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Lecture 7 The Belief in Immortality Among the Aborigines of Australia (concluded)

Lecture 7
The Belief in Immortality Among the Aborigines of Australia (concluded)
Attention to the comfort of the dead.
Huts erected on graves for the use of the ghosts.
IN the last lecture I shewed that in the maritime regions of Australia where the conditions of life are more favourable than in the Central deserts we may detect the germs of a worship of the dead in certain attentions which the living pay to the spirits of the departed for example by kindling fires on the grave for the ghost to warm himself at by leaving food and water for him to eat and drink and by depositing his weapons and other property in the tomb for his use in the life after death. Another mark of respect shewn to the dead his the custom of erecting a hut on the grave for the accommodation of the ghost. Thus among the tribes of South Australia we are told that “upon the mounds or tumuli over the graves huts of bark or boughs are generally erected to shelter the dead from the rain; they are also frequently wound round with netting.”1 Again in Western Australia a small hut of rushes grass and so forth is said to have been set up by the natives over the grave.2 Among the tribes of the Lower Murray Lower Lachlan and Lower Darling rivers when a person died who had been highly esteemed in life a neat hut was erected over his grave so as to cover it entirely. The hut was of oval shape about five feet high and roofed with thatch which was firmly tied to the framework by cord many hundreds of yards in length. Sometimes the whole hut was enveloped in a net. At the eastern end of the hut a small opening was left just large enough to allow a full-grown man to creep in and the floor was covered with grass which was renewed from time to time as it became withered. Each of these graves was enclosed by a fence of brushwood forming a diamond-shaped enclosure within which the tome stood exactly in the middle. All the grass within the fence was neatly shaved off and the ground swept quite clean. Sepulchres of this sort were kept up for two or three years after which they were allowed to fall into disrepair and when a few more years had gone by the very sites of them were forgotten.3 The intention of erecting huts on graves is not mentioned in these cases but on analogy we may conjecture that they are intended for the convenience and comfort of the ghost. This is confirmed by an account given of a native burial on the Vasse River in Western Australia. We are told that when the grave had been filled in the natives piled logs on it to a considerable height and then constructed a hut upon the logs after which one of the male relations went into the hut and said “I sit in his house.”4 Thus it would seem that the hut on the grave is regarded as the house of the dead man. If only these sepulchral huts were kept up permanently they might develop into something like temples in which the spirits of the departed might be invoked and propitiated with prayer and sacrifice. It is thus that the great round huts in which the remains of dead kings of Uganda are deposited have grown into sanctuaries or shrines where the spirits of the deceased monarchs are consulted as oracles through the medium of priests.5 But in Australia this development is prevented by the simple forgetfulness of the savages. A few years suffice with them to wipe out the memory of the deceased and with it his chance of developing into an ancestral deity. Like most savages the Australian aborigines seem to fear only the ghosts of the recently departed; one writer tells us that they have no fear of the ghost of a man who has been dead say forty years.6
Fear of the dead and precautions taken by the living against them.

The burial customs of the Australian aborigines which I have described betray not only a belief in the existence of the ghost but also a certain regard for his comfort and convenience. However we may suspect that in most if not in all cases the predominant motive of these attentions is fear rather than affection. The survivors imagine that any want of respect for the dead any neglect of his personal comforts in the grave would excite his resentment and draw down on them his vengeance. That these savages are really actuated by fear of the dead is expressly affirmed of some tribes. Thus we are told that the Yuin “were always afraid that the dead man might come out of the grave and follow them.”7 After burying a body the Ngarigo were wont to cross a river in order to prevent the ghost from pursuing them;8 obviously they shared the common opinion that ghosts for some reason are unable to cross water. The Wakelbura took other measures to throw the poor ghost off the scent. They marked all the trees in a circle round the place where the dead man was buried; so that when he emerged from the grave and set off in pursuit of his retiring relations he would follow the marks on the trees in a circle and always come back to the point from which he had started. And to make assurance doubly sure they put coals in the dead man's ears which by bunging up these apertures were supposed to keep his ghost in the body till his friends had got a good start away from him. As a further precaution they lit fires and put bushes in the forks of trees with the idea that the ghost would roost in the bushes and warm himself at the fires while they were hastening away.9 Here therefore we see that the real motive for kindling fires for the use of the dead is fear not affection. In this respect the burial customs of the tribes at the Herbert River are still more significant. These savages buried with the dead man his weapons his ornaments and indeed everything he had used in life; moreover they built a hut on the grave put a drinking-vessel in the hut and cleared a path from it down to the water for the use of the ghost; and often they placed food and water on the grave. So far these measures might be interpreted as marks of pure and disinterested affection for the soul of the