Aboriginal, khutaitchi, Tuxen, feathers, emu, shoes, magic, curse, murder, death, Australia, Aboriginal, Moesgaard Museum, momu, ethnography, anthropology, collections

Death wearing feathered shoes: Aboriginal khutaitchi

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Here is a truly curious pair of shoes. They are so-called khutaitchi shoes, made by a sorcerer or magician of the Central Australian Pitjantjara tribe. In traditional Aboriginal beliefs, there is no such thing as a natural death, which means that there is usually an evil force or curse behind, when a death occurs.

Shoes like these were worn during the punishment of the person believed to be responsible for a death. The collector of these shoes, zoologist and ardent shoe hoarder Søren Ludvig Tuxen, describes the khutaitchi shoes in his notes:

Khutaitchi shoes from Australia. Bought August 30th 1972 in Canberra for 20 Oriental Dollars (about DKK160). Rare. Made my several central Australian tribes. These are from the Pitjantjara tribe. Used by magicians to hide their tracks, when they inform their victim (who has been found guilty of another person’s death) that he has to die – which he then does of psychological causes (…) They are woven by men, the threads are spun from human hair. Then, emu feathers are threaded in everywhere, especially on the sole”.

When he states that the victim dies of “psychological causes”, it is because the sorcerer does not kill his victim. In an article in the Australian newspaper The Advertiser, from 20 September 1952, it is described how a ‘visit from a Kurdaitcha’ results in several mysterious deaths among the Aboriginal workers of the Granites goldfield. The part owner of the goldmine describes, how several of his workers claimed to have met a Kurdaitcha in a store shed, where they sheltered during a storm. Upon seeing the man hiding in the shadows, they all fled the shed. The following night, the workers held a great dance ceremony to scare the Kurdaitcha away, a so-called corrobquee. They danced all through the night, only to collapse with exhaustion in the early morning, and lying around in the cold for hours.

But it seemed that the corrobquee did not work. Not long after, the men began showing signs of illness, and soon some of them died. And here, the stories of the Aboriginal workers and the white employers and their hired doctor differs. The workers maintained that the Kurdaitcha had cursed them and was to blame for the deaths, but the doctor called in to attend the ailing men saw nothing but severe cases of pneumonia.

And who is to say that these two seemingly different explanations rule each other out? Maybe the men did see a Kurdaitcha, and maybe they Kurdaitcha did curse them. Maybe he caused the pneumonia. There is surely no denying that the Aboriginal workers saw something that frightened them, and that many of them ended up dead. And we all now know, that a Kurdaitcha leaves no trace, because he wears his feathered shoes.

Read the whole story about the 1952 Kurdaitcha sighting here.

//Sophie Seebach

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putting thought to things

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