The didjeridu is a lip-reed aerophone instrument originally used in ceremony by Aboriginal People in northern Australia. Its construction is very simple – a termite-hollowed trunk of a tree that is harvested and finished to varying degrees, sometimes painted, and sometimes with a beeswax mouthpiece attached, which we will discuss in more detail later. Essentially, the didjeridu is a tube which can be played in a low tone with a relaxed buzzing of the lips.
There are many types of didjeridus from different Aboriginal groups, and even much variation within regions, so it is impossible to provide one simple yet complete description. This is further complicated today by the incredible numbers of didjeridus being produced out of many materials by people of many different backgrounds. This website will not give a complete picture of all of these instruments, but will tell you about the didjeridu as it exists among the Yolŋu people of far northeast Arnhem Land.
“Didjeridu” is not a word from an Aboriginal language, but a term coined by European settlers. The general word used by Yolŋu people for didjeridus is “yiḏaki.” Despite some past written work, the word “yidaki” does not have any accepted meaning other than the name of the instrument. It has been often debated among the worldwide didjeridu scene whether all “didjeridus” are “yidaki” or whether the term “yiḏaki” should be reserved only for Yolŋu-made didjeridus. It has also in fact been debated whether the term “didjeridu” itself should be reserved only for instruments made by Aboriginal Australians. We will hear more about this later.
This site will use our preferred rule — “didjeridu” refers to all “didjeridu-like instruments,” and “yiḏaki” refers only to Yolŋu-made didjeridus from northeast Arnhem Land.
As Madarrpa leader Djambawa Marawili indicates in this video clip (click the image to open the video in an external window), the yidaki is not just a musical instrument for Yolŋu people, but something coming from the land, given by the creative ancestors in specific forms to specific clans for specific ceremony. After discussing the basics, we will see a few of these specific forms later on.