How Native Australians Make a Didgeridoo

The Didgeridoo (Yirdaki)

The didgeridoo is thought to be one of the oldest instruments in the world, its usage dating back tens of thousands of years. The instrument itself is at the core of the historical, ceremonial, and cultural practices of the groups that use it.

Didgeridoo from the International Museum of Cultures

Although the didgeridoo has become a symbol of Australia Aboriginal culture throughout the world, it was originally only used by a few groups in the northeast part of Australia.

Some also call a Didgeridoo a Yirdaki. According to didjeridu.com,“the yirdaki is merely a type of didjeridu, a form that is used by the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land. The yirdaki is quite different to other types of didjeridu because of its particular acoustic properties, though this in itself shows variance according to regional preferences and prescribed law among Yolngu clan groups.”

Its low, droning sound is thought to connect individuals with nature and the spirits of “Dreamtime,” or a time of the past when deities were involved in human affairs. Teachers also use the didgeridoo to imitate nature and animal sounds while teaching children about the world around them. Today, didgeridoos have gained worldwide appeal, but many feel like this is at the expense of their traditional sacredness. This didgeridoo, like the majority in the market today, has been produced for commercial purposes but is modeled after traditional designs.
   

Making a Didgeridoo by a Native Australian

To make these instruments the native Australians find a Eucalyptus which is partially hollowed out by termites. They remove a piece of bark and tap the tree to judge the sound before they begin cutting at the base of the tree. Once the tree is cut, and if the hollow inside it is the right dimension, the maker will then cut a 4-6 ft. long section of the tree. To ensure the wood does not crack, the log is cured, either by soaking in water for days or weeks, or by allowing it to completely dry out. All the bark is then stripped from the wood, and if necessary the walls are carved down to reduce the thickness, and sometimes the hollow of the log is better cleaned out as well. After this is complete, a mouthpiece is formed from beeswax, and the instrument is decorated, either with specific patterns for ceremonial use, or to the makers liking if for personal use.

You can learn more at the International Museum of Cultures  a unique anthropology museum. The museum is located in southwest Dallas County. However, the museum also provides transportable artifacts (Discovery Boxes) and an Electronic Field Trip for education on indigenous cultures from around the world.

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