The Arunta


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When starting on an avenging expedition or atninga, every man of the party drinks some blood, and also has some spurted over his body, so as to make him what is called uchuilima—that is, lithe and active. The elder men indicate from whom the blood is to be drawn, and the men so selected must not decline, though the amount drawn from a single individual is often very great; indeed, we once saw so much blood taken from a young, strong man that he dropped down from sheer exhaustion.

In addition to the idea of strengthening the recipient, there is the further important belief that this partaking together of blood prevents the possibility of treachery. If, for example, an Alice Springs party wanted to go on an avenging expedition to the Burt country, and they had with them in camp a man of that locality, he would be forced to drink blood with them, and, having partaken of it, would be bound not to aid his friends by giving them warning of their danger. If he refused to drink the blood, then, as actually happened in one case known to us, his mouth would be forced open and blood poured into it, which would have just the same binding influence as if the drinking had been a voluntary one.

Blood drinking is also associated with special meetings of reconciliation which sometimes take place between two groups who have been on bad terms with one another without actually coming to a fight. In this instance the group which is supposed to have suffered the injury sends a messenger to the old men of the offending group, who says, "Our people want you to come and have a friendly fight." This peculiar form of meeting is called umbirna ilirima, which means "seeing and settling (things)." If the offending group be willing, which they are almost sure to be, then the meeting is held, and at the commencement each party drinks the blood of its own members, and a more or less sham fight takes place with boomerangs, no one being any the worse.

When a young man for the first time takes blood from another man, the latter becomes for a time tabu to him, until he chooses to release the young man from the intherta, or ban of silence, by singing over his mouth.1

1Spencer, B.n/an/an/an/an/a, and F.J.Gillenn/an/an/an/a, , 2: 482–483 (The Macmillan Company. By permission).


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Chicago: "The Arunta," The Arunta in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023,

MLA: . "The Arunta." The Arunta, Vol. 2, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , 'The Arunta' in The Arunta. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from