Another death-dealing instrument. It consists of a rope or string made from human hair (only the fine hair of the head) that has been taken from hundreds of people, living and dead. It is believed that the minds of these people and their desires, loves, and hatreds are contained in the hair.
The hair is placed lengthwise in two strands, each about a quarter of an inch thick. Each strand is twisted separately with the thumb and forefinger, and rubbed with red ocher mixed with the fat of the wombat, or opossum, or some other animal. This retains the twist of the strand until such time as the performer places it upon his right leg. He sits upon the ground with his legs so doubled at the knees that he is sitting almost or altogether upon his heels. With his right hand he rubs the two strands while holding them in his left hand; in this manner he twists the strands until they form a single twostrand rope, about half an inch or less in thickness and from ten to twelve yards long. The rope is then placed in a bag made of emuskin turned outside in, in order that it will be lying on the feathers. After the hair has been prepared it is allowed to rest for seven days, a period which is considered necessary to bring it into a fit condition to do its work effectively. When one of the elders of a tribe is sick unto death the maker of this thumie asks a brother or a son of the sick one if he will take it to the sick man's bed and place it under his body, and let him lie upon it until he passes from this life into the Spirit Land. Thus his spirit will be absorbed by it.
The brother or son conveys this wish to the dying man, and he gives his consent. He is watched closely. When he feels that he is departing from this world he bids farewell to his loved ones and relatives. Then the rope is wound about him, first at the hips, then round the trunk several times, and up under the arms, then loosely over the back of the neck and head. One end is placed in the dying man's hand, and the other is given to a person standing outside the wurley. Then all wait patiently until the spirit leaves the body.
The rope is left for several weeks twined about the corpse, and by this time the body is putrefied or decomposed.Meantime the thumie has absorbed into itself the strength of the spirit of the departed. The thumie is considered to be sensitive to a wish or a desire on the part of the person who makes use of it, provided that it is cared for and kept warm and dry in the emuskin bag. The act of twining the rope round a dying person who submits to the process is symbolical. When many persons communicate to the hair rope a wish that some one shall give himself up as a victim to the ceremony that will cause death the sacrifice is willingly made without any effort to resist the demand. So it is thought that not only does the spirit assist in capturing a victim, but that in the pursuit it guides the operators through the forest of scrub, over mountaintops, into ferncovered valleys, and across rivers, until they reach their destination. They say they walk on air, and that the spirits have made or caused the air for a foot above the earth to become solid and soft. The air is moving, and they are being carried along with it in a direct line toward their victim.
When the human hair rope is to be used the medicine man will concentrate his mind upon it, and will speak to it as if he were addressing a human being, and will instruct it in what it is required to do. For example, a victim is chosen, say, Kartinyeri, from some tribe upon the Lower Murray. The thumie is taken to a sacred boora ground and stretched to its full length of about twelve yards. Twelve men stand away from it, each holding his spear and waddy, and chanting the song of hate and revenge. When the song is finished they will dance round the thumie, using words requesting it not to fail them in their mission. After singing and dancing thus for half a day they return to their wurleys and rest for the night, without a thought of the victim. On the following morning about sunrise the medicineman goes to the boora ground, and makes a clear space, free from grass, sticks, and stones.
He then makes a mound of the length of a man, and marks or draws as accurately as possible the figure of the victim, its feet toward the east and its head toward the west. He then returns to the camp and informs the other men that preparations have been made for another sacred dance. This is done in order that the hair may obtain even greater power as a spell. The twelve men go again to the boora-ground, and before performing the rites they paint their bodies with pipeclay and red ochre. The women, young men, girls, and boys are forbidden to come near the boora-ground, or within sound of the chanting of the elders of the tribe who are assisting the the performers. The elders sit in a circle about thirty feet in diameter, and the effigy of the victim is in the centre. A stake about five feet long is planted at or between the feet of the effigy. To this the thumie is tied. The rope is then laid along the body, and at the head it is tied to another stake which has been driven firmly into the earth. Then the rope is passed on to another stake, which is placed thirty feet due west beyond the head.
When everything is ready the elders, at a signal given by the medicine-man, chant in unison the death-song. " Let thy breath leave thy body. Thy day has already faded in the western sky." This is addressed to the effigy of the victim on the ground.
- Smith, W. Ramsey. (1932). Myths and legends of the Australian Aboriginals. New York: Farrar & Rinehart Publishers, pp. 189-190.