Anthropology Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, pt 3/3

Welcome back. Today we’re finishing up with The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years a Wanderer among the Aborigines.

Buckley (in case you missed parts 1 and 2 of our adventure,) was an English convict sent to Australia in the early 1800s. He escaped from the prison ship, hoping to make it to Sydney, which turned out to be about 1000 miles away. He had nearly died of thirst before some friendly Aborigines found him, saved his life, and, believing him to be a recently deceases relative returned from the grave, adopted him into their tribe.

Unfortunately, life in the “state of nature” was horribly violent, with tribes frequently attacking each other. Buckley blames most of the violence on fights over women, but occasionally notes the ways local animist beliefs also contribute to unending cycles of murder and revenge, in this case after a man who’d joined their community died of a snake bite:

1426857301587“The cause of this sudden unprovoked cruelty was not, as usual, about the women, but because the man who had been killed by the bite of the snake belonged to the hostile tribe, and they believed my supposed brother-in-law carried about with him something that had occasioned his death. They have all sorts of fancies of this kind, and it is frequently the case, that they take a man’s kidneys out after death, tie them up in something, and carry them round the neck, as a sort of protection and valuable charm, for either good or evil.”

EvX: Note that Buckley’s adoptive family, his sister and brother-in-law, who’ve been helping him since the tribe saved his life years ago, was killed in this incident.

I recently read an account of Florence Young’s missionary work in the Solomon Islands (which are near Australia.) I haven’t been using these Christian Heroes books for Anthropology Friday sources because they aren’t first hand sources and I have no capacity to judge their accuracy, but they are still pretty interesting if you’re a middle schooler hankering to read about Christian missionaries. Anyway, the book recounts an identical justification for the cycle of violence on the Solomon Islands (which was quite threatening to Florence herself.) Every time someone died of any natural cause, their family went to the local witch doctor, who then used magic to determine who had used malicious magic to kill the dead guy, and then the family would go and kill whomever the witch doctor indicated.

The advent of Christianity therefore caused a power struggle between the missionaries and the witch doctors, who were used to being able to extort everyone and trick their followers into killing anyone who pissed them off. (See also Isaac Bacirongo’s account of the witch doctor who extorted his pre-pubescent sister as payment for a spell intended to kill Isaac’s wife–note: Isaac was not the one buying this spell; he likes his wife.)

Returning to Buckley, after the death of his friends:

“I should have been most brutally unfeeling, had I not suffered the deepest mental anguish from the loss of these poor people, who had all along been so kind and good to me. I am not ashamed to say, that for several hours my tears flowed in torrents, and, that for a long time I wept unceasingly. To them, as I have said before, I was as a living dead brother, whose presence and safety was their sole anxiety. Nothing could exceed the kindness these poor natives had shown me, and now they were dead, murdered by the band of savages I saw around me, apparently thirsting for more blood. Of all my sufferings in the wilderness, there was nothing equal to the agony I now endured.” …

“I returned to the scene of the brutal massacre; and finding the ashes and bones of my late friends, I scraped them up together, and covered them over with turf, burying them in the best manner I could, that being the only return I could make for their many kindnesses. I did so in great grief at the recollection of what they had done for me through so many years, and in all my dangers and troubles. ”

After this, Buckley cares for his deceased relatives’ children, a blind boy and a little girl. This goes about as depressingly as expected:

“Our small community remained in perfect harmony for many months, until, unfortunately, a young man about twenty years of age, belonging to another tribe, arrived. This youth was taken seriously ill a few days after joining us, and although we did all we could for him he died. This event created great distress, and by way of changing the scene, our small party broke up, and left the Karaaf on a short hunting excursion. After a time we fell in with the deceased young man’s family, who, on being informed of his death, expressed great astonishment and rage, fancying it had been brought about by some unfair means on our part. This excitement arose to such a height, as to approach what it would be mercy to describe insanity. After a time, they forced the poor blind boy away from me, and killed him on the spot, because he had happened to be in the same hut in which the young man died, believing he had been in some way the means of his death.

“After this, they roasted the body in the usual manner; but whilst this was going on I left, with the little girl, moving on, and on, until meeting the tribe to which the man belonged to whom in her infancy she had been promised; I explained all the particulars of the sacrifice of her poor blind brother. They immediately vowed vengeance, and two or three of them set out for the purpose of murder, returning in a few days with the intelligence that they had killed two
of the children of their enemies. …

“Having transferred her to the care of these people, I set off alone, determined to live by myself in order to avoid a repetition of the scenes I had witnessed, and all further intercourse with the natives.”

EvX: Buckley didn’t live entirely alone–he got married twice in this period–but he did try to avoid large tribal gatherings for a long while, and lived mostly alone for some time, out of both grief and a practical desire to avoid danger. During that time he built himself a couple of huts and a fishing weir that served him well. After several years it appears he resumed interacting more with others, as he reflects later:

“I had seen a race of children grow up into women and men, and many of the old people die away, and by my harmless and peaceable manner amongst them, had acquired great influence in settling their disputes. Numbers of murderous fights I had prevented by my interference, which was received by them as well meant; so much so, that they would often allow me to go
amongst them previous to a battle, and take away their spears, and waddies, and boomerangs. My visits were always welcomed, and they kindly and often supplied me with a portion of the provisions they had, assuring me, in their language, of the interest they took in my welfare.”

