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ABORIGINAL SUPERSTITIONS

REV. W. SMITH  

A superficial acquaintance with the Aus- tralian blackfellow a hundred years ago led men to set him down as the lowest type of savage on the face of the earth. There was only a step or two between him and the animals-he was a kind of missing link between them and man pro-

per.

He was without forethought, without imagination, and utterly destitute of re- ligion. He lived only for the day, and cared alone for what he could eat and drink, and that it little mattered what kind of food came to his mouth. He was stupid, sensual, cruel, unimprovable, and incapable of religion.

These foolish and unjust ideals about the aboriginals of the country led to contempt, neglect, and all too often to an active policy of extermination. Their blood cries from the ground.

But at last earnest anthropologists, turned their attention to a people who were fast passing away, and began to gather up the fragments that remained

lest all should be lost.

Within the last half century, men of science have shown a growing interest in native races. Men like Spencer, Gillen, Howitt, and Dr. Roth, and others have completely exploded the silly ideas of earlier times. Under their careful inves- tigations our aboriginals have become   one of the most interesting native races in the world to-day. Instead of being destitute of religion, it has been discover- ed that the whole life of the blackfellow is dominated with religious ideas. His food, concerning which it was thought he was utterly careless, comes under the strictest tribal laws. Some foods, at certain periods of his life, are rigidly tabooed. There are also sacred objects, the "bull roarer" for instance, which his women must never be allowed to see, and certain ceremonies which must never

be described to them under penalty of

death.

The legendary lore of this primitive folk is full of interest. They have had their whys and wherefores, their flights of im- agination, their childish guessings, their dreams, their fairy tales, and ghost stories. They are a true portion of the great human family, are improvable, and had they been taken in hand in time they would have had a longer, a more

useful, and far happier period on our old   planet. But the steady neglect of their

white brothers, their past cruelty to   them, and the introduction of their vices among them will probably result in their extinction in less than a hundred years from now. The Tasmanian natives have all disappeared, and the Australian abori- ginals are fast hastening to the realm of

shadows.

It goes without saying that the life of this people has been marked by super- stition, and often in its crudest forms. Like other races, they have tried to spell

out the meaning of things, and in so   doing have crowded their thought world with strange beings with terrible powers. The Australian blacks have superstitions that are common among most native races, but many, of them have a distinct local colouring. It will be interesting to  

particularise some of these.

THE MEDICINE MAN.

The medicine man plays many parts. He is not always a conscious deliberate fraud, for he sincerely believes in his own powers and also those of other men of his class. He is many sided. He may be poet, doctor, seer, spirit medium, magician, rain-maker, and chief all roll- ed into one. He is the incarnation of

occult powers, a visible and terrible god. He, of the medicine-bag believes in him- self, and causes others to believe in him and fear him. For can he not command evil spirits, shut up the clouds, afflict with diseases, or suck them out of the body, cause death, and foresee and fore- tell the future? He, therefore, commands respect, and it pays to keep on good terms with him.  

Such a character originates and fosters the growth of superstition. And with his fall much dread and false belief come also to the ground. The medicine man and sorcerer are the plague of the mis- sionary and stumbling blocks in the way

of civilisation.

Quartz crystals and smooth pebbles are essential to the stock-in-trade of the medicine man. He is credited with pow- er to extract hard substances from men's bodies. While his bits or quartz and other stones are never shown to the women of a tribe, yet when boys are being made men they are freely exhibited to them. Some body falls sick, the medi- cine man is called in. His diagnosis is that some evil-minded person has cast a spell upon the patient, and that some hard substance within the body is the cause of the pain. But be can cure it for a consideration, for, like the white man quack, he knows no incurable dis- eases. So he sets to work and begins to suck away at the seat of pain, and after many contortions of body and rolling of eyes, lo, he has extracted the tormenting substance. And taking a piece of quartz, or a smooth stone out of his big mouth, shows it to the patient with an expres- sion of triumph. Fully believing that the doctor, has removed the trouble the suf-

ferer becomes often the subject of mental

healing.

But nemesis often tracks the footsteps of the medicine man. His professed pow- ers sometimes fail. If he claims to be a rain-maker, and no rain comes after his incantations, crops perish, and food becomes scarce, then he may come in for heavy censure and even punishment. Dr. J. G. Frazer, in "The Golden Bough," tells us that if the career of a magician, and especially of a rain-maker, offers great rewards to the successful practitioner of the art, it is beset with many pitfalls into which the unskilful or unlucky artist may fall. The position of the public sorcerer is indeed a very pre- carious one; for where the people firmly believe that he has it in his power to make the rain to fall, the sun to shine, and the fruits of the earth to grow, they naturally impute drought and dearth to his culpable negligence, or wilful obstin- acy, and they punish him accordingly. In Africa the chief who fails to procure rain is often exiled or killed.

