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The History of the Didjeridoo


The didjeridoo or GUNBARRK is the oldest musical instrument in the world with a 40 000 year recorded history. Traditionally, it was found amongst the Top End tribes of the Northern Territory; most notably ARNHEM LAND people. However, it did find its way to tribes outside of this secluded area via the trade and ceremonial routes which existed in Aboriginal Australia. Today the didjeridoo is seen as being part of a world wide view of Aboriginal identity.

Many of the non-Aboriginal people have little knowledge regarding the cultural and spiritual significance of the didjeridoo. Whilst the origin of the didjeridoo varies from one tribal group to another, it is a general belief that it is associated with the Rainbow Serpent.

In the Jawoyn language group the didjeridoo is called Gunbarrk. The Jawoyn belief is that within the hollow section of the instrument a spiritual snake lives, which inhibits the sound. Leaves of a specific tree are burnt and as the smoke enters and leaves via the hollow, it is beaten with small branches off the same tree. Thus the snake is driven out. The same leaves are used throughout the Arnhemland region in purification ceremonies associated with mortuary rites.

The preparation of the didjeridoo for painting takes about five days. The detail and intricacy of the painting dictates the final time expenditure and can be up to a week in some cases. The true beauty of the traditional didjeridoo is its individual natural diversity. Termites eat the inner tissues of the tree trunks and branches. Each one is eaten differently unlike drilled, bamboo or pipe pieces.

A natural didjeridoo is unique, each having an individual sound. Even the incredible shapes can be attributed to the termites. This is the plants reaction to being eaten. One of the most desired shapes is one which tapers out into a bell.