Myths Of Origins And The Deluge Of Australia
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Although native speculation as to the beginning of the world seems undeveloped, the same cannot be said with regard to the origin of mankind, for on that point there are many different beliefs. The myths relating to this topic may be divided into three groups, according as they ascribe to man (a) a wholly independent origin, (b) an independent origin as incomplete beings, who are then finished or completed; or (c) describe a definite making or creation by some deity. The first of these types seems to be mainly restricted to a series of tribes stretching from Lake Eyre northward through the central section of the country to the Gulf of Carpentaria.' Among all these tribes the belief is held that the totem ancestors of the various clans "came up out of the ground," some being in human and some in animal shapes. They travelled about the country, usually leaving offspring here and there by unions with women of the people (of whose origin nothing is said) whom they either met or made; and ultimately journeyed away beyond the confines of the territory known to the particular tribe, or went down into the ground again, or became transformed into a rock, tree, or some other natural feature of the landscape. These spots then became centres from which spirit individuals, representing these ancestors, issued to be reincarnated in human beings. Strictly speaking, although in some instances they begat direct descendants, these totemic ancestors should perhaps not be regarded as human creatures, for often they were themselves the fashioners of men from the incomplete forms in which they originated. As an example of the myths of this type (which are usually very trivial), we may take one from the Kaitish tribes In the past a Euro man arose out of the ground as a child, and was found by a woman be-longing to the Lizard clan, who gave it milk. Every day she went to gather berries for her husband, who was a Wild Turkey man; and every day she gave milk to the Euro child, who, when he grew larger, ran away and met a number of Iguana women, who tried to fight him with lightning. They could not catch him, however; and so, after killing and eating them, he travelled on and met a man from the Wren totem, whom he also killed. Then he climbed a hill, scratching the sand with his fingers as he went, and travelling on all fours, he came to the camp of some Rain women. They offered him food, but he grew angry when they would not yield to all his demands, refused to eat the food, and threw it away; whereupon the women killed him, after which he went down into the ground.
In general the myths of these beings seem to be independent in origin and unrelated, and are mainly concerned with recounting the way in which they taught certain ceremonies and customs to the people with whom they came in contact in their wanderings; so that they present few details of value for our purposes. Differing in some respects from these myths, yet on the whole belonging to this class, is the account given by one of the tribes from Victoria,' according to whom the first man originated from the gum of the wattle-tree, and issuing from a knot upon its trunk, entered into the body of a woman and was born as a male child.
The second class of tales relates more directly to the origin of human beings. Myths of this type are apparently confined to the series of tribes just mentioned as having legends of the first category, but in this instance the area seems to extend as far as Tasmania. As an illustration we may take the version given by the Arunta. At the time of the retreat of the original sea to the northward there were in the western sky two beings who were self-existing and of whose origin nothing is stated. From their lofty position they saw far to the east a number of Inapertwa, "rudimentary human beings or in-complete men, whom it was their mission to make into men and women." These Inapertwa were of various shapes and lived along the edges of the sea. "They had no distinct limbs or organs of sight, hearing or smell, and did not eat food, and presented the appearance of human beings all doubled up into a rounded mass in which just the outline of the different parts of the body could be vaguely seen." The two sky-beings came down, therefore, from the sky and armed with large stone knives, set to work to make these amorphous objects into men. "First of all the arms were released, then the fingers were added by making four clefts at the end of each arm; then legs and toes were added in the same way. The figure could now stand, and after this the nose was added and the nostrils bored with the fingers. A cut with the knife made the mouth. . . . A slit on each side separated the upper and lower eyelids, hidden behind which the eyes were already present, another stroke or two completed the body and thus, out of the Inapertwa, men and women were formed." Closely similar tales are told by many other tribes of the central area 9 and the south-east, as well as in Tasmania.'"
