The didgeridoo (or didjeridu) is a wind instrument of the Australian Aborigines, and is believed to be the world's oldest wind instrument. Generally measuring between 1.2 and 1.6 metres in length, the didgeridoo is made from a branch or tree trunk that has been hollowed out by termites. The difficult part is in finding a tree that has been suitably hollowed out by termites. If the hollow is too big or too small, it will make a poor quality instrument. The bark is then stripped, and the timber is cleaned out with a stick or hot coals, and decorated with artwork. In modern times, a rim of thick beeswax is added to the moutpiece to help form a more perfect seal. But traditionally, this was not usually the case.
The word 'Didgeridoo' is usually considered to be an onomatopoetic word of Western invention, based on the low-pitch, resonant sound that the instrument produces. The didgeridoo is unusual in that it is played with continuously vibrating lips, and to master the instrument means learning the special breathing technique called circular breathing. This requires breathing in through the nose at the same time as expelling air out of the mouth using the tongue and cheeks. In this way, a skilled player can replenish the air in his lungs without breaking the note. By the time the air in the mouth is almost exhausted, the player can begin to exhale from the lungs once again, ready to repeat the process. With practice, an accomplished player can sustain a note for as long as desired.
The didgeridoo is an integral part of ceremonial life, and it accompanies singers and dancers in religious rituals. Clapsticks establish the beat for the songs, and the rhythm of the didgeridoo and the beat of the clapsticks are precise. Such patterns have been handed down for generations upon generations. Only men play the didgeridoo and sing during ceremonial occasions, whilst both men and women may dance. This does not mean that it is taboo for women to play a didgeridoo, that is just a myth. In fact, there have been some accomplished female Aboriginal players. But within a ceremony, the didgeridoo playing is left to the fellas!
Didgeridoos are a popular souvenir for travellers from overseas, and can be found in stores all over Tropical North Queensland, in a myriad of shapes, sizes and styles. When buying a 'didge', or any aboriginal art, we recommend buying from an aboriginal owned and operated business, and buying only authentic aboriginal made items. But as part of a Northern Outback experience, you may have the opportunity to search for your own hollowed branch, and make your own didgeridoo.