Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

Letter from Spencer to Howitt


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June 15-05

My dear Howitt,

Some few weeks ago I had a letter from Gillen who was then in Adelaide. He told me that the Rev Mr Reuter a Missionary at Koperamana had sent to the Royal Society of S.A. a paper dealing with the 'religious' beliefs of the Dieri. In this he describes the Mura as originally a 'great god' or something of this kind & says that the ceremonies concerned with the Muras are really of the nature of invocations to the same to assist the natives but adds that at the present time the latter do not understand what they really mean. So far as I can gather from Gillen's account Reuter says that the native of the present day performs certain ceremonies which have a significance unknown to the native.

How the Rev. Mr Reuther arrives

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at the conclusion that originally they had a certain special meaning I cannot understand.

Possibly the fact that your friend Mr. Siebert's work was not altogether approved of by the Lutheran authorities may have incited him ^(Mr Reuter) to action in this particular direction.

I would very much like to know whether he has been in communication with a man at Hermannsburg - one of the missionaries there - who has discovered that altjira (or alcheri) is a great god - though as he adds in a letter to Lang - somewhat warily - rather a 'dreaming' one. Seeing that alcheri is the native name for a 'dream' this is not unlikely. Years ago Gillen expostulated with the missionaries for translations "Altjira" or 'Alcheri" by 'God' & now there comes

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a man who questions the natives of the mission station & finds the 'altjira' means 'God'! Such is evidence - but it is quite good enough for Lang.

I am trying at odd intervals to write a kind of popular book on Central Australia including Nat. History, Geography & Ethnology but it takes a lot of writing & time is scarce as we are very busy in the university.

Kind regards to Miss Howitt. I hope you are both well and that you are resting peacefully & comfortably on your well earned laurels.

Yours very sincerely

W. Baldwin Spencer

Rights: State Library of Victoria

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Letter To
Howitt, Alfred William
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State Library of Victoria