, one a boy and the other a girl, the two latter, who are generally of a tender age, are taken to the Erlukwirra or

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women's camp, and here each mother takes the other's child and rubs it all over with a mixture of fat and red ochre in the presence of all the other women, who have assembled for the purpose of watching the ceremony. At the same time some of the girl's hair is cut off and given to the boy to signalise the fact that when grown up it will be her duty to provide him (he will be her son-in-law) with her own hair from which to make his waist-girdles. The arrangement is of course only made between boys and girls who stand in a definite relationship to one another. The girl must be one who is Mura to the boy, that is one whose daughters belong to the class from which his wife must come; but whilst in common with all the women of her particular class she is already Mura to him she now becomes Tualcha mura, that is, she is his actual or prospective mother-in-law. This relationship indicates that the man has the right to take as wife the daughter of the woman; she is in fact assigned to him, and this, as a general rule, many years before she is born. Not infrequently a woman's daughters will be allotted to brothers, the elder brother taking the elder daughter, the second brother the second daughter and so on, but it is only in the case of the eldest daughter that the relationship of Tualcha mura exists.

It is quite possible for a man to have more than one woman standing to him in the relationship of Tualcha mura, in which case he will not infrequently hand on his right in the case of one woman to some younger blood or tribal brother. In doing so he does not necessarily hand over his right to the mother-in-law's hair, but will continue to receive this.

Sometimes a man without passing on his Tualcha mura right will waive this if he happens to have a wife already, or does not want for any reason to take the girl assigned to him. It frequently happens that the woman whose daughter is thus allotted to him may have a son and no daughter born, and in this case without waiting on the chance of a girl being born the man may agree to take the boy as what is called his Unjipinna. This establishes a relationship between the boy and the man, as a result of which the former has, until he becomes Ertwa-kurka, that is circumcised, to give his hair to the man who, on his part, has to, in a certain way, look after p. 560 the boy; for example, he must grease his body occasionally and paint the sacred designs upon him at the ceremony of throwing-up, the first of the initiatory rites. At the ceremony of Lartna, or circumcision, the man has to tie the hair of the boy up with fur-string and place the hair-girdle round his waist.

Whilst accepting the Unjipinna, and so waiving his right to the girl, the man still retains his right to the hair of the Tualcha mura woman.

It very rarely happens that a man is not allowed to take the daughter of his Tualcha mura woman, but occasionally, when a serious quarrel has arisen between the contracting parties an attempt is made to give the girl to some one else, though the latter may feel quite sure that he will not be allowed to retain her without a struggle sooner or later.

The following is one of many instances within our personal knowledge of the establishment of the relationship. A Panunga man and a Purula woman living at Alice Springs had a daughter who was of course an Appungerta girl. About the same time a Bulthara man and a Kumara woman had a son born who was of course an Uknaria. The two fathers consulted, and the result was that the little girl was made Tualcha mura to the infant boy. The latter is the prospective husband of the prospective daughter of the Appungerta girl, who will be an Ungalla, that is a woman of the proper class from which the boy's wife must come.

It will be seen from the above that in these tribes there is no necessity for a man to marry out of his own local group, as each of the latter includes men and women of various classes; but as each local group is mainly composed of men of one moiety of the tribe it very often happens that a man's wife belongs to another group. For instance most of the men at Alice Springs are Panunga and Bulthara, and they must marry respectively Purula and Kumara women, so that in the majority of cases they must get them from other local groups in which the Purula and Kumara predominate.


555:1 On this occasion the party intended to kill a particular man.

558:1 Iltai is the word applied to the growling of dogs when they fight, and is used by the natives to express angry talk, and also fighting.

Next: Chapter XVIII. Myths Relating to Sun, Moon, Eclipses, Etc.