Yolŋu know that didjeridu crafting has spread all over Australia, but many are surprised to learn that the instrument is also being made in different forms out of different materials all over the world. All feel to some extent proprietary about the instrument. Some take the extreme view that the didjeridu belongs only to the Yolŋu and other neighbouring groups, and it is wrong for any others to make it and earn money from selling it. Others are a bit more accepting, but never fully granting the didjeridu status as a worldwide musical instrument detached from traditional ownership.
The “split-and-hollow” didjeridu has grown greatly in popularity over the past few years. As trees in other countries do not have the natural termite hollows, people have learned to take pieces of wood, split them, dig out the inside of the two halves, then rejoin them to make a playable didjeridu. The customized nature of this and western standards of woodworking attract many didjeridu players who would previously have bought authentic instruments.
Most Yolŋu agree that it is fine for other people to make instruments out of their own materials and even enjoy the results they’ve seen, but many feel that once the item is sold, it is a form of copyright infringement, profiting from a Yolŋu idea and taking money from Yolŋu pockets. There is however no wish at this time to take any action to stop this spread of the instrument in different forms, as long as there are no lies about authenticity of non-Yolŋu instruments, and Yolŋu land and natural resources are not exploited the way they have been by non-Yolŋu didjeridu businesses elsewhere in the country.
If you make and sell didjeridus, consider the feelings of Aboriginal People, and think about Dhukaḻ’s earlier request to give something back. It doesn’t necessarily mean a percentage of your sales, but can be something simple or more fundamental, something right now or a longer term idea. Be creative.