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the borah of byamee.
From Australian Legendary Tales by Mrs. K. Langloh.
Start of Story
Age Rating 6 to 8.
Word had been passed from tribe to tribe, telling, how that the season
was good, there must be a great gathering of the tribes. And the place
fixed for the gathering was Googoorewon. The old men whispered that it
should be the occasion for a borah, but this the women must not know.
Old Byamee, who was a great Wirreenun, said he would take his two sons,
Ghindahindahmoee and Boomahoomahnowee, to the gathering of the tribes,
for the time had come when they should be made young men, that they
might be free to marry wives, eat emu flesh, and learn to be warriors.
As tribe after tribe arrived at Googoorewon, each took up a position at
one of the various points of the ridges, surrounding the clear open
space where the corrobborees were to be. The Wahn, crows, had one
point; the Dummerh, pigeons, another; the Mahthi, dogs, another, and so
on; Byamee and his tribe, Byahmul the black swans tribe, Oooboon, the
blue tongued lizard, and many other chiefs and their tribes, each had
their camp on a different point. When all had arrived there were
hundreds and hundreds assembled, and many and varied were the nightly
corrobborees, each tribe trying to excel the other in the fancifulness
of their painted get-up, and the novelty of their newest song and
dance. By day there was much hunting and feasting, by night much
dancing and singing; pledges of friendship exchanged, a dillibag for a
boomerang, and so on; young daughters given to old warriors, old women
given to young men, unborn girls promised to old men, babies in arms
promised to grown men; many and diverse were the compacts entered into,
and always were the Wirreenun, or doctors of the tribes consulted.
After some days the Wirreenun told the men of the tribes that they were
going to hold a borah. But on no account must the innerh, or women,
know. Day by day they must all go forth as if to hunt and then prepare
in secret the borah ground. Out went the man each day. They cleared a
very large circle quite clear, then they built an earthen dam round
this circle, and cleared a pathway leading into the thick bush from the
circle, and built a dam on either side of this pathway.
When all these preparations were finished, they had, as usual, a
corrobboree at night. After this had been going on for some time, one
of the old Wirreenun walked right away from the crowd as if he were
sulky. He went to his camp, to where he was followed by another
Wirreenun, and presently the two old fellows began fighting. Suddenly,
when the attention of the blacks was fixed on this fight, there came a
strange, whizzing, whirring noise from the scrub round. The women and
children shrank together, for the sudden, uncanny noise frightened
them. And they knew that it was made by the spirits who were coming to
assist at the initiation of the boys into young manhood. The noise
really sounded, if you had not the dread of spirits in your mind, just
as if some one had a circular piece of wood at the end of a string and
were whirling it round and round.
As the noise went on, the women said, in an awestricken tone,
"Gurraymy," that is "borah devil," and clutched their children tighter
to them. The boys said "Gayandy," and their eyes extended with fear.
"Gayandy" meant borah devil too, but the women must not even use the
same word as the boys and men to express the borah spirit, for all
concerning the mysteries of borah are sacred from the ears, eyes, or
tongues of women.
The next day a shift was made of the camps. They were moved to inside
the big ring that the black fellows had made. This move was attended
with a certain amount of ceremony. In the afternoon, before the move
had taken place, all the black fellows left their camps and went away
into the scrub. Then just about sundown they were all to be seen
walking in single file out of the scrub, along the path which they had
previously banked on each side. Every man had a fire stick in one hand
and a green switch in the other. When these men reached the middle of
the enclosed ring was the time for the young people and women to leave
the old camps, and move into the borah ring. Inside this ring they made
their camps, had their suppers and corrobboreed, as on previous
evenings, up to a certain stage.
Before, on this occasion, that stage
arrived, Byamee, who was greatest of the Wirreenun present, had shown
his power in a remarkable way. For some days the Mahthi had been
behaving with a great want of respect for the wise men of the tribes.
Instead of treating their sayings and doings with the silent awe the
Wirreenun expect, they had kept up an incessant chatter and laughter
amongst themselves, playing and shouting as if the tribes were not
contemplating the solemnisation of their most sacred rites. Frequently
the Wirreenun sternly bade them be silent. But admonitions were
useless, gaily chattered and laughed the Mahthi. At length Byamee,
mightiest and most famous of the Wirreenun, rose, strode over to the
camp of Mahthi, and said fiercely to them: "I, Byamee, whom all the
tribes hold in honour, have thrice bade you Mahthi cease your chatter
and laughter. But you heeded me not. To my voice were added the voices
of the Wirreenun of other tribes. But you heeded not. Think you the
Wirreenun will make any of your tribe young men when you heed not their
words? No, I tell you. From this day forth no Mahthi shall speak again
as men speak. You wish to make noise, to be a noisy tribe and a
disturber of men; a tribe who cannot keep quiet when strangers are in
the camp; a tribe who understand not sacred things. So be it. You
shall, and your descendants, for ever make a noise, but it shall not be
the noise of speech, or the noise of laughter. It shall be the noise of
barking and the noise of howling. And from this day if ever a Mahthi
speaks, woe to those who hear him, for even as they hear shall they be
turned to stone."
And as the Mahthi opened their mouths, and tried to laugh and speak
derisive words, they found, even as Byamee said, so were they. They
could but bark and howl; the powers of speech and laughter had they
lost. And as they realised their loss, into their eyes came a look of
yearning and dumb entreaty which will be seen in the eyes of their
descendants for ever. A feeling of wonder and awe fell on the various
camps as they watched Byamce march back to his tribe.
When Byamee was seated again in his camp, he asked the women why they
were not grinding doonburr. And the women said: "Gone are our dayoorls,
and we know not where."
"You lie," said Byamee. "You have lent them to the Dummerh, who came so
often to borrow, though I bade you not lend."
"No, Byamee, we lent them not."
"Go to the camp of the Dummerh, and ask for your dayoorl."
The women, with the fear of the fate of the Mahthi did they disobey,
went, though well they knew they had not lent the dayoorl. As they went
they asked at each camp if the tribe there would lend them a dayoorl,
but at each camp they were given the same answer, namely, that the
dayoorls were gone and none knew where. The Dummerh had asked to borrow
them, and in each instance been refused, yet had the stones gone.
As the women went on they heard a strange noise, as of the cry of
spirits, a sound like a smothered "Oom, oom, oom, oom." The cry sounded
high in the air through the tops of trees, then low on the ground
through the grasses, until it seemed as if the spirits were everywhere.
The women clutched tighter their fire sticks, and said: "Let us go
back. The Wondah are about," And swiftly they sped towards their camp,
hearing ever in the air the "Oom, oom, oom" of the spirits.
They told Byamee that all the tribes had lost their dayoorls, and that
the spirits were about, and even as they spoke came the sound of "Oom,
oom, oom, oom," at the back of their own camp.
The women crouched together, but Byamee flashed a fire stick whence
came the sound, and as the light flashed on the place he saw no one,
but stranger than all, he saw two dayoorls moving along, and yet could
see no one moving them, and as the dayoorls moved swiftly away, louder
and louder rose the sound of "Oom, oom, oom, oom," until the air seemed
full of invisible spirits. Then Byamee knew that indeed the Wondah were
about, and he too clutched his fire stick and went back into his camp.