Carl Lumholtz.

Among cannibals; an account of four years' travels in Australia and of camp life with the aborigines of Queensland online

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the camp fires and had nothing to do, the women with their
children in their laps, and those who had pipes smoking
tobacco. I went from one group to the other and chatted with
them ; they liked to talk with me, for they invariably ex-
pected me to give them tobacco. Occasions like this are
valuable for obtaining information from the natives. Still, it
is difficult to get any trustworthy facts, for they are great
liars, not to mention their tendency to exaggerate greatly
when they attempt to describe anything. Besides, they
have no patience to be examined, and they do not like to
be asked the same thing twice. It takes time to learn to
understand whether they are telling the truth or not, and
how to coax information out of them. The best way is to
mention the thing you want to know in the most indifferent
manner possible. The best information is secured by paying
attention to their own conversations. If you ask them
questions, they simply try to guess what answers you would
like, and then they g\\'Q such responses as they think will
please you. This is the reason why so many have been
deceived by the savages, and this is the source of all the
absurd stories about the Australian blacks.

Among the huts the camp fires were burning, and outside
of the camp it was dark as pitch, so that the figures of the
natives were drawn like silhouette pictures in fantastic groups
against the dark background.

It amused me to make these visits, but my thoughts were
chiefly occupied with the great event of the day. In the
camp there were several dingoes, and although the boongary
skin was carefully put away, I did not feel perfectly safe in
regard to it. I therefore returned at once to look after my
treasure ; I stepped quickly into my hut, and thrust my hand
in among the leaves to see whether the skin was safe ; but
imagine my dismay when I found that it was gone.

I was perfectly shocked. Who could have taken the

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skin ? I at once called the blacks, among whom the news
spread like wild-fire, and after looking for a short time one
of them came running with a torn skin, which he had found
outside the camp. The whole head, a part of the tail and
legs, were eaten. It was my poor boongary skin that one of
the dingoes had stolen and abused in this manner. I had no
better place to put it, so I laid it back again in the same
part of the roof, and then, sad and dejected in spirits, I
sauntered down to the natives again.

Here every one tried to convince me that it was not his
dog that was the culprit All the dogs were produced,
and each owner kept striking his dog's belly to show that
it was empty, in his eagerness to prove its innocence.
Finally a half-grown cur was produced. The owner laid it
on its back, seized it by the belly once or twice, and
exclaimed, Ammeryy ammery ! — that is. Hungry, hungry!
But his abuse of the dog soon acted as an emetic, and
presently a mass of skin-rags was strewed on the ground in
front of it.

My first impulse was to gather them up, but they were
chewed so fine that they were useless. As the skin had been
thoroughly prepared with arsenic, it was of importance to me
to save the life of the dog, otherwise I would never again be
able to borrow another.

Besides, I had a rare opportunity of increasing the respect
of the natives for me. I told them that the dog had eaten
kSla — that is, wrath — as they called poison, and as my men
had gradually learned to look at it with great awe, it would
elevate me in their eyes if I could save the life of the dog.
I made haste to mix tobacco and water. This I poured
into the dog, and thus caused it to vomit up the remainder
of the poisoned skin. The life of the dog was saved, and all
joined in the loudest praises of what I had done. They
promised me the loan of " Balnglan " again, and thus I had
hopes of securing another boongary ; of course they added
as a condition that I must give them a lot of tobacco.

The next morning early I persuaded them to get ready
for the chase, but they did not want nie to go with them,
as the dog was afraid of the white man.

Most of the blacks remained to witness the dance, for

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the camp was in a festive mood, and in the morning before
daylight I was awakened by the noise. As soon as the
weather became hot, they again gathered in groups under
the shady trees, where they chatted in idleness until it
became cool enough to dance again in the evening. I
went from one group to the other. They asked me to give
them European names, a request often made to me on my
journeys among the tribes. The reason appeared to be that
the savage blacks, who had not been in contact with the
white man, were anxious to acquire this first mark of
civilisation, which they found among my men, and which
they imagined brought tobacco and other gifts. Among
themselves these savage natives kept their own names, which,
as a rule, are taken for both men and women from animals,
birds, etc. The father will under no circumstances give his
son his own name.

