The Borah Of Byamee

: Australian Legendary Tales

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.

In the morning it was seen that not only were all the dayoorls gone,

but the camp of the Dummerh was empty and they too had gone. When no

one would lend the Dummerh dayoorls, they had said, "Then we can grind

no doonburr unless the Wondah bring us stones." And scarcely were the

words said before they saw a dayoorl moving towards them. At first they

thought it was their own skill which enabled them only to express a

wish to have it realised. But as dayoorl after dayoorl glided into

their camp, and, passing through there, moved on, and as they moved was

the sound of "Oom, oom, oom, oom," to be heard everywhere they knew it

was the Wondah at work. And it was borne in upon them that where the

dayoorl went they must go, or they would anger the spirits who had

brought them through their camp.

They gathered up their belongings and followed in the track of the

dayoorls, which had cut a pathway from Googoorewon to Girrahween, down

which in high floods is now a water-course. From Girrahween, on the

dayoorls went to Dirangibirrah, and after them the Dummerh.

Dirangibirrah is between Brewarrina and Widda Murtee, and there the

dayoorls piled themselves up into a mountain, and there for the future

had the blacks to go when they wanted good dayoorls. And the Dummerh

were changed into pigeons, with a cry like the spirits of "Oom, oom,


Another strange thing happened at this big borah. A tribe, called

Ooboon, were camped at some distance from the other tribes. When any

stranger went to their camp, it was noticed that the chief of the

Ooboon would come out and flash a light on him, which killed him

instantly. And no one knew what this light was, that carried death in

its gleam. At last, Wahn the crow, said "I will take my biggest booreen

and go and see what this means. You others, do not follow me too

closely, for though I have planned how to save myself from the deadly

gleam, I might not be able to save you."

Wahn walked into the camp of the Ooboon, and as their chief turned to

flash the light on him, he put up his booreen and completely shaded

himself from it, and called aloud in a deep voice "Wah, wah, wah, wah"

which so startled Ooboon that he dropped his light, and said "What is

the matter? You startled me. I did not know who you were and might have

hurt you, though I had no wish to, for the Wahn are my friends."

"I cannot stop now," said the Wahn, "I must go back to my camp. I have

forgotten something I wanted to show you. I'll be back soon." And so

saying, swiftly ran Wahn back to where he had left his boondee, then

back he came almost before Ooboon realised that he had gone. Back he

came, and stealing up behind Ooboon dealt him a blow with his boondee

that avenged amply the victims of the deadly light, by stretching the

chief of the Ooboon a corpse on the ground at his feet. Then crying

triumphantly, "Wah, wah, wah," back to his camp went Wahn and told what

he had done.

This night, when the Borah corrobboree began, all the women relations

of the boys to be made young men, corrobboreed all night. Towards the

end of the night all the young women were ordered into bough humpies,

which had been previously made all round the edge of the embankment

surrounding the ring. The old women stayed on.

The men who were to have charge of the boys to be made young men, were

told now to be ready to seize hold each of his special charge, to carry

him off down the beaten track to the scrub. When every man had, at a

signal, taken his charge on his shoulder, they all started dancing

round the ring. Then the old women were told to come and say good-bye

to the boys, after which they were ordered to join the young women in

the humpies. About five men watched them into the humpies, then pulled

the boughs down on the top of them that they might see nothing further.

When the women were safely imprisoned beneath the boughs, the men

carrying the boys swiftly disappeared down the track into the scrub.

When they were out of sight the five black fellows came and pulled the

boughs away and released the women, who went now to their camps. But

however curious these women were as to what rites attended the boys'

initiation into manhood, they knew no questions would elicit any

information. In some months' time they might see their boys return

minus, perhaps, a front tooth, and with some extra scarifications on

their bodies, but beyond that, and a knowledge of the fact that they

had not been allowed to look on the face of woman since their

disappearance into the scrub, they were never enlightened.

The next day the tribes made ready to travel to the place of the little

borah, which would be held in about four days' time, at about ten or

twelve miles distance from the scene of the big borah.

