National Geographic : 1956 Mar
440 (harles P. Mountford Wurarbuti Hurls a Fighting Stick; He Holds a Talisman in His Mouth Melville Island aborigines make matched sets of fighting sticks from ironwood, striving for equal weight and balance. They aim a weapon at the ground about 20 feet in front of the target, considering it more difficult to dodge on the bounce. In former days a fighter tucked beard in mouth to make himself more ferocious. Wurarbuti uses a feather ball for the same purpose (page 424). Actually the Tiwi are more good humored than savage. Woven pandanus rings on elbows are a sign of mourning. ers were paid in spears, throwing sticks, and other implements. Now payment is in the goods of the white man-squares of printed calico, used as loincloths, tobacco, and smok ing pipes. At "pay" time the leader sat atop a pole, resplendent in his body paint and decorations. He called to each worker, thanked him for the beautiful pole he had cut, and recom pensed him for his work. While I was busy photographing the danc ers, I heard my name called. Starting a song and beating their thighs, the aborigines de manded that I perform a dance in acknowl edgment of a gift of ceremonial ornaments we wanted for the expedition collection. I did so, much to the amusement of my companions. As the rituals neared their close, the women washed off their paint to end the taboo. They sobbed heartbrokenly. The chief mourner, son of the dead man, cut his head until the blood flowed down his face; then he collapsed on the ground in a paroxysm of grief. A scene of mass hysteria and weeping fol lowed. Women, beating their bodies with sticks, threw themselves on the ground, and men wailed continuously. Gradually the sounds of sorrow became less. One by one the mourners left, until there re mained only the crouching body of the aging widow, a small, wizened woman whose span of life was almost spent. Two Cultures Fuse Sometimes the Tiwi sing in their rituals about airplanes and steamships and the ma chines of warfare they saw when Japanese planes attacked Australia. And children at school sing "The Old Gray Mare She Ain't What She Used to Be!" At first glance this would indicate that Tiwi culture is giving way to the impact of the world. But such is not the case. To a re markable degree the Tiwi accept what they want from outside without letting their own way of life disintegrate. For example, when these archaic people go into the bush they revert to the life of their ancestors, except that steel replaces stone in their axheads. We left this faraway island genuinely fond of the Tiwi. Whatever may happen in the future, my devout hope is that their gentle and friendly qualities will not change. INDEX FOR JULY-DECEMBER, 1955, VOLUME READY Index for Volume CVIII (July-December, 1955) of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE will be mailed upon request to members who bind their copies as works of reference.