Myths of the third type are, on the other hand, characteristic of the south-easterly portion of the continent. Although in many cases 12 there are no detailed stories of the creation of mankind, the statement being merely that the first men were created, more definite myths do occur. Thus, the tribes in the vicinity of Melbourne say that in the beginning Pundjel made two males from clay. "With his big knife he cut three large sheets of bark. On one of these he placed a quantity of clay, and worked it into a proper consistence with his knife. When the clay was soft, he carried a portion to one of the other pieces of bark, and he commenced to form the clay into a man, beginning at the feet; then he made the legs, then he formed the trunk and the arms and the head. He made a man on each of the two pieces of bark. He was well pleased with his work, and looked at the men a long time, and he danced round about them. He next took stringybark from a tree, ... made hair of it, and placed it on their heads — on one straight hair and on the other curled hair. Pund-jel again looked at his work, much pleased . . . and once more he danced round about them. . . . After again smoothing with his hands their bodies, from the feet upwards to their heads, he lay upon each of them, and blew his breath into their mouths, into their noses, and into their navels; and breathing very hard, they stirred. He danced round about them a third time. He then made them speak, and caused them to get up, and they rose up, and appeared as full grown young men." Some of the Queens-land tribes declare 14 that the moon created the first man and woman, the former being made from stone and rubbed all over with white and black ashes, while the latter was shaped from a box-tree and rendered soft and supple by rubbing with yams and mud. In South Australia, on the other hand, there is apparently a belief in the creation of men from excrement which was moulded and then tickled, this causing the image to laugh and become alive.
Another tale from Victoria records the origin of woman as follows. One day Pallyan, the brother (or son?) of Pundjel, the maker of man, was playing in a deep water-hole and in so doing he thumped and thrashed the water with his hands until it became thick and muddy. At length he saw something, and parting the mass with a branch, he discovered hands and then two heads, and at last extricated two female forms, which were the first women and were given as wives to the two men whom Pundjel had already made. An origin of mankind from the sky is given by one of the tribes of the Northern Territory," who state that Atnatu, a self-created deity in the heavens, being angry at some of his children, threw them down to earth through a hole in the sky, and that these became the ancestors of the tribe. The dispersion of mankind was explained as follows by these same tribes. After men had multiplied, they became wicked; and thereupon Pundjel, coming down in anger from the skies, whither he and Pallyan had been carried by a whirlwind shortly after they had made the first human beings, with a great knife cut the people into small bits which moved and crawled about like worms. Then a great wind arose and scattered the pieces like flakes of snow far and wide over the world; and wherever they fell, they developed again into men and women. Although presenting some obvious features of missionary influence, the tale probably contains a nucleus of aboriginal thought.
Myths of the origin of the sun fall into two contrasted groups. According to the tribes of the Southeast, the sun was made by throwing an emu's egg into the sky; and as told by the Euahlayi, the story runs as follows." In the beginning there was no sun, only the moon and the stars; but one day Dinewan, the emu, and Bralgah, the native companion, quarrelled and fought. In rage the latter ran to the nest of Dinewan, took one of the large eggs, and threw it with all her strength into the sky, where it broke upon a pile of firewood which was there and which immediately burst into flame. This greatly astonished the beings in this world, who had been used to semi-darkness, and consequently almost blinded them; but the deity in the sky, seeing how fine a thing this fire was in the world, determined to have it lit every day and has done so ever since. Each night he and his assist-ants gather wood and pile it up and then send the morning star to inform people that the fire will soon be lit. Since, how-ever, the sky-deity found this notification insufficient, as those who slept did not see the star, he ordered a bird, the Gourgourgahgah, to laugh every dawn as soon as the morning star paled and thus wake up the world; and the bird has done so ever since. Similar tales are told in every portion of this region.
Another series of myths from the eastern and north-eastern parts of the continent describe the sun as a woman. Among the Arunta and related tribes of central Australia,' she, like many of the original totem ancestors, arose out of the ground, and later, carrying a fire-brand, ascended to the sky, though every night she descends into the earth, again to emerge in the morning. In some instances there are said to be several suns, who go up into the sky in turn. Among the Narrinyeri of South Australia the sun is also considered to be a woman, who nightly visits the land of the dead, although nothing is said of her origin. "As she approaches, the men assemble and divide into two bodies, leaving a row for her to pass between them. They invite her to stay with them, which she can do only for a short time, as she must be ready for her journey the next day. For favours granted to some one among them, she receives a present of a red kangaroo skin, and there-fore in the morning, when she rises, appears in her red dress."