Stanley island rock art showing European ships
Stanley island rock art showing European ships

EvX: Despite his friends and remaining family, at the first news of English ships in the area, Buckley rushed to the spot. He attempted to make contact, but couldn’t swim out to the ship and couldn’t convince the ship to send a boat to him (Buckley had, at this point, forgotten how to speak English.) Buckley was again heartbroken until another ship showed up, and he found the English colonists and tried to approach them:

“Presently some of the natives saw me, and turning round, pointed me out to one of the white people; and seeing they had done so, I walked away from the well, up to their place, and seated myself there, having my spears and other war and hunting implements between my legs. The white men could not make me out–my half-cast colour, and extraordinary height and figure [Buckley was around 6’5” or taller,]–dressed, or rather undressed, as I was–completely confounding them as to my real character. At length one of them came up and asked me some questions, which I could not understand; but when he offered me bread–calling it by its name–a cloud appeared to pass from over my brain, and I soon repeated that, and other English words after him. …

The first settlers discover William Buckley, by Frederick Woodhouse, 1861
The first settlers discover William Buckley, by Frederick Woodhouse, 1861

“Word by word I began to comprehend what they said, and soon understood, as if by instinct, that they intended to remain in the country; that they had seen several of the native chiefs, with whom–as they said–they had exchanged all sorts of things for land; but that I knew could not have been, because, unlike other savage communities, or people, they have no chiefs claiming or possessing any superior right over the soil: theirs only being as the heads of families. I also knew that if any transactions had taken place, it must have been because the natives knew nothing of the value of the country, except as hunting grounds, supplying them with the means of present existence. I therefore looked upon the land dealing spoken of, as another hoax of the white man, to possess the inheritance of the uncivilized natives of the forest, whose tread on the vast Australian Continent will very soon be no more heard, and whose crimes and sorrows are fast fading away amongst other recollections of the past.”

EvX: Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on the Wathaurong people, with whom Buckley lived, claims that they did have chiefs:

Prior to European settlement, 25 separate clans existed, each with an arweet, or clan headman.[5] Arweet held the same tribal standing as a ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people.

The page on ngurungaeta says:

Ngurungaeta is a Woi-Wurrung word meaning ‘head man’ or ‘tribal leader’. Used by Clans of the Woi-Wurrung tribes and Taung Wurrung Ngurai-illum Wurrung ref First Peoples, GaryPresland.[1] Ngurungaeta held the same tribal standing as an Arweet of the Bunurong and Wathaurong people. The current Ngurungaeta is Murrundindi.

Ngurungaeta include:

  • Bebejan – one of the seven ngurungaeta who signed the 1835 treaty with John Batman[2]

Signing of the threaty between John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders (artist's impression)
Signing of the treaty between John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders (artist’s impression)

John Batman is the leader of the colonists Buckley is here discussing. By all accounts, Batman was not a nice guy–he massacred villages, kidnapped children, and negotiated treaties with people who had no hope of understanding what he really meant.

According to Buckley, the Aborigines had intended to murder Batman and take all of his trade goods–something was definitely opposed to. Despite his friendships with the natives, Buckley longed to be rescued and return to English society. He therefore worked hard to convince the Aborigines not to kill Batman, and likewise, tried to stop the settlers from killing the Aborigines (including acting as an interpreter in a capital murder trial, successfully preventing an Aborigine man from being executed for a crime he didn’t commit.) In the end, of course, there was nothing Buckley could do about white treatment of the Aborigines, a subject matter far too vast for me to deal with it here.

I find it interesting that throughout these sorts of accounts–and I include here Napoleon Chagnon’s account of the Yanomamo, famed for their violence–people still tend to believe in the essential goodness of their companions. Buckley does not say, “Oh, these Aborigines, they’re evil people who kill people and eat them!” No, he repeatedly states his gratitude to them for saving his life, taking them in, and treating him kindly. His feelings of grief upon the loss of his Aborigine family appear quite genuine. He does not think they should murder and eat each other, but he does not seem to attirbute these behaviors to character flaws. Likewise, though Buckley criticizes the English for their mistreatment of the Aborigines, he does not declare them evil, either.

Nor does Napoleon Chagnon dislike the Yanomamo tribesmen he’s lived with, despite the fact that he knows full well that a great many of them are murderers!

Which leaves us with our ultimate questions:

What does it mean to be good?

What does it mean to be evil?

Anthropology Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, pt 2

1280px-aboriginal_art_wall_-_panoramioWelcome back to Anthropology Friday, The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years among the Aborigines.

