Culture; History; Women & Didgeridoo
A Beautiful Yirdaki Didgeridoo by Djalu-Howell, belonging to Alan Tower
At Skysong Productions, we believe that it is important to acknowledge and support the cultures from which the instruments and traditions that we embrace originated. The didgeridoo is an ancient instrument of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, a group of cultures that dates back tens of thousands of years. The didgeridoo is believed to date back at least 2,000 years, based on datings of pictographs and petroglyphs. It is also believed to have originated in the far north of Australia, and that only in the last 200 years or so spread to other parts of Australia. It is still in the “top end” that the didgeridoo is most common and an important part of indigenous life.
There is quite a controversy about whether women can and should play didgeridoo. Clearly, the fact that many women around the world do play settles the first question. The second is more complicated: Among the cultures in which the didgeridoo is most traditional, women are involved in making, painting, and playing didgeridoo for fun and for entertainment. However, as is common in old traditional cultures, there is a strong notion of men’s business and women’s business, and only men play didgeridoo in ceremony. In other areas that either have adopted the didgeridoo more recently, there may be taboos against women playing. Some proponents of such taboos are very outspoken and have given voice to the idea that women must’nt play.
Several years ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting and learning a bit from the famed Djalu Gurruwiwi, the renowned player, crafter, and custodian of the Galpu clan of the Yolngu people. The Yolngu are widely recognized as being among the most traditional didgeridoo cultures. Djalu teaches women to play didgerioo and gives his blessing; however, he stated that if visiting Australia, they should honor local traditions and I think that is the best advice.
To learn more about traditional digeridoo playing in Australia, I feel that it is best to get information from the source; this is respectful and the best way to assure that the Aboriginal people’s perspective is accurately represented. Here are some excellent links:
http://old-content.mulka.org/yidaki/dhawu This website is from the Yolngu perspective and gives an excellent introduction to their tradition and thoughts. It includes a welcome from Djalu Gurruwiwi, information on playing the didgeridoo, and Yolngu customs.
http://www.ididj.com.au/home/index.html The home of ididjaustralia: Australian Aboriginal Cultural Hub. Great source of information about the didjeridoo and its place in Australian Aboriginal culture. Its director, Guan Lim also hosts a marvelous YouTube site with hundreds of wonderful videos of traditional didgeridoo players and Aboriginal cultural events. They also provide much-needed philanthropic support for artists and others, and you can support ididjaustralia’s efforts here, or by direct donation: