Storytracking includes engaging accounts of many of the colorful figures involved in the nineteenth-century development of Central Australia, and it is an argument for a multiperspectival theory of history. It presents descriptions of an important aboriginal culture--the Arrernte--and it critically examines ethnography. It exposes the colonialist underbelly of all modern academic culture study, yet it embraces the situation as one of creative potential outlining an interactivist epistemology with which to negotiate the classical alternatives of objectivism and subjectivism. Gill presents an examination of the emergent academic study of religion focused on two exemplary scholars--Mircea Eliade and Jonathan Smith--offering a play theory of religion as the basis for innovative critical discussions of text, comparison, interpretation, the definition of religion, academic writing style, and the role of "the other."
Based on painstakingly detailed research, Gill exposes disturbing and confounding dimensions of the modern world, particularly academia. Yet, beyond the pessimism that often characterizes postmodernity, he charts an optimistic and creative course framed in the terms of play.
The entry point for the following storytracking effort is the Arrernten account of creation entitled "Numbakulla and the Sacred Pole" as found in Mircea Eliade's Australian Religions: An Introduction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), pp. 50-53. The intent is to track this Arrernte example to its source, specific Arrernten individuals, to establish its accuracy and legitimacy. Theresults show that the closer one approaches the source the less one finds to be the contribution of Arrernte people and the more the influence of the academics who collected, edited, and reused (time and again) this material.
Mircea Eliade depended upon Spencer and Gillen's The Arunta: A Study of a Stone Age People, (London: Macmillan, 1927) for his Numbakulla example in Australian Religions. Eliade's text is in the left column with the selections from Spencer and Gillen that correspond in the right column. Eliade's text is complete. The selections on the right do not represent the complete text. The complete text as it appears in Spencer and Gillen follows. The sentences of all texts have been numbered (in square brackets) to assist in comparison and location. Bolded words and phrases are intended to assist in comparison.
the Sacred Pole"
To Understand better the paradigmatic creativity of these Primordial Beings [that Eliade has been describing ... ], we shall discuss a few examples. In general the myths represent the Ancestors as powerful and creative. They can fly above and walk beneath the earth. They travel everywhere, performing sacred ceremonies and depositing "spirit children" in the ground or in various natural features. But their myths are seldom exuberant or dramatic.
For example, Spencer and Gillen tell the following story of Numbakulla, whose name means "always
existing" or "out of nothing." (This is one of the Supernatural Beings discussed by Strehlow [Acknowledgment of C. Strehlow's Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme Zentral Australien (1907), though Eliade did not profide citation.] ..., called altjirana nambakala, "born out of their own eternity"). According to the traditions of the Achilpa, one of the Aranda groups, Numbakulla arose"out of nothing" and traveled to the north, making
mountains, rivers, and all sorts of animals and plants.He also created the "spirit children" (kuruna), a very large number of whom were concealed inside his body.
Eventually he made a cave or storehouse, to hide the tjurungas that he was producing.
At that time men did not yet exist.
He inserted a kuruna into a tjurunga, and thus
there arose the first Achilpa (mythical) Ancestor.
Numbakulla then implanted a large number ofkuruna in different tjurunga, producing other mythical Ancestors.
He taught the first Achilpa how to perform the many ceremonies connected with the various totems.
Now, Numbakulla had planted a pole called kauwa-auwa in the middle of a sacred ground.
(A representation of this pole, made from the trunk of a young gum tree, is erected on the ceremonial ground during the long series of initiation rites known as the Engwura).
After anointing it with blood, he began to climb it.
He told the first Achilpa Ancestor to follow him; but the blood made the pole too slippery, and the man slid down. "Numbakulla went on alone, drew up the pole after him and was never seen again." (Footnote: Spencer and Gillen, The Arunta, I, 355 ff., esp. p. 360. Strehlow, Aranda Traditions, p. 78, quotes the west and south Aranda myth of the Ntjikantja Ancestors: the two brothers ascended into the sky by climbing up a tall spear. . . . Spencer and Gillen, op.cit., pp. 307ff., relate another myth: the two Numbakulla made men from a living embryonic substance (inapatna). Such a "Creation" of man by the metamorphosis of a prehuman element is indicated in the symbolic designs of the tjurungas; cf. L. Adam, "Anthromorphe Darstellungen auf australischen Ritualageräten," Anthropos, LIII (1958), 1-50: see pp. 36ff.)