I gave them various Norwegian names. It was difficult
for them to pronounce some of them, but such names as
Ragna, Inga, Harald, Ola, Eivind, etc., became very popular.

One of the natives came to me and asked for some salt
beef, giving as an excuse that he had a pain in his
stomach, because he had for a long time eaten nothing but
tobola, the main food of the natives during about two months
of the year. This fruit, which grows in the scrubs on the
mountain tops, is of a bluish colour, and of the size of a plum.
The tree is very large and has long spreading branches, so
that the natives prefer waiting until the fruit falls on the
ground to climbing the trees for it It is gathered by the
women and brought to the camp, where it is roasted over
the fire until the flesh is entirely burnt off and the kernel is
thoroughly done. The shell round the kernel then becomes
so brittle that it is easily peeled off. Then the kernels are
beaten between two flat stones until they form a mass like
paste. When they have been beaten thoroughly in this
manner, they are placed in baskets and set in the brook to
be washed out, and the day after they are fit to be eaten.
The paste, which is white as chalk and contains much water,
looks inviting, but iswellnigh tasteless. The blacks eat this
porridge with their hands, which they half close into the form
of a spoon. This food is certainly very unwholesome, for the

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natives, who, by the way, are very fond of it, often complained
that they did not feel well after eating it for some time.
The amount of nourishment in tobola is very small, and the
natives eat a very large amount before they satisfy their
hunger, a fact which, in connection with its indigestible
character, cannot fail to produce harm. I have often won-
dered how they can preserve their health so well as they do,
considering all the unwholesome and indigestible vegetable
food they consume, and the great lack of variety. It is even
more surprising that they have found out that there is any
nourishment at all in the poisonous plants, which they know
how to prepare, and which at the very outset would appear
to be unfit for human food. It is also an interesting fact
that different poisonous plants, or plants not fit to be eaten
raw, are used in different parts of Australia and prepared by
one tribe in a manner of which another tribe has no know-

On my visits to the huts I met Chinaman, who had
deserted me in so disgraceful a manner and ruined my whole
expedition. He now imagined that all was forgotten. After
a month the blacks think no insult is remembered, not even
a murder. Chinaman tried to be polite, but I kept him at
a respectable distance in order to show the blacks that I did
not tolerate such conduct as that of which he was guilty.

Late in the afternoon we were overtaken as usual by a
heavy thunderstorm. One flash of lightning followed the
other in rapid succession. The thunder-claps were echoed
back from the steep mountain walls, and I expected the trees
around us would be struck by lightning every moment.
The natives, however, were not afraid. At every flash of
lightning they shouted with all their might and laughed
heartily. It was a great amusement to them.

At sunset, just as the dance was to begin, Nilgora and
his companions returned from their hunt, and to my great
satisfaction they brought with them another boongary. This
was also a male, but somewhat smaller than the one I had
lost. On its back it had distinct marks of "Balnglan's"
teeth. As I have since learned, this animal is hunted in the
following manner :

The chase begins early in the morning, while the scent

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of the boongary's footprints is still fresh on the ground.
The dog takes his time, stops now and then, and examines
the ground carefully with his nose. Its master keeps con-
tinually urging it on, and addresses it in the following
manner : Ts/te' — tshe' — gangary piil — pulka — tsfie\ pul —
tshinscherri dtindun — ntonnango — tshe\ pul-r-ptdka ! etc. —
that is, Tshe' — tshe' — tshe\ smell boongary — smell him —
tshe\ smell — seize him by the legs — smart fellow — tshe'^
smell — smell him, etc If the dog finds the scent, it will
pursue it to the tree which the animal has climbed. Then
some of the natives climb the surrounding trees to keep it
from escaping, while another person, armed with a stick,
ascends the tree where the animal is. He either seizes the
animal by the tail and crushes its head with the stick, or
he compels it to jump down, where the dingo stands ready
to kill it.

