Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen":

Beliefs of tribes of Southeast Australia.

The Following are the beliefs of the Kulin as they appear in their legends, and from the statements of surviving Wurunjerri to me. Bunjil, as represented by them, seems to be an old man, the being Ngurugaeta or Headman or the tribe, with his two wives, who were Ganawarra (Black Swan), and his son Binleal, the rainbow, whose wife was the second rainbow which is sometimes visible. Bunjil taught the Kulin the arts of life, and one legend states that in that time the Kulin married without any regard for kinship. Two medicine-men (Wirrarap) went up to him in the Tharangalk-bek, and he said in reply to their request that the Kulin should divide themselves in two parts-'Bunjilon on this side and Waang on that side, and Bunjil should marry Waang and Waang marry Bunjil.'

Another Legend relates that he [Bunjil] finally went up to the sky-land with all his people (the legend says his 'sons') in a whirlwind, which Bellin-bellin (the Musk-crow) let out of his skin bag at his order. There, as the old men instructed the boys, he still remains, looking down on the Kulin. A significant instance of this belief is that Berak, when a boy, 'before his whiskers grew,' was taken by his Kangun (Mother's brother) out of the camp at night, who, pointing to the star Altair with his spear-thrower said: 'See! That one is Bunjil; you see him and he sees you.' This was before Batman settled on the banks of the Yarra river, and is conclusive as to the primitive character of this belief. . . .

Usually Bunjil was spoken of as Mami-Ngata, that is 'Our Father,' instead of by the other name Bunjil.

It is a striking phrase in the legends about him that the human element preponderates over the animal element. In fact, I cannot see any trace of the latter in him, for he is in all cases the old black-fellow, and not the eagle-hawk, which his name denotes; while another actor may be the kangaroo, the spiny ant-eater, or the crane, and as much animal as human. . . .

Among the Kurnai, under the influence of the initiation ceremonies, the knowledge of the being who is the equivalent of Bunjil is almost entirely restricted to the initiated men. The old women know that there is a supernatural being in the sky, but only as Mungan-Ngaua, 'our father.' It is only at the last and the most secret part of the ceremonies that the novices are made aware of the teachings as to Mungan-Ngaua, and this is the only name for this being used by the Kurnai. . . .

The conception of Baiame may be seen from Ridley's statements, and so far as I now quote them, may be accepted as sufficiently accurate. I have omitted the colouring which appears to be derived from his mental bias as a missionary to Blacks. He says that Baiame is the name in Kamilaroi of the maker (from Biai, 'to make or build') who created and preserves all things. Generally invisible, he has, they believe, appeared in human form, and has bestowed on their race various gifts.

The following is a statement of one of the early settlers in the Kamilaroi country, and, I think, gives the Aboriginal ideas of the Baiame free from any tinge derived from our beliefs. If you ask a Kamilaroi man 'Who made that?' referring to something, he replies, 'Baiame deah,' that is 'Baiame I suppose.' It is said that Baiame came from the westward long ago to Golarinbri on the Barwon, and stayed there four or five days, when he went away to the eastward with his two wives. They believe that in some time, he will return again. . . .

The belief in Daramulum, the 'father,' and Biamban, or 'master,' is common to all the tribes who attend the Yuin Kuringal. Long ago Daramulum lived on the earth with his mother Ngalalbal. Originally the earth was bare 'like the sky, as hard as a stone,' and the land extended far out where the sea is now. There were no men or women, but only animals, birds, and reptiles. He placed trees on the earth. After Kaboka, the thrush, had caused a great flood on the earth, which covered all the coast country, there were no people left, excepting some who crawled out of the water on to Mount Dromedary. Then Daramulun went up to the sky, where he lives and watches the actions of men. It was he who first made the Kurningal and the bull- roarer, the sound which represents his voice. He told the Yuin what to do, and he gave them the laws which the old people have handed down from father to son to this time. He gives the Gommeras their power to use the Joias, and other magic. When a man dies and his Tulugal (spirit) goes away, it is Daramulun who meets it and takes care of it. It is a man's shadow which goes up to Daramulun.

It seems quite clear that Nurrundere, Nurelli, Bunjil, Mungan-ngaua, Daramulun, and Baiame all represent the same being under different names. To this may be reasonably added Koin of the Lake Macquarie tribes, Maamba, Birral, and Kohin of those on the Herbert River, thus extending the range of this belief certainly over the whole of Victoria and of New South Wales, up to the eastern bounderies of the tribes of the Darling River. If the Queensland coast tribes are included, then the western bounds might be indicated by a line drawn from the mouth of the Murray River to Cardwell, including the Great Dividing Range, with some of the fall inland in New South Wales. This would define the part of Australia in which a belief exists in an anthropomorphic supernatural being, who lives in the sky, and who is supposed to have some kind of influence on the morals of the natives. No such belief seems to obtain in the remainder of Australia, although there are indications of a belief in anthropomorphic beings inhabiting the sky-land. . . .

This supernatural being, by whatever name he is known, is represented as having at one time dwelt on the earth, but afterwards to ascended to a land beyond the sky, where he still remains,
observing mankind. As Daramulun, he is said to be able to 'go anywhere and do anything.' He can be invisible; but when he makes himself visible, it is in the form of an old man of the Australian race. He is evidently everlasting, for he existed from the begining of all things, and he still lives. But in being so, he is merely in that state in which, the aborigines believe, every one would be if not prematurely killed by evil magic.

A.W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (London, 1904) pp.491-500

Bibliography for this page:

More on Australian Tribes:

More on Supernatural Beliefs:

Books by Mircea Eliade:

Gods, Goddesses and Supernatural Beings | Main Menu | Keyword Search