The Passing of the Aborigines, by Daisy Bates

Chapter 5

The End of Initiation, the Blood-Drinking

As the young men [During this stage they are called weerganju] come in to camp from the tree ceremony they are received by a capering jester, called mami ngarring wombanoo, who sings as they approach:

Balnga, marrinday, balnga, marrinday,
Lingoorambaa, lingooraa.

When they hear the jester’s song, they pretend to be greatly frightened, and shouting “Wo! Wo! Wo!” surge into a close-packed crowd.

Then the clown, bedizened with pipeclay and red ochre, comes closer and repeats his song, dancing about them. All sit down and partake of meat food, and there is dancing and singing by the old men’s fires throughout the night, the Morning Star and Kingfisher’s songs being sung alternately. The balleli are separated from the weerganju during the more advanced ceremonies that follow.

The old men obtain some of the inner bark of the woordoola, or paper-bark, and this is doubled into about six inches in width, and fastened at each end with opossum fur string, forming a wide belt called after the woordoola. This belt the older men tie round the weerganju’s waists. Logs are placed end to end by the old men, with bushes laid upon them. All the weerganju lie down with their heads resting on the logs, then the older, fully-initiated men, each of whom will be guardian to a younger man, tie their lower arms, and, piercing the vein, hold the arm over the young man until both the bark and his face and body are covered with blood. The blood dries quickly and blackens the woordoola. The guardian flicks away the dried blood from the boy’s eyelids, nose and chin, puts a little red ochre on his breast, and a headband round his forehead. Over the woordoola three belts are placed, the upper and lower being of opossum string, light in colour, and the middle belt of black human hair. Attached to the lower are two or more pubic tassels of opossum fur.

The belief are now brought forward, and dressed by their yagoo with string-belts, hair-belts and tassels, with red ochre across their faces. All journey towards the women’s camps, where bark beds have been made ready in a long row. The weerganju sit on the bark beds and are cried over by their female relations. No woman must ever touch a weerganju over whom the blood has been poured, else she win die, or the young man will die, or the part touched will wither and become useless. Next day the belts of string and hair are placed in charge of father’s sisters or mother’s brothers’ wives. The woordoola is worn until the old men see that it is getting broken, when it is buried by one of the fathers, or by its wearer. When this is done, the balleli puts his belt aside and wears only the forehead band, chignon and the tassel which hangs by a single string.

Balleli lasts a year or so, and the next stage of initiation is jamung-ungur, the blood-drinking. This ceremony is called walla-wallong. When the fathers think it is time for the balleli to become jamung-ungur, a message is sent to camps to collect all those whose presence is desired. When these are assembled, the yagoo calls the boy aside, and tells him “Moogula baaloo!” (Put your string on!) At sundown, the balleli approaches the men’s camp, and someone shouts to him “Wamba Jeeoo!” (Man coming for you, run!) He runs, but must quickly allow himself to be caught or his mother will die. He is then taken to the secret place.

In the evening, the men come and take their places according to tribal precedence. Uncles and brothers seated in the inner circle, and the boy in the centre, lying with his head on his own father’s thighs. Presently the blood-relations, younger fathers and older brothers, come within the circle. Standing over the boy, with one leg on either side of them, they begin a step dance, lifting their feet quickly in time to the joorrga song, sung by the men in the circle. Two men may dance above him at one time, and then others take their places until all the blood-relations have danced above him.

This is the eve of the blood-drinking, and while the men sleep a yagoo keeps night-long vigil with the boy. In the morning, all gather at the secret place. The boy again lies with his head on his father’s thigh. He must make no movement, or he will die. The father blindfolds the boy with his hands, as if he should witness the following proceedings it is believed that his father and mother will both die.

A wooden vessel or a bark vessel is placed near one of the boy’s mother’s brothers, who, having tied his arm tightly, pierces the upper part with a nose-bone and holds the arm over the vessel until a certain amount of blood has been taken. Then the man next to him pierces his arm, and so on, until the vessel is filled. It may hold two quarts or so.

The vessel is brought to where the boy is lying. The father takes his hands from the boy’s eyes, though they remain closed while the rude bark chalice is lifted to his lips. The boy then takes a long draught of the blood. Should his stomach rebel, the father holds his throat to prevent his ejecting it, as if that happened his father, mother, sisters and brothers would all die. The remainder of the blood is thrown over him.

From this time the boy is allowed no other food than human blood, Yamminga, the mythical ancestors, having made this law. After the blood-drinking, he is left either by himself or in charge of a yagoo, and the others go back to the camp to eat. In the afternoon, they return and the boy again lies with his head on his father’s thighs and closes his eyes, and the men take the pieces of opossum string which they have used as ligatures, holding them taut between their hands. The father cries to the boy to open his eyes and look upon the string. While he is silently looking, the men chant the blood song, one single monotonous note of pulsing rhythm:

Warrboo jool-jool baa naa!
Warrboo jool-jool baa naa!

Each man ties his own arm again with the string, pierces the swollen vein with the nose-bone, and fills the vessel for a second blood drinking. When the boy has taken a certain quantity, old men and younger men drink also, and the remainder is thrown over the boy. Sometimes the blood is dried in the vessel, and then the yagoo cuts it in sections with the nose-bone, and it is eaten by the boy, the two end sections first eaten. These sections must be regularly divided, or the boy will die. The threat of death in all of these instances, is not from the spears of the old men but of the supernatural powers, which exercise such dominance over the minds of the natives that invariably and swiftly they do die.

On this night there is no singing.

Next day, the boy is taken again to the sacred place, guarded by his yagoo, and the men go hunting, coming back in the afternoon with meat food, which he is not allowed to share. Before they eat, more blood is drawn from their arms, and the boy is given his draught. A single string or rope belt, to which a tassel is attached, is round his waist, a forehead band above his brow, and his body is caked with human blood.

In the afternoon, some of the men slip away into the bush to swing the sacred bull-roarer, kalligooroo. The boy is frightened. Those who are with him add to his fears, saying it is the voice of Nalja. “Nalja ee ngangga!” (Nalja is talking!), chant the old men. Nalja is the spirit of an old, old man with white hair, and his voice comes from the hair beneath his arm-pits. The word “kalligooroo” is never spoken in the hearing of women or children or the uninitiated, but the voice of Nalja is known to them all. He is a spirit whom to look upon would be death.

The sound of the kalligooroo comes nearer and nearer, booming weirdly across the twilight. Should the bull-roarer touch a tree in its rotations, “Nalja is throwing his boomerang!” the boy is told. The men rise to their feet in expectancy. The boy shivers with fear and draws close to his yagoo. Before the swingers have reached the circle, one of the mother’s brothers hides an old mirruroo-kalligooroo, or magic bull-roarer, almost at the boy’s feet, the string and the hole through which it is passed left above the earth. While he is doing this, the voice of Nalja is silent.

An uncle now asks the boy did he cook any meat or roots, or has he eaten any. The boy does not answer. His yagoo points to the spot where the kalligooroo is hidden, and says, “Your kalligooroo!” The yagoo stoops, takes it out of the ground and swings it. The boy cannot yet swing it himself till other initiations have passed. His father then tells him that the noise he has heard was made by that kalligooroo, and not by Nalja, but he must never tell the women and children, or he will die. He is given temporary possession of the sacred bull-roarer, and sleeps with it under his head. There may be only two or three old kalligooroo in the camp, but they are highly prized and carefully hidden after each blood-drinking ceremony. The older and more frail, the greater their magic, and they are carefully preserved with grease and fresh ochre from time to time.

On that day, and for many days following the boy again drinks blood. Sometimes it is a whole moon before the blood drinking period is finished, and blood is poured over him daily. The length of time the visitors stay depends upon the food supply. On the last night of the ceremony, the women and children move their camp still farther away from the beega, and all night long the savage rites go on, to the roar of the kalligooroo and the chanting of songs. When the morning star rises, the men make preparation for a move to the women’s camp. Hearing the noise approaching, the women hide in terror, secreting themselves under the bushes which they have gathered for the purpose. As the older men come in, the advance guard, they cry, “Don’t look! Shut your eyes! Sleep!”

The men come into a cleared space near the camp, and the boy, who is covered with blood, half sits, half kneels on the ground and holds in his arms the vessel from which he has been drinking, darkened and dyed with blood. As soon as he has taken up this position, an attitude of sheer sacrificial devotion, the old men rapidly cry, “Did! Did! Did! Did! Did! Dee, Dee, Dee, Dee, Dee,” and the women come from their hiding places. All behold the boy. His mother and sisters and father’s sisters come to wail over him, and then he is taken away.

The ceremonies conclude with the totemic dances of the turtle, snake, and other ancestral fathers, and a general orgy.