In the evening, when I came down to the blacks, who
were waiting for the moon to give light to the dancers, my
men expressed a fear that strange tribes would attack the
camp in the course of the night. I ridiculed this fear, now
that they were assembled in such numbers, but they replied
that the strangers also were numerous, and they would not be
at rest until I had fired a shot.

Thereupon a few persons came in great haste to the
blacks with whom I was talking, from the camp of the
dancers, who had evidently been frightened by the shot,
and explained that they would like to talk with me,
and asked me to go with them, so we all went to the
dancers, where all was excitement ; everybody was talking at
the same time, but when I came nearer I could catch in the
midst of the confusion such words as kSla (anger), ntli
(young girl), Kdanmi Mamigo^ (Kdanmi shall belong to
Mami). One of my men explained to me : The blacks wish
to give you a nilL They are afraid of the baby of the gun !
** Very well," I answered, " bring her to my hut."

The blacks had become afraid of me, having interpreted
the shot I fired as a sign that I was angry, and to propitiate
me they wished to give me K^lanmi, a young girl, who was

^ (7((7 is a suffix, which means with reference to ; thus literally, Kelanmi with
reference to Mami — that is, me.

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k£lanmi 233

Jooked upon as the prettiest woman in the whole tribe.


When I agreed to accept her they became quiet and their
fears were allayed.

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Evidently K^lanmi was afraid of the white man, and
was reluctant to leave her tribe ; when I went away I heard
them scold her and try to force her to go to the white man.
I learned that she was, in fact, promised to one of the blacks,
by name Kal-Diibbaroh, and so I asked him to go with her
to my hut I kindled a fire in my hut, and waited for them
to come with K^lanmi. The moon was just rising, so that I
was able to discern the dark figures approaching me, but at
first I saw no nili, as she was walking behind one of the men,
who held her by the wrist. She made no resistance, and
came willingly. When the party reached my hut the men let
go .of the girl, but said nothing, and I asked her to sit down.
She was a young and tolerably handsome girl about twelve
years old, with a good figure, and was clad in her finest attire
in honour of the dance, both her face and her whole body
being pretty well covered with red ochre. She was very much
opposed to getting married, particularly to a white man, and
sat trembling by the fire, awaiting the orders of her new
master. To quiet her, I at once got some bread and beef,
but she concealed it, out of fear of the bystanders, for such
delicacies are too good for a woman. Then I gave her a
little tobacco, which she also put away. No doubt she
intended to give it to her old adorer Kal-Dubbaroh, who
I suppose expected some compensation for his loss. I
pitied the little embarrassed girl, and told her, to the .great
surprise of the spectators, that she might go, whereupon she
immediately ran out This puzzled the blacks, who could
not conceive any other reason for my refusal than that I was
displeased with her, and so they offered me another girl.
But I tried to explain to them that all was well between us,
and I proposed that we should go down and dance.

They were just beginning to dance when we came down
to the camp, where I sat down among the spectators and
amused myself by witnessing the manner in which the natives
enjoyed themselves on such occasions. To give them a proof
of my goodwill, I took a whole stick of tobacco and threw it
down among the dancers. This liberality was a surprise to
the natives, who, of course, vied with each other in trying to
secure the tobacco. Quick as lightning, one of the men
caught hold of the stick and ran with it to his hut

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On the way home Yokkai urged me to shoot Kal-Dub-
baroh, saying : " Kal-Dubbaroh not good man." I could not
quite comprehend the meaning of this. The fact was, how-
ever, as I afterwards learned, owing to his so frequently
troubling me with this request, that Yokkai himself was
anxious to marry K^lanmi, and consequently would like to
have his rival out of the way.

