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Melodies from the Dark Eyes: The Song of Death

Melodies from the Dark Eyes: The Song of Death
Melodies from the Dark Eyes: The Song of Death

In mid-April 1956, in Arnhem Land, Australia, a young aborigine named Lya Wulumu fell sick and was taken by airplane to a hospital in Darwin. He was unable to eat or drink because, although he tried, he could not swallow. There was, however, no apparent cause for his malady. Examinations, including X-rays, blood tests, and spinal taps, revealed nothing unusual.

What was going on in the victim's mind was another matter. He asked an attending Methodist minister to pray for him because, as he said, “me bin sung and me finish.” The singing to which Wulumu referred is a form of ritual execution practiced by his people. In his case a group of women were requested by his mother-in-law to sing him to death, perhaps in reprisal for some taboo that he had broken.

To inaugurate the ritual the women stole Wulumu's spear and throwing stick (woomera) and put them in a ceremonial log. Then they sang the songs that are believed to put the curse of death on the owner of the captured objects. After the singing, his club (nulla nulla) was displayed in a treetop to signify the successful conclusion of the curse. When Wulumu saw the weapon, he knew what had transpired, and when he tried to swallow, he could not.

Wulumu would surely have died had it not been for their on lung. Because of its respiratory support capability he became convinced that the white man's magic was greater than that of his tribe. He was right.


I - John Godwin, Unsolved: The World of the Unknown, p.169

II - The Times (London), August 14, 1956



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