To be fair, Buckley was not an anthropologist. He was just a soldier-convict-guy who happened to get lost in Australia and was adopted into an Aborigine tribe. Years later he found colonists, re-joined white society, and dictated his life’s story, resulting in this book.

Buckley doesn’t relate many of the standard “cultural” tropes that I tend to associate with Aborigines–he makes no mention of the Dreamtime, says very little about myths, and is silent on coming of age rituals or magic rites.

Perhaps these weren’t prominent among the Aborigines he happened to live with, or he never learned about them, or he just thought them less interesting or important to his future readers than his accounts of violence. Certainly they were much less important to his life than the constant threat of death.

But he does include some cultural details, many of which I’ve excerpted below. (BTW, I’m including some images of Aborigine art, but none of them are–as far as I know–related to the folks Buckley lived with. They’re just here to look nice.)

Aborigine counting:

“We remained in peace and quietness, until a messenger came from another tribe, saying we were to meet them some miles off. Their method of describing time is by signs on the fingers, one man of each party marking the days by chalkings on the arm, and then rubbing one off as each day passes. ”

The bunyip--a very confused beast
The bunyip–a very confused beast

The Bunyip, a mythical creature:

“In this lake, as well as in most of the others inland, and in the deep water rivers, is a very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip, of which I could never see any part, except the back, which appeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf, and sometimes larger; the creatures only appear when the weather is very calm, And the water smooth. I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the head or tail, so that I could not form a correct idea
of their size, or what they were like. ”

EvX: Some people claim that the inclusions of details like the bunyip imply that Buckley’s account is untrustworthy. Obviously any account probably has some inaccuracies, but I don’t think the bunyip should be counted against Buckley anymore than Herodotus’s giant ants against his Histories. Buckley lived in a land of unfamiliar plants and animals, and his friends told him, “That thing in the tree is a koala; that hoppy thing is a kangaroo; that thing that just went swish plop out of sight in the swamp is a bunyip,” and he took them at their word.

Later in the account Buckley expresses some doubts on the matter, noting that the aborigines were afraid of the bunyip and thought it bad luck to try to hunt it, but he wanted to find and kill one when they weren’t around to figure out what sort of creature it was.

On marriage (paging HBDChick):

Bradshaw rock paintings,
Bradshaw rock paintings

“The only ceremonies they use preparatory to marriage are, in the first place, to get the parents’ consent, the suitor’s best claim is being a good fighter, and an expert hunter, so as to be able to protect and provide for a family. They are not at all particular as to the number of wives such men have; consequently some have five or six wives, and others none at all. If a man wishes to have a man’s grown up sister for a wife, he must give his own, if he has one, in exchange; but they are very averse to marrying one of their own relations, even of a distant degree.

“If a woman is supposed to have a child who is not her husband’s, they consider it a great disgrace; and to the infant, death is almost certain. If again, a family increases too rapidly,
for instance, if a woman has a child within twelve months of .a previous one, they hold a consultation amongst the tribe she belongs to, as to whether it shall live or not; but if the father insists upon the life of the child being spared, they do not persist in its destruction, and especially if it is a female.”

EvX: Female privilege.

I have read that the % of fetuses aborted in the US today and the % of infants infanticided in premodern cultures is about the same.

Continuing:

“I may as well here also mention a curious custom they have relative to their domestic affairs … In many instances, a girl, almost as soon as she is born, is given to a man. After this promise, the mother of the child never again voluntarily speaks to the intended husband before he takes her to himself nor to any of his brothers, if he has any; on the contrary she shuns them in the most careful manner.”

EvX: I don’t know if we should take him literally that infants were engaged to grown men, but at any rate, since the stated cause of much violence was that a girl who had been promised at birth to one man was desired at marrying age by another man, it seems like a great deal of violence could have been eliminated by discontinuing this custom.

Air burial:

“The next morning, those who remained went to the tribe to which the murdered man belonged, and found him rolled up in his rug, ready to be tied up in a tree, a mode of disposing of the dead, who were not enemies, unknown to me before. They selected a strong, if not a lofty tree, and in the branches, about twelve feet up, they placed some logs and branches across, and sheets of bark; on these they laid the body with the face upwards, inclining toward the setting sun, and over it was placed some more bark and boughs, and then logs as heavy as the branches would bear; all this being done to protect the body from the birds of prey.”

Religion:

“They have no notion of a Supreme Being, although they have of an after life, as in my case; and they do not ofler up any’ kind of prayer, even to the son or moon, as is customary with most other uncivilized people. They have a notion, that the world is supported by props, which are in the charge of a man who lives at the farthest end of the earth. They were dreadfully alarmed on one occasion when I was with them, by news passed from tribe to tribe, that unless
they could send him a supply of tomahawks for cutting some more props with, and some more rope to tie them with, the earth would go by the run, and all hands would be smothered. Fearful of this, they began to think, and enquire, and calculate where the highest mountains were, and how to get to them …so as to have some chance of escape from the threatened
danger.”