In Queensland the sun (a woman) was made by the moon, and although given but two legs in the common manner of mankind, was provided with many arms, which may be seen extending like rays when she rises and sets. Some of the Victoria tribes say that in the beginning the sun did not set, but since people grew weary of the continual day, at length the creator deity ordered the sun to set, and thus day and night originated."
In regard to the moon two classes of tales are also found. According to the Arunta of central Australia, in the mythological period a man of the Opossum totem carried the moon about with him in a shield, keeping it hidden in a cleft in the rocks all day long. One night, however, another man of the Grass-Seed totem chanced to see a light shining on the ground, this being the moon lying in the man's shield; whereupon the Grass-Seed man at once picked up the shield with the moon in it and ran away. The Opossum man, discovering his loss, gave chase, but being unable to catch the thief, he called out to the moon to rise into the sky and give every one light during the night; and the moon accordingly went up into the sky, where it has remained ever since.
Elsewhere the moon is regarded as a man who rose into the sky. In Queensland it is said 28 that once two Sparrow-Hawk brothers were out hunting for honey, and that one of them in trying to extract a comb from a hollow tree in which he had made a hole, caught his arm and could not get it out. His brother went to get aid, but all whom he asked to help refused, except the moon. The latter, however, went willingly, climbed the tree, and putting his head well down into the hollow, sneezed violently, the resultant sudden pressure of the air enabling the captive to withdraw his arm. The Sparrow-Hawk determined to be revenged on those who had denied him aid; and so, first burying the moon in the ground to get him out of harm's way, he set fire to the grass, intending to burn up the whole camp. Since, however, some persons were not destroyed, he started another blaze, this time putting the moon into the top of a tall tree; but again some of his victims escaped, and accordingly, having this time placed the moon high in the sky, he kindled a third conflagration and finally succeeded in destroying all his enemies.
Quite a different tale, embodying several incidents valuable for comparative purposes, is found in New South Wales. According to this, the moon was an old man, very corpulent and very lazy, who lived with two young men who were his relatives. They aided him and did most of the hunting, but since he treated them very badly, taking for himself all the choice portions of meat and giving them only what was left, after a while they decided that they could no longer stand this and determined to leave. In camp they were accustomed to sit or lie behind him, and as he could not easily turn over, he used from time to time to call to them to see if they were there. When their plans were ready they started off secretly instructing some rubbish, which they left behind them, to answer for them if the old man should call. After they had travelled some distance, they were fortunate enough to kill an emu, and taking the bird with them to a large flat rock, they pre-pared to cook and eat it; but when the food was about ready, they remembered that emu flesh was still tabu to them as young men and that they could not have it until they received some at the hands of an older man. They therefore determined to use a stratagem and accordingly called out to the old man, who thus for the first time realized their absence. He hastened toward them, but before he arrived, they caused the rock on which they were to grow tall, so that he could not reach them. When he had come, they showed him the emu, and he at once demanded that they throw some of the meat to him, whereupon they tossed down a piece of the fat, which he, not liking, hurled back at them; and thus the tabu was broken, for they had received emu flesh at his hands. Since he was desirous of ascending to them, they told him to get a sapling and lean it against the rock so that he might climb; but while he had gone to fetch it, they caused the rock to grow still higher, so that his pole was not sufficiently long to reach the top. Accordingly he went again, and this time bringing a stick which was long enough, he started to climb up carrying his two dogs with him. His hands, however, were greasy from handling the emu fat, and when he was near the top, the two boys twisted and shook the stick so that Gina, the old man, lost his hold and fell to the ground, his two dogs being killed, and his back so injured that he had to walk much bent over. For this reason the new moon has a bent back when it appears each month.
In central Australia the Arunta say 32 that in the beginning a man of the Opossum clan died and was buried, but shortly afterward came to life again as a boy. The people saw him rising and ran away in fear, but he followed them, saying, "Do not be frightened! Do not run away, or you will die altogether. I shall die, but shall rise again in the sky." He later grew up to be a man and then died once more, reappearing as the moon, and has ever since continued to die periodically and come to life again; but the people who ran away died altogether.
