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Atninga avenging party
Atninga avenging party, 1901

May 12 Alice Springs:
'All night long in their camp, or rather in one of them about a mile away from ours, we could see their fires blazing brightly and hear them singing. They were engaged in making the queer flaked sticks which they wear when going to fight.' (1 'The activity was the ceremonial preparation for a group of men undertaking a journey one hundred and sixty kilometres northwards to the camp of another tribe. It had been determined that at this camp lived the man responsible for the death of an Arrente man a year before.' (2 'Any death is always due to the evil influence of another person's magic, inevitably resulting in an attempt to discover the offender and to punish him.' (3 'What Spencer had witnessed was the forming of a party of men, called the Atninga, to avenge a death. Soon this group of twenty-eight men left on their journey, carrying only their spears, boomerangs and shields.' (4
Spencer's account continues:
'On the morning of the tenth day after the departure of the Atninga there was suddenly great excitement in the camp, because the watchers on the hills announced that they could see the men returning in the distance.' (5 'There was still considerable anxiety felt, as the men could not be seen distinctly, and it sometimes happens that the avengers, if the enemy gets wind of their coming, return minus one or two of their number. However, on nearer approach it was seen that each man was painted black with charcoal, and had twigs of Eremophila hanging down over his forehead and inserted into the hole through the nasal septum - a sure sign that the atninga had been successful.' (6
(1 Spencer Diary, April-August, 1901, P27
(2 'Wanderings in Wild Australia', p375
(3 'The Native Tribes of Central Australia', pp46-8
(4 'Wanderings in Wild Australia', p377
(5 'Across Australia', p297
(6 'The Northern Tribes of Central Australia', p564
Keywords: aborigines, anthropology, Baldwin Spencer, Walter, cultural preservation, culture, custom, warriors, 1901

Photograph: Atninga avenging party on return. Decorations denote success, Alice Springs, May 1901. Photograph Baldwin Spencer. Reproduced courtesy Museum Victoria
© Museum Victoria
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor