At the Art as Meditation class of Chanting Wisdom at the Fox Institute For Creation Spirituality in July, David and I will be sharing the native instrument, didgeridoo, in honor of the Indigenous Wisdom Tradition. Have you ever had the pleasure of hearing one? What a beautiful and soothing sound!
Let me share a little with you about the instrument.
The didgeridoo is possibly the world’s oldest musical instrument. It originated within the indigenous peoples of Australia, whose culture is believed to be at least 40,000 years old.
The didgeridoo is an instrument that is said to have been first used by the Northern Australian Aboriginals. Its much like a natural trumpet but it’s straight and without a mouthpiece. There are more than 40 different aboriginal names used for this instrument throughout Australia.
It originally was made from a eucalyptus branch that was hollowed out by termites and stripped bare of bark. Nowadays, this method, as well as others, is used to make didgeridoos.
Modern didgeridoos are typically made from eucalyptus, bamboo, or agave. The length of wood, thickness, and shape will determine the key of the instrument. Shorter lengths create higher pitches while longer lengths create lower ones.
After the termites are removed, as needed, and the bark stripped, a rim of beeswax can be applied to the opening for the mouth to reduce the size of the opening to one that can be easily played. The wax creates an airtight seal for the mouth, making it more comfortable to play. Finally, the instrument can be decorated.
The didgeridoo player works skillfully with the breath along with the mouth and tongue position to create a wide expression of sounds from melancholy to joyful. The didgeridoo is both a pitched instrument and a percussion instrument and is traditionally played with the accompaniment of clap sticks for ceremonial dances.
An Australian Aboriginal legend speaks to the origin of the instrument through story,
“At the beginning of time, all was cold and dark. Bur Buk Boon was gathering wood to create a fire in order to bring warmth and light to his family. He placed a log into the fire when he noticed one was hollow and filled with termites eating away the soft center of the log. As he didn’t want to injure the termites, Bur Buk Boon brought the empty log to his mouth and started to blow. The termites were blown up into the night sky and formed the stars and the Milky Way. And for the first time, the sound of the didgeridoo resounded through the land and blessed Mother Earth, protecting her and all Dreamtime spirits, with its vibrant sound for eternity …”
In indigenous Australian culture, the didgeridoo is used in both sacred open ceremonies attended by anyone and in secret ceremonies restricted to specific members of the community. It’s also played recreationally as musical accompaniment to songs and for sound effects for storytelling.
Curious about the didgeridoo? Join my class on Chanting Wisdom at the FICS in July to learn more. Register here.