departed. But such an interpretation is totally excluded by the ferocious treatment which these savages meted out to the corpse. To frighten the spirit lest he should haunt the camp the father or brother of the deceased or the husband if it was a woman took a club and mauled the body with such violence that he often smashed the bones; further he generally broke both its legs in order to prevent it from wandering of nights; and as if that were not enough he bored holes in the stomach the shoulders and the lungs and filled the holes with stones so that even if the poor ghost should succeed by a desperate effort in dragging his mangled body out of the grave he would be so weighed down by this ballast of stones that he could not get very far. However after roaming up and down in this pitiable condition for a time in their old haunts the spirits were supposed at last to go up aloft to the Milky Way.10 The Kwearriburra tribe on the Lynd River in Queensland also took forcible measures to prevent the resurrection of the dead. Whenever a person died they cut off his or her head roasted it in a fire on the grave and when it was thoroughly charred they smashed it in bits and left the fragments among the hot coals. They calculated that when the ghost rose from the grave with the view of following the tribe he would miss his head and go groping blindly about for it till he scorched himself in the embers of the fire and was glad to shrink back into his narrow bed.11

Thus even among those Australian tribes which have progressed furthest in the direction of religion such approaches as they have made towards a worship of the dead appear to be determined far more by fear than by affection and reverence. And we are told that it is the nearest relations and the most influential men whose ghosts are most dreaded.12
Cuttings and brandings of the flesh of the living in honour of the dead.
There is another custom observed by the Australian aborigines in mourning which deserves to be mentioned. We all know that the Israelites were forbidden to make cuttings in their flesh for the dead.13 The custom was probably practised by the heathen Canaanites as it has been by savages in various parts of the world. Nowhere perhaps has the practice prevailed more generally or been carried out with greater severity than in aboriginal Australia. For example with regard to the tribes in the central part of Victoria we are told that “the parents of the deceased lacerate themselves fearfully especially if it be an only son whose loss they deplore. The father beats and cuts his head with a tomahawk until he utters bitter groans. The mother sits by the fire and burns her breasts and abdomen with a small fire-stick till she wails with pain; then she replaces the stick in the fire to use again when the pain is less severe. This continues for hours daily until the time of lamentation is completed; sometimes the burns thus inflicted are so severe as to cause death.”14 It is especially the women and above all the widows who torture themselves in this way. Speaking of the tribes of Victoria a writer tells us that on the death of her husband a widow “becoming frantic seizes fire-sticks and burns her breasts arms legs and thighs. Rushing from one place to another and intent only on injuring herself and seeming to delight in the self-inflicted torture it would be rash and vain to interrupt her. She would fiercely turn on her nearest relative or friend and burn him with her brands. When exhausted and when she can scarcely walk she yet endeavours to kick the embers of the fire and to throw them about. Sitting down she takes the ashes in her hands rubs them into her wounds and then scratches her face (the only part not touched by the fire-sticks) until the blood mingles with the ashes which partly hide her cruel wounds.”15 Among the Kurnai of South-eastern Victoria the relations of the dead would cut and gash themselves with sharp stones and tomahawks until their heads and bodies streamed with blood.16 In the Mukjarawaint tribe when a man died his kinsfolk wept over him and slashed themselves with tomahawks and other sharp instruments for about a week.17 In the tribes of the Lower Murray and Lower Darling rivers mourners scored their backs and arms sometimes even their faces with red-hot brands which raised hideous ulcers; afterwards they flung themselves prone on the grave tore out their hair by handfuls rubbed earth over their heads and bodies in great profusion and ripped up their green ulcers till the mingled blood and grime presented a ghastly spectacle. These self-inflicted sores remained long unhealed.18 Among the Kamilaroi a large tribe of eastern New South Wales the mourners and especially the women used to cut their heads with tomahawks and allow the blood to dry on them.19 Speaking of a native burial on the Murray River a writer says that “around the bier were many women relations of the deceased wailing and lamenting bitterly and lacerating their thighs backs and breasts with shells or flint until the blood flowed copiously from the gashes.”20 In the Boulia district of Queensland women in mourning score their thighs both inside and outside with sharp stones or bits of glass so as to make a series of parallel cuts; in neighbouring districts of Queensland the men make much deeper cross-shaped cuts on their thighs.21 In the Arunta tribe of Central Australia a man is bound to cut himself on the shoulder in mourning for his father-in-law; if he does not do so his wife may be given away to another man in order to appease the wrath of the ghost at his undutiful son-in-law. Arunta men regularly bear on their shoulders the raised scars which shew that they have done their duty by their dead fathers-in-law.22 The female relations of a dead man in the Arunta tribe also cut and hack themselves in token of sorrow working themselves up into a sort of frenzy as they do so; yet in all their apparent excitement they take care never to wound a vital part but vent their fury on their scalps their shoulders and their legs.23
Cuttings for the dead among the Warramunga.
In the Warramunga tribe of Central Australia Messrs. Spencer and Gillen witnessed the mourning for a dead man. Even before the sufferer had breathed his last the lamentations and self-inflicted wounds began. When it was known that the end was near all the native men ran at full speed to the spot and Messrs. Spencer and Gillen followed them to see what was to be seen. What they saw or part of what they saw was this. Some of the women who had gathered from all directions were lying prostrate on the body of the dying man while others were standing or kneeling around digging the sharp ends of yam-sticks into the crown of their heads from which the blood streamed down over their faces while all the time they kept up a loud continuous wail. Many of the men rushing up to the scene of action flung themselves also higgledy-piggledy on the sufferer the women rising and making way for them till nothing was to be seen but a struggling mass of naked bodies all mixed up together. Presently up came a man yelling and brandishing a stone knife. On reaching the spot he suddenly gashed both his thighs with the knife cutting right across the muscles so that unable to stand he dropped down on the top of the struggling bodies till his mother wife and sisters dragged him out of the scrimmage and immediately applied their mouths to his gaping wounds while he lay exhausted and helpless on the ground. Gradually the struggling mass of dusky bodies untwined itself disclosing the unfortunate sick man who was the object or rather the victim of this well-meant demonstration of affection and sorrow. If he had been ill before he was much worse when his friends left him: indeed it was plain that he had not long to live. Still the weeping and wailing went on; the sun set darkness fell on the camp and later in the evening the man died. Then the wailing rose louder than before and men and women apparently frantic with grief rushed about cutting themselves with knives and sharp-pointed sticks while the women battered each other's heads with clubs no one attempting to ward off either cuts or blows. An hour later a funeral procession set out by torchlight through the darkness carrying the body to a wood about a mile off where it was laid on a platform of boughs in a low gum-tree. When day broke next morning not a sign of human habitation was to be seen in the camp where the man had died. All the people had removed their rude huts to some distance leaving the place of death solitary; for nobody wished to meet the ghost of the deceased who would certainly be hovering about along with the spirit of the living man who had caused his death by evil magic and who might be expected to come to the spot in the outward form of an animal to gloat over the scene of his crime. But in the new camp the ground was strewed with men lying prostrate their thighs gashed with the wounds which they had inflicted on themselves with their own hands. They had done their duty by the dead and would bear to the end of their life the deep scars on their thighs as badges of honour. On one man Messrs. Spencer and Gillen counted the dints of no less than twenty-three wounds which he had inflicted on himself at various times. Meantime the women had resumed the duty of lamentation. Forty or fifty of them sat down in groups of five or six weeping and wailing frantically with their arms round each other while the actual and tribal wives mothers wives’ mothers daughters sisters mothers’ mothers sisters’ husbands’ mothers and grand-daughters according to custom once more cut their scalps open with yam-sticks and the widows afterwards in addition seared the scalp wounds with red-hot fire-sticks.
Cuttings for the dead strictly regulated by custom.
In these mourning customs wild and extravagant as the expression of sorrow appears to be everything is regulated by certain definite rules; and a woman who did not thus maul herself when she ought to do so would be severely punished or even killed by her brother. Similarly with the men it is only those who stand in certain relationships to the deceased who must cut and hack themselves in his honour and these relationships arc determined by the particular exogamous class to which the dead man happened to belong. Of such classes there are eight in the Warramunga tribe. On the occasion described by Messrs. Spencer and Gillen it was a man of the Tjunguri class who died; and the men who gashed their thighs stood to him in one or other of the following relationships: grandfather on the mother's side mother's brother brother of the dead man's wife and her mother's brother.24
The cuttings and brandings which mourners inflict on themselves may be intended to convince the ghost of the sincerity of their sorrow.
We naturally ask What motive have these savages for inflicting all this voluntary and as it seems to us wholly superfluous suffering on themselves? It can hardly be that these wounds and burns are merely a natural and unfeigned expression of grief. We have seen that by experienced observers such extravagant demonstrations of sorrow are set down rather to fear than to affection. Similarly Messrs. Spencer and Gillen suggest that at least one motive is a fear entertained by the native lest if he does not make a sufficient display of grief the ghost of the dead man will be offended and do him a mischief.25 In the Kaitish tribe of Central Australia it is believed that if a woman does not keep her body covered with ashes from the camp fire during the whole time of mourning the spirit of her deceased husband who constantly follows her about will kill her and strip all the flesh from her bones.26 Again in the Arunta tribe mourners smear themselves with white pipeclay and the motive for this custom is said to be to render themselves more conspicuous so that the ghost may see and be satisfied that he is being properly mourned for.27 Thus the fear of the ghost who at least among the Australian aborigines is commonly of a jealous temper and stands very firmly on his supposed rights may suffice to explain the practice of self-mutilation at mourning.
Custom of allowing the blood of mourners to drip on the corpse or into the grave.
But it is possible that another motive underlies the drawing of blood on these occasions. For it is to be observed that the blood of the mourners is often allowed to drop directly either on the dead body or into the grave. Thus for example among the tribes on the River Darling several men used to stand by the open grave and cut each other's heads with a boomerang; then they held their bleeding heads over the grave so that the blood dripped on the corpse lying in it. If the deceased was highly esteemed the bleeding was repeated after some earth had been thrown on the body.28 Among the Arunta it is customary for the women kinsfolk of the dead to cut their own and each other's heads so severely with clubs and digging-sticks that blood streams from them on the grave.29 Again at a burial on the Vasse River in Western Australia a writer describes how when the grave was dug the natives placed the corpse beside it then “gashed their thighs and at the flowing of the blood they all said ‘I have brought blood’ and they stamped the foot forcibly on the ground sprinkling the blood around them; then wiping the wounds with a wisp of leaves they threw it bloody as it was on the dead man.”30 With these Australian practices we may compare a custom observed by the civilised Greeks of antiquity. Every year the Peloponnesian lads lashed themselves on the grave of Pelops at Olympia till the blood ran down their backs as a libation in honour of the dead man.31
The blood intended to strengthen the dead.
Now what is the intention of thus applying the blood of the living to the dead or pouring it into the grave? So far as the ancient Greeks are concerned the answer is not doubtful. We know from Homer that the ghosts of the dead were supposed to drink the blood that was offered to them and to be strengthened by the draught.32 Similarly with the Australian savages their object can hardly be any other than that of strengthening the spirit of the dead; for these aborigines are in the habit of giving human blood to the sick and the aged to drink for the purpose of restoring them to health and strength;33 hence it would be natural for them to imagine that they could refresh and fortify the feeble ghost in like manner. Perhaps the blood was intended specially to strengthen the spirits of the dead for the new birth or reincarnation to which so many of these savages look forward.
Custom of burying people in the place where they were born.
The custom perhaps intended to facilitate the rebirth of the soul.