“The next day we moved on to another fresh water lake of considerable extent, where we encamped, not very much at our ease, as we saw another tribe on the opposite shore. In the middle of the night we heard a dreadful uproar in that direction, and in the morning learned that those we had seen before dark had been fallen upon by some others whilst they were sleeping; so on hearing this we went to their assistance. On our arrival a horrid scene presented itself, many women and children laying about in all directions, wounded and sadly mutilated. Several of the poor creatures had rushed into the lake and were drowned. The few who had escaped were hiding themselves in the reeds; but on our proffering assistance and protection, they joined us, and went to our huts. The dead were left, it not being safe to lose time in burying them, as our number was not sufficient to make us safe from a similar attack.”

1024px-st_georges_road_aboriginal_history_mural_3Organization:

“Having come to another halt, the better way perhaps will be, for me here to state, that the tribes are divided into families; or rather, I should say, composed of them, each tribe comprising from twenty to sixty of them. They acknowledge no particular Chief as being
superior to the rest; but, he who is most skilful and useful to the general community, is looked upon with the greatest esteem, and is considered to be entitled to more wives than any of the others. They contrive to keep a tolerable account, by recollection, of their pedigree, and will not, as I observed before, knowingly marry a relation, except where two brothers happened
to be married, and one dies; in that case the survivor claims the widow; in fact, as many wives or widows as he has left behind him. Should the women object, there is little chance of their lives being spared, as this law of custom is absolute.”

EvX: Not female privilege.

“They are in general, very kind to their children, excepting the child is from any cause, believed to be illegitimate ; and again, when a woman has been promised to one man, and is afterwards given to another; in such case, her first-born is almost invariably killed at its birth. The tribes would be much more numerous were it not for these barbarous and inhuman sacrifices.

“As soon as the children are able to toddle about, they begin, as if by instinct, to search for food, and at four or five years of age, are able to dig roots and live without the aid of their parents, to whom, as may be supposed, their drapery, and washing and combing, etc., is no sort of trouble. They are all stark naked, and tumble about in the lagoons and rivers, like so many jolly young porpoises playing in the sun.”

EvX: I suspect he is overestimating the foraging capabilities of 5 yr olds.

Cannibalism and mental illness:

“They have a brutal aversion to children who happen to be deformed at their birth. I saw the brains of one dashed out at a blow, and a boy belonging to the same woman made to eat the mangled remains. The act of cannibalism was accounted for in this way. The woman at particular seasons of the moon, was out of her senses; the moon, as they thought, having affected the child also, and, certainly, it had a very singular appearance. This caused her husband to deny his being the father, and the reason given for making the boy eat the child
was, that some evil would befall him if he had not done so.”

“However, the man himself having escaped, he, with others, went in the night to the hut of the savage who had killed his brother, and speared him dead; having done which, they cut the most of the flesh off his body, carrying it away on their spears to mark their triumph. The next day and night there was a continued uproar of dancing and singing, to notify their joy at these horrible events, during which, the mangled remains of the man were roasted between heated stones, and they eat part of them, and no mistake; for I saw them join in the horrible repast, and was requested to do so likewise, which of course I refused to do, evincing the greatest disgust at their proceedings.”

EvX: Buckley appears to feel some guilt upon relating this incident, because it will reflect badly upon his friends in the minds of his readers:

“Having been rescued from death by starvation, it is only natural that I should, from a feeling of gratitude, desire to save the natives from so great a reproach; but the truth must prevail, and that many of the natives inhabiting this part of the continent of New Holland are cannibals, under particular circumstances, cannot be doubted.” …

“Strange as all these cannibal ceremonies may appear, it is proper to explain, that many are performed out of what they consider respect for the deceased, the cap bones of whose knees, in this instance, after being carefully cleaned, were tied up in a sort of net of hair and twisted bark. Under such circumstances, these relics are carried by the mothers, tied round their necks
by day, and placed under their heads by night, as affectionate remembrancers of the dead. ”

1426857301587Music:

“All those I met with, excepting in times of war, or lamentation, I found to be particularly fond of what they consider music, although they have no kind of instrument except the skin rug, which, stretched from knee to knee, they beat upon, others keeping time with sticks. So passionately attached are they even to this noise, that they often commence in the night, one family setting them on, until at last they one and all become a very jolly set, keeping it up in one continual strain until daylight. I have often wished them and their enchanting enlivening strains on the other side of the Continent, with the queer old conjuror who manages the props already mentioned…”

Life and Death:

“Considering how they are exposed to the weather, it is wonderful how little they suffer from idleness; for, excepting a sort of erysipelas, or scurvy, with which they are sometimes afflicted, they are In general very healthy. I never observed any European contagious disease prevalent, in the least degree; and this I thought strange. There was at one time however, I now recollect, a complaint which spread through the country, occasioning the loss of many lives, attacking generally the healthiest and strongest, whom it appeared to fix upon in preference to the more weakly. It was a dreadful swelling of the feet, so that they were unable to move about, being
also afflicted with ulcers of a very painful kind. ” …

“The natives live to about the same age, generally, as civilized people, some of them, to be very grey-headed. They have an odd idea of death, for they do not suppose that any one dies from natural causes, but from human agencies: such as those to which I have alluded in previous pages of this narrative. The women seldom have more than six children, and not often so many. So soon as they have as many as they can conveniently carry about and provide for, they kill the rest immediately after birth : not to eat them, as may be supposed, but with the idea that, for the sake of both parties, and under such circumstances, death is practical mercy.”

