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January 2, 1906

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It might be thought that the natural difficulties of securing a good meal were sufficient without any addition of artificial ones ; but this is not the view of the Australian native. Complicated rules, which varied with the tribe, limited the species and parts of the individual animals which were lawful food for boys, young men, girls, married women, and so on.

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The Natives of Australia

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Food Taboos
Pre-civilization races

Important Text:

FOOD TABUS


 It might be thought that the natural difficulties of securing a good meal were sufficient without any addition of artificial ones ; but this is not the view of the Australian native. Complicated rules, which varied with the tribe, limited the species and parts of the individual animals which were lawful food for boys, young men, girls, married women, and so on. In the Wotjoballuk tribe boys might not eat of the kangaroo, padimelon, or young native companion ; until he reaches the age of forty a man may not partake of the tail part of the emu or bustard. In the Bigambul tribe young men might not eat of the female opossum, carpet snake, wild turkey, and so on. Honey from certain trees is also a forbidden sweet. Sometimes the penalty believed to follow the breaking of these rules was nothing more serious than grey hairs ; more often illness, skin diseases, and death were prophesied as the judgment that would overtake the offenders. In the Wakelbura tribe it was believed that the young man or young woman who ate emu, black-headed snake, or porcupine would pine away and die, uttering the cry of the creature which they had eaten, for the spirit of the creature would enter them. 


The origin of these food tabus is very difficult to get at ; but in some cases there can be little doubt that the old men were simply playing for their own hand in imposing them. 


This was not all, for there were superadded complicated rules as to the distribution of the game which a man might kill and enjoy personally. Among the Kurnai a catch of eels might be divided as follows : The fisherman and his wife would take a large eel, his mother's brother a large eel, the children of his mother's brother a small eel, and his married daughter a small eel. If a Ngarego man killed a native bear it would be divided as follows : he himself would take the left ribs, his father the right hind leg, his mother the left hind leg, his elder brother the right and his younger the left foreleg, his elder sister would receive the backbone, the younger the liver, his father's brother the right ribs, his mother's brother a piece of the flank, while the head was sent to the bachelors' camp. In the case of a kangaroo both the father and mother of the hunter would get a large portion, but they would have to share it with their own parents. 


It will be noticed that there is no provision for the children of the man's own family ; this is due to the fact that they are often provided for by their grandparents. The supply of vegetable food obtained by a Kurnai woman belonged to her and her children. Among the Yerkla Mining there was a still more communistic arrangement, for the food was shared equally between the whole camp. There were also rules in many tribes as to property in game ; if a hunter wounded an animal it was his property, if it was finally taken, whether he gave it the coup de grace or not.

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