The Passing of the Aborigines, by Daisy Bates

Chapter 15

First Days at Ooldea

The construction of the great Australian trans-continental railway line was the end of the native groups north, east and west for many hundreds of miles.

For some years, stray natives had been coming in to civilization, following the tracks of the explorers, Warburton, Giles, Forrest and Maurice. They had looked upon the white men with awe-bearded ghosts with a fire magic that could send little stones into their vitals. “Windinjirri! Run! Run! Run!” they shouted when they beheld those fearsome spirit monsters, the camels, and scattered to the four winds, dropping infants and food in their desperate fright. Windinjirri was the camel’s name among them ever after. One woman gave birth to a baby while fleeing from the camels, and no harm resulting, the baby was given the camel as its totem.

At first they lived in abject fear of the “waijela” as they learned to call the white man, but after they had talked with him, touched him, and even eaten his food, the fear changed to anger. This waijela was killing their meat, leaving the bodies of the kangaroos to rot and taking only the skins. He was monopolizing the precious water-holes for the hated camel, forbidding the rightful owners to approach. Then, little by little, or rapidly, according to local circumstance, he assumed another, and though they did not know it, more terrifying aspect. He became a source of revenue to them, and he had come to stay. They were always familiar with the traffic in women. That the waijela knew the trade simplified matters.

So with the survey of the east-west railway began the extermination of the central native groups, not by the deliberate cruelty of the white man, but by the impossibility of amalgamating two such extreme races, Palaeolithic and 20th Century, and through the natives’ ready, and even eager, adoption of the white man’s vices.

As the construction proceeded, with a great influx of railway workers of all classes and nationalities, along 1,000 miles of previously uninhabited country, they straggled in to the line in increasing numbers, drawn by the abundance of food-stuffs and the new fire-drink [Kala-gabbi] that made them “head no good.” [Kooramba] Each group through whose territory the line was passing saw its waters used up, the trees and bushes destroyed for firewood and fence-posts, and the whole country turned to strange uses. In their eagerness to “make the most of what they yet may spend,” they did not know that they were bringing about their own annihilation. They thought that the train and its people would go away, and leave them the things to play with.

Bush rumours travelled far and rumours magnify. From over a thousand miles north and north-east and north-west the groups came, amalgamating with the tribes they met, or killing, on the way; smokes on the horizon telling of their coming as they skirted the Plain, still afraid to cross it for fear of the serpent devil. Eastward to Wynbring and Tarcoola, westward to Karonie and Kalgoorlie, they journeyed, but more frequently to the traditional camping-ground on the north-north-eastern rim of Nullarbor, known to the white man as the Ooldea Soak.

This is the legend of Ooldea Water.

Along, long time ago in dhoogoor times, Karrbiji, a little marsupial, came from the west carrying a skin-bag of water on his back, and as he travelled east and east there was no water anywhere, and Karrbiji said, “I will put water in the ground so that the men can have good water always.” He came to a shallow place like a dried lake. He went into the middle of it, and was just going to empty his water-bag when he heard someone whistling, and presently he saw Ngabbula, the spike-backed lizard, coming threateningly towards him, whistling. As he watched Ngabbula coming along, Karrbiji was very frightened, and he said, “I can only leave a little water here. I shall call this place ‘Yooldil–Beena’— the swamp where I stood to pour out the water,” and he tried to hide the water from Ngabbula by covering it with sand, but Ngabbula came along quickly and Karrbiji took up his skin-bag and ran and ran because Ngabbula would take all his water from him.

By and by he had run quite away from Ngabbula, and soon he came to a deep sandy hollow among high hills, and he said, “This is a good place, I can hide all the water here, and Ngabbula won’t be able to find it. He can’t smell water.”

Karrbiji went down into the hollow and emptied all the water out of his bag into the sand. He covered up the water so that it could not be seen, and he said, “This is Yooldil Gabbi and I shall sit beside this water and watch my friends finding it and drinking it.” Karrbiji was feeling very glad that he had put the water in such a safe place. All at once he again heard loud whistling and he looked and saw Ngabbula coming along towards him. Karrbiji was very frightened of Ngabbula, and he quickly picked up his empty skin-bag and ran away; but fast as he ran Ngabbula ran faster.

Now, Giniga, the native cat, and Kallaia, the emu, were great friends of Karrbiji, and they had watched him putting the water under the sand where they could easily scratch for it and drink cool nice water always, and they said, “We must not let Ngabbula kill our friend,” and when Ngabbula chased Karrbiji, Kallaia and Giniga chased Ngabbula, and Ngabbula threw his spears at Giniga and made white spots all over Giniga where the spears had hit him. Giniga hit Ngabbula on the head with his club and now all Ngabbula’s heads are flat, because of the great hit that Giniga had given Ngabbula.

Then they ran on again and Ngabbula began to get frightened and he stopped chasing Karrbiji, but Kallaia and Giniga said, “We must kill Ngabbula, and so stop him from killing Karrbiji,” and a long long way north they came up to Ngabbula, and Kallaia, the emu, speared him, and he died.

Then they went to Karrbiji’s place, and Kallaia, Giniga and Karrbiji made a corroboree, and Beera, the moon, played with them, and by and by he took them up into the sky where they are now kattang-ga (“heads” stars). Karrbiji sat down beside his northern water, and when men came to drink of his water Karrbiji made them his friends and they said, “Karrbiji is our dreamtime totem,” and all the men who lived beside that water were Karrbiji totem men. They made a stone emblem of Karrbiji and they put it in hiding near the water, and no woman has ever walked near the place where the stone emblem sits down. Kallaia, the emu, “sat down” beside Yooldil Water, and when the first men came there they saw Kallaia scraping the sand for the water, and they said “Kallaia shall be our totem. This is his water, but he has shown us how to get it.” Giniga, the native cat, went between the two great waters, Karrbiji’s Water and Kallaia’s Water, and was always the friend of both. Ngabbula was killed north of Yooldil Gabbi, but he also had his water, and men came there and made him their totem, but Kallaia totem men always fought with Ngabbula totem men and killed them and ate them.

Karrbiji, after his work was done, went north, and “sat down” among the Mardudharra Wong-ga (wonga-ga-speech, talk), not far from the Arrunda, beside his friends Giniga, the native cat, and Kallaia, the emu. And he made plenty of water come to the Mardudharra men, and by and by the men said, “Karrbiji has brought his good water to us all. We will be brothers of Karrbiji.” In a sacred spot near the water where Karrbiji sat down, there is a stone Karrbiji (phallic emblem) and here all the Karrbiji totem men gathered at certain times, and performed sacred and secret ceremonies to Karrbiji, the water-bringer.

The Kallaia men of Yooldil Gabbi (Ooldea Water) are now all dead and the last emu man died far, far away from his water. Jinjabulla was his name, and he was very old and blind when he died.

Ngoora-bil-nga and his brothers, the last Karrbiji totem men, left their ancestral waters and reached Ooldea Water in 1928. They knew Yooldil Gabbi from the Karrbiji legend only. They left the Karrbiji emblem in its old place; but they must never again dance the Karrbiji corroboree, or “fire would come inside them, and burn their hearts out.”

Nothing more than one of the many depressions in the never-ending sandhills that run waveringly from the Bight for nearly a thousand miles, Ooldea Water is one of Nature’s miracles in barren Central Australia. No white man coming to this place would ever guess that that dreary hollow with the sand blowing across it was an unfailing fountain, yet a mere scratch and the magic waters welled in sight. Even in the cruellest droughts, it had never failed. Here the tribes gathered in their hundreds for initiation and other ceremonies. When all the waters had dried for countless miles, strangers came from afar, offering their flints and their food and their women for the right to share it and live. The emu men of Ooldea had lived and thrived on the renown of their water, watching daily for the light smokes that prepared them for the visit of friends or the heavy smokes that signalled the approach of an initiation party. On the steep hills about the soak, the visiting mobs camped, each in the direction of his own ground. Exchange of totem foods made for friendship-mallee-hen, emu and native cat-and there was always plenty of vegetable and meat food and edible grubs and sweet grasses. Today, in a flintless country cut flints in millions are to be found on the surrounding sandhills and about the site of the native wells, and human bones and skulls are evidence of these great gatherings of long ago.