Technology and trade:

“… I must say something about their tomahawks … The heads of these instruments are made from a hard black stone, split into a convenient thickness, without much regard to shape. This they rub with a very rough granite stone, until it is brought to a fine thin edge, and so hard and sharp as to enable them to fell a very large tree with it. There is only one place that I ever heard of in that country, where this hard and splitting stone is to be had. The natives call it karkeen; and say that it is at a distance of three hundred miles from the coast, inland. The journey to fetch them is, therefore, one of great danger and difficulty; the tribes who inhabit the immediate localities being very savage, and hostile to all others. I was told, that it required an armed party of resolute fighting men, to obtain supplies of this very necessary article; so that the tomahawk is considered valuable for all purposes.”

EvX: Constant war makes trade impossible.

In a second incident that, like the Bunyip, appears to be based more in myth than reality, Buckley relates having met the Pallidurgbarrans:

“I had almost forgotten to say, that in my wanderings about, I met with the Pallidurgbarrans, a tribe notorious for their cannibal practices; not only eating human flesh greedily after a fight, but on all occasions when it was possible. They appeared to be the nearest approach to the brute creation of any I had ever seen or heard of; and, in consequence, they were very much dreaded. Their colour was light copper, their bodies having tremendously large and protrubing bellies. Huts, or artificial places for shelter, were unknown to them, it being their custom to lay about in the scrub, anyhow and anywhere. The women appeared to be most unnaturally ferocious, children being their most valued sacrifice. Their brutality at length became so harrassing, and their assaults so frequent, that it was resolved to set fire to the bush where they had sheltered themselves, and so annihilate them, one and all, by suffocation. This, in part, succeeded, for I saw no more of them in my time. The belief is, that the last of the race was turned into a stone, or rock, at a place where a figure was found resembling a man, and exceedingly well executed; probably the figure-head of some unfortunate ship. ”

The Pallidurgbarrans are apparently mythical, (I’ve been able to find rather little about them at all,) and Buckley’s account is given with no particular context connecting it to the rest of the narrative, indicating that it might, indeed, have been made up.

Of course this does not rule out the possibility of the account having some basis in fact–perhaps they are a tribe known more popularly under another name–though it seems unlikely that Buckley himself ever actually encountered them.

The story is actually a very common mythic trope–the woods (or swamps) are filled with sub-humans who engage in various acts seen as evil by their neighbors, such as cannibalism, incest, rape (carrying off women from nearby tribes,) etc. For example, the aboriginal people of Taiwan have a festival that commemorates a tribe of “dark-skinned pygmies” which they claim to have wiped out 400+ years ago for being too friendly with their women. Folks on the isle of Flores, Indonesia, speak of the Ebu Gogo–literally, “grandmother who will eat anything.” Wikipedia recounts:

The Nage people believe that the Ebu Gogo were alive at the time of the arrival of Portuguese trading ships in the 17th century, and some hold that they survived as recently as the 20th century, but are now no longer seen. The Ebu Gogo are believed to have been hunted to extinction by the human inhabitants of Flores. They believe that the extermination, which culminated around seven generations ago, was undertaken because the Ebu Gogo stole food from human dwellings, and kidnapped children.[4]

An article in New Scientist (Vol. 186, No. 2504) gives the following account of folklore on Flores surrounding the Ebu Gogo: The Nage people of central Flores tell how, in the 18th century, villagers disposed of the Ebu Gogo by tricking them into accepting gifts of palm fiber to make clothes. When the Ebu Gogo took the fiber into their cave, the villagers threw in a firebrand to set it alight. The story goes that all the occupants were killed except perhaps for one pair, who fled into the deepest forest, and whose descendants may be living there still.

Europeans, of course, have their child-snatching fairies and man-eating trolls, and we Americans have our “the woods are full of creepy serial killers” horror-movie trope.

We’ll continue next week!

Anthropology (yes!) Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years a wanderer amongst the Aborigines…

William Buckely
William Buckely

Hey everyone, today we are reading The Life and Adventures of William Buckley: 32 years a wanderer amongst the Aborigines of the then unexplored Country Bound Port Phillip, the province of Victoria. (That is a long title.)

Buckley, a British soldier caught stealing a bolt of cloth, was shipped out to their penal colony in Australia, ran away to the bush, nearly died, and was rescued by the Aborigines, who taught him how to live off the land. He lived with them for 32 years (from 1804 through 1835,) without sight nor sound of another Englishman, and had likely given up hope of ever returning to civilization when colonists finally arrived in the area. In 1852 he dictated his life’s adventures to John Morgan, who wrote the book, and wow is it Hobbesian.