The next day Nilgora again consented to go out hunting,
and returned with a young boongary, still smaller than the
others. The day was so hot that when I undertook to pre-
pare the new specimen, the feet had already begun to decay,
and I was afraid the animal would spoil before I got the
skin off it. I therefore took it to the coolest place I
could find, and prepared the skin. I sat in the shade of a
gum-tree, and had to keep continually moving out of the
sun's scorching rays. The flesh, which we roasted on the
coals, had a fine gamey flavour, and did not taste at
all like kangaroo meat. One circumstance, however, de-
tracted from the enjoyment. The boongary, like most
of the Australian mammals living in the trees, is infested by
a slender, round, hard worm, which lies between the muscles
and the skin. There these little worms, rolled together in
coils, are found in great numbers. They did not trouble the
natives, who did not even take the pains to pick them out.

They grumbled, on the other hand, because they were not
permitted to gnaw the bones, especially the feet, which they
looked upon as the best part of the animal.


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A festival dance of the blacks — Their orchestra —A plain table — Yokkai wants to
become a ** white man " — Yokkai*s confession — A dangerous situation — A
family drama.

The next day, before sunset, the dance began again. At
one end of the little place for dancing, where the grass had
already been well trampled down, sat the orchestra, con-
sisting, as usual, of only one, or sometimes of two men.
The musician was sitting on the ground with his legs
crossed, and was singing the new song, accompanying
himself by beating together a boomerang and a nolla-

In front of him on the little plat of level ground fourteen
to sixteen men were dancing in ranks of four or five each.
Near the orchestra, on the right, a woman kept dancing
up and down, keeping time with the men and with the

On Herbert river more than one woman never takes
part in the dance. This is a great honour to her, and she
is envied by all the other women, who sit in rows on
both sides of her and the musician. They assume their
favourite position and do not, like the men, cross their
legs before them or sit on one of their hams, but they
rest on their legs and heels, the legs being very close
together. In this position they usually play an accom-
paniment to the music by beating both their open
hands against their laps, thus producing a loud hollow

The spectators sit on both sides of the dancers all the
way up to the corners occupied by the women. The arrange-
ment is as follows : —

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w. m, f. d, w.

m. the music. /. d. the female dancer, ww. the women, dddd, the dancers.
ss, the spectators.

As a rule the spectators do not decorate themselves much
for the occasion ; one may be seen here and there who has
painted himself with a little ochre borrowed from a comrade.
The dancers, on the other hand, have done all in their power
to beautify themselves. Their bodies shine with red, yellow,



or white paint. Their hair is well filled with beeswax, and
decorated with feathers, with the crests of cockatoos, and
similar ornaments. For the purpose of giving themselves a
savage look, some of them hold in their mouths tufts either

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of talegalla feathers or of yarn made from opossum hair.
The latter kind of tufts or tassek the natives call itaka.
Some of the natives have mussel-shells glued fast to their
beards with wax. The Australian blacks and the Malayans
are the only savages who employ this ornament in this manner.

Several of the women had painted themselves, some of
them with alternating black and red bands across the face.
Strange to say, the dombi-dombi (dancing- woman) wore
no ornaments. She was middle-aged, with a pair of beauti-
ful eyes, but her limbs were slender, and she had a large
protruding stomach. The very uniform hopping move-
ments of her lean body were not graceful. She kept her
arms extended and spread the long slender fingers of her
hands as far apart as possible. The sight of this woman
jumping up and down in the same place, in the attitude
above described, and with her large breasts dangling, was
truly disgusting. But the woman seemed to enjoy herself
wonderfully, and she was not relieved by any of the other

The chief attention centres on the male dancers, who are
the heroes of the day. They start on the open side of. the
ground opposite the orchestra, and gradually approach the
latter. Their twists and turns keep time with the music,
and they continually give forth a grunting sound with accents
in harmony with the music and their own movements.
Near the orchestra they suddenly pause, scatter for a moment,
and then begin again as before.

The music was quick and not very melancholy ; the
monotonous clattering, the hollow accompaniment of the
women, the grunting and the heavy footfall of the men,
reminded me, especially when I was some distance away from
the scene, of a steam-engine at work.

