Today only a few tribes of the northern coasts and some of the desert regions are left immune from the influence of the White. But almost everywhere, far from the cities, there are still representatives of the old indigenous tribes who have changed customs and in part their seats: and with the help of the most ancient information it is possible to reconstruct the picture of the original distribution of the tribes. AW Howitt’s work has kept us data on the tribes of southeastern Australia; J. Frazer gave us a map of the tribes of New South Wales; WE Roth has written several memoirs on the Queensland Aborigines; W. Baldwin Spencer made classical studies on the tribes of Central and Northern Australia: while H. Basedow dealt with the region located west of this central area. On the other hand, information on Western Australia is scarce, apart from the information given to us by R. Brown on the culture of the tribes of the extreme west coast. These tribes varied greatly in number of individuals and in importance; the best described are probably the Kurnai of Victoria, the Kamilaroi of New South Wales, the Dieri of South Australia and the Arunta or Aranda of the central region.
According to LIUXERS, Spencer thus describes their general mode of distribution. A tribe is made up of a certain number of individuals who speak the same language and have a defined territory, the borders of which are known to all members of the tribe and recognized by members of other tribes. There is no private property among the central and southern tribes, but there are distinct local groups, each with a leader. Among the Arunta and related tribes of central Australia each local group has a sacred place, often a crack or a cave among the rocks, where the sacred churinga (or tjurunga) are placed, that is the “rhombuses” (bull – roarers ; cf. p. following), guarded by the group leader. No one can enter the territory of another local group of his own tribe without asking for their consent, nor would members of one tribe ever venture as friends to the territory of another tribe without having some sort of passport received from a herald. However, neighboring tribes are sometimes more or less united, such as the Dieri, the Arunta and the Warramungas, who associate for initiation ceremonies, or when there is a special abundance of food. According to WB Spencer, almost every tribe is divided into two halves or classes: a man of one class marries a woman of another; their children, if in a tribe of female descent, pass to the class of the mother, if of male descent, to that of the father. There are therefore two major divisions in the Australian tribes: a) that with male descent, where the classes are still divided into subclasses; b) the one with female descent, where sometimes there are classes and sometimes not.
In Angledool, in northern New South Wales, Taylor collected the rules of the Kamilaroi unions (the names differ from those reported by Howitt who perhaps heard them further south). The two classes are called Kupathin, that is, those which have the emu as their totem (see totemism); and Dilbi who have the porcupine as their totem: each class is divided into two sub-classes and for each of these there are two names, one for males, the other (indicated here in brackets) for females:
The lineage is fixed as follows: if, for example, a Hibbai man marries a Gabbutha woman of the other class, the children are called Murri and Madtha and belong to the mother’s other sub-class. Kombo and Madtha’s children would be Gubbi and Gabbutha.
Let us now consider a tribe with male descent, such as the Warramungas of the Northern Territory, described by Spencer. Here a man of 1 to bride a column of two women at the same level, and the children are shown in the 3rd column:
The children of a Thapanunga are Thapungarti, of a Tjupila are Thakomara, etc., so that we have an indirect male ancestry. Spencer points out that these provisions prevent marriages between relatives; the last type prevents them among cousins, the first among brothers and sisters. But the European-type family, founded on consanguinity, is unknown to them. The line dividing the tribes of male descent (in the west) from those of female descent (in the east) runs approximately from the southern part of the Gulf of Carpentaria to the tip of the Eyre Peninsula.
According to Spencer totemism (v.) Is undoubtedly older than exogamy (marriage outside the group). Every indigenous person in the center or north believes that he is a direct descendant of some animal or plant or natural object. Marriage between members of the same totemic clan is usually prohibited, but this was probably not the case in antiquity. Totem poles can be inherited from parents or from some special ancestor. In certain tribes some may possess various totems, one having been given to them at birth, one at initiation and another being that of their group. In general, one refrains from eating (or injuring) one’s totem, but often the primitive function of totemism was to ensure, with magic, the abundance of the object that gave the group its name (Howitt). The Frazer believes that such magic also rendered them immune to natural hazards. Each tribe possesses an infinite variety of objects that can figure as totems, and any one of these can be the root cause of a separate cult or sacred ceremony; ceremonies take the form of worship or prayer for the greater productivity of a given plant or beast.