We’ll start with Buckley’s first encounter with the Aborigines:

Approximate location of Buckley's wanderings
Approximate location of Buckley’s wanderings

“…I thought I heard the sound of human voices; and, on looking up, was somewhat startled at seeing three natives standing on the high land immediately above me. They were armed with spears, and had opossum skins thrown over their shoulders, partially covering their bodies. Standing as they did, en an elevated position, armed too, and being myself totally defenceless, I confess I felt alarmed … They were however soon upon my track, and shouting what I considered to be a call for me to come out, I resolved to do so; indeed I could not have remained there long on account of the water.

“With but faint hopes of meeting with good treatment at their hands, I crawled out from my shelter, and surrendered at discretion. … After seizing both my hands, they struck their breasts, and mine also, l making at the same time a noise between singing and crying: a sort of whine, which to me sounded very like premeditated mischief. Pointing to my hut, they evinced a desire to examine it, so we entered. … One made up a large fire, another threw off his rug and went into the sea for crayfish, which, on his return, he threw alive into the flames, at the same time looking at me with an expression as much as to intimate that they intended to grill me next, by way of a change of diet. I can afford to smile, and even laugh now at the recollection; but, at the time, I assure the reader, I was by no means satisfied with the prospect before me, or with my visitors. At length my suspense ended, by their taking the fish, fairly dividing them, and handing to me the first and best portion.”

EvX: In his defense, the Aborigines in the area did practice cannibalism, though I think of the ritual variety.

Buckley parts ways with his new acquaintances, nearly dies of thirst, then encounters some more Aborigines:

Buckley's escape from the convict ship and discovery by the Aborigines, by Tommy McRae, Aborigine artist
Buckley’s escape from the convict ship and discovery by the Aborigines, by Tommy McRae, Aborigine artist

“Whilst searching for the gum already mentioned, I was seen by two native women, who watched me unperceived. … Presently they all came upon me unawares, and seizing me by the arms and hands, began beating their breasts, and mine, in the manner the others had done. After a short time, they lifted me up, and they made the same sign, giving me to understand by it, that I was in want of food. The women assisted me to walk, the men shouting hideous noises, and tearing their hair. When we arrived at their huts, they brought a kind of bucket, made of dry bark, into which they put gum and water, converting it by that means into a sort of pulp. This they offered me to eat, and I did so very greedily.

Artist's interpretation of Buckley's apperance
Artist’s interpretation of Buckley’s apperance

“They called me Murrangurk, which I afterwards learnt, was the name of a man formerly belonging to their tribe, who had been buried at the spot where I had found the piece of spear I still carried with me. They have a belief, that when they die, they go to some place’ or other, and are there made white men, and that they then return to this world again for another existence. They think all the white people previous to death were belonging to their own tribes, thus returned to life in a different colour. In cases where they have killed white men, it has generally been because tkey imagined them to have been originally enemies, or belonging to tribes with whom they were hostile. In accordance with this belief, they fancied me to be one of their tribe who had been recently killed in a fight, in which his daughter had been speared also. …

Wathaurong people, from the tribe Buckley joined
Wathaurong people, from the tribe Buckley joined

“I remained with them all that night, but in great anxiety, not knowing their intentions; I thought several times of endeavoring to make my escape, but in my weak state, it was impossible. The women were all the time making frightful lamentations and waillings–lacerating their faces in a dreadful manner. All this increased my anxiety and horror, which was added to in J the morning, When I saw the frightful looking demons they had made themselves. They were covered with blood from the bounds they had inflicted, having cut their faces and legs into ridges, and burnt the edges with fire sticks sticks. …”

EvX: Once Buckley learned their language, he figured out that all of this lamenting was for “his” sake, since they believed him to be their family member whose death they were still sad about, and whom they thought had returned from the dead after suffering such horrible traumas that he had clearly lost his memory, forgotten how to speak their language, and become a half-starved idiot who didn’t know how to gather food.

Once the mourning ends, there proceeds a great deal of singing, dancing, and celebration:

“The reader, in these colonies, will be aware that what I had witnessed was nothing more than a great Corrobberree, or rejoicing, at my having come to life again, as they supposed. After eating some roots I lay down by the side of my new friends, and although so recently highly exited, yet I enjoyed a sleep undisturbed by dreams, either of the past, the preset, or the future.”

r331409_1494994EvX: So Buckely is basically “adopted” into the Wathaurong tribe, taking the place of the dead man everyone believes him to be. “His” sister and brother-in-law take charge of him, making sure he has food and water, teaching him to hunt and speak, etc.

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia page on the Wathaurong people doesn’t say much about their traditional culture or lifestyle beyond:

Wathaurong, also called the Wathaurung and Wadawurrung, are an Indigenous Australian tribe living in the area near Melbourne, Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. They are part of the Kulin alliance. The Wathaurung language was spoken by 25 clans south of the Werribee River and the Bellarine Peninsula to Streatham. They were sometimes referred to by Europeans as the Barrabool people. They have inhabited the area for at least the last 25,000 years, with 140 archaeological sites having been found in the region, indicating significant activity over that period.

