Tag Archives: Australia

Women and The Didgeridoo

I came across a fascinating article by linguist Lera Boroditsky, in which she explores how language shapes the way we see the world. I love the idea that the global community is robbed when any language dies. We lose something when a unique way of seeing (and saying) disappears. Boroditsky’s research is comprehensive, gratifying, and exciting. Something she reveals about the language structure of one Aboriginal tribe caught my attention: “In languages that have grammatical gender, all the nouns are assigned to a grammatical category. In the simpler examples it would be masculine and feminine. Sometimes there is a third gender, masculine, feminine and neuter. In more complex cases there can be as many as 16 genders with a special grammatical category for hunting tools or for canines, depending on the language. George Lakoff made famous a grammatical gender category in an Aboriginal language that included women, fire and dangerous things. Those were the things that were all treated grammatically equivalently in this language.”

I find that simultaneously interesting and hilarious! Women have long been held responsible – artistically, mythologically, socially (and now, linguistically?) – for the choices of both men and women. (Adam and Eve, anyone?) And… Well, I’m a redhead. Women, fire, and dangerous things I know all too well. Someone will ask by day’s end if I have a temper… and get an angry earful. (I tease.) Delightful!

With reference to gender, we’ve discussed didgeridoo as traditionally played by men. However, Marko found a quote revealing the opinion of famed didgeridoo maker, player, and instructor, Djalu Gurruwiwi. I’m sorry I’m not familiar with the speaker, Gög Didge: “My partner Dori just came back from a meeting with yidakimaster Djalu in Sydney, where they brought this message to the point: All non-traditional women should feel free to play the didgeridoo, where they want, what they want to play, and when they want to play it.”

Awesome.

Commonly, it is advised to approach the issue of women playing the didgeridoo with sensitivity. Many are open to it, but it is, as yet, fairly controversial. Assumptions should never be made. For more on the subject, go to http://yidakistory.com/dhawu/35miyalk.html.

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Filed under Aboriginal people, Australia, didgeridoo, Marko Johnson

Aboriginal Australians and The Didgeridoo

I’ve never played a traditional didge so I can’t do a compare/contrast, but I confess I can’t really wrap my mind around the concept of random, non-harmonic frequencies. It really makes little difference to me at this point in my learning, since I can only do my trusty drone and one trumpet note, but that one trumpet note is exactly one octave higher. Is that simply not the case with the traditional didgeridoo? I don’t suppose I’ve heard as many trumpet notes in more traditional playing… and then it occurs to me: Have I heard the didgeridoo played traditionally? Surely, Marko has shared recordings of indiginous people playing their instruments.

This reflection comes on the heels of a long overdue “intro” to this intoxicating instrument of native Australians. Aboriginal men knew termite migration patterns just as they knew that of animals, and followed them to eucalyptus forests to harvest raw materials. By tapping the trunk, they identified hollow trees, chopping them down and shaping the exterior to finish the instrument. Therin lies my question: What were/are the harmonics like? They did nothing to manipulate the interior. That was all-natural termite lunch!

Today, non-traditional craftsmen makes didges out of just about anything, from PVC plastic to any type of wood, which is usually split in half, hollowed – with some amazing, specific dimensions and dynamics! – then reattacted. Then there are rockstars like Marko Johnson, who revolutioned the didge world as we know it! Once he invented the didjbox, it caught on like wildfire. People build some incredible things – works of art – around the exact same basic box. Many don’t even know they could email the guy who designed this thing they are likely obsessed with. 🙂 Here: mj@rounddoor.com.

As for the funny moniker, there are varying names for the instrument among the many different tribes of indiginous people. None resemble didgeridoo. That title probably came from colonizers mimicking the sound it made.

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Filed under Aboriginal people, Australia, didgeridoo, didjbox, Marko Johnson, music