The great history of Didgeridoo… and Terra Australis !

In Aboriginal culture, the ” Dream Time ” is the foundation of their beliefs about the origins of the world. “ BUR BUK BOON ” was a being who protected his family by protecting them from the dark and cold outside world. He prepared the fire to maintain the heat and the light within their hearth. BUR BUK BOON found a tree branch on the ground which was dug by termites still present in the heart of this branch. He took the branch and blew it gently to gently pull out the termites … and an incredible sound was heard … expelling the termites in the sky in the middle of the night, thus forming the Milky Way ! This strange sound would protect and bless our Earth and all the souls and spirits of DREAMTIME for eternity…

The didgeridoo dates from around 20,000 years ago. It is certainly the most “simple” instrument that humans have known to date, because it is an instrument without mechanics and which works only with the breath and the vibration of the lips of the man.

The real didgeridoo is made from an Eucalyptus tree whose core is eaten and hollowed out by termites, while it is still in the ground and alive. This phenomenon only occurs in the Australian Northern Territory. Of course, termites are present everywhere on our planet. But the fact that they just eat the heart of the tree and then leave it as it is… it only happens on this huge continent… and no one has a tangible explanation for this phenomenon.

Then comes the human hand. That is to say that in the present case it is my Aboriginal friend and myself who are going to cut the eucalyptus trees which are thus hollowed out at the base. Then we keep the trunk which is therefore “hollow”, to make it a didgeridoo through several stages.

But before all these manufacturing steps, know that you must apply for a “cutting permit” to the Australian government, and then another request to the company that manages the protection of forests and national parks. Not to mention also the visa adequate in terms of work in a territory other than his own.

If however, a fantasy animates you of the genre : you would like to go for a walk in the Bush, in the depths of Australia, and come back with a raw didgeridoo that you cut “to the heart” as we say with us. Well, be aware that you are liable to a fine of $ 75,000 AUD and 1 year in jail… so if you want to play… it’s up to you !

The following steps after cutting are :

  • Drying period (6 months to 5 years approximately)
  • Phytosanitary cleaning and treatment
  • Remove the bark, planing, sanding
  • Tune the note of the instrument
  • Application of the mouthpiece
  • Varnishing and finishes

Originally, there were hundreds of Aboriginal communities in Australia. For the tribes concerned, the name “Didgeridoo” was born during colonialism.

The genesis of this instrument makes that the tribes, in their properly Aboriginal dialects, gave them different names, such as “YIDAKI“, “MOLOO“, “IHAMBILBIG” etc., and which define the name or the word “Didgeridoo” given by the colonists during their invasions.

Besides, Westerners write it in different ways like :  Didgeridoo or Didjeridoo.

In the year 1522, the Portuguese explorer CRISTOVAO DE MENDONCA is the first European to set foot on the lands of Australia, called Terra Australis . Followed by Lieutenant JAMES COOK of the Royal Navy in 1770. He observed for weeks the first peoples of this distant continent and declared :

” The native peoples of this earth use an instrument
of strange and audible communication ! “

In 1842, the Prussian explorer LUDWIG LEICHHARDT arrives in the city of Sydney to lead 3 important expeditions which will make it possible to map from the Western Australia to the EAST… while crossing the Aboriginal tribes. His disappearance inland from Australia, despite several subsequent investigations, remains a mystery. Rumors say he was killed by a tribe for passing over sacred land.

The didgeridoo is an instrument used in rituals called ” Corroborees “, which are sacred moments when the Aboriginal tribes sing and dance paying homage by thanking our planet. Several dances such as ” kangaroo dance “, “eagle dance“, “hunter dance” etc. there are mentioned for example.

The player vibrates his lips to obtain the basic fundamental vibration (also called “drone or drone”). Then he will add additional sounds with his tongue, throat, voice and diaphragm, thus imitating the nature which surrounds him embellished with traditional rhythms.

Circular breathing to play “continuously” is a fundamental technique that the player will use. That is to say that he plays the didgeridoo without the sound stopping, which brings an “intoxicating” effect when you listen to it carefully.
The longer a didgeridoo, the more serious it will be. The didgeridoo sound corresponds to a note (C, D, E etc.).
Didgeridoo is also used to treat certain illnesses or stresses, such as sleep apnea. Many Didgeridoo players and students have quit smoking… thanks to this ancient instrument !

Raphaël Didjaman.