Personally, I am extremely skeptical of any group sticking around in the same spot for 25,000 years, but I’m not in the mood to go hunting down the relevant archaeological journals to see if someone has proved conclusively how to distinguish Wathaurong artifacts from those of their neighbors and that those same artifacts were being produced in the area 25,000 years ago (or someone could dig up an ancient skeleton and test its DNA to see who it matches.) Regardless, someone was living there.

From here the book is dominated by accounts of violence, eg:

“in the mean time, the women behind the huts were all fighting with clubs and sticks. Presently the men, excepting the two with me, rushed toward them, in order to separate the combatants, after which they brought roots which they roasted and offered me. What the fight was about I could not understand, but think it must have originated in the unfair division of the food.”

“At break of day, I heard a great noise and talking; at length I saw that a quarrel had ensued, for they began to flourish their spears as a token of hostilities I should here observe, that these spears are very formidable weapons, about twelve feet long, sharp at one end; others are about half that length, being made of a kind of reed with pointed sticks joined to them; these are sharpened with hard cutting stones, or shells. …

“After a little time, and a great deal of challenging bluster, the two tribes commenced fighting in reality. When my relations, for so for convenience, I suppose, I must sometimes call them, saw what was going on, they led me a short distance off, where they remained
with me, looking at the conflict. It was any thing but play work–it was evidently earnest. One man was speared through the thigh, and removed into the bush, where the spear was drawn, A woman of the tribe to which I had become attached, was also speared under the arm, and she died immediately. At last peace was restored, and the parties separated, except about twenty of the tribe to which the woman belonged who had been killed…”

“we left this place, and joined a friendly tribe, about fifty in number, and on the evening of our meeting had a Corrobberree. The next day we all started together to meet another tribe; but on joining, from some cause or other, they quarrelled, commenced fighting, and two boys were killed. I could not then understand what all these quarrels were about, but afterwards understood that they were occasioned by, the women having been taken away from one tribe by another, which was of frequent occurrence. At other times they were caused by the women willingly leaving their husbands, and joining other men, which the natives consider very bad.”

“After the skirmish just mentioned was over, the tribe to whom the boys belonged retired farther into the bush, when we made our huts, as I have described, with boughs and bark. Suddenly in the night, the others came upon our party and drove us away. The bodies of the two boys who were killed were laying in one of the huts, so they cut off their legs and thighs, carrying them away; the remains of their bodies our people burned in the usual manner…”

“On our arrival at the battle ground, about twenty miles distant, we found five different tribes all collected together, and ready for action. The fight commenced immediately, and it lasted about three hours, during which three women were killed, for, for strange to say, the females in these quarrels generally suffered the most. These continual contests alarmed me, for the contending parties were always pointing toward me, as if I had been their origin, and I again began to think I should be sacrificed as a peace offering. Quiet was at length restored, and the tribe we had joined separated from the others, and came toward where I was standing. ”

Waddies made by the Aranda people (wikipedia)
Waddies (Aboriginal war clubs) made by the Aranda people

“we were unexpectedly intruded upon by a very numerous tribe, about three hundred. Their appearance, coming across the plain, occasioned great alarm, as they were seen to be the Waarengbadawa, with whom my tribe was at enmity. … The women ran with their children into the bush, and hid themselves, and being a living dead man, as they supposed, I was told to accompany them. On the hostile tribe coming near, I saw they were all men, no women being amongst them. They were smeared all over with red and white clay, and were by far the most hideous looking savages I had seen. In a very short time the fight began, by a shower of spears from the contending parties. One of our men advanced singly, as a sort of champion; he then began to dance and sing, and beat himself about with his war implements… Seven or eight of … our opponents, then got up also, and threw their spears at him; but, with great dexterity, he warded them off, or broke them every one, so that he did not receive a single wound. They then threw their boomerangs at him, but he warded them off also with ease. After this, one man advanced, as a sort of champion from their party, to within three yards of him, and threw his boomerang, but the other avoided the blow by falling on his hands and knees, and instantly jumping up again he shook himself like a dog coming out of the water. At seeing this, the enemy shouted out in their language “enough,” and the two men went and embraced each other. After this, the same two beat their own heads until the blood ran down in streams over their shoulders.

“A general fight now commenced, of which all this had been the prelude, spears and boomerangs flying in all directions. The sight was very terrific, and their yells and shouts of defiance very horrible. At length one of our tribe had a spear sent right through his body, and he fell. On this, our fellows raised a war cry, on hearing which, the women threw off their rugs, and each armed with a short club, flew to the assistance of their husbands and brothers; I being peremptorily ordered to stay where I was, my supposed brother’s wife remaining with me. Even with this augmentation, our tribe fought to great disadvantage, the enemy
being all men, and much more numerous.

