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Kurdaitcha is a ritual executioner

How Does the Aboriginal Executioner ‘Kurdaitcha Man’ Avenge the Dead?


Kurdaitcha (known also as Kurdaitcha man) is a ritual ‘ executioner’ in the culture of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia , in particular the Arrernte people of Central Australia. The job of a Kurdaitcha was to avenge the death of a person by killing the enemy of the deceased, often with the use of magic. Stories are told of how the execution is carried out, and though there is a certain amount of truth in these tales, other parts are believed to be based purely on the imagination.

When is a Kurdaitcha Used?

The Aboriginal peoples  of Central Australia supposedly believe that there is no such thing as a natural death and a person’s enemies could use magic to cause his/her death. When magic is suspected to be the cause of death, a Kurdaitcha party may be arranged to avenge the person’s death.

The first step of the process would be to identify the person who is guilty of causing the death. The identity of the culprit may be revealed by the dying person to a Railtchawa, or medicine man . If this is not done, there are other means of finding out the killer’s identity. For instance, a burrow being made by an animal on a particular side of the grave may be interpreted as showing the direction of the killer’s habitation. The identity of the guilty party may take some time to be revealed but it is believed that it will eventually be known.

Identity of the person to blame may be revealed by the dying person to a Railtchawa, or medicine before the Kurdaitcha does his task. (Rafael Ben-Ari / Adobe)

Identity of the person to blame may be revealed by the dying person to a Railtchawa, or medicine before the Kurdaitcha does his task. (Rafael Ben-Ari / Adobe)

The Process of a Kurdaitcha

Once the culprit is identified and revealed, a council would be held, consisting of the old men of the group to which the deceased belonged. If it is decided that his/her death be avenged by a Kurdaitcha, the person who is to perform this role would be chosen.

One of the most distinct features of a Kurdaitcha is his shoes, which are also referred to in English as Kurdaitcha. This footwear consists of a thick pad of emu feathers matted together with blood drawn from the arm of a young man and a network of human hair strings made from the hair of a living person on the upper surface. The shoes are so evil that when they are not in use they are hidden from the sight of women and children.

Man wearing Kurdaitcha equipment, Central Australia. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Man wearing Kurdaitcha equipment, Central Australia. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Before the person selected to be a Kurdaitcha can go about his work, however, he has to have one of his small toes ritually dislocated. This is achieved by having a stone heated and then applied to the ball of the toe. Once the joint is softened, the toe would be pulled outwards with a sudden jerk, thus causing it to dislocate.

How is the Victim Killed by the Kurdaitcha?

There are several ways in which a victim is killed by the Kurdaitcha. One of these ways, which is approved by the council of elders , involves the Kurdaitcha being accompanied by a medicine man on his mission, while the other, which is not sanctioned by the council of elders, but far more popular, involves the Kurdaitcha acting on his own. In both instances, the victim would first be killed, then brought back to life, then allowed to return home. After a short time, however, the victim would fall ill and die, and apparently nobody would be able to trace the deed back to the Kurdaitcha.

Yet another method that a Kurdaitcha may use to kill a victim is through a ceremony called bone pointing. The bone is pointed on one end and covered with a lump of resin on the other. By muttering curses over it, the pointing bone is endowed with magical powers , which could then be used to curse a victim in order to kill him/her. The ritual has to be done properly in order for it to have the desired effect.

Australian Aborigines - Kurdaitcha using a pointing bone. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Australian Aborigines - Kurdaitcha using a pointing bone. (Fæ / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Belief in the Kurdaitcha and the power of curses still persists even into modern times, though perhaps less so than before. In 1952, for instance, it was reported that several Aboriginal people at the Granites gold field had died mysteriously after being visited by the Kurdaitcha, while in 2004, bone pointing was used to place a curse on former Australian Prime Minister John Howard by Aboriginal people, who were dissatisfied with his decision to scrap a top Aboriginal body. Additionally, the Warlpiri people believe in the existence of the Kurdaitcha even today, though their Kurdaitcha is a sort of malevolent spirit, rather than a man tasked with ritually killing people .

Top image: Kurdaitcha is a ritual executioner. Source: Fxquadro / Adobe.

By Wu Mingren


Bowers Museum, 2011. Feathered "Kurdaitcha" Moccasins. [Online] Available at: https://www.bowers.org/index.php/collection/collection-blog/feathered-kurdaitcha-moccasins
Musharbash, Y., 2014. Monstrous Transformations: A Case Study from Central Australia . In: Y. Musharbash & G. Presterudstuen, eds. Monster Anthropology in Australasia and Beyond. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rostro, 2014. Scared to Death : Aborigines Put Curse on Aussie PM. [Online] Available at: http://www.ultrakulture.com/2014/12/30/scared-to-death-aborigines-put-curse-on-aussie-pm/
Spencer, B. & Gillen, F. J., 1899. The Native Tribes of North Central Australia. [Online] Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/aus/ntca/index.htm
trove.nla.gov.au, 2019. Natives Die after Kurdaitcha Man's Visit. [Online] Available at: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/47418484

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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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