The dancing consisted in the whole set running either sideways or in Indian file into an open space & stamping the ground as they marched all together & with great force. — Their heavy footsteps were accompanied by a kind of grunt, & by beating their clubs & weapons, & various other gesticulations, such as extending their arms & wriggling their bodies. It was a most rude barbarous scene, & to our ideas without any sort of meaning; but we observed that the women & children watched the whole proceeding with the greatest pleasure. — Perhaps these dances originally represented some scenes such as wars & victories; there was one called the Emu dance in which each man extended his arm in a bent manner, so as to imitate the movement of the neck of one of those birds. In another dance, one man took off all the motions of a Kangaroo grazing in the woods, whilst a second crawled up & pretended to spear him. — When both tribes mingled in one dance, the ground trembled with the heaviness of their steps & the air resounded with their wild crys. — Every one appeared in high spirits; & the group of nearly naked figures viewed by the light of the blazing fires, all moving in hideous harmony, formed a perfect representation of a festival amongst the lowest barbarians. — In T. del Fuego we have beheld many curious scenes in savage life, but I think never one where the natives were in such high spirits & so perfectly at their ease. — After the dancing was over, the whole party formed a great circle on the ground & the boiled rice & sugar was distributed to the delight of all.
Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
We had a good opportunity of seeing several of the aborigines; for not only were there unusual numbers of neighbouring natives then about the settlement, but a strange tribe, called 'Cocotu,' had lately arrived from a distance, and as the residents wished to conciliate them, a 'corobbery' was proposed, and Mr. Darwin ensured the compliance of all the savages by providing an immense mess of boiled rice, with sugar, for their entertainment.
About two hours after dark the affair began. Nearly all the settlers, and their visitors, had assembled on a level place just outside the village, while the native men belonging to both tribes were painting, or rather daubing and spotting their soot-coloured bodies with a white pigment, as they clustered round blazing fires. When all was ready—the fires burning brightly—the gloom at a little distance intense, by contrast, and the spectators collected together—a heavy tramp shook the ground, and a hundred prancing demon-like figures emerged from the darkness, brandishing their weapons, stamping together in exact accordance, and making hoarse guttural sounds at each exertion. It was a fiendish sight, almost too disagreeable to be interesting. What pains savage man takes—in all parts of the world where he is found—to degrade his nature; that beautiful combination which is capable of so much intelligence and noble exertion when civilized and educated. While watching the vagaries of these performers, I could not but think of our imprudence in putting ourselves so completely into their power: about thirty unarmed men being intermixed with a hundred armed natives. The dancers were all men; a short kangaroo-skin cloak was thrown about their hips, and white feathers were stuck round their heads: many were not painted, but those who were had similar figures on their breasts; some a cross, others something like a heart. Many had spears, and all had the 'throwing-stick'; and a kind of hatchet, in a girdle round the waist. Much of the dancing was monotonous enough, after the first appearance, reminding me of persons working in a treadmill; but their imitation of snakes, and kangaroos, in a kind of hunting dance, was exceedingly good and interesting.
The whole exhibition lasted more than an hour, during most of which time upwards of a hundred savages were exerting themselves in jumping and stamping as if their lives depended on their energetic movements. There was a boy who appeared to be idiotic, or afflicted with a kind of fit; but the man who was holding him seemed to be quite unconcerned about his convulsive efforts, saying, "by and bye he would be a doctor" (as I was told by a resident who understood the language), which reminded me of what Falkner says of the Patagonians. After the corobbery the natives collected round the house where the feast was preparing; and it will not be easy to forget the screams of delight that burst from old and young as they looked in at the door and saw the tub in which their rice was smoking. Before the food was distributed they were told to sit down, which they immediately did, in a circle round the house. They separated, of their own accord, into families, each little party lighting a small fire before them. Their behaviour, and patience, were very remarkable and pleasing. One family had a native dog, which in size, colour, and shape, was like a fox, excepting that the nose was not quite so sharp, nor the tail so bushy.