“As I have said in the early part of this narrative, I had seen skirmishing and fighting in Holland; and knew something therefore, of what is done when men are knocking one another about with powder and shot, in real earnest, but the scene now before me was much more frightful, both parties looking like so many devils turned loose from Tartarus. Men and women were fighting furiously, and indiscriminately, covered with blood; two of the latter were killed in this affair …

“Soon after dark the hostile tribe left the neighbourhood, and, on discovering this retreat from the battle ground, ours determined on following them immediately, leaving the women and
myself where we were. On approaching the enemy’s quarters, they laid themselves down in ambush until all was quiet, and finding most of them asleep, laying about in groups, our party rushed upon them, killing three on the spot, and wounding several others. The enemy fled precipitately, leaving their war implements in the hands of their assailants and their wounded to be beaten to death by boomerangs, three loud shouts closing the victors triumph.”

EvX: After a while I got tired of recording battles and decided just to count them:

Fights: 34
Deaths: 60

I can’t promise that I caught 100% of them; some sections of the book were badly scanned and hard to read. Also, the numbers only reflect the deaths Buckley specifically reported. In instances where he merely said something like “a few people died,” or “many people died,” I recorded only that a fight had occurred, not deaths. So the real death toll must actually be much higher than my accounting.

To be fair, these occurred over the course of 32 years, but Buckley began trying to avoid fights later in the book, so there may have been many more fights his tribe was involved in that didn’t make it into the book.

Consider, for quick comparison, how many people you have personally seen murdered or killed in battle. Chances are none–only 4/100,000 people are murdered in the US every year, and most other Western countries have even lower rates.

Luckily for Buckley, his status as already dead meant that no one thought it worth bothering to kill him again.

Buckley blames the constant warfare on fights over women, but a certain aspect of magical thinking frequently at play in animist religions is also clearly present: any death, even by natural causes, is believed to have been caused by human malice. As I noted back in my previous Anthropology Friday on the Aborigines, they had quite complicated explanations for how someone could have secretly snuck into another tribe’s camp and magically killed them without anyone else noticing. As a result, any death, even by wholly natural causes, could lead to the members of one tribe deciding to exact murderous revenge on another tribe, which would naturally endeavor to return the favor.

In a recent interview, Napoleon Chagnon, the anthropologist famous for studying the Yanomamo, (who are famous for being very violent,) stated:

The important thing that I’ve discovered about the Yanomamö is the answer to the question of a lot of highly educated people in our society who say, “Oh, it would be so wonderful if we could just go back to an earlier time when life was so much simpler, and pleasant, and neighbors cooperated…” And what I found is the further back in time you go, the more that unpleasant things are ubiquitous in your environment. Violence is just around the corner, and wishing for a return to the noble savage past is possibly one of the biggest errors that one might make philosophically. I don’t think life in the state of nature was nearly as pleasant as a lot of people would like it to be.

One example I give from my travels across the United States: I happen to have been invited on a trip into the Grand Canyon by the man who was then Governor of Arizona, Fife Symington, and we had the park ranger, the archeologist for the Grand Canyon area, along with us, and he took us into parts of the Grand Canyon that most tourists don’t see. One of the most astonishing things we saw, Pueblo houses built into the edge of the Grand Canyon, with a 1,000-foot drop below, and these houses were occupied by prehistoric Indians who were so terrified of their neighbors that they’d climb down vines and ropes with their kids on their back, and firewood under their arm, and the day’s catch in their baskets, because they were just terrified of their neighbors. And that’s the way the Yanomamö live. Even the missionaries who have lived among the Yanomamö the longest have pointed out repeatedly to me and other people that these people are terrified of neighbors. It’s like Hobbe’s war of “all against all” in many respects, and Rousseau is way off the mark. …

PINKER:  What about standing back and saying—at some point they must figure this out—”We’re avenging that death, which was caused when they avenged the previous death, and the cycle of violence keeps going on. Is there some way that we can extricate ourselves from this cycle?” Did that thought occur to them? Because they must at some point do the math and realize, well, not every killing could be in revenge.

CHAGNON:  You are asking a profound question here. And the answer to that is best explicated in an incident that happened to me when the Yanomamö began being aware of Venezuelans, for example. It was a territorial capital 200+ miles away, and some of the missionaries sent young guys to the territorial capital to learn practical nursing to come back to the village and treat snake bites, and scratches, and wounds, and things like that, and to give them malaria pills. And they taught them how to use microscopes.

But one of these guys came back and he was just terribly excited when he told me that he discovered policia. I was like, “Well, what’s policia?” “They will grab people and haul them off and put them in these little separate houses, if they do something wrong. And I think we need policia, because my brother killed a man from Iwahikorobateri five years ago, and I’m always worried that the Iwahikorobateri are going to come and kill me, because he’s my brother.” And he thought that if they had law, law would be a good thing. …

PINKER:  So you discovered kind of a Yanomamö Hobbes, who discovered the Leviathan.

CHAGNON:  Right.

We’ll return to both Buckley and Chagnon’s interview (which I must credit with inspiring me to read Buckley’s account) later… Perhaps in Part 2.