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Didjeridu or didgeridoo

A straight horn, made from a termite hollowed tree trunk or branch, used in the ceremonial and dance music of Australia's aboriginal people. The name didjeridu is onomatopoeic, coined by white settlers. The traditional name varies with each tribal group and region, as do the names for the people themselves. Some people regard the term "didjeridu" as politically incorrect and so the terms yidaki and gumbark are used, although they refer to instruments from certain regions only.

The didjeridu is played by using a technique of continuous blowing called "circular breathing". To produce the main drone, lips are "buzzed" similar to brass instruments, but with a very loose but highly controlled embouchure. Overtop of the main drone, a surprisingly large array of tonal colours, harmonics, rhythms, and calls can be achieved through subtle variations in the lips, tongue, embouchure, breath and occasional use of the voice.

The didjeridu was traditionally played by men that go through an initiation rite that in some regions included circumcision at puberty, and many tests of knowledge and skill. Women and the uninitiated were forbidden to play it and even see the instrument. Stories abound of the non-initiated playing the instrument and having it torn out of their hands and beaten with it, or having the instrument broken over their head! The reason is that the didjeridu was considered to be such a powerful instrument that if the uninitiated play it, they may unintentionally open the doors to Dreamtime thus disturbing the spirit creatures that exist there and create major disasters, floods or earthquakes.

The global interest in the instrument in the last three decades has almost totally obliterated these traditional taboos, but it seems that the warnings should have been heeded. The worldwide interest has resulted in vast numbers of trees being cut to make didjeridus for tourists and foreign sales. As these trees are slow to grow, many areas are suffering from deforestation. To help save the trees, many players are building instruments out of bamboo, cactus or ABS pipe.

Country: Australia
Region: Australia
Type: horn

©  R. Raine-Reusch, May 2002