January 1, 1967
A paper discussing the types of cannibalism in Australia is full of interesting stories, but it's interesting that "Human meat had always been their favourite food" and this is in a continent where all other large animals high in fat have gone extinct.
Some Notes on Cannibalism Among Queensland Aborigines, 1824-1900 by E. G. Heap, B.A.
The purpose of these notes is to endeavour to throw some light on the prevalence or otherwise of cannibalism among Queensland Aborigines in the Nineteenth Century, and by a search of available publications and archival material to make a comparative study of Queensland practices against a background of cannibalistic practices in other parts of the world. In the first place it is necessary to define what cannibalism is; there being held in some quarters a sort of folk belief — which is exempUfied in the typical Ulustrated "joke" showing cannibals preparing to feast on a fat big game hunter ^—that a good deal of cannibalism involved the eating of Europeans by the dark races: where writers such as Thorne i, Simpson 2, and Basedow ^ contended that the only real cannibalism was gustative cannibalism, the eating of human flesh for food. Thus common concepts of cannibaUsm involve mainly the eating of human flesh with reUsh, as the Nineteenth Century 'Feejeeans' ^ and Maoris ^ used to do; and quite frequently also the eating of Europeans by coloured races, which undoubtedly did occur on some occasions ^: whereas it will be shown that a large number of cannibalistic acts were of a ceremonial nature, and involved the eating of the flesh of fellow tribesmen or members of a neighbouring tribe or tribal group. According to the Oxford EngUsh Dictionary, then, a cannibal — the term was originally the proper name of the man-eating Caribs of the AntUles — is simply "a man that eats human flesh"; while cannibalism is "the practice of eating the flesh of one's fellow creatures". Hogg'^ has pointed out that the overwhelming majority of the world population are flesh-eaters, and also that from the remotest periods of pre-history man has eaten the flesh of his fellows. Herodotus * reported circa 450 B.C. that cannibalism was practised by the Scythians, while in the First Century B.C. Strabo ^ made similar observations about the Irish. In the First Century A.D. the Jewish historian Josephus ^^ recorded acts of cannibalism by some of his compatriots during the Roman siege of Jerusalem. St. Jerome 1°, writing in the Fourth Century, claimed that the moss-troopers on the Scottish border drank the blood of their defeated enemies. In the Nineteenth and during the present century an enormous amount of information on cannibalism was obtained; and the practice was observed in almost every part of the world, except Europe, as an integral part of the accepted social order. Even in Europe, where ethical values have, to a great extent, acted as a block, instances of cannibalism can be gleaned from the historians", and among these are included examples where conditions of extreme hardship have obtained.'^ Button '3 distinguished ten different motives for the eating of human flesh — It may be a matter of piety towards the dead; it may be associated with some doctrine of reincarnation; or it may be actuated by some rather crude philosophy as to the nature of life, life-matter, or soul substance. A cannibal feast may be in the nature of a sacrament; it may be a kind of a judicial proceeding; or it may be merely instigated by anger and a desire for revenge. Human flesh may be eaten, or human blood drunk, merely medicinally, or as a result of exceptional limitation in the matter of diet, or under the dictate of hunger or for pure greed. With regard to cannibalistic acts as practised by Australian Aborigines, R. M. & C. H. Berndt '^ have shown, in a masterly analysis of the principal reports available, that the majority of these acts were of a ceremonial nature. The greatest number of these practices were associated with the pietistic burial ritual; whUst in many instances also the whole or part of the bodies of Aborigines killed in battle were eaten by their enemies. Other instances, were recorded, however, of the eating of the flesh of Aboriginal men, women, and children; and it would be untrue to say that all of these acts were performed from pietistic motives, or out of revenge. It is the intention of these notes to deal broadly with the cannibalistic practices carried out by Australian Aborigines and recorded by observers, to try to draw some conclusions from them and to endeavour to apply these conclusions to Queensland examples drawn from 19th Century observers and archival sources. II. According to R. M. and