Mr. J. Matthew, in his book, "Eagle Hawk and Crow," states that he met a Queensland tribe from whom he learned that there were two degrees of medicine- men known to them. "A man's power in the occult art would appear to be pro- portioned to his vitality, and the degree of vitality depended upon the number of sacred pebbles and the quantity of yurra (rope) he carried with him. One kind of sacred pebble was named 'hundir,' and

the man who had an abundance of them was called 'kundir bouggan' (pebbles many), and was a doctor of the lower degree. The 'manngur' was a step in ad- vance. He had been a party to a barter with a 'dhakkan,' the rainbow, and the latter had given him so much rope for a number of pebbles, which he had taken from the man in exchange. The trans- action took place while the black was in a deep sleep. He would be lying on the blink of a waterhole-the rainbow's abode. The rainbow would drag him under, effect the exchange, and then de- posit the man, now a "manngur mann- gur,' on the bank again. The doctor car- ried his sacred apparatus in a small bag, which none but himself might venture to touch, for fear of sudden death. . . Its contents would be a few pebbles, bits of glass, bones, hair, cord made of fur, and perhaps excreta of his foes. Certainly not a very formidable artillery, but enough for him to kill at any distance".

THE GHOST-WORLD.

The blackfellows world was peopled with spirits, which were, for the most part, of a malicious character. They were ever ready to do mischief. And they were everywhere-in waterholes, in trees, in burial places, among rocks. They could throw stones, make lame, cause preg- nancy, afflict with disease, cause death.

In his imagination the blackfellow was constantly bumping against some evil power. He was in touch with the invis- ible, and he lived in a reign of terror. Happy innocent ! What a shame it is that his big white brother broke into his peace- ful paradise, and spoilt it !

According to Dr. Lang, the Queensland blacks appeared to hold traditions of an Asiatic character and aspect. The More- ton Bay tribes had a "budjan," a com- mon ancestor of their race, an old man, who had been asleep for ages. He was re- garded as a superhuman being, possessed of great powers.

CREATION MYTHS.

The Arunta tribe, so we are told by Professor W. B. Spencer and Mr. F. J. Gillen, have a tradition to the effect that at the very beginning there were no human beings as now exist, but certain "almost shapeless, in which just the vague outlines of the different limbs and parts of the body could be detected. Two spirit beings who lived far away in the Western sky, who were called 'Ungambi- kulla,' n word which means 'made out of nothing,' or 'self-existing,' came down to earth and transformed the 'inapertwa' (shapeless beings), into men and women."

The Brisbane tribe believed the "bill- ing," a small bat, made the men, and the "wamankan," or night hawk, made the women. If the men caught a night hawk they would hold it up before the women, and chaff them about their crea- tor; but the women's turn came when they caught the bat. Then the men were re- minded of their mighty progenitor. And it often happened that what began in fun ended in strife, and not unfrequently ter- minated in fierce fights and lacerated bodies. Those simple people certainly could not have been very proud of their

ancestors.

MOON AND SUN.

Dr. Roth, whose study of the Queens- land aborigines will compare favourably with that of Professors Spencer and Gil- len of the Central Australian tribes, has left us a rich heritage of their folk-lore. And from him I have gathered the follow- ing facts:  

In the very early times the moon used to live on the ground like other people.

   

                 

   

   

The sparrow-hawk was then the guardian of the moon, and sometimes, for safety, used to bury the moon in the earth. But one day, in order to punish the people for their want of love, he intended to make a great fire about their camps. And to get the moon out of harm's way, placed him high up in the sky, "and this is how the moon regularly comes to take up his abode in the heavens, out of harm's way of the bush fires."

Dr. Roth obtained, from the Boulia dis- trict blacks, another version of the moon's creation. A long time ago, when the blackfellow was a turkey, he damag- ed his foot and ankle very badly, and inquired from his wife, the cockatoo- parrot, as to the nearest water hole, but all she said was, "No water here." So he asked the green parrot where the water was, and as the foot was becoming more swollen, requested him further to cut it open, but the parrot said he did not know where there was any water, and could not open the wound. Then he

                 

                                         

     

appealed to a crow, a medicine-man, an eagle-hawk, the moon, and even the evil one, but none would undertake his case. As a last hope he appealed to the earth- worm, who bored into the putrid flesh, let the matter out, and so healed him. This became the occasion of a great corroborre, in which the galahs, storm- birds, white and black cockatoos, butcher- birds, magpies, and bower-birds, together with the opossums, porcupines, bandi- coots, and others took part. And while the turkey and the earth-worm, together with the clouds and skies, shifted their position-for the latter had until then always stayed on the surface of the ground-the whole party began singing, "There goes our brother up." And after that both creatures remained up in the sky. But in order that the people below should always remember what a good medicine-man the earth-worm had proved himself to be, he sends them a fresh moon every month, for the moon is a

brother of his, and like him, bores his way out of the ground, rises up on high, sinks once more and dies. And as the earth worm has plenty of shining broth- ers he sends along a different moon every

month.

In other parts of Queensland the blacks   are forbidden to look long at the moon, as it may cause heavy rain to fall. And no child must point at the moon with the fingers straight, as it will cause the death of his parents. On the other hand, crabs are supposed to be no good except when caught at full-moon.

Among other Australian tribes we have also creation guesses, and while some of them are very crude, others are full of poetic fancy.

HOW THE SKY WAS MADE.

Two mura-muras, two superhuman beings, who are seldom seen in their wanderings, decided to make a sky. So they killed a kangaroo and skinned it. When they had so done they fastened

the edges of the skin to the ground with  

strong pegs. Then they raised up the middle, and expressed themselves as high- ly satisfied with their creative work, and said, "Now from this time people can walk upright and have no fear about the sky falling on them "

THE SUN-WOMAN

The Kaitish tribe believe that the sun first rose in the east in the form of a woman. Then she travelled to a place called Allumba, where a big tree sprung up, then she travelled back from whence she came. Her daily task is to get up every morning, in the east, and go round to the west, when she disappears. Dur- ing the night, all unseen by men, she travels back under the earth in time to appear in the morning. The tree at Al- lumba is most sacred. To kill and eat an opossum from this tree would enkindle a fire inside a man that would certainly

kill him.

THE RAINBOW.

So conspicuous an object as the rain- bow was sure to set the aboriginal mind to work and a whole crop of fancies is the result. It has proved to be an ob- ject of terror rather than a pleasant theme for speculation. It is a fairly common belief among the Queensland blacks that its origin is due either to a fish or a snake. The Cape York blacks think it is the reflection of a hugh fish appearing in the sky, after the manner produced by a big bush fire, while the Pennefather River tribe ' regard this phenomenon as a very bright coloured snake which comes up to stop the rain that has been wilfully made by their enemies.' Other North Queensland blacks   believe that rain may be caused by a piece of quartz obtained at the spot where the arc of the rainbow touched the

earth.

The Bunya Bunya blacks were much terrified at the sight of the rainbow, as they regarded it as a snake of great destructive powers.

Tom Petrie gives us, in his recollec- tions, an old legend belonging to this tribe:- Once, they say, a camp of blacks was close to the beach, and all went out to hunt and fish, leaving only two boys, with strict orders not to go to the beach or leave the camp till their elders return- ed. The boys played about the camp for a time, and then getting tired of it went down to the beach where the "Thugin,"     the rainbow serpent, came out of the sea,   and being always on the watch for un- protected children, caught the two lads   and turned them into two rocks that now stand between Double Island Point and Inskip Point, and have deep water close up to them. ' Here, you see," the old men used to say, "the result of not pay- ing attention to what is told you by your elders.'  

Quite a large number of other legends and superstitions cluster about the heavenly bodies, and birds and animals, and the subject is a tempting one, but space prevents me from dealing with them

now.  

An aspect of bird life so fn entirely neglected is found bv W P Pjcnft, in his new woik on 'The Infancy of Am innis," in the glimpses we get now ind then of the ippallmg detlh late among nestlings. Death by violence seems to iccounl foi moie victims thin diseise h 01 the littei a fnuly high powci of re sistance seems to have been cstibhsheil. md internal paiasites at leist cm he tolonted to a quite sin prising extent V hilf fledged blackbull disembowelled by a dog showed two 01 tinco almost full giown tapewoims, besides oilier pansilo -}et the bird had not completed its fust thiee w eeles of existence Among species that bleed m laigo colonies;, the niortihtv is painfully obvious, an llluslialion being the gieat bleeding colonies or jickass pen- guins and cormorants on Dassen Island, Cope Colony In 1008 J M Nicoll found a "rookery" of jieleass penguins estimated at nine million birds, with m enormous horde of cormorants, md thousands of gulls and tacred ibises Tho penguins, nesting m holes, were fairly protected But the eggs and }oung of the coimorants seemed to give subsistence, during the breeding season, to the gulls and ibises, and gieat dcxlcnty was shown in seizing such food in an} unguarded moment

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