The same motive may possibly explain the custom observed by some Australian tribes of burying people as far as possible at the place where they were born. Thus in regard to the tribes of Western Victoria we are informed that “dying persons especially those dying from old age generally express an earnest desire to be taken to their birthplace that they may die and be buried there. If possible these wishes are always complied with by the relatives and friends. Parents will point out the spot where they were born so that when they become old and infirm their children may know where they wish their bodies to be disposed of.”34 Again some tribes in the north and north-east of Victoria “are said to be more than ordinarily scrupulous in interring the dead. If practicable they will bury the corpse near the spot where as a child it first drew breath. A mother will carry a dead infant for weeks in the hope of being able to bury it near the place where it was born; and a dead man will be conveyed a long distance in order that the last rites may be performed in a manner satisfactory to the tribe.”35 Another writer speaking of the Australian aborigines in general says: “By what I could learn it is considered proper by many tribes that a black should be buried at or near the spot where he or she was born and for this reason when a black becomes seriously ill the invalid is carried a long distance to these certain spots to die as in this case. They apparently object to place a body in strange ground.” The same writer mentions the case of a blackfellow who began digging a grave close beside the kitchen door of a Mr. Campbell. When Mr. Campbell remonstrated with him the native replied that he had no choice for the dead man had been born on that very spot. With much difficulty Mr. Campbell persuaded him to bury his deceased friend a little further off from the kitchen door.36 A practice of this sort would be intelligible on the theory of the Central Australians who imagine that the spirits of all the dead return to the very spots where they entered into their mothers’ wombs and that they wait there until another opportunity presents itself to them of being born again into the world. For if people really believe as do many Australian tribes that when they die they will afterwards come to life again as infants it is perfectly natural that they should take steps to ensure and facilitate the new birth. The Unmatjera and Kaitish tribes of Central Australia do this in the case of dead children. These savages draw a sharp distinction between young children and very old men and women. When very old people die their bodies are at once buried in the ground but the bodies of children are placed in wooden troughs and deposited on platforms of boughs in the branches of trees and the motive for treating a dead child thus is we are informed the hope “that before very long its spirit may come back again and enter into the body of a woman—in all probability that of its former mother.”37 The reason for drawing this distinction between the young and the old by disposing of their bodies in different fashions is explained with great probability by Messrs. Spencer and Gillen as follows: “In the Unmatjera and Kaitish tribes while every old man has certain privileges denied to the younger men yet if he be decidedly infirm and unable to take his part in the performance of ceremonies which are often closely concerned—or so at least the natives believe them to be—with the general welfare of the tribe then the feeling undoubtedly is that there is no need to pay any very special respect to his remains. This feeling is probably vaguely associated with the idea that as his body is infirm so to a corresponding extent will his spirit part be and therefore they have no special need to consider or propitiate this as it can do them no harm. On the other hand they are decidedly afraid of hurting the feelings of any strong man who might be capable of doing them some mischief unless he saw that he was properly mourned for. Acting under much the same feeling they pay respect to the bodies of dead children and young women in the hope that the spirit will soon return and undergo reincarnation. It is also worth noticing that they do not bury in trees any young man who has violated tribal law by taking as wife a woman who is forbidden to him; such an individual is always buried directly in the ground.”38 Apparently these law-abiding savages are not anxious that members of the criminal classes should be born again and should have the opportunity of troubling society once more.
Different modes of disposing of the dead adopted in the same tribe.
I would call your attention particularly to the different modes of burial thus accorded by these two tribes to different classes of persons. It is too commonly assumed that each tribe has one uniform way of disposing of all its dead say either by burning or by burying and on that assumption certain general theories have been built as to the different views taken of the state of the dead by different tribes. But in point of fact the assumption is incorrect. Not infrequently the same tribe disposes of different classes of dead people in quite different ways; for instance it will bury some and burn others. Thus amongst the Angoni of British Central Africa the corpses of chiefs are burned with all their household belongings but the bodies of commoners are buried with all their belongings in caves.39 In various castes or tribes of India it is the custom to burn the bodies of married people but to bury the bodies of the unmarried.40 With some peoples of India the distinction is made not between the married and the unmarried but between adults and children especially children under two years old; in such cases the invariable practice appears to be to burn the old and bury the young. Thus among the Malayalis of Malabar the bodies of men and women are burned but the bodies of children under two years are buried and so are the bodies of all persons who have died of cholera or small-pox.41 The same distinctions are observed by the Nayars Kadupattans and other castes or tribes of Cochin.42 The old rule laid down in the ancient Hindoo law-book The Grihya-Sutras was that children who died under the age of two should be buried not burnt.43 The Bhotias of the Himalayas bury all children who have not yet obtained their permanent teeth but they burn all other people.44 Among the Komars the young are buried and the old cremated.45 The Coorgs bury the bodies of women and of boys under sixteen years of age but they burn the bodies of men.46 The Chukchansi Indians of California are said to have burned only those who died a violent death or were bitten by snakes but to have buried all others.47 The Minnetaree Indians disposed of their dead differently according to their moral character. Bad and quarrelsome men they buried in the earth that the Master of Life might not see them; but the bodies of good men they laid on scaffolds that the Master of Life might behold them.48 The Kolosh or Tlingit Indians of Alaska burn their ordinary dead on a pyre but deposit the bodies of shamans in large coffins which are supported on four posts.49 The ancient Mexicans thought that all persons who died of infectious diseases were killed by the rain-god Tlaloc; so they painted their bodies blue which was the rain-god's colour and buried instead of burning them.50
Special modes of burial adopted to prevent of facilitate the return of the spirit.
These examples may suffice to illustrate the different ways in which the same people may dispose of their dead according to the age sex social rank or moral character of the deceased or the manner of his death. In some cases the special mode of burial adopted seems clearly intended to guard against the return of the dead whether in the form of ghosts or of children born again into the world. Such for instance was obviously the intention of the old English custom of burying a suicide at a cross-road with a stake driven through his body. And if some burial customs are plainly intended to pin down the dead in the earth or at least to disable him from revisiting the survivors so others appear to be planned with the opposite intention of facilitating the departure of the spirit from the grave in order that he may repair to a more commodious lodging or be born again into the tribe. For example the Arunta of Central Australia always bury their dead in the earth and raise a low mound over the grave; but they leave a depression in the mound on the side which faces towards the spot where the spirit of the deceased is supposed to have dwelt in the intervals between his successive reincarnations; and we are expressly told that the purpose of leaving this depression is to allow the spirit to go out and in easily; for until the final ceremony of mourning has been performed at the grave the ghost is believed to spend his time partly in watching over his near relations and partly in the company of its arumburinga or spiritual double who lives at the old nanja spot that is at the place where the disembodied soul tarries waiting to be born again.51 Thus the Arunta imagine that for some time after death the spirit of the deceased is in a sort of intermediate state partly hovering about the abode of the living partly visiting his own proper spiritual home to which on the completion of the mourning ceremonies he will retire to await the new birth. The final mourning ceremony which marks the close of this intermediate state takes place some twelve or eighteen months after the death. It consists mainly in nothing more or less than a ghost hunt; men armed with shields and spear-throwers assemble and with loud shouts beat the air driving the invisible ghost before them from the spot where he died while the women join in the shouts and buffet the air with the palms of their hands to chase away the dead man from the old camp which he loves to haunt. In this way the beaters gradually advance towards the grave till they have penned the ghost into it when they immediately dance on the top of it beating the air downwards as if to drive the spirit down and stamping on the ground as if to trample him into the earth. After that the women gather round the grave and cut each other's heads with clubs till the blood streams down on it. This brings the period of mourning to an end; and if the deceased was a man his widow is now free to marry again. In token that the days of her sorrow are over she wears at this final ceremony the gay feathers of the ring-neck parrot in her hair. The spirit of her dead husband lying in the grave is believed to know the sign and to bid her a last farewell. Even after he has thus been hunted into the grave and trampled down in it his spirit may still watch over his friends guard them from harm and visit them in dreams.52
Departure of the ghost supposed to coincide with the disappearance of the flesh from his bones.
We may naturally ask Why should the spirit of the dead be supposed at first to dwell more or less intermittently near the spot where he died and afterwards to take up his abode permanently at his nanja spot till the time comes for him to be born again? A good many years ago I conjectured53 that this idea of a change in the abode of the ghost may be suggested by a corresponding change which takes place or is supposed to take place about the same time in the state of the body; in fact that so long as the flesh adheres to the bones so long the soul of the dead man may be thought to be detained in the neighbourhood of the body but that when the flesh has quite decayed the soul is completely liberated from its old tabernacle and is free to repair to its true spiritual home. In confirmation of this conjecture I pointed to the following facts. Some of the Indians of Guiana bring food and drink to their dead so long as the flesh remains on the bones; but when it has mouldered away they conclude that the man himself has departed.54 The Matacos Indians of the Gran Chaco in Argentina believe that the soul of a dead man does not pass down into the nether world until his body is decomposed or burnt.55 Further the Alfoors of Central Celebes suppose that the spirits of the departed cannot enter the spirit-land until all the flesh has been removed from their bones; for until that has been done the gods (lamoa) in the other world could not bear the stench of the corpse. Accordingly at a great festival the bodies of all who have died within a certain time are dug up and the decaying flesh scraped from the bones.56 Comparing these ideas I suggested that they may explain the widespread custom of a second burial that is the practice of disinterring the dead after a certain time and disposing of their bones otherwise.57
Second burial of the bones among the tribes of Central Australia.
Final burial ceremony among the Warramunga.