C. H. Berndt the practice of pietistic burial cannibalism (known also as endo-cannibalism) was very widespread throughout Australia. In many cases the whole of the body, except the bones, intestines, and genitalia, was eaten: however, the Dieri '^ and adjacent tribes of Central Australia ate only the fatty parts of the face, thighs, arms, and stomach. G. M. Sweeney ^^ reported instances of the practice of endocannibalism in Arnhem Land as recently as 1939. McCarthy ^'' concluded that the most important functions and meanings of the whole of the funerary ritual were to assure the subject "that his death is regretted, and in certain circumstances wUl be avenged, that his body will be given traditional treatment, and to ensure that his eternal and immortal spirit will be directed and delivered so far as possible to its proper spirit home". If this is correct, members of the deceased's tribal group would have reason to fear the deceased's spirit if the traditional rites were not observed. In some cases the participants hoped, by partaking of the flesh of the deceased, to increase their strength >*; in others to improve their hunting abiUty.^^ Although not as commonly practised in Australia as burial cannibalism, acts of revenge cannibalism were nevertheless widespread. There again some ceremonial was almost invariably observed. By some tribes all of the body except the bones, intestines and genitalia was eaten; by others, only the flesh of the arms and legs; by others, only that of the hands and the feet; by others, only the kidney fat. Howitt 2° made a distinction between revenge cannibalism and the practice of eating the kidney fat of both enemies and fellow tribesmen for magical reasons. Elsewhere ^^ he stated, however, that the Theddora and Ngarigo ate the hands and the feet of their enemies killed in raids, and in eating them they acquired, as they thought, "some part of their qualities and courage". Bates ^'^ came to similar conclusions after a study of some of the desert tribes Queensland Heritage Page Twenty-fivf of Western Australia. This belief, however, was in direct contrast to that of the Maoris of New Zealand as recorded by Thomson ^^ ; It is erroneous to suppose that cannibalism was practised under the conviction that the strength and courage of the person eaten passed into the body of the eater. No man ever coveted the qualities of those he hated. Howitt's account 23 of the killing and eating by members of the Mukjarawaint tribe of the flesh of the thighs and upper arms of an Aborigine who eloped with a member of his own totem is surely an example of judicial, rather than revenge, cannibalism. R. M. & C. H. Berndt 24 concluded that the practice of killing the very young seemed to have been carried out occasionally over almost all Aboriginal AustraUa, but that infanticide was not invariably followed by eating the flesh. Howitt 25 found instances where young children were eaten by members of the Kaura tribe near Adelaide during hard summers; and where the flesh of young children of the Wotjobaluk tribe was eaten by their elder brothers and sisters to make them strong.26 He reported also 2? that all the tribes of the Wotjo nation and on the Murray River frontage used at times, when an older child was weak and sickly, to kill its infant brother or sister and feed it on the flesh. Bates 2« also recorded examples of the practice of infant cannibalism by the desert tribes of South and Western AustraUa. Thomas 2^ recorded a case on the Gascoigne River in Western Australia where an Aboriginal girl was killed and eaten by a native who decoyed her away. "She was very plump; the object of killing her was to acquire this desirable quality". Bleakle> ^^ also referred to "rare cases .. . of the killing and eating of a young girl on a special ritual occasion"; but his information is not documented. Bates ^"^ wrote of the Kaalurwonga east of the Boundary Dam who killed and ate fat men, women, and girls. Elsewhere she stated ^°^ that "wanton women in any camp" (i.e., among the West Australian desert tribes) could be lawfully killed and eaten, and this may be a key to the motivation for some cannibalistic practices of this nature. Instances of the eating of human flesh by Australian Aborigines solely for food were much rarer than those of endo-cannibalism or revenge cannibalism. Thomas ^' stated that "some blacks kUl only to eat" but did not provide any documentation for this observation. Bates ^2 reported the hunting and sharing of kangaroo and human meat by the Koogurda on the South Australian-West Australian border. Elsewhere ^^ she wrote of the terrible Dowie, who when a boy was given the flesh of four baby sisters to eat, after which "he developed a taste for human food that grew and strengthened with his years". He "brought home many human bodies, for he would stalk game in murderer's slippers, and he loved the flesh of man, woman, and chUd". After reading of some of Dowie's actions, however, one feels that this human monster was not typical of the Aborigines of the area: but there is no gainsaying that the cannibalistic acts ^'^ described hereunder by Bates contain elements of compulsive cannibalism and differ from typical acts of simple revenge cannibalism. I use the word cannibal advisedly. Everyone of these natives was a cannibal. Cannibalism had its local name from Kimberley to Eucla, and through all the unoccupied country east of it, and there were many grisly rites attached thereto. Human meat had always been their favourite food, and there were killing vendettas from time immemorial. In order that the killing should be safe, murderers' slippers or pads were made, emu-feathers twisted and twined together, bound to the foot with human hair, on which the natives walk and run as easily as a white man in running shoes, their feet leaving no track. Dusk and dawn were the customary hours for raiding a camp. Victims were shared according to the law. The older men ate the soft and virile parts, and the brain; swift runners were given the thighs; hands, arms, and shoulders went to the best spear throwers, and so on. . . And what of the killing and eating of white settiers by Aborigines? Although the latter would have had every reason to avenge themselves against the early explorers and settlers for invading their tribal territories — and often did so — instances of this type of cannibaUsm were comparatively rare. Lumholtz ^^ however, wrote of a white policeman in Victoria who was felled with clubs by Aborigines, who then removed his kidneys, presumably for the purpose of eating the fat, but unfortunately, no further details of this incident were supplied. Bates ^^ recorded one instance of cannibaUsm at a white man's expense, a shepherd . . . found dead in the country to the westward, with his thigh cut away. In addition white men were said to have been killed and eaten by Aborigines in the "spinifex qountry". Ill Here then is the background for an examination of writings and records about Nineteenth Century cannibalism among the Aborigines of what is now the State of Queensland. From this Australian pattern, it may be possible to make a binary classification of cannibalistic practices according to motivation into non-physical and physical, vide Figure 1.
Although it may provide a superficial analysis, the above dichotomy is not entirely satisfactory. The motivation for the acts of revenge cannibalism reported by Howitt may have been hatred for the fallen enemy and exultation at his downfall 2"; or a belief that the participants were acquiring some of the courage of the deceased.21 And what of the cannibaUstic acts of Bates's "slippered murderers"? -^'* There was hatred, and exultation, there was the belief in the existence of certain magical qualities: there was also the taste for human flesh that the desert tribes had acquired over the centuries. And what of the killing and eating of wanton women as recorded by Bates 30b 7 Was the reason for these practices purely judicial or was there also present a belief that in eating the fliesh of the victim, they were acquiring the same desirable quality (i.e. plumpness) as was coveted by Thomas's 2^ Gascoigne River Aborigine? For infantile cannibalism during hard seasons 25 the motivation may have been primarily dietetic: if practised in order to increase the strength 26 of the deceased's brothers and sisters the motivation would have been partly a belief in magic: or again, the participants in many acts of this nature may have been actuated partially by a belief that they were absorbing the life substance of the chUd (See below ^^). The above-recited examples demonstrate that it is not easy to pattern the cannibalistic practices of the Aborigines, and impossible to segregate them into mutually exclusive categories. As might be expected from the Australian pattern, burial cannibalism was the form most commonly practised in what is now the State of Queensland, over a dozen reports of this practice Page Twenty-six Queensland Heritage having been easily located from the Eighteen Twenties to the Eighteen Nineties.