This pole is charged with important symbolism and plays a central role in ritual. The fact that Numbakulla disappeared into the sky after climbing it suggests that the kauwa-auwa is somehow an axis mundi which unites heaven and earth. Elsewhere, and particularly in the Oriental cultures and the areas under their influence, the axis mundi (conceived as a pillar, a tree, a mountain, etc.) actually constitutes a "center of the world." This implies, among other things, that it is a consecrated place from which all orientation takes place. In other words, the "center" imparts structure to the surrounding amorphous space. Both the Achilpa myth and the actual ceremonial use of the pole illustrate very well this double function of communication with heaven and means of orientation. The myth relates in seemingly endless detail the wanderings of the first Achilpa Ancestors after the disappearance of Numbakulla. They traveled continuously, in small groups, carrying out ceremonies, circumcising the young men, occasionally leaving one of them behind. When the mythical groups performed the Engwura rituals, the kauwa-auwa "was always erected and made to lean in the direction in which they intended to travel." ([Footnote:] Spencer and Gillen, The Arunta, p. 382. On the ceremonial pole, cf. Strehlow, Aranda Traditions, pp. 77ff.) In other words, the sacred pole helped them to chart the unknown space into which they were preparing to adventure. One day an incident befell one of these mythical groups: while pulling up the kauwa-auwa, which was very deeply implanted, the old chief broke it just above the ground.
They carried the broken pole until they met another group.
They were so tired and sad that they did not even try to erect their own kauwa-auwa
"but, lying down together, died where they lay.  A large hill, covered with big stones, arose to mark the spot." ([Footnote:] Spencer and Gillen, The Arunta, p. 388. For the meaning of this myth and its related ritual, cf. Ernesto de Martino, "Angoscia territoriale e riscatto clturale nel mito Achilpa delle origini," Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni, XXIII (1952), 52-66.) Seldom do we find a more pathetic avowal that man cannot live without a "sacred center" which permits him both to "cosmicize" space and to communicate with the transhuman world of heaven. So long as they had their kauwa-auwa, the Achilpa Ancestors were never lost in the surrounding "chaos." Moreover, the sacred pole was for them the proof par excellence of Numbakulla's existence and activity.
The Arunta (1927)
(Footnote: This is the equivalent of Ungambikula. "Native Tribes of Central Australia," p. 389.)
He arose "out of nothing" at a place called Lamburkna, far away to the south, in the country now occupied by the Dieri tribe.
From Lamburkna he started out and travelled far away to the north over country now occupied by the Dieri, Urabunna, Wonkgongaru, Luritcha, Arunta and Ilpirra tribes.While traversing the country he not only created mountains, rivers, flats and sand-hills, but also brought into existence all kinds of animals and plants. He then made a large number of Kurunas, each associated with a Churinga and each of them representing a different Knanja, Achilpa (wild cat), Erlia (emu), Arura (kangaroo), Unjiamba (Hakea), Irriakura (yelka), Udnirringita, etc. Numbakulla thus created all the original Kuruna and Churinga. He himself was full of Kuruna: as the natives say, Kuruna injaira oknirra, kwanala mberka Numbakulla; there were a very large number of Kuruna, inside the body of Numbakulla; and again Kuruna aradukka (or aradugga) kwanala, Numbakulla; the Kuruna came out from inside Numbakulla. After returning to what is called his Tmara maraknirra (a very great camp), at Lamburkna, he first of all made a cave and storehouse in a rock, in which, later on, to secret the Churinga of which, as yet, there were none.
[Inferred from 23 and 50-56]
He then made a Churinga of the Achilpa Knanja, in which he placed the Kuruna or "spirit" of an Achilpa man which he had previously made. . . . The Kuruna came out of it and gave rise to the first Achilpa man, the great original head of the Achilpa Knanja or totem group, called Inkata Achilpa maraknirra (mara, very; oknirra, great).
In addition to this, these original ones, which are called Churinga indulla-irrakura, contained large numbers of the other Churinga and Kuruna placed in them by Numbakulla.
