The didgeridoo is a wind instrument coming from the Arnhem Land in Northern Australia. Naturally, it is created from tree trunks and limbs hollowed by termites. It produces a low resonant sound with a complicated rhythmic pattern. This makes it suitable for chant and song accompaniment. It is also said that it is the sound of Australia, the voice of the earth, and probably the world’s most ancient musical instrument.
The term didgeridoo is thought to be a word formed from the Western invention. It is also considered to be from the Irish dúdaire or dúidire which means trumpeter, long-necked person, or regular smoker and from dubh or duth meaning black or native respectively.
Generally, people believe that its origins are in the Kimbereleys’ North East and the Northern Territory’s Northern areas. In these areas, two types of eucalyptus trees are dominant which are the woollybutt and the stringy bark. Traditionally, Aborigines would exchange their boomerangs for didgeridoos made of bamboo and wood.
By tradition, Aborigines go deep into natural areas and wildlife habitats. They deeply listen to animal sounds such as twittering, flapping of wings, growling, or feet thumping. They will also observe for sounds of trees, water, thunder, and wind. The didgeridoo is meant to encompass and play with the essences of all these natural sounds with much precision as could be. Observing nature needs empathy which is the source of derivative expression according to the Aborigine.
The making of didgeridoos
Once the area confirmed to be abundant of certain eucalyptus trees, the Aborigine would tap the tree trunks or limbs to determine if hollow. Back then, special axes made of stone were used, but in modern times people use chainsaws. The next step is to clean out the termite residual. This can be done by soaking the cut wood with water for some days and scraping it out using coals or a stick.
The bark will then be stripped off by machetes or other devices. Then the length of timber will be checked or tested for any cracks or holes. Hands will cover both ends of the wooden tube and kept under water for a few minutes. If bubbles appear, it means that there are holes and these should be sealed with beeswax.
For the didgeridoo to have the correct pitch, the stick will be shortened to approximately 1 to 3 meters. To have a smoother edge, the mouthpiece could also be lined with beeswax.
Shapes of didgeridoos
Didgeridoos do not have a standard or uniform size or shape. The tube’s length and its almost conical shape affect the acoustic performance of every individual instrument.
The didgeridoos that are in demand are those measuring from 1 meter to 1.6 meters. The lowest tones that could be heard from these are in the range of 70 to 100 Hertz.
One of the most famous rituals in Arnhem Land is the Narra ritual. Its songs are commonly accompanied by large paired sticks that are slowly beaten. Due to the towering ceremonial status of the Narra rituals, some may believe that songs accompanied by the didgeridoo are younger that Narra songs. Despite that, didgeridoo has functioned as a musical adhesive which preserves the remnants of song techniques from centuries back. This proves that the didgeridoo songs are as old as or even older than the songs used in Narra rituals.