In the building of the transcontinental line, the water of Ooldea passed out of its own people’s hand for ever. Pipelines and pumping plants reduced it at the rate of 10,000 gallons a day for locomotives. The natives were forbidden the soak, and permitted to obtain their water only from taps at the siding. In a few years the engineering plant apparently perforated the blue clay bed, twenty feet below surface. Ooldea, already an orphan water, was a thing of the past. Old blind Jinjabulla, the last of its emu men, whom I had tended at my Weerilya camp 100 miles south, was burned to death shortly after I left, in his shelter at Fowler’s Bay.

When I came to Ooldea Siding in September, 1919, I found conditions difficult. Some hundreds of derelict natives had established their camps at the sidings, and travelled up and down the line, begging from the train at every stopping-place, a responsibility and a menace in that many of them were already ravaged by disease. There was no control of them. The few filthy rags they wore had been thrown to them in charity and decency. A policeman stationed at Tarcoola and another at Kalgoorlie dispensed rations, but Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie are nearly a thousand miles apart.

The newly formed railway settlements had not yet settled down after the chaos of the very recent construction. After-math of war was still in the air, and the unrest among the white communities was almost as distressing as the obvious degeneration of the black. I pitched my tent first on the south side of the line, where there was a small auxiliary railway for carting wood and a pipe-line, and a half-cast teamster camped with a motley crowd of natives. Such a diversity of creatures they were that, among remnants of all the south and central areas, and the east and west, I found an Arunta of the MacDonnell Ranges, a Dieri of Cooper’s Creek, and even a Bibbulmun woman from Ravensthorpe in South–West Australia, the wife of this German half-cast, an unhappy creature, who had drifted with him through all the groups between.

Numbers of white derelicts and camp-followers were still on the line, strike-agitators, foreigners, pilgrims of one kind and another, “jumping the rattler” between the capitals, or recklessly walking the whole thousand miles, throwing themselves on the hospitality of each succeeding camp of fettlers. Some of them cut the telegraph wires in the throes of thirst or held up the passing trains in starvation, and most of them stirred up trouble wherever they went. Prostitution of native women was rife, sought by the blacks and encouraged by the lowest whites, and many unfortunates had already reaped the wages of sin. When the first half-cast babies appeared, the wild mothers believed that they were the results of eating the white man’s food, and rubbed them frantically with charcoal to restore their black health and colour, till often they died. Even when they had eaten the fruit of the White Man’s Tree of Knowledge, they were not pleased, for they had seen piebald horses, and shared the primitive fear and distaste of the unusual.

News travels quickly by smoke signal, and soon my old Bight and Eucla and Fowler’s Bay natives were arriving to sit down with me again. An epidemic of influenza broke out, and in tending and feeding the sick, making the acquaintance of strangers of the desert, clothing them for their first entry to civilization and smoothing out many a social problem, I was labouring every hour of the day when there came the disturbing news of an engine-drivers’ strike. The six weekly express-three from the east and three from the west-were no longer to be expected, nor the weekly supply train. Moreover, there were rumours that the service would be discontinued for twelve months.

I had few stores in my modest larder for such an emergency, and no facility for obtaining them. Telegrams were useless. The strike was declared on October 30. The fettlers were paid off, and Port Augusta volunteers drove a train to take their women and children into Kalgoorlie. From these departing fettlers, I bought all the flour, tea and sugar available for my natives, and soon found myself the only white woman left on the line, alone at Ooldea save for the two pumpers at the Soak, three and a half miles north, the half-cast teamster and the various camps. Then I learned that a large gathering of natives had come in for an initiation ceremony at Tarcoola, and might be expected at any moment, but I had nothing to give them.

The next eight weeks were indeed difficult. I existed principally on porridge, and sometimes I would give that to my patients, and eke out the next day upon a meagre damper or a potato. Once I made a meal of an iguana that two friends, Nyirdain and Thangarri, caught and cooked for me. Worse than all, our water was limited. As it was no longer needed for the fettlers and the locomotives, the pumpers had ceased to work, and the daily supply had to be rationed scrupulously. I admit that I was on the verge of desperation, with no relief in sight, when there came the glad news that the strike was over. On December 3, by the first train through, I was able to purchase one loaf and a pound of butter. Never did I enjoy such a simple meal so heartily.

Following this harrowing experience, we were blessed for a time with the passing of six trains weekly, in an attempt to reduce the congestion in the railway sheds. The fettlers and their wives returned to their little homes so rudely deserted, and I was able to provide my natives with a Christmas dinner worthy of the name.

My own fare, day after day throughout the years, has always been so simple that to myself I am a miracle. I have consoled myself with the reflection that the simpler our needs, the nearer we are to the gods. A potato in the ashes, now and again a spoonful of rice that nine times out of ten was burned in my absence or absent-mindedness, occasionally the treat of a boiled egg, and always tea-my panacea for all ills-were the full extent of my culinary craft. Even so, after so many hardships, I determined that this Christmas should be a memorable one for us all, and passed the glad tidings of peace and goodwill and plenty mai along to the natives.

A big mob gathered about me in expectancy. Fires were quickly lighted and flour was given out for damper making.

“Who can make plum-pudding?”

“Injarradu pudding roongani.” So Injarradu was given mutton fat and sugar, raisins and dates and prunes and figs, eggs and flour and carbonate of soda, and baking-powder, holus-bolus in a bath-tub, and duly produced a glutinous seething mass wrapped in one of Kabbarli’s old nightdresses and boiled in a zinc bucket. After ten hours of cooking, the centre of the pudding was half-liquid, and its external appearance that of a diseased pancake, but it disappeared rapidly enough, with all the other good things. Each little family sat in such a position that it could not be overlooked by its neighbours while eating. It is an offence for a native to watch another eat, as evil magic might be conveyed to the food which reminds one again of the old Irish saying, “I’d rather have six atin’ wud me than wan lookin’ at me.” When the dinner had disappeared, they rubbed their stomachs and flicked their thumbs downward in satisfaction.

“Jooni-bulga, Kabbarli” (Full up, ‘Grandmother!). They grinned and wended their way over the hill to the siding to beg for baccy on the Christmas trains.

My knowledge of the circumcised troups of Broome, the central west, the south-central west, the Plain and the Plain’s edge was now to be concentrated on Ooldea, and the first years there were years of never-ceasing work. The endeavour to reconcile the old conditions with the new was pathetic. My first task, as the groups stepped over the threshold of civilization, was to set them at ease and clothe them, learn their names and their waters, explain the white man’s laws and tell them of the resources and the dangers of this new age they had stumbled into. Most of the young people were orphans, their parents having been killed and eaten on the long journey down.

One morning, there arrived at my camp, naked and innocent, a contingent of twenty-six men, women and children from the Mann Ranges, nearly 1,000 miles north-west. They stood trembling and shrinking at their first sight of a white woman, but when I took the hand of the old man, and told him in his dialect that he could sit down without fear, the tension relaxed, and it became a question of clothing my new family.

Just as I was buttoning the men into their first trousers, a thunder came from the Plain. All rose in terror to watch, wild-eyed, the monster of Nullarbor, the ganba (snake) coming to devour them. I needed all my tact and wisdom to prevent their flight. Two of the women were heavily pregnant. One of these, in spite of the abundant food bestowed on her, later gave birth to a girl baby in a hidden spot in the bush, and killed and ate the little creature. The other woman reared her child for a year or so, and then, giving birth to a half-caste at some siding, took both along the line and disposed of them either by neglect or design. One of the men survived civilization for a brief period of seven months. He had been taken by the “magic snake” train to Kalgoorlie, where he contracted venereal disease, and returned to Ooldea only to die. On the day following his return we buried him near my tent, with Inyiga, a woman who, after killing her diseased half-cast child, succumbed to pneumonia.

I had eight pneumonia patients at one time, cared for them all, and cured most of them. Trudging many miles, day and night, across the sandhills between camps, my methods were my own, grandmotherly cough mixtures, massaging with oil, nourishing foods and much cheeriness, but most of all the Kabbarli magic that they believed I possessed.

The aborigines have little power of resistance. They may recover from accidents and illnesses that invariably prove fatal to the white man, but a neglected cold frequently becomes consumption, and measles and influenza and other inconsiderable ailments often take a terrible toll. Massaging magic, suction magic, kicking magic and other spells are brought into play by the sorcerers, but I found loving-kindness, simple remedies and common sense the most satisfactory treatment. When the end was inevitable, the patient just turned round on his earthen bed and quietly closed his eyes. Death comes as gently and easily to the aborigine as it does to all other creatures of the wild.

The Death and Burial of Jajjala

Jajjala died at his camp near Ooldea. He was aged scarcely 25 years, a quiet, gentle, naturally well-mannered boy, clever at weapon-making and carving, a good hunter and a generous giver.

He had taken kindly to the mission teaching, and sang and listener with pleasure to the mission songs sung and played by the teachers, but two days before his death, as I sat beside him, he signed to his brother to show “Kabbarli” the ma-mu-abu (evil magic stone), which he believed had been sent into him and was now causing his death. The object was a tiny piece of some hard substance, thin as the lead in a pencil, and only an inch long, and was said by his brother to have come out of Jajjala’s breast, having been pointed at him by a Western [Weelurarra] emu totem man.

Jajjala died in two beliefs: that the small object had poisoned him, and that he would meet Kabbarli’s Great Father, who was waiting for him in the dhoogoor Linjiri-the cold west country where all the dingo totem men “sat down.” And so he died quietly and peacefully.

Through the last hours of his illness one or other of his brothers sat beside him laying a hand upon his heart to feel the heart-beats as they became more and more feeble; the hand was not removed until the end.

His little group of relatives had sat in darkness, wailing loudly and continually: but when they heard the brother’s sudden cry, all ran to his breakwind, and a great keen went up from every member of the group for their newly dead. The men threw themselves flat on the ground, the women flinging themselves on top. Out of the struggling mass mourners a man or woman would rise, only to fall back again on the living heap or on the bare ground in wild abandon. Men rising would clasp one another, and embrace, crying and screaming. “Juniyuril” (bowels moving) is their sole expression of sorrow. Women would rise and lay their foot upon the head, back or shoulder of a father or brother of the dead youth, or would clasp one another and press their stomachs together to feel each other’s sorrow. All the relations were naked. The deep voices of the men mingled with the clear, long-sustained note of the women, and wailing and movement, movement and wailing, went on until the violence of the first great grief was spent.

Moondoorr, who was the eldest brother of the dead man, and the oldest dingo totemist in the group, was already busily fighting fires east, west and south of the breakwind where the body lay. Four boomerang-shaped lines, the ends curving upwards, were painted in pipe-clay across Moondoorr’s chest. He was the only decorated man in the group, and, by virtue of his age, the leader and director of the burial ceremonies.

The body lay in darkness, though surrounded by the great fires, only myself sitting beside it. The younger brothers and two women, one of whom was Moondoorr’s woman, who were to dig the grave detached themselves from the other mourners, and each taking a lighted fire-stick from one of the three fires, they came over in single file to the dead man’s camp. They stood a moment while Moondoorr walked inside Jajjala’s breakwind and took his stand by the ashes of his dead brother’s fire, holding a torch in his right hand and some green branches in his left. Then the gravediggers ran round outside the breakwind three times, crying, “Pah! Pah! Pah!” at intervals, and waving their torches up and down with each cry.

Moondoorr waved torch and branches, and also joined in the cry. After the third circuit had been made, the brother next to Moondoorr led the file towards the spot on the northern slope of the hill where the grave was to be dug. As they ran, the men now and then gave the three short, sharp shouts of the dingo totem group, the two women crying, “Pah! Pah! Pah!” Fires were lighted at intervals along the track to the hill.

The grave was dug with wooden scoops to a depth of nearly seven feet in the sand, and a length and width of five and four feet respectively. Three fires were lighted east, west and north of the grave. From the sand that was flung out a semi-circular mound was made at the head of the grave, and branches and logs were gathered by the women and placed nearby.

The grave-diggers then returned to camp and repeated their previous performance, giving the dingo totem shouts and filing round the breakwind, but this time they cried, “Gah! Gahl Gah!” as they circled round. Then they all went back to the place where the mourners sat, and the loud wailing was renewed. Presently one of the brothers came over and silently handed some string to me. I tied Jajjala’s legs and thighs together and fastened his left arm to the upper arm, the hand resting against his chin. The right arm was left free and lay across the dead man’s breast.

The body was then lifted and carried on the shoulders of the four brothers. Four girl children, little sisters of the dead man, stood nearest the breakwind, with torches in their hands, and behind these the women stood, all crying, “Gah! Gahl Gah!” without stopping. The fathers and mothers of the dead man, with other mourners, remained in the spot where the wailing took place, and did not attend the burial.

As soon as the men had started with their burden, the little girls followed first, with the men and women marching beside or behind them. All except the bearers had lighted torches.

When the grave was reached, Moondoorr and his woman, Nyanngauera, went into it, and covered the bottom thickly with green soft branches of the acacia. The body was then lowered and laid on its left side, the head to the west, the eyes looking towards the north, the free arm laid across the breast. All round and on top of the body green branches were pressed down by Moondoorr and his woman, and then the brother next in age and his woman took Moondoorr’s place, and filled every space round and about the body with branches, as no earth must touch the body of a newly dead dingo man. Two more young brothers put the final branches on until the green covering was level with the surface. Then Moondoorr and his brother took the logs that had been placed in readiness, and laid them lengthwise on top of the grave, close together, and well stamped down. On top of the logs more branches were put, and the space round the grave was made clean and level, and the semi-circular mound at the head battened and smoothed into shape with the wooden scoops. No one spoke above a whisper, as dingo men don’t address the spirits of their dead.

The neat green grave, the mound of white sand at its head, and the dear swept patch around, stood out in the now lessening firelight. There was no moon, but a brilliant twinkling starlight. When all was finished the mourners returned in the same order, the men leading, and giving the three shouts of their totem, and as soon as the camp was reached all gave way to their sorrow. Again and again Ganbia, the mother of the dead man, would rise from the struggling, crying heap of men and women, and lifting her hands and face to the stars would utter a long, loud, heart-breaking cry and then throw herself flat on the ground, beating it with her hands. Both Ganbia and Nyeegala, her sister, are now bereft of every one of their young sons, hence their despairing grief. The burial ceremonies lasted about three or four hours. When grief had temporarily exhausted itself, the group gathered its few belongings and left the now “haunted” camp, coming over to the hill near my tent; and all through the dark hours men and women abandoned themselves to their grief. The men sat in little groups crying steadily, but Ganbia and Nyeegala and other mothers and elder sisters of the dead man ran keening and wailing along the valley, throwing themselves down on the stony ground in the excess of their sorrow. One long sustained cry would go ringing and echoing into the distance, the cool, dear and dewy night sending it far amongst the sandhills.

When the sun rose they all went to the shea-oak hill southeast of the siding, and pitched camp there, the crying and wailing being resumed every night. All the relatives, men, women and children, cut off hair and beard, which was buried here and there near their camps. Jajjala’s hair was not cut off after death.

The ceremony of laying or allaying the spirit of the dead man took place a month later. The spirit of the newly dead always “walks about” during this interval between the actual burial ceremony and the final ceremony of burying any evil magic the spirit might have left in the air or on the ground. In this interval, any personal friend or brother of the dead man who wishes to avenge his death performs certain rites. He goes alone to the newly made grave, carrying a spear and a miro, the latter grooved and carved with his own and his brother’s totem marks on its concave side only. Lighting a fire beside the grave without smoke, he places the miro, concave side up, close to the fire. While the fire is burning he thrusts the spear into the ground on either side of the fire, thereby announcing to his dead brother that he wishes to avenge him. As the spear is drawn out of the ground the spirit of the dead man comes out of the body and sits on the spear-thrower. The friend or brother now takes the miro in both hands and presses it against his breast and stomach, holding it there for a moment. When he takes it away the spirit enters him, and he is not only able to find the murderer, but the spirit helps him either to spear his enemy fatally or to use the poison bone with equally fatal results.

The performance of this rite requires great bravery on the part of the young man, for the fear of spirits is ineradicable in the aboriginal mind. If it happened that in thrusting the spear into the ground it broke through meeting with some obstruction, the young man dropped it in fear and terror, and, believing that the spirit was “sulky” with him, rushed frantically and blindly away from the grave until he dropped from fear and exhaustion. He would never return to his camp, but would remain on the ground where he had fallen and pine away and die. His relatives would shift camp when the time for his return had come and passed, their fear of the spirit compelling them to leave him to his fate.

In the early afternoon of the final ceremony Jajalla’s brothers came with several other relatives who had that morning arrived from the east, many young children being amongst them. The near relatives of the dead man were naked. Men and women held green branches of the water-bearing mallee tree, but the men carried also a short club covered with blood, with both ends shaved about one or two inches from the point, the shavings and club ends being left white and clean. Moondoorr led the large party to the dead man’s camp, all crying, “Gah! Gah! Gah!” the men now and then giving the three shouts of the dead man’s totem group. When they reached the breakwind, Moondoorr and two brothers went inside the breakwind, and stood by the ashes of the dead man’s fire, while all the others ran round in single file, waving their branches, and crying, “Gah! Gah! Gah!” Moondoorr and his brothers cried, “Pah! Pah! Pah!” swished their branches and waved their bloodstained dubs as the groups filed out three times round the breakwind. Then all moved along the track to the graveside, crying, “Gah! Gah! Gah!” all the way.

They stood close round the grave, the men waving branches and clubs downwards towards the grave. Then all the children, boys and girls, were laid in turn across the grave on top of the logs and their bodies and faces were rubbed with sand from the ground or mound beside the grave, their mothers, fathers and elder brothers performing this rite. When all the children had gone through, or been passed through, this ceremony, the young initiated brothers of the dead man lay across the grave and their elder brothers rubbed their faces, legs and arms with sand. When this was done, all the branches were thrown on top of the grave, and Moondoorr and his brother, going to the grave’s head, pulled the logs from the foot of the grave and set them upright at the head, the end of the logs resting beside or on Jajjala’s head. The branches fell down into the hollow thus made, and then the decorated clubs were thrown in. With a scoop and hands the grave was partly filled in with sand, but the mound at the end was not touched. The clubs and the branches thrown upon the body took with them any evil that might be about grave. The blood, the shavings and bared ends of the clubs all had reference to Jajjala’s initiation into manhood, and the part his “blood brothers” had taken in it.

Jajjala was now barndi mannainyi (good smelling) and the children and young men who had lain across the body and were rubbed with sand would grow up strong and clean.

While the grave was being filled with sand the women and children sat crying nearby. The men worked in silence, but when they joined the women and children all broke out into fresh waiting.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31