^* The occasions varied from Aborigines killed in tribal fights, in resisting a trooper, or in a brawl with a white settler, to corpses (in the case of the Kalkaduns of the head waters of the North Leichhardt) of "friend or foe, old or young, even in cases where the flesh was visibly rotten with venereal disease". Instances of the acts of revenge cannibalism in the southern part of the survey area are not nearly as common as might be expected from a study of the Australian scene. In fact Davis (Duramboi) ^^ reported that the bodies of enemies killed in battle were not eaten in the district of Moreton Bay. On the other hand, Beardmore, who took up Tiaro in the Maryborough District shortly after the killing of Eames's men on that run, described in his reminiscences '^o how one Minni Minni, a Fraser Island Aborigine, was killed and eaten by his (Beardmore's) Aboriginal shepherds, who were Minni Minni's inveterate enemies. Further north Carstensz ^^ saw definite signs of cannibalistic practices on the eastern shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria as early as 1623. The fact that the burial ritual had not been completed would appear to show that the motive was revenge. Frank Jardine "^2 while at Parallel Creek in 1864, and Mulligan ^^ in the Lynd Valley in 1875, made simUar discoveries. Dalrymple,*^^ too, saw "unmistakable evidence of wholesale habitual cannibaUsm" in Aborigines' camps during his expedition along the "North-East Coast" in 1873. Lumholtz ^4 reported that a "stranger" who dared to trespass was "pursued like a wild beast and slain and eaten". Gribble''^ recounted how, early in 1892, Aborigines at Leper Bay kiUed and ate during a corroboree three "cannibals", who were from another tribal group, and who they feared menaced their safety. Roth '^^ recorded that in former times enemies were killed and eaten on the Lower Tully River. The utilization of kidney fat in the belief that it conferred magical qualities on the recipient seems to have been practised in both the northern and southern halves of the survey area. In the Maryborough district, after the flesh had been eaten, the kidney fat was rubbed on the points of spears and the kidneys themselves affixed thereon to make the spears more deadly.'*'' Mrs K. Emmerson'*^, now residing at Chinchilla, relates that when she was Uving near the Bowen River in 1908, an Aboriginal employee of her father was kUled by members of a local tribal group and his kidney fat eaten. An instance was reported *^ in the wild country between the headwaters of the Herbert and Burdekin Rivers as recently as 1934. In fact fat in general was highly regarded for its magical powers. Howitt ^^ recorded how Aborigines of the "Turrbal tribe" rubbed it over their bodies; Thomas ^^ that it was rubbed on the faces of the "principal medicine men". Duramboi left behind an account 52 of how an Aborigine would hold a receptacle under his portion of flesh in order to catch the melting fat, which he then imbibed. Lumholtz'3 reported that the Aborigines of the Herbert River were fond of the fat of a dead foe, which is not only eaten as a delicacy and as a strengthening food, but is also carried as an amulet. A small piece is done up in grass and kept in a basket worn around the neck, and the effect of this is, in their opinion, success in the chase, so that they can easily approach the game. The practice of eating the flesh of the very young followed the same general pattern in the survey area as in the rest of Australia. Writing of his sojourn in the Maroochy and Noosa areas in the Eighteen Sixties, Thorne '4 recorded instances of the killing and eating of young female Aboriginal and halfcaste children. In one instance he was informed, "It was always crying, and was not a boy". One concludes from reading Thorne that infant cannibalism was most likely to take place in this area during a wet season, when game was scarce. Roth ^5, Kennedy 57, and Lumholtz'^ showed that the practice was observed in the inland areas of Queensland during the Eighties and Nineties when food was in short supply. Rudder ^^ noted instances of the practice in the Maryborough district in the Eighteen Sixties, the Aborigines believing that the spirit of the child went back to the mother. "Mother altogether got 'im". This supports the belief that even when infantile cannibalism was practised during hard seasons a certain ritual was observed and the motivation was not wholly dietetic. Reports are at variance concerning the killing and eating of fully grown Aborigines in the survey area for dietetic reasons. Both Russell ^9 and Brough Smyth ^ stated that during the 'Bunya Bunya' season the Aborigines' craving for flesh was so intense that they were impelled to kill one of their number in order that their appetites might be satisfied. These statements were corroborated by Colin McKenzie Fraser of the Kenilworth Run, when giving evidence in 1861 before a Select Committee on the Native Police Force and the condition of the Aborigines generally.