Numbakulla showed everything to the Inkata Achilpa maraknirra. He taught him how to perform ceremonies connected with the various Knanjas, just as they are carried out at the present day.
On the ground outside he made another Ilpintira, and planted the pole called Kauwa-auwa in the middle of it.
A representation of this is now erected on theceremonial ground at the close of the Engwura.
Before he went away he painted his Kauwa-auwa all over with blood to assist him in climbing
Telling the Inkata to follow him, he began to climb up the tall Kauwa-auwa, and reached the crosspiece, but the blood had made it too slippery for the Inkata, who slid down, so Numbakulla went on alone, drew up the pole after him and was never seen again.
[Spencer and Gillen, pp. 361-88.]
Here they remained for a long time and made Engwura; when doing this the Kauaua, or sacred pole, was always erected and made to lean in the direction in which they intended to travel.
At a place called Okinyumpa an accident befell them which made them all feel very sad; as they were pulling up the Kauaua, which was very deeply implanted the old Oknirrabata [Oknirabata in NT], who was leading them, broke it off just above the ground, and to the present day a tall stone standing up above the ground at this spot represents the broken, and still implanted, end of the pole. Carrying on the broken Kauaua they came to Unjiacherta, which means "the place of Unjiamba men" and lies near to the Hanson Creek.
They were too tired and sad to paint themselves, their Kauaua in its broken state was inferior to many of those which the Unjiamba people had, so they did not erect it, but, lying down together, died where they lay.  A large hill, covered with big stones, arose to mark the spot.
Since the Spencer and Gillen material from The Arunta (1927), pp. 382-415 as it is presented in the right column above is partial and disordered, showing the way in which Eliade represented his source, it is important to present the source text in full.
The Later Wanderings
[This is the story of the tjilpa ancestors. They become divided into four groups who go their separate ways across the landscape. In the midst of the story of the second group is a passage drawn upon by Eliade.]
The next stopping place was Ituka-intura, a hill at the head of the Harry Creek, where they found a large number of Achilpa men and women, with whom they mixed. These people were of all classes and had sprung up on the spot. After having performed Ariltha upon a great number of men and made Engwura, they left the local Achilpa behind and marched on to Arara. Here they remained for a long time and made Engwura; when doing this the Kauaua, or sacred pole, was always erected and made to lean in the direction in which they intended to travel. Starting on their travels once more they came near to a spot on the Harry Creek where they first smelt, and then saw, some Achilpa men who were suffering from Erkincha.
[The part of the story having to do with the third group of tjilpa ancestors concludes with another passage drawn upon by Eliade. It is on pp. 388 in Spencer and Gillen's The Arunta and on pp. 414-15 in Spencer and Gillen's Native Tribes in Central Australia.]
At a place called Okinyumpa an accident befell them which made them all feel very sad; as they were pulling up the Kauaua, which was very deeply implanted the old Oknirrabata [Oknirabata in Native Tribes], who was leading them, broke it off just above the ground, and to the present day a tall stone standing up above the ground at this spot represents the broken, and still implanted, end of the pole.
Carrying on the broken Kauaua they came to Unjiacherta, which means "the place of Unjiamba men" and lies near to the Hanson Creek. They arrived here utterly tired out, and found a number of Unjiamba men and women of all classes. They were too tired and sad to paint themselves, their Kauaua in its broken state was inferior to many of those which the Unjiamba people had, so they did not erect it, but, lying down together, died where they lay. A large hill, covered with big stones, arose to mark the spot. Their Churinga, each with its associated spirit individual, remained behind. Many of them are very large and long, and now in the Pertalchera [Ertnatulunga in Native Tribes] or storehouse at Unjiacherta.
[The story continues by discussing the journey of the fourth group of tjilpa ancestors.]
Spencer and Gillen, The Arunta, 1927
To assure the complete detail of the comparison of Eliade's text with its source the following line by line comparison is provided. It includes significant commentary that complements the columnar comparison above. Comparison of these texts uses the sentence numbers as reference. Where significant difference occurs comments are made. Author abbreviations are uses.
E 1-5Introductory, nothing corresponding in S & G.
E 6 Meaning of word "Numbakulla" meaning "always existing" or "out of nothing" from S & G 7 & 11. It is significant that both Eliade and Spencer here understand this word as a proper name. The word means "jump up, out of nothing". Many other issues revolve around this and related words.