While both the music and the song are an endless repetition
of the same strophes, the dance has a few variations. Now
and then a different figure is presented. One of those figures
looked very well. Six men marched to the music in closed
ranks, accompanying the rhythmical tramping of their feet
with blows to the right and left with tomahawks and
boomerangs. In other figures they presented a variety of
comical movements. With arms akimbo, they spread their

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knees as far apart as possible, and jumped and grunted in
time with the music.

The dance was utterly childish, but it interested me to
observe that they had a somewhat different programme for each
evening. They several times produced what might be called
a pantomime, but, as I did not quite comprehend it, I cannot
fully describe it. On the open side of the square, opposite
the music, a sort of chamber was constructed, where the chief
performers made their toilets and kept themselves concealed
until the performance commenced. When it was time to
begin the pantomime, they rushed forth, all more ornamented
than usual with ochre spots of different colours over their
whole bodies, and with false beards and hair made of fibres
of woodw They took their places in line with the other
dancers, and with the usual twists and turns and keeping
time with the music, marched up to the orchestra, where they
paused for a moment. Then they formed in two long lines,
opposite each other, and two of the most gaudily deco-
rated men stepped forth from the ranks. While the others
remained standing in their places, these two kept running up
and down along the ranks, acting like clowns, and making
all sorts of ridiculous gestures. The most important part of
their acting consisted in kneeling down opposite one another
and putting a stick into the ground with the right hand, at
the same time bending to one another with various kinds of
gestures and grimaces. Thus they kept entertaining the
spectators for a long time, and it must be admitted that these
two natives gave evidence by their performances of no small
amount of comic talent. The closing scene was vociferously
applauded, and the charmed natives asked me if I, too, did
not think the acting splendid. I could not induce them to
explain to me the significance of the performance, but still
I managed to find out that it had some connection with the

The spectators now and then indicate their approbation
by laughing aloud. The women sit with smiles on their lips,
and take great pleasure in witnessing the performance. The
female dancer also keeps her eyes constantly on the male
dancers, but the musician at her side apparently takes no
interest in what is going on. He sits there beating his

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wooden weapons together and singing with his hoarse but
powerful tenor voice. He rarely looks up, as he has already
been watching the exercises for weeks, and knows them all
by heart ; but even he sometimes seems to be amused.
Now and then he raises his eyes and looks happy as a lark at
the naked figures moving backwards and forwards in the
strangest contortions. He never tires of singing, and when-
ever he begins the strophe anew he raises his voice with a
sort of enthusiasm.

These festivals, called by the civilised blacks korroboree, are
of course evidence of friendly relations between the tribes.
On this occasion the dance was given by several neighbouring
tribes that were on friendly terms with each other. As a
rule, however, the korroborees in Australia are given upon the
settlement of wars and feuds among the tribes, and are a
sort of ratification of the treaty of peace. Doubtless these
festivals have, in the history of Australia, been of considerable
importance in regard to the social development of the natives.
The korroborees have facilitated bartering among them, and
have also contributed toward promoting social intercourse
among the tribes. It is a curious fact that these "ratifica-
tions of treaties of peace " frequently give rise to new feuds,
on account of insults to women that are apt to occur at such

The dance always begins with the full moon and about
half an hour before sunset. When the sun's last rays
disappear from the horizon there is a pause until the moon
rises, when the dancing begins in earnest and may last
all night ; but, not satisfied with the pale light of the
moon, they kindle a large camp fire, the red flames of
which, mingling with the white light of the moon, produce a
strange fantastic effect. Toward morning they took a little
rest, but before dawn I was again awakened by their
monotonous song and clattering. When the sun rises it
becomes too hot to dance.

The natives are wonderfully frugal in their eating at their
festivals. I have never seen them eat together for pleasure
or to celebrate any event Anything like a banquet is en-
tirely out of the question, nay, on the occasion I have described

Online LibraryCarl LumholtzAmong cannibals; an account of four years' travels in Australia and of camp life with the aborigines of Queensland → online text (page 20 of 35)