The northern tribes seem to have only a few myths relating to the moon. The Warramunga, however, tell that the moon came up out of the ground as a man and was one day walking about when he saw the tracks of a woman. Following these and finally catching sight of her, he called out, whereupon she replied; and when he then shouted, "Don't talk so far away! I want to have you come near," she came to him, and they sat talking. Meanwhile two hawks had discovered the art of making fire, but unfortunately they lost control of it, and thus started a conflagration. The woman, seeing the flames approaching, said, "Look out, the fire is close up now"; but the moon-man answered, "No hurry, it is quite a long way off yet." They were, however, suddenly surrounded by it, and the woman was badly burned, whereupon the man cut open one of his veins, drew some blood, and sprinkled it over the woman, who was thus restored to life. Then both of them went up into the sky.
Several accounts are given of the origin of the sea or of lakes and waters; and in parts of the south-east of the continent a tale is found which recalls a type widely spread in Melanesia 35 Thus, in western Victoria it is said 36 that originally water was kept concealed under a stone. Some birds, however, spied upon the jealous owner, thus discovering where the precious substance was hid; and in the man's absence one day they removed the stone which covered the opening, so that the water immediately flowed out and became a great lake. The east-coast tribes have quite a different story. According to this, once upon a time there was no water, for a great frog had swallowed it all. At this the people were much distressed, and holding a council to determine what to do, they agreed that if only the frog could be made to laugh, he would disgorge the water. Accordingly several animals danced before him in ludicrous postures, but in vain, for the frog remained as solemn as before. Finally the eel tried, and at his wriggling and writhing the frog first smiled and then laughed; and as he opened his mouth, the waters burst forth and caused a great flood by which many were drowned. The few survivors, comprising two or three men and one woman, took refuge on a small island; and by and by a pelican, coming along in his canoe, carried the men to the mainland, one by one, leaving the woman until the last, because he wanted her for a wife. She, however, was frightened, and wrapping a log in her skin rug to look as though she were sleeping, she swam away to the shore. When the pelican returned, he called to her, but got no reply; so he came and kicked the skin rug, and finding that it had only a log within it and that he had been tricked, he was very angry. Now at that time all pelicans were black, and accordingly he began to paint himself with pipe-clay before going to fight those whom he had saved; but just as he was half painted, another pelican came by, and not knowing what such a queer looking thing was, struck him with his beak and killed him. Since that day all pelicans have been part black and part white.
Several other myths of a deluge or great flood have been recorded. Thus, according to one account, a party of men were once fishing in a lake, when one man baited his hook with a piece of flesh and soon felt a tremendous bite. Hauling in his line, he found that he had caught a young bunyip, a water monster of which the people were much afraid; but though his companions begged him to let it go, because the water monsters would be angry if it were killed, he refused to listen to them and started to carry the young bunyip away. The mother, however, flew into a great rage and caused the waters of the lake to rise and follow the man who had dared to rob her of her young. The deluge mounted higher and higher, until all the country was covered, and the people, fleeing in terror, took refuge upon a high hill; but as the flood increased, gradually surmounting it and touching the people's feet, they were all turned into black swans and have remained so ever since.
Myths of the origin of fire are generally known and of several different types. Most widely spread, apparently, are tales which declare fire to have been originally owned by certain birds or animals from whom the secret was then stolen. The version of one of the Victorian (?) tribes runs as follows. The bandicoot was once the sole owner of fire, and cherishing his fire-brand, which he carried with him wherever he went, he obstinately refused to share the flame with any one else. Accordingly the other animals held a council and determined to get fire either by force or by stratagem, deputing the hawk and the pigeon to carry out their purpose. The latter, waiting for a favourable moment when he thought to find it unguarded, made a dash for it; but the bandicoot saw him in time, and seizing the brand, he hurled it toward the river to quench it. The sharp eyes of the hawk saw it falling, and swooping down, with his wing he knocked it into the long dry grass, which was thus set alight so that the flames spread far and wide, and all people were able to procure fire. A New South Wales version is somewhat different.° According to this, fire was originally owned by two women (Kangaroo-Rat and Bronze-Winged Pigeon) who kept it concealed in a nut-shell. For a long time the other animals could not discover how these women were able to cook their food; but at last they set spies to watch them and so learned the secret, whereupon, resolving to secure fire by a ruse, they arranged a dance and invited the two women to be present. One after another the different animals danced in ludicrous positions in an attempt to make the women laugh; and at length one performer succeeded so that the women, convulsed with merriment, rolled upon the ground. This was just what the conspirators had been waiting for, and rushing up, they seized the bag in which was the nut that contained the fire. Opening this and scattering the flame about, they set the grass alight, and in this way fire was caught in the trees, whence ever since it can be procured from their wood by means of friction.