E 7 Reference to Strehlow's Die Aranda though Eliade does not cite the work.
E 8 Reference to "Aranda groups" perhaps drawn from S & G 1 "arose ?out of nothing'" from S & G 11 "traveled to the north" from S & G 13 "making mountains, ..." from S & G 22.
E 9 Spirit children from S & G 37 and 45-46 though Eliade's term "concealment" of Kuruna is not in S & G.
E 10 Cave or storehouse from S & G 23. Eliade uses the more modern "tjurungas" than S & G's term "churinga."
E 11 Men did not exist likely inferred from S & G 23 and 50-56.
E 12 Kuruna into tjurunga from S & G 33 & 35.
E 13 Numbakulla produces ancestors from S & G 40.
E 14 Numbakulla taught ceremonies from S & G 59-62.
E 15 Numbakulla planted pole in sacred ground from S & G 30 though Eliade ignores the making of a ground painting.
E 16 Representation of pole now used from S & G 31.
E 17 Numbakulla anoints pole with blood from S & G 64 though they have "painted" rather than "anointed."
Numbakulla climbs pole from S & G 67.
E 18 Ancestor attempts to follow from S & G 67.
E 19 Numbakulla goes on alone from S & G 67. Quotation is exact except for minor word order variance.
E 20 References cited.
E 21 Reference to partially formed human beings. See Appendix II for details.
E 22 Comment on creation by metamorphosis.
To this point Eliade has drawn upon the section of S & G 1927 that was added by Spencer from his field work at Alice Springs in 1926. See below for a comparison of this published version with his journal and field notes.
E 23-28 Eliade's comment on this section of the story. Nothing corresponding in S & G.
From this point on Eliade draws upon the section of S & G 1927 that was presented in S & G 1899 and dependent upon Gillen's field studies which were edited for publication by Spencer and perhaps others. See below for a comparison of this section of S & G 1927 and Gillen's journals.
E 29-30 Eliade's condensed reference to S & G pp. 361-388.
E 31 Pole planted and made to lean from S & G 71. This is part of the story of the second group of tjilpa ancestors which begins on S & G p. 379. By placing this statement in the context of his comments, Eliade achieves a sense in which it is Numbakulla who makes the pole lean. This is not at all clear in S & G.
E 32 Footnote.
E 33 Reference.
E 34 Eliade's restatement of quotation in E 31 extending beyond what is supported by S & G
The part of the tjilpa story recounting the movements and actions of the third group begin in S & G p. 384. Eliade's interest is only in the final acts of this part of the story.
E 35 accidental breaking of pole from S & G 73 though Eliade ignores "and to the present day a tall stone standing . . ."
E 36 carried the broken pole from S & G 74 though Eliade ingores their meeting of the Unjiacherta group.
E 37 tired and sad lay down to die from S & G 76, however, Eliade holds that the tiredness and sadness of the ancestors was the reason they did not plant the pole, whereas S & G have it that they did not paint themselves, i.e., prepare themselves for ritual performance. In S & G they do not plant the pole because it is inferior to some of the poles of others. There is no necessary connection between the tjilpa ancestor's deaths and the pole in S & G, though Eliade's construal makes it essential.
E 38 Hill memorial from S & G 77.
E 39 Footnote citation.
E 40 Footnote citation.
E 41-43 Eliade's interpretive comment on part of text taken from the portion of S & G that was in both versions of their book. Note that this interpretation requires drawing together and connecting as a piece materials that are not immediately connected and were collected 30 years apart.
When searched closely, one can find something in Spencer and Gillen, 1927 to support nearly every word of the text Eliade has presented, but the text is nonetheless almost completely concocted. Most certainly there is nothing in Spencer and Gillen to support the principal Eliade sought to illustrate and establish by using this text, that is, that "the center" is equivalent with "the religious."
The presentation of the Numbakulla example in Eliade's Australian Religions was not Eliade's only use of the example. Below it is presented as published in his The Sacred and the Profane (New York: Harper & Row, 1959). It is notable that in this presentation, he understands the occasion of the broken pole and the death of those present as occurring in the ethnographic present, that is, as an event Spencer and Gillen actually witnessed.