2018年05月12日

Each woman had a good pitchi


Year by year the old black tribes are dying out, and many of their legends and beliefs are dying with them. These legends deal with the world as the blacks knew it; with the Bush animals and birds; the powers of storm, flood, fire, thunder, and magic, and the beings who they thought controlled these powers; with the sun, moon and stars; and with the life and death of men and women.

Many of the old tales are savage enough, but through them runs a thread of feeling for the nobler side of life, so far as these wild people could grasp it. The spirit of self-sacrifice is seen in them, and greed, selfishness and cruelty are often punished as they deserve. We are apt to look on the blacks as utter barbarians, but, as we read their own old stories, we see that they were boys and girls, men and women, not so unlike us in many ways, and that they could admire what we admire in each other, and condemn what we would condemn. The folk-tales of a people are the story of its soul, and it would be a pity if the native races of our country were to vanish altogether before we had collected enough of their legends to let their successors know what manner of people lived in Australia for thousands of years before the white man came. Some valuable collections have indeed been made, but they are all too few; and there must even to-day be many people, especially in the wilder parts of Australia, who are in touch with the aboriginescould, if they would, get the old men and women to tell them the stories which were handed down to them when they were children.

In the hope of persuading all young Australians who have the opportunity to collect and preserve what they can of the ancient life and legends of Australia, I have put into modern English a few of the tales which may still be had from some old blackfellow or gin.

The camp lay calm and peaceful under the spring sunlight. Burkamukk, the chief, had chosen its place well: the wurleys were built in a green glade well shaded with blackwood and boobyalla trees, and with a soft thick carpet of grass, on which the black babies loved to roll. Not a hundred yards away flowed a wide creek; a creek so excellent that it fed a swamp a little farther on. The blacks loved to be near a swamp, for it was as good as a storehouse of food: the women used to go there for lily-pads and sedge-roots, and the men would spear eels in its muddy waters, while at times big flocks of duck settled on it, besides other water-fowl. Burkamukk was a very wise chief, and all his people were fat, and therefore contented.

As blacks count wealth, the people of Burkamukk were very well off. They had plenty of skin rugs, so that no one went cold, even in the winter nights; and the women had made them well, sewing them together with the sinews of animals, using for their needles the small bone of a kangaroo's hind-leg, ground to a fine point. It was hard work to sew these well, but the men used to take pains to get good skins, pegging them out with tea-tree spikes and dressing them with wood-ashes and fat, which they rubbed in until the skins were soft and supple; and so the women thought that the least they could do was to sew them in the very best way. Being particular about the rugs made the women particular about other things as well, and they had a far better outfit than could be found in most camps., a small wooden trough hollowed out of the soft wood of the bean-tree, in which food was kept. When the tribe went travelling the pitchi was as useful as a suit-case is to a white Australian girl; the lubras packed them with food, and carried them balanced on their heads, or slung to one hip by a plait of human hair, or a fur band; and sometimes a big pitchi was made by a proud father and beautifully carved with a stone knife, and used as a cradle for a fat black baby. Then the women used to weave baskets made of a strong kind of rush, ornamented with coloured patterns and fancy stitches, and each one had, as well, a bag made of the tough inner bark of the acacia tree, or sometimes of a messmate or stringy bark, in which she kept food, sticks and tinder for starting a fire, wattle-gum for cement, shells, tools, and all sorts of charms to keep off evil spirits. They had a queer kind of cooking-pot, in which they used to dissolve gum and manna. These pots were made out of the big rough lumps that grow out of old gum-trees, hollowed out by a chisel made of a kangaroo's thighbone. The women used to put gum and manna in these and place them near the fire, so that the water gradually heated without burning the wood. There was no pottery among the blacks, and so they could never boil food, but they contrived to make pleasant warm drinks in these wooden pots.

When it came to baking, however, the women of the tribe were well able to turn out toothsome roasts. Their ovens were holes in the ground, plastered with mud, and then filled with fire until the clay was very hot. When the temperature was right the embers were taken out, and the holes lined with wet grass. The food—flesh, fish, or roots—was packed in rough rush baskets and placed in the ovens, and covered with more wet grass, hot stones, gravel, and earth, until the holes were quite air-tight. The women liked to do this in the evening, so that the food cooked slowly all night; and often all the cooking was done in a few big ovens, and next morning each family came to remove its basket of food. And if you had come along breakfastless just as the steaming baskets were taken out, and had been asked to join in eating a plump young bandicoot or wallaby or a fat black fish—well, even though there were no plates or knives or forks, I do not think you would have grumbled at your meal.  

Posted by The stage of love at 00:36Comments(0)