In 2004, Indigenous Australians INVOKED an ancient curse on Australian Prime Minister John Howard by ‘pointing the bone’ at the conservative politician to protest against his decision to scrap a top aboriginal body.
Aborigines believe that to point a kangaroo bone at someone is to bring that person ill fortune, and the black magic is strong enough to cause death.
An aboriginal woman dressed in possum skin and traditional tribal makeup confronted Howard on Tuesday after he made a speech in a rural town and pointed a 2.5-cm bone at the politician to place a silent curse on him.
The aboriginal woman, known only as Moopor, was not permitted to speak with the media, in line with aboriginal culture, but the head of the axed aboriginal body said the curse was a message to Howard to heed black Australians.
‘This curse could go two ways, it could enlighten him and lift a mental block that Mr Howard has about indigenous Australians,’ Aborigine Geoff Clark told reporters.
‘Mr Howard can refuse to ignore the message at his own peril and be put under a curse up until the next federal election.’
Howard, who is expected to call an election later this year, dismissed the curse, saying, ‘I will deal with the matter calmly.’
The ceremony of bone pointing is a common ritual for bringing sickness among the [Australian] Arunta. The pointing bone or pointing stick is usually about nine inches in length, pointed at one end, and tipped with a lump of resin at the other.
The stick is endowed with magical power by being ‘sung over,’ that is, curses are muttered over it, such as ‘may your heart be rent asunder’ and ‘may your head and throat be split open.’ On the evening of the day on which the bone has been ‘sung’ the wizard creeps stealthily in the shadows until he can see the victim’s face clearly by the firelight. He then points the bone in the victim’s direction and utters in a low tone the curses with which the stick was endowed earlier in the day.
The victim is supposed to sicken and die within a month at the most. Two men may cooperate in the pointing operation. Spears may also be endowed with magic by ‘singing’ over them. A person who knows that he has been injured, even slightly, with a spear thus prepared will be likely to waste away through fear unless counter magic can be brought to his aid. –from “Primitive Theories of Disease” by Spencer L. Rogers in Ciba Symposia (April 1942)
The expectation that death would result from having a bone pointed at a victim is not without foundation. Other similar rituals that cause death have been recorded around the world. Victims become listless and apathetic, usually refusing food or water with death often occurring within days of being “cursed”.
When victims survive, it is assumed that the ritual was not done faultlessly. The phenomenon is recognized as psychosomatic in that death is caused by an emotional response—often fear—to some suggested outside force and is known as “voodoo death.” As this term refers to a specific religion, the medical establishment has suggested that “self-willed death,” or “bone-pointing syndrome” is more appropriate.
In Australia, the practice is still common enough that hospitals and nursing staff are trained to manage illness caused by “bad spirits” and bone pointing.
The following story is related about the role of kurdaitcha by John Godwin and Ronald Rose:
In 1953, a dying Aborigine named Kinjika was flown from Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory to a hospital in Darwin. Tests revealed he had not been poisoned, injured, nor was he suffering from any sort of injury. Yet, the man was most definitely dying. After four days of agony spent in the hospital, Kinjika died on the fifth. It was said he died of bone pointing.
“Bone pointing” is a method of execution used by the Aborigines. It is said to leave no trace, and never fails to kill its victim. The bone used in this curse either made of either human, kangaroo, emu or even wood. The shape of the killing-bone, or kundela, varies from tribe to tribe. The lengths can be from six to nine inches. They look like a long needle. At the rounded end, a piece of hair is attached through the hole, and glued into place with a gummy resin from the spinifex bush. Before it can be used, the kundela is charged with a powerful psychic energy in a ritual that is kept secret from women and those who are not tribe members. To be effective, the ritual must be performed faultlessly. The bone is then given to the kurdaitcha, who are the tribe’s ritual killers.
These killers then go and hunt (if the person has fled) the condemned. The name, kurdaitcha, comes from the slippers they wear while on the hunt. The slippers are made ofcockatoo (or emu) feathers and human hair—they virtually leave no footprints. Also, they wear kangaroo hair, which is stuck to their bodies after they coat themselves in human blood and they also don masks of emu feathers. They hunt in pairs or threes and will pursue their quarry for years if necessary, never giving up until the person has been cursed.
Once the man is caught, one of the kurdaitcha goes down onto one knee and points the kundela. The victim is said to be frozen with fear and stays to hear the curse, a brief piercing chant, that the kurdaitcha chants. Then, he and his fellow hunters return to the village and the kundela is ritually burned.
The condemned man may live for several days or even weeks. But, he believes so strongly in the curse that has been uttered, that he will surely die. It is said that the ritual loading of the kundela creates a “spear of thought” which pierces the victim when the bone is pointed at him. It is as if an actual spear has been thrust at him and his death is certain.
Kurdaitcha (or kurdaitcha man)
Among traditional Indigenous Australians there is no such thing as a belief in natural death. All deaths are considered to be the result of evil spirits or spells, usually influenced by an enemy. Often, a dying person will whisper the name of the person they think caused their death. If the identity of the guilty person is not known, a “magic man” will watch for a sign, such as an animal burrow leading from the grave showing the direction of the home of the guilty party.This may take years but the identity is always eventually discovered. The elders of the mob that the deceased belonged to then hold a meeting to decide a suitable punishment. A Kurdaitcha may or may not be arranged to avenge them. The practice of Kurdaitcha had died out completely in Southern Australia by the 20th century although it was still carried out infrequently in the North.
The practice, in regard to bone pointing by itself, does continue into modern times albeit very rarely.