At the place of the little borah a ring of grass is made instead of one

of earth. The tribes all travel together there, camp, and have a

corrobboree. The young women are sent to bed early, and the old women

stay until the time when the boys bade farewell to them at the big

borah, at which hour the boys are brought into the little borah and

allowed to say a last good-bye to the old women. Then they are taken

away by the men who have charge of them together. They stay together

for a short time, then probably separate, each man with his one boy

going in a different direction. The man keeps strict charge of the boy

for at least six months, during which time he may not even look at his

own mother. At the end of about six months he may come back to his

tribe, but the effect of his isolation is that he is too wild and

frightened to speak even to his mother, from whom he runs away if she

approaches him, until by degrees the strangeness wears off.

But at this borah of Byamee the tribes were not destined to meet the

boys at the little borah. just as they were gathering up their goods

for a start, into the camp staggered Millindooloonubbah, the widow,

crying, "You all left me, widow that I was, with my large family of

children, to travel alone. How could the little feet of my children

keep up to you? Can my back bear more than one goolay? Have I more than

two arms and one back? Then how could I come swiftly with so many

children? Yet none of you stayed to help me. And as you went from each

water hole you drank all the water. When, tired and thirsty, I reached

a water hole and my children cried for a drink, what did I find to give

them? Mud, only mud. Then thirsty and worn, my children crying and

their mother helpless to comfort them; on we came to the next hole.

What did we see, as we strained our eyes to find water? Mud, only mud.

As we reached hole after hole and found only mud, one by one my

children laid down and died; died for want of a drink, which

Millindooloonubbah their mother could not give them."

As she spoke, swiftly went a woman to her with a wirree of water. "Too

late, too late," she said. "Why should a mother live when her children

are dead?" And she lay back with a groan. But as she felt the water

cool her parched lips and soften her swollen tongue, she made a final

effort, rose to her feet, and waving her hands round the camps of the

tribes, cried aloud: "You were in such haste to get here. You shall

stay here. Googoolguyyah. Googoolguyyah. Turn into trees. Turn into

trees." Then back she fell, dead. And as she fell, the tribes that were

standing round the edge of the ring, preparatory to gathering their

goods and going, and that her hand pointed to as it waved round, turned

into trees. There they now stand. The tribes in the background were

changed each according to the name they were known by, into that bird

or beast of the same name. The barking Mahthi into dogs; the Byahmul

into black swans: the Wahns into crows, and so on. And there at the

place of the big borah, you can see the trees standing tall and gaunt,

sad-looking in their sombre hues, waving with a sad wailing their

branches towards the lake which covers now the place where the borah

was held. And it bears the name of Googoorewon, the place of trees, and

round the edge of it is still to be seen the remains of the borah ring

of earth. And it is known as a great place of meeting for the birds

that bear the names of the tribes of old. The Byahmuls sail proudly

about; the pelicans, their water rivals in point of size and beauty;

the ducks, and many others too numerous to mention. The Ooboon, or

blue-tongued lizards, glide in and out through the grass. Now and then

is heard the "Oom, oom, oom," of the dummerh, and occasionally a cry

from the bird Millindooloonubbah of "Googoolguyyah, googoolguyyah." And

in answer comes the wailing of the gloomy-looking balah trees, and then

a rustling shirr through the bibbil branches, until at last every tree

gives forth its voice and makes sad the margin of the lake with echoes

of the past.

But the men and boys who were at the place of the little borah escaped

the metamorphosis. Theywaited long for the arrival of the tribes who

never came.

At last Byamee said: "Surely mighty enemies have slain our ftiends, and

not one escapes to tell us of their fate. Even now these enemies may be

upon our track; let us go into a far country."

And swiftly they went to Noondoo. Hurrying along with them, a dog of

Byamee's, which would fain have lain by the roadside rather than have

travelled so swiftly, but Byamee would not leave her and hurried her

on. When they reached the springs of Noondoo, the dog sneaked away into

a thick scrub, and there were born her litter of pups. But such pups as

surely man never looked at before. The bodies of dogs, and the heads of

pigs, and the fierceness and strength of devils. And gone is the life

of a man who meets in a scrub of Noondoo an earmoonan, for surely will

it slay him. Not even did Byamee ever dare to go near the breed of his

old dog. And Byamee, the mighty Wirreenun, lives for ever. But no man

must look upon his face, lest surely will he die. So alone in a thick

scrub, on one of the Noondoo ridges, lives this old man, Byamee, the

mightiest of Wirreenun.