Returning to their homes through the bush, the visitors sound their bull-roarer as they travel, and the women and children breathe a sigh of relief as Nalja goes back to his own country.

The boy now sets out on a journey. His brothers-inlaw and uncles make several nose-bones for him, and these he places in front of his forehead band. Thus labelled and having a club stuck in his belt, he starts with his yagoo for the next camp. When his relations in that camp see him, they know the purpose of the visit, and they do not rise to receive him. He goes towards the married men’s camp, and when he reaches the men, either touches their feet with his or taps them lightly with the club. He then goes to the sacred place, and the men, after a time, follow him. Taking a nose-bone from his head-band, they prepare their arms and presently fill a bowl, which is always kept there. The boy may drink their blood two or three times, but there is no, ceremony. Next day he moves onto another camp. He may cover 150 miles in the journey, and always he returns by the same route. The blood rites are indulged in throughout. When he returns to his home-ground, blood-drinking again takes place, but for the first time he is allowed to eat a little vegetable food, gathered and prepared by his mother.

Both before and during his travels, he is not allowed to touch a honey-tree, nor must he remain in the vicinity of one. As soon, however, as his father has removed the restriction of vegetable food, a father, uncle, or yagoo brother-inlaw will one day find a honey-tree when the boy is with them. Telling the boy to approach, one of the men rubs his breast or mouth with the bees’ wax, and gives him permission to find honey for himself. He may not eat flesh food until the last of the blood has caked, dried and fallen from his body, and he has been anointed with fat.

During all this period the boy must never speak to, or be touched by, women and children. Only the most necessary words may be spoken between him and his yagoo. To talk or laugh at this period would mean death to the boy’s mother. His father’s uncle or his-yagoo can impose or break silence. Jamung-ungur approaches its final stage in the first sub-incision, an operation performed while the boy is lying on the backs of his brothers-inlaw.

At the next degree, two yagoos obtain opossum fur string and, twisting two strands of this, each ties up an arm of the young man. They make two or three rounds, then carry it underneath the arm, over the opposite shoulder, and diagonally across the back, fastening it in the waist-belt. Each yagoo attends to his own string only, and the young man sits with folded arms. Sometimes the string is wound so tightly that he rolls over and over in an agony of strained muscles, but he must make no sound. After a day or so the string is replaced by lesser, lighter bonds, and the man becomes jallooroo, or kambil. He may now wear the forehead-band and feather plumes, face-markings or red and white ochre, and the belt and tassel on festive occasions. He may also swing the bull-roarer at walla-wallong time, and contribute his share of the blood in the making of jamung-ungur.

A few moons, and his yagoo obtains a pearl shell which he gives to the oldest fathers and uncles, to be covered with yamminga markings, crude or symbolic drawings of birds and animals that are his totems and the totemic fathers of the race. This is prepared in readiness for the “honey-eating” degree, in which the man is again incised in the same manner as before. The pearl shell is attached to his belt in front, with the tassel worn over it. A little later, his father and uncle command him to bring to them the fat of two species of sting-ray and the blowfish, a quest which may occupy him for days or weeks. He puts a little charcoal on chest and face at this time, and when the fat is obtained, is anointed with it, lying on a bark bed that his mother has made, near to his uncle and father’s own ground. The next day the bark bed is moved to a spot between the married men’s and the bachelors’ camps. The chignon has been removed, and his long hair streams over his shoulders. A long time elapses before he can dispense with this bark bed, as the sacred fat and ochre on his back must not touch the earth.

The man is now boongana-honey-eating. A new name is given to him by father or guardian. It may be a change of name with some yagoo, but it is not a secret name. In the morning, he goes to the bachelors’ camp, and taking his boomerang, throws it some distance. His yagoo, uncle or father, reclaims it for him. He throws it again, and this time he himself must bring it back. This act apparently ends the general services of the yagoo. Henceforth he stands alone. At this stage, he adds to his ornaments and insignia necklaces fashioned of pieces of pearl shell and of kangaroo teeth, the pendant of each it the back of his neck.

After three days, a second anointing makes him maamboongana or talloor, free from all restrictions as to food. He may eat the wy-ooloo and the walga-walga-fish that have been forbidden him all his life-and he may take his wife, if one or more have been betrothed to him in infancy.

The period of these nine degrees covers many years. Not infrequently a white hair or two will be observed in his beard when he comes, fully initiated, without any ceremony whatever, to claim his bride or brides.

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