^i 45. Then, in fact, you have no doubt that the practice of cannibalism prevails? I have not the slightest doubt in my mind. 46. Do you know how they select a particular individual? Well, he is selected by a few; they pitch upon him, and on the first opportunity they get him off his guard, and knock him on the head. . . On the other hand Howitt ^2 quoted both Petrie and Aldridge as stating that the idea of 'flesh hunger' during the bunya season "was absurd". One wonders, in view of Petrie's and Aldridge's denials, what would be the source of food supply for such a large body of Aborigines at the end of a bunya season, when much of the local fauna would have been driven away, especially — as would sometimes be the case in this area — if the onset of a rain period with its concomitant scarcity of game coincided with the last days of the bunya season. Writing of "North West Central Queensland", Roth stated that native people were kUled and eaten if in good condition, numerous instances having been related by Aborigines as having occurred in the early days. He could find no instance in that area, however, "where any adult, male or female had been killed for the sole purpose of providing a repast".^^ x^g same writer, on the other hand, recorded instances of cannibalism among the Bloomfield River Aborigines "since 1885" when impelled by hunger. He also reported exceptional instances of "killing to eat" on the part of the 'scrub blacks' of the Lower Tully River. Lumholtz ^'^ stated that the Herbert River Aborigines sometimes undertook expeditions for the special purpose of obtaining 'talgoro', — that is, human flesh. Attacks were made before sunrise on small neighbouring groups. Those who did not succeed in escaping were kUled and eaten. Dalrymple's "^^a reference to "wholesale, habitual" cannibalism south of the Endeavour River (see col. 1) renders it possible that at least some of these acts may have been motivated by "flesh hunger". Gribble's ^^ "three old cannibals" at Yarrabah who were wont to pick quarrels with a view to kiUing and eating their opponents also belong to this category. In addition Longman ^ quoted Meston as stating that cannibalism was occasionally welcomed as a change from a vegetable diet. With regard to the killing and eating of young women reported in other parts of Australia by Thomas 2^, Bleakley ^o, and Bates 30a, evidence of this practice in the survey area has been somewhat scarce. Rudder, however, reported that in the Eighteen Sixties, two young Aborigines sought the affections of a young Aboriginal woman in the Maryborough area. Later, one of these Aborigines waylaid and speared her. The two then held a cannibalistic feast, in which they were joined by other Aborigines. Roth ^'^ also recorded instances of killing and eating women, but did not state the age of the victims. According to Queensland Heritage Page Twenty-seven Lumholtz 6^ young women who were caught in 'talgoro' raids by Herbert River Aborigines were spared, but old women were killed and eaten. On the Lower Tully River, a woman could be eaten as a punishment for leaving her husband. An Aborigine "has been known to eat a woman to provoke a quarrel with her father". The former of these two Lower Tully instances is a further example of judicial cannibalism to add to those recorded by Howitt 23 and Bates 30b. There is also C. M. Eraser's evidence ^^ of the killing of women during the bunya season and a reference by Howitt ™ to Curr's report ''i of the kUUng and eating of a woman and a girl at Gobungo. This report was, however, impugned by Petrie, who considered that the woman must have been kUled in a fight. Instances of the kilUng and eating of white people by Aborigmes in the southern part of the survey area have proved dUficult to locate. According to Lang ^2 Gottfried Hausmann, one of the early German missionaries, had a narrow escape from being the first European victim, as while his Aboriginal attackers were endeavouring to effect an entrance to his hut on Burpengary Creek, he learned that they had a fire kindled to roast him, and he heard them observing to one another in their own language, that he was fat and would roast well. In September, 1854, Arthur E. Halloran'^3^ Police Magistrate and Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Wide Bay and Burnett Districts, in a letter to the Attorney-General for New South Wales, reported concerning the death of a man named George Brown about thirty-three miles from Maryborough: I have little doubt that the man Brown was murdered by an Aboriginal named Jimmy alias Billy Boy — that the father, mother, and sister of Billy Boy were present at the murder, and