The didgeridoo (/ˌdɪdʒəriˈduː/; also spelt didjeridu, among other variants) is a wind instrument, played with continuously vibrating lips to produce a continuous drone while using a special breathing technique called circular breathing. The didgeridoo was developed by Aboriginal peoples of northern Australia at least 1,500 years ago, and is now in use around the world, though still most strongly associated with Indigenous Australian music. The Yolŋu name for the instrument is the yiḏaki, or more recently by some, mandapul; in the Bininj Kunwok language of West Arnhem Land it is known as mako.
A didgeridoo is usually cylindrical or conical, and can measure anywhere from 1 to 3 m (3 to 10 ft) long. Most are around 1.2 m (4 ft) long. Generally, the longer the instrument, the lower its pitch or key. Flared instruments play a higher pitch than unflared instruments of the same length.
There are no reliable sources of the exact age of the didgeridoo. Archaeological studies suggest that people of the Kakadu region in Northern Australia have been using the didgeridoo for less than 1,000 years, based on the dating of rock art paintings. A clear rock painting in Ginga Wardelirrhmeng, on the northern edge of the Arnhem Land plateau, from the freshwater period (that had begun 1500 years ago) shows a didgeridoo player and two songmen participating in an Ubarr ceremony. It is thus thought that it was developed by Aboriginal peoples of northern Australia, possibly in Arnhem Land.
T. B. Wilson's Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (1835) includes a drawing of an Aboriginal man from Raffles Bay on the Cobourg Peninsula (about 350 kilometres (220 mi) east of Darwin) playing the instrument. Others observed such an instrument in the same area, made of bamboo and about 3 feet (0.9 m) long. In 1893, English palaeontologist Robert Etheridge, Junior observed the use of "three very curious trumpets" made of bamboo in northern Australia. There were then two native species of bamboo growing along the Adelaide River, Northern Territory".
According to A. P. Elkin, in 1938, the instrument was "only known in the eastern Kimberley [region in Western Australia] and the northern third of the Northern Territory".
The name didgeridoo is not of Aboriginal Australian linguistic origin and is considered to be an onomatopoetic word. The earliest occurrences of the word in print include a 1908 edition of the Hamilton Spectator referring to a "'did-gery-do' (hollow bamboo)", a 1914 edition of The Northern Territory Times and Gazette, and a 1919 issue of Smith's Weekly, in which it was referred to as a "didjerry" and was said to produce the sound "didjerry, didjerry, didjerry and so on ad infinitum".
A rival explanation, that didgeridoo is a corruption of the Irish Gaelic phrase dúdaire dubh or dúidire dúth, is controversial. Dúdaire or dúidire is a noun that, depending on the context, may mean "trumpeter", "hummer", "crooner" or "puffer", while dubh means "black", and dúth means "native".
There are numerous names for the instrument among the Aboriginal peoples of northern Australia, none of which closely resemble the word "didgeridoo" (see below). Some didgeridoo enthusiasts, scholars and Aboriginal people advocate using local language names for the instrument.
Yiḏaki (transcribed yidaki in English, sometimes spelt yirdaki) is one of the most commonly used names although, strictly speaking, it refers to a specific type of the instrument made and used by the Yolngu peoples of north-east Arnhem Land. Some Yolngu people began using the word mandapul after 2011, out of respect for the passing of a Manggalili man who had a name sounding similar to yidaki.
In west Arnhem Land, it is known as a mako, a name popularised by virtuoso player David Blanasi, a Bininj man, whose language was Kunwinjku, and who brought the didgeridoo to world prominence. However the mako is slightly different from the Yiḏaki: usually shorter, and sounding somewhat different – a slightly fuller and richer sound, but without the "overtone" note.
There are at least 45 names for the didgeridoo, several of which suggest its original construction of bamboo, such as bambu, bombo, kambu, and pampu, which are still used in the lingua franca by some Aboriginal people. The following are some of the more common regional names.
Image: David was the first indigenous didgeridoo player to have a serious impact with his instrument in the western world. A senior and highly respected Wugularr elder, he was a master didgeridoo craftsmen and player, performing all over the world in the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. David co-founded the White Cockatoo performance group, and now a gallery at Katherine in the Northern Territory (Djilpin Arts) is dedicated to his life’s work.