The Aboriginal "Murri" Race of Australia
by
William Ridley

(Communicated by Sir J. Lubbock, F.R.S.)

[Extracted from Nature, vol. 10, Oct. 29, 1874, pp. 521-2.]



Having lately had an opportunity of reading your work on "The Origin of Civilisation," it has occurred to me that some information which has come to my knowledge during missionary tours among the aborigines known as the race of Murri, and during a journey afterwards undertaken at the instance of the Government of this Colony to the Namoi and Barwun Rivers, maybe acceptable to you. Through Prof. Max Muller my journal and my grammar of "Kamilaroi, Dippil, and Turrubul" were transmitted to the Anthropological Society; and I suppose all I have written is accessible for the purposes of philosophical investigation among the records of that society. I now confine my statements to points touched upon in those parts of "The Origin of Civilisation" which treat of the Australian aborigines.

Page 11. In the north-western part of this colony, about the tributaries of the Darling, a man will not look at his mother-in-law. If they meet accidentally they turn back to back, and take no further notice one of another.

P. 34. My experience differs entirely from that of Mr. Oldfield. Having shown many drawings and paintings of animals and men—including their own likenesses—to the aborigines, I always found them quick at perceiving the design. They themselves trace on the trees, with their tomahawks, fair representations of snakes and other animals.

P. 109. It is true no man may marry a woman of the same names as his sisters. But it is by no means true, as Dr. Long stated, on imperfect information, that no one can marry a woman "of the same clan," taking the word "clan" in the common sense of the term as equivalent to "gens." The rule that restricts marriage is founded on an exact law of pedigree and class names. It is as follows among the aborigines of the Namoi; and other tribes have rules similar in the main, though the names differ widely.

The men are all divided into four classes—Muni, Kumbo, Ippai, and Kubbi. The Murri (whose name differs from that designating the race, "Murri," only in the quantity of the last syllable) are regarded as the most important; the Kubbi are the lowest in esteem. The sisters of these four are respectively Mata (or Matha), Butha, Ippata, and Kubbotha (the vowels are pronounced as in French). So that in one family every son bears the name Murri, every daughter the name Mata; in another family every son is Kumbo, every daughter Butha. There is also another classification marked by "totems," in which a second name is given to everyone according to birth. Thus there are the bundar (kangaroo), meite (opossum), duli (iguana), nurai (black snake), dinoun (emu), and others. On these classifications are based laws of marriage and descent. A Murri may marry Butha of the same totem, and of any other totem he may take a Mata, though she bears the name of his own sisters, who are all Mata. So Ippai dinoun may marry Ippata nurai, but not Ippata dinoun. But Ippai dinoun may marry Kubbotha dinoun.

Children always bear the second name (or totem) of their mother; and the first name of the child depends on the mother's. Thus the sons and daughters of Mata are always Kubbi and Kubbotha; those of Butha are Ippai and Ippatha; those of Ippatha are Kumbo and Butha; those of Kubbotha are Murri and Mata. As Ippai generally marries Butha, Ippai's son is generally Muni, but not always. When Ippai's wife is other than Kubbotha, his son is other than Murri. At first it seemed to me that the father's name determined that of the son; but afterwards I found that it is by the mother's name that those of the children are fixed. It is remarkable that while the second name of a child is the same as the mother's, the first, though dependent on the mother's, is always different. Mata's daughter cannot be a Mata, but is always Kubbotha. The Rev. Lorimer Fison, who had been in communication with Prof. Goldwin Smith and others on the "Tamil" system, and had found that system in Fiji, on seeing the rules of marriage and descent which I had noted down as prevailing among the Kamilaroi of Australia, said the principles of the "Tamil" were observed here also.

They have no words meaning simply brother and sister, but use terms signifying elder brother and younger brother. Thus "daiadi" is elder brother, "gullami" younger brother; and in a family of six brothers the eldest has no daiadi, but five guilami; the youngest has no gullami, but five daiadi; the third has two daiadi and three gullami. "Biadi" is elder sister, "burandi" younger sister. "Guni" (γυνή) is the child's word for "mother dear."

P. 205. The Kamilaroi and Wiradhuri tribes, who formerly occupied a large territory on the Darling and its tributaries, have a traditional faith in "Baiame" or "Baiama," literally "the Maker," from baia, to make or build. They say that Baiame made everything. Some say that he once lived as a man upon earth; and near the Narran River is a hole in a rock, somewhat in the shape of a man, where they say Baiame used to rest. He makes the grass to grow, and provides all creatures with food. Baiame gave them a sacred wand, which they exhibited at their "bora," the initiatory rite of admission to manhood, and the sight of this wand is essential to make a man. Baiame once showed the black fellows how to get rid of "Mullion," a demon in the form of an eagle, who lived in a tree and devoured many people. Baiame is also the Supreme Judge who awards to men their future lot. When people die, the good ascend to Baiame, and he appoints them a place on the great warrambool (watercourse, with groves, fruits, and animals, for the enjoyment of the blessed), in the sky—the Milky Way; the bad perish at death.

The Rev. James Gunther, of Mudgee, who was many years engaged in the instruction of the Wiradhuri tribes, has recorded the fact that these people ascribe to Baiame "three of the attributes of the God of the Bible"—supreme power, immortality, and goodness. There are among them men who make light of these traditions; but even when first spoken with by Christian instructors, some were evidently devout in their thoughts of Baiame and their hopes of a future life; and as to a future [p.522] state, they generally have a lively expectation. A squatter, M. De Becker, who lived many years at a remote station, where the blacks were in frequent communication with him, told me he had seen many of them die with a cheerful anticipation of being soon in a "better country."