that the body of the unfortunate man was roasted and eaten by the blacks but as the evidence is only circumstantial, I shall be glad to be honored with your instructions in the case for where a black is tried for any offence & acquitted he returns to his District & it has a very bad effect upon the other blacks in the district to which he belongs. In Northern Queensland, the search has not proved so difficult. There was first the brig "Maria" '''* which was wrecked on a reef near Cardwell on 26 February, 1872. Captain Stratman, who with several companions had taken the ship's cutter and deserted the "Maria", landed at Tam O'Shanter Point, near Rockingham Bay, where all but two of them were killed by the Aborigines. These two were located by a shore party from Cardwell who had been searching for survivors. Reaching the scene of the massacre, the shore party found the ashes of Aboriginal cooking fires stiU hot, and portions of clothing, human bones and pieces of human flesh. Six years later the cutter "Riser" "^5 was wrecked on King's Reef in the same area. Sub-inspector of Police Robert Johnstone and party, who were searching for survivors, found the bodies of two of the cutter's crew of three in a native oven. There were traces of fire under the bodies, which had been partially roasted. The flesh had been removed from the thighs and arms of one of the bodies. Corfield ""^ and Meston'''' both recorded the kUling and eating of white men by Aborigines during the Palmer River gold rush days, the former writing of the death of two packers in 1875 and the latter of an attack at Cannibal Creek, where the bones of a speared prospector were found at a fire after he had been the victim of a cannibalistic feast. In all parts of the survey area the first white visitors were regarded as spirits. Yungi, Wunda, Muthara, Mudhere, Makoron, Pirri-wirri-kutchi — these were the Aboriginal names in various localities for spirits or ghosts, and these were the names given to the first European visitors. In the Moreton and Wide Bay Districts, the first white men were regarded with awe by the Aborigines, who in some cases received them back into their tribal groups as being the spirits of deceased ancestors. Finnegan ''^ related how, while visiting the "Pumice-stone River" in company with a tribal group, he attempted to detach himself from an Aboriginal woman in whose care he had been left in order to watch a fight in a specially prepared "pit". She, however, followed me, calling out and weeping; upon which one of the men of our tribe came up to me, and, taking my hand, led me up to the pit. . . The man who had brought me to the pit still continued to hold my hand, and I observed his whole body tremble like an aspen leaf. Within a few years, however, the Aborigines in this area had lost their feelings of awe for these "spirits", and at times, were according them the same hostile treatment as did the northern Aborigines. That more white men were kiUed and eaten in the northern half of the survey area than in the southern portion is due to the fact that revenge cannibalism was practised in the North to a greater degree ''^ than in the Wide Bay and Iviorecon Districts. That Aboriginal attitudes towards early white visitors could vary from tribal group to tribal group even within a small area was evidenced by the diverse treatment accorded to three separate groups of castaways from the "Maria". The men from the "Maria's" cutter were kUled and eaten; those from a small raft were killed, but not eaten; while those who survived the ordeal on a larger raft were treated with extreme kindness, their Aboriginal rescuers weeping sorrowfully on bidding farewell to the castaways. Finally, what was the reason why, when the Aborigines had every justification, according to their own laws, for celebrating the killing of the early white invaders by eating their flesh, the number of white men eaten was exceedingly small in proportion to the total number killed, this being true even in areas where revenge cannibalism was the accepted practice? Alexander Kennedy ^o quoted Inspector Urquhart, of the Native Police, as stating that the Aborigines of the Palmer River area preferred the flesh of Chinese, hundreds of whom were killed when travelling to the goldfields in the Eighteen Seventies, to that of Europeans. Beardmore ^^ of Tiaro put this question to his Aboriginal shepherds. Their reply was "too much salt, like it macon". This was corroborated by Urquhart and Lumholtz *2 in North Queensland, and by Fraser *3 on the Mary River. Bates ^"^ reported the same of the desert tribes of West Australia; it was the same with primitive races elsewhere ^5. They disliked the taste.