Now so far as the tribes of Central Australia are concerned my conjecture has been confirmed by the subsequent researches of Messrs. Spencer and Gillen in that region. For they have found that the tribes to the north of the Arunta regularly give their dead a second burial that a change in the state of the ghosts is believed to coincide with the second burial and apparently also though this is not so definitely stated that the time for the second burial is determined by the disappearance of the flesh from the bones. Amongst the tribes which practise a second burial the custom is first to deposit the dead on platforms among the branches of trees till the flesh has quite mouldered away and then to bury the bones in the earth: in short they practise tree-burial first and earth-burial afterwards.58 For example in the Unmatjera and Kaitish tribes when a man dies his body is carried by his relations to a tree distant a mile or two from the camp. There it is laid on a platform by itself for some months. When the flesh has disappeared from the bones a kinsman of the deceased in strictness a younger brother (itia) climbs up into the tree dislocates the bones places them in a wooden vessel and hands them down to a female relative. Then the bones are laid in the grave with the head facing in the direction in which his mother's brother is supposed to have camped in days of old. After the bones have been thus interred the spirit of the dead man is believed to go away and to remain in his old alcheringa home until such time as he once more undergoes reincarnation.59 But in these tribes as we saw very old men and women receive only one burial being at once laid in an earthy grave and never set up on a platform in a tree; and we have seen reason to think that this difference in the treatment of the aged springs from the indifference or contempt in which their ghosts are held by comparison with the ghosts of the young and vigorous. In the Warramunga tribe who regularly deposit their dead in trees first and in the earth afterwards so long as the corpse remains in the tree and the flesh has not completely disappeared from the bones the mother of the deceased and the women who stand to him or her in the relation of tribal motherhood are obliged from time to time to go to the tree and sitting under the platform to allow its putrid juices to drip down on their bodies into which they rub them as a token of sorrow. This no doubt is intended to please the jealous ghost; for we are told that he is believed to haunt the tree and even to visit the camp in order if he was a man to see for himself that his widows are mourning properly. The time during which the mouldering remains are left in the tree is at least a year and may be more.60 The final ceremony which brings the period of mourning to an end is curious and entirely different from the one observed by the Arunta on the same occasion. When the bones have been taken down from the tree an arm-bone is put carefully apart from the rest. Then the skull is smashed and the fragments together with all the rest of the bones except the arm-bone are buried in a hollow ant-hill near the tree. Afterwards the arm-bone is wrapt up in paper-bark and wound round with fur-string so as to make a torpedo-shaped parcel which is kept by a tribal mother of the deceased in her rude hovel of branches till after the lapse of some days or weeks the time comes for the last ceremony of all. On that day a design emblematic of the totem of the deceased is drawn on the ground and beside it a shallow trench is dug about a foot deep and fifteen feet long. Over this trench a number of men elaborately decorated with down of various colours stand straddle-legged while a line of women decorated with red and yellow ochre crawl along the trench under the long bridge made by the straddling legs of the men. The last woman carries the arm-bone of the dead in its parcel and as soon as she emerges from the trench the bone is snatched from her by a kinsman of the deceased who carries it to a man standing ready with an uplifted axe beside the totemic drawing. On receiving the bone the man at once smashes it hastily buries it in a small pit beside the totemic emblem of the departed and closes the opening with a large flat stone signifying thereby that the season of mourning is over and that the dead man or woman has been gathered to his or her totem. The totemic design beside which the arm-bone is buried represents the spot at which the totemic ancestor of the deceased finally went down into the earth. When once the arm-bone has thus been broken and laid in its last resting-place the soul of the dead person which they describe as being of about the size of a grain of sand is supposed to go back to the place where it camped long ago in a previous incarnation there to remain with the souls of other men and women of the same totem until the time comes for it to be born again.61
General conclusion as to the belief in immortality and the worship of the dead among the Australian aborigines.
This must conclude what I have to say as to the belief in immortality and the worship of the dead among the aborigines of Australia. The evidence I have adduced is sufficient to prove that these savages firmly believe both in the existence of the human soul after death and in the power which it can exert for good or evil over the survivors. On the whole the dominant motive in their treatment of the dead appears to be fear rather than affection. Yet the attention which many tribes pay to the comfort of the departed by providing them with huts food water fire clothing implements and weapons may not be dictated by purely selfish motives; in any case they are clearly intended to please and propitiate the ghosts and therefore contain the germs of a regular worship of the dead.