Chapter 5: Celebration
Copyright© 2010 by Pedant
We had a peaceful family dinner. Patrick was asleep and the four of us were – well, we were just together. Mum hadn't said much about the Evanses, just that they "seemed nice" and made a "lovely couple." Weena had fallen in love with the "cute plane," but dropped the topic when I asked her whether she was going to try to qualify. And none of us knew what to expect tomorrow.
We went to bed and Weena proved again that she was just fine and getting ready to pump out the next Hollister. We hugged for a bit and then I was out.
In the morning I showered and shaved while Weena took care of Patrick. Then I took him into the kitchen while Weena washed and dressed. I was drinking coffee when an unfamiliar pickup pulled in. It was Jimmy and the nungungi. "Good morning," I said. "Will you have coffee? Or would you prefer tea?"
"Hey, Gordy! We'll both have coffee, too sweet, please," said Jimmy.
"I thank you for the photo of your little one. I see he has grown much."
"You are very welcome. His name is Patrick."
"The saint who drove the snakes from Ireland. I don't think Patrick will drive the snakes from Australia."
"No, I think not."
"Oh, hello," said Weena coming in. "I didn't hear you."
"The little Patrick needs to sleep. We did not talk loudly."
"May I ask a question?"
"Of course, Weena-nungungi."
"I am puzzled by your remark about St. Patrick and by your speech."
"In the southwest of Queensland, the missionaries were Lutherans. I went to school till I was 16. They were very good. They hardly beat us. They took being good pastors seriously.
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
"And when I was chosen to be nungungi, I became aware that now I was a pastor. And I care for my flock. And I try to pass on what I have learned. As you do. As Gordy does. As Patrick will do."
"What will you teach tonight?"
"This is not my tribe. I came with Jimmy to the marriage of his friend. And I came to visit Patrick. The head of this band will officiate. I am a spectator, a participant, a witness."
"But Alice? She said the Kullilli had stolen her tribe."
"The Commission did many bad and stupid things. But I will teach that the world requires that we share. The Commission has no more sway over the land than I have over the clouds. The tribes had their lands ten thousand years before the convicts arrived in 1788. And those convicts' children's children think they can tell what the great serpent did. No.
"But I will teach that a tribe losing a woman is a tribe gaining a son. That selling one to another is not the giving of one to another. I will teach that eating till you can eat no more does not mean that you will not be hungry tomorrow. I will tell of the beginning of the story of things that have happened, of how the universe came to be, of how human beings were created and how the creator intended humans to function. And I will speak of guruwari, the seed power deposited in the earth, and how the man places that seed in woman. And we will eat and drink and two tribes will be blessed by the union."
"Jimmy, are you okay? You haven't said anything."
"It's not my place to speak when the nungungi speaks."
"May I hold him?"
"Of course." And Weena gave Patrick to the nungungi. I felt that I was in the midst of something and I didn't know what.
"You are a fine boy. A big and a strong boy." Patrick chuckled. "Here. Take my finger. Take power from it. When you are bigger, you will come and visit me. I know that now your father tells you stories. Later, I will tell you stories he does not know." He handed Patrick back to Weena. "Come, Jimmy! Let's go find Jacky. We'll see you tonight. Weena-nungungi, you will bring Patrick. Thank you for the coffee." And they left.
"What was that about?" asked mum from the doorway.
"I'm not sure," I said. "I'm not sure. In three or four years Patrick may explain it."
"I think he was blessed by a holy man," Weena said. "And he will come tonight to be exposed to one of the mysteries."
At dusk we drove to the band's camp. There was a large fire and I could see that the whole calf was already roasting. Two men were playing djeridoos. The lubras were putting baskets of yabbies near the pyre. There were more folks than there had been in Riverton. A very large gin in a gaudily-flowered dress ran over and hugged me.
"Hello, Meena. It's been too long. This is Weena and this is Patrick." I turned to Weena, "Meena is Jacky's mother."
"So I now Patrick's almost-granny!" she laughed.
"You must be happy today."
"Sure am. Alice good and smart. They'll give me grandkids. You Weena-nungungi? Jacky tol' me about you fixin' Jimmy. Gotta go and cook." And she waddled off.
"Her heart is even larger than her body," I said.
An older man stood up. The djeridoos fell silent. "The band chief," I whispered.
He said a number of things I understood nothing of. Then Meena walked to stand beside him. He said something else. Jacky and Alice stood facing the chief and Meena. For a moment I thought they were nude, then I saw a string at each waist and became aware the each was wearing a 'tassel.'
The pubic tassel is a piece of traditional ritual clothing worn by women around their public region. It is fashioned from string and resembles a very short skirt. A man's tassel is of fur and covers his penis and testicles.
The chief said something and Jacky and Alice turned to face the audience. He said something. Meena said "Yes," and the crowd roared.
He then spoke in English. "Jacky and Alice. You have appeared to us without artificial covers. Jacky, your mother has agreed to take Alice as her daughter. Alice, will you accept the words of the nungungi?"
The nungungi stepped forward. He was wearing a tassel and the skin of a red kangaroo. He was painted in yellow and white, ochre and black. He began to speak, much in line with what he had said in the morning. Then: "Alice, will you take Jacky to be your man?"
"And Jacky, will you take Alice?"
"Weena-nungungi, bring forth Patrick-nungungi-to-be."
Weena moved up front with Patrick. "Look! All of you! There is the oldest among us. Here is the youngest. Will any of you deny Alice and Jacky?" The only noise was the crackling of the fire. "Then I declare that after Saturday they are one to all tribes and one to the government! Let us feast and celebrate!" There were cheers and yells.
"He was really good," Weena said, meaning Patrick.
"He knew it was an important ceremony. His first showing. I hadn't known the nungungi was a kangaroo."
I found myself a bark dish and took a slice of veal and two yabbies and went back to Weena. "Let me shell these and you can eat them. When I've eaten the meat, I'll take Patrick and you can get more and be sociable. When you have eaten, we can leave. We were here as witnesses and as celebrators. Sharing Patrick and sharing their food is really intimate."