A different mode of origin is found in another series of tales which is also wide-spread; and in some instances this second type is combined with the first. Thus, a tribe in the vicinity of Melbourne say that once two women were cutting a tree to get ants' nests when they were attacked by snakes. The women fought them for some time, but at last one of them broke her fighting stick, whereupon fire came out of the end of it, and the crow, seizing this, flew away with it. Pursued by two men, it let the fire fall, thus starting a conflagration. These two men were set by Pundjel in the sky as stars, and he told all the people to be careful not to lose fire, now that they had it; but after a time they let it go out, and mankind was again fireless, while snakes became abundant everywhere. At length Pallyang sent his sister Karakarook down from the sky to guard the women, and she went about everywhere with a great stick, killing snakes; but in dispatching one, her stick broke and fire came from it. The crow once more seized this and flew away with it, but the two men who had followed him before descended from the sky, and going to the high mountain where the crow had hidden the fire, brought it back again safely to mankind. Karakarook, the sister, had told the women to examine carefully her broken stick from which the fire had come and never to lose the secret; but since this was not enough, one of those who had rescued the fire from the crow took the men to a mountain where grew the proper sort of wood to make fire-sticks, and showed them how to manufacture and use them, so that ever afterward they should have fire whenever they needed it.
A somewhat different element appears in another small group of tales. The Arunta in central Australia say that in mythical times a euro carried fire in its body. A man pursued the animal in the hopes of getting possession of the precious object, but for a long time he was unable to catch up with the euro, and although he tried to make fire with fire-sticks, he did not succeed. After many days, however, he finally caught the animal and killed it, and on examining the body, found fire concealed within. This he took and used to cook his food; and when the fire went out, he tried again to make it with his fire-sticks, and now was successful. A variant of this type is found in Queensland, where fire was originally thought to have been contained in the body of a snake. As in the case of some of the tales of the origin of water and the sea, the other animals decided that the only way to get what they wanted was to make the possessor laugh; and when a bird succeeded in doing this by its comical gyrations, the fire issued from the snake's mouth, thus becoming the common property of all. The belief that fire was primarily contained in the body of its owner is one widely distributed both in Melanesia 48 and in Polynesia.
That fire was originally obtained from the sky is also an idea found in Australia. Thus, one of the tribes from Victoria declares 50 that a man threw a spear upward to the sky, into which it stuck; but since he had tied a string to the spear, he was able to climb up to the sun and to bring fire down to men. In Queensland the details differ. In the beginning there was no fire on earth, and so the wren volunteered to fly up to the sky to get some; but though he succeeded in his quest, he hid the fire under his tail-feathers in order that others might not get the benefit of his discovery. When he returned and was asked how he had fared, he replied that he had failed in his attempt; but as he suggested the advisability of attempting to get fire from different sorts of wood, other people tried, only to make their hands sore and to abandon the task in disgust. Turning around suddenly, however, one of them burst out laughing, for he saw the fire as a red spot on the tail of the deceitful wren. The latter then admitted that he had been successful, and showed the people how to make fire properly; but ever since he has had a red spot on his tail-feathers.
Still another form of legend of the origin of fire, in which the method of making is discovered by accident or is invented, is shown in a myth from New South Wales. Once there was no fire in the world, and all people had to eat their food raw or dried in the sun; but one day, when the crane, Bootoolgah, was rubbing two pieces of wood together, he saw a faint spark and a slight smoke, whereupon he called out to Goonur, the kangaroo-rat, "See, smoke comes when I rub these pieces of wood! Would it not be fine, if we could make fire for ourselves and cook our food without waiting for the sun to dry it?" "Yes," said his wife, "it would indeed be good. Split your stick and put dried grass in the cleft, so that even one spark may kindle it." He did so, and behold! after much rubbing, there came a tiny flame. Though they had now discovered the art of making fire, they resolved to keep it secret; and accordingly, the next time that fish were caught, the two took theirs aside and cooked them. When they brought them back to camp, the other people saw that they looked and tasted differently, and asked what they had done to them; at which the two declared that they had only dried them in the sun as always. The others, however, did not believe this; so they spied and at last discovered the secret. It was then resolved to steal the fire, and this was accomplished, as already stated in previous tales, by making the stingy owners laugh and then seizing the precious receptacle containing fire while they were still overcome with merriment. A variant occurs in Queensland. In the beginning fire and its uses were accidentally discovered by lightning setting fire to the dry grass and thus partly roasting a kangaroo which had been killed. A woman was sent to get a fire-brand, of which she was put in charge to see that the fire should never go out; but one day it was extinguished through her carelessness, and to punish her for her negligence she was sent out to find fire again and bring it back. Her search was fruitless, however, and in her anger at failure she took two sticks and rubbed them together until fire was produced, the secret of its making thus being found.
One of the very few myth fragments from Tasmania relates to the origin of fire. According to this, two men once appeared standing on the top of a hill, whence they threw fire like a star, which fell among the people and frightened them so that they ran away. Apparently this started a conflagration, and on their return the people were able to get the fire which they had previously lacked."
One account of the origin of death has already been cited, but another version from New South Wales 58 may be given for comparison. Baloo, the moon, one night seeing some men fording a stream, called out to them to stop and carry his dogs (which were really snakes) across for him. They, how-ever, were afraid of these creatures, for sometimes they bit and killed men when he brought them to earth; and for this reason they refused to do what they had been asked, saying, "We are too frightened. Your dogs might bite us." Then Baloo replied, "If you do what I ask you, when you die you shall come to life again; not die, and stay always where you are put, when you are dead. See this piece of bark? I throw it into the water, it comes to the top again and floats. That is what would happen to you, if you would do what I ask you. First down when you die, and then up again. If you will not take my dogs over, you will die like this." Thereupon he threw a stone into the water, and as it sank to the bottom, he said, " If you will not do as I tell you, you will be like that stone." But the men answered, "We cannot do it. We are too frightened of your dogs." So Baloo came down with his dogs and himself carried them over to show how harmless they were; and then he picked up a stone and threw it into the stream, saying, "Now as you would not do what I ask you to, you have forever lost the chance of rising again after you die — now you will only be black-fellows while you live, and bones when you are dead."
From a consideration of the cosmogonic myths of Australia here outlined it would appear that a number of conclusions are justified. It has already been pointed out that a broad distinction may be drawn on linguistic grounds between the northern and central tribes on the one hand and those of the remainder of Australia on the other. Unfortunately, we have no myth material from western Australia, so that nothing can be said of its relations to the remainder of the continent. It is fairly clear, however, that the linguistic divergencies between the northern and central portions as contrasted with the southern and eastern districts are paralleled by differences in mythology. In the former region we find scarcely a trace of any myths of the source of the world or of a creator deity. The origin of mankind is either a coming up out of the ground or a spontaneous beginning as embryonic or amorphous beings, who are made human by one or another group of totem ancestors. The sun and moon are regarded as persons who, like other early mythical beings, emerged from the ground and later ascended to the sky, and knowledge of fire is said to have been taught to the ancestors in the underworld. In the southern and eastern portions of the continent we find, on the other hand, more or less definite tales of a creator-being and of a creation, together with myths of the origin of man-kind. Here the sun is often regarded as an actual fire kindled by an egg cast into space; here the sea (or water) is said to have been in the beginning either concealed or swallowed; and here a variety of origins are given for fire, its ownership by, and theft from, animals or birds being perhaps the most characteristic. Comparison with adjacent areas leads to rather contradictory results. In some particulars the northern and central type shows relationship to the largely hypothetical Papuan stratum in Melanesia, although some of its most characteristic elements, such as the origin of man from embryonic beings, have thus far not been reported from the Melanesian area. On the other hand, the southern and eastern type reveals points of similarity with the Melanesian stratum in Melanesia, although from the geographical stand-point, and known historical relations this would hardly be expected. On the basis of the cosmogonic myths alone these suggested resemblances are uncertain at the best; and we may, therefore, turn to the remainder of the mythology and see whether the same cleavage and the same affiliations occur there also.