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
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.