That brings us to six languages, translated by teams around the world. I’m so grateful for this support and belief in this project. You can access any of the languages at any time from the bottom of the menu or any page of the Dhäwu. Their front pages are all linked from here:
And that yidaki he’s holding in the picture above and in the fundraiser video? If you’re in North America, you can buy it and/or one other from Burrŋupurrŋu here – http://gingerroot.com/catalog/yidaki.htm, with a share of the purchase price going to the campaign.
Who is Burrŋupurrŋu?
To be brief, Burrŋupurrŋu AKA Bruce Wunuŋmurra is a leader of the Dhaḻwaŋu clan, an undisputed yiḏaki-djambatj (didjeridu master) and one of the nicest guys in Arnhem Land. Born around 1950, he grew up between the bush and the Yirrkala mission, where he attended school. He lived most of his adult life at his clan homeland at Gurrumuru, but now finds himself at Gunyaŋara’, closer to the hospital and other services in the mining town of Nhulunbuy.
Coincidentally, Burrŋupurrŋu’s father already appeared on this blog.
Nyepayŋa, at left, was one of the “Two Brothers at Galarra.” He fathered many children who became leaders and renowned artists. The late Yaŋgarriny was a prominent Yolŋu artist. Burrŋupurrŋu’s brothers Yumutjin and Warralka lead song with gäthu/nephew Wambuna on yiḏaki in this video clip from the recording of the album Gurrumuru.
Burrŋupurrŋu’s mother was Gangarriwuy of the Marrakulu clan – stringybark people, as we learned in the first blog post.
Burrŋupurrŋu credits two main yidaki influences. First, Djalu’ Gurruwiwi, who I assume needs no introduction to readers of this blog. The other is Manydjarri, father of well known yidaki maker Ŋoŋu Ganambarr. Manydjarri & Ŋoŋu lead song here:
With Manydjarri & Djalu’s tutelage, Burrŋupurrŋu and his brother Djalawu became the hot yidaki players in the 1970’s, in demand for ceremonial playing. The late Milkayŋu Munuŋgurr credits them as his biggest influence. He told me about walking through Yirrkala when he was a school boy and hearing cassette tapes of ceremony playing from houses. He would go, sit down and listen and analyze the playing style. This was the beginning of what he would later call yiḏaki ŋäṉarr-ḏäl, or “hard tongue didgeridoo.” Milkay went to live with his Dhaḻwaŋu kin, partly to learn yidaki from Djalawu and Burrŋupurrŋu.
Burrŋupurrŋu and the Yiḏaki Boom
Worldwide awareness of didgeridoos in general and yidaki specifically grew greatly in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Djalu’ rose to prominence first, but other Yolŋu names soon followed. Burrŋupurrŋu stood out, partly because of his crafting prowess and partly because his wife, Djul’djul Gurruwiwi, is a talented artist, daughter of the late great Gälpu clan painter Mithinarri. While most yidaki craftsmen shifted to acrylic paints, Burrŋupurrŋu and Djul’djul stuck with traditional ochres and clay. To me, this was an important part of the package making them “the real deal.”
From the initial yidaki boom circa 2000, through my tenure in Yirrkala 2004-2009, and right up to today, Burrŋupurrŋu and Djul’djul have remained some of the hardest working yidaki makers with the highest standard of quality in both craftsmanship and artistry.
Excerpts of my 2005 interview with Burrŋupurrŋu appear on two pages of Yiḏakiwuy Dhäwu Miwatjŋurunydja. Check out his off-the-cuff comments on non-Aboriginal didgeridoo makers and female players.
A few years ago, Burrŋupurrŋu was diagnosed with leukemia. I haven’t been nosy enough to find out the exact type, but it’s in the category of Myeloproliferative neoplasms. Patients with these diseases may not ever be cured as such, but they can live with the condition for many years. This seems to be the case with Burrŋupurrŋu. He’s going on with his life, but without the strength he once had, and with the extra complications and expense of regular medical treatments.
This fundraiser aims to help offset those extra complications and expenses. I’ll turn you over to the fundraiser page for more info.
Once again, I’m selling the yidaki Burrŋupurrŋu is holding in the picture and video on the fundraising page, plus one other he made. He was already paid his normal share for these, but I’ll kick another $100 each into the fundraising campaign when they’re sold. Check them out here:
As I launch this new blog, I have to answer one question for both myself and you, dear reader. Why? Is there not enough content on the internet? What do I still have to add to discussion of these stringybark logs called yiḏaki? Most importantly, do Yolŋu People need or want this?
Let’s go back a bit.
When I started playing the instrument in 1993, I wanted to be a didgeridoo star. I formed a band, recorded CDs, taught workshops. My first visit to Arnhem Land in 1999 changed my perspective. Advocacy for the people at the origin grew more important. In 2003, after a few more visits and much study, I won a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue a Master’s Degree in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Studies at Charles Darwin University. I moved to Yirrkala, an Aboriginal township in remote northeast Arnhem Land. I created the comprehensive didgeridoo information website Yiḏakiwuy Dhäwu Miwatjŋurunyda with many Yolŋu partners and some generous volunteer translators in Europe.
Buku-Ḻarrŋgay Mulka, the art centre in the community of Yirrkala, hired me as assistant coordinator, yidaki specialist and then founding coordinator of The Mulka Project, a new multimedia centre wing that repatriated documentation of local culture and produced new materials. All my time and energy supported Yolŋu and advocated for their interests rather than my own.
I found myself at a loose end when a family medical crisis brought me back to the USA in 2009. Didgeridoo was a huge part of my life to that point, but I was no longer on the ground in Arnhem Land to work with the people I represented there. I couldn’t go back to old ways and promote my own self as didgeridoo star with any integrity. I shied away from the didgeridoo world for a few years. Then in 2015 I developed the show A Personal History of the Australian Didgeridoo to perform and educate by telling my story with the instrument and playing appropriate pieces along the way. I had some great experiences touring it, but was also confronted by the fact that most American didgeridoo players’ main interest was to make their own instruments and play them their own way. Overall, there is only a passing interest in the yidaki and its origins. I can’t say they are wrong, only that it does not jive well with many of my Yolŋu friends’ wishes.
Meanwhile, the website Yiḏakiwuy Dhäwu Miwatjŋurunyda had aged poorly. It was designed in another time, to be uploaded via dialup internet in a remote corner of the world. It required a special font. Although we promised it as a permanent resource, web designers unceremoniously deleted it in an overhaul of Buku-Ḻarrŋgay Mulka’s site. After struggling to get it back up and then seeing it deleted a second time by another designer, I registered the domain yidakistory.com as a new permanent home for the Dhäwu. I wanted to update it, but as an artist, didn’t have time for a big unpaid project. The demands of making a website for the range of devices people use today intimidated me. Then I discovered that the videos wouldn’t play on my new computer. When I saw Omar from Mexico and Loïc from Spain posting on Facebook about the Spanish-language version, standing by it in all its half-working glory, I decided it was time to update it.
Thanks to way more generosity than I thought I would receive from the crowdfunding world (you know who you are!), I raised funds to do the project in July-August 2016. I never had any doubt that keeping the website alive was in the best interests of the Yolŋu I had worked with to create it, but around this time came an unexpected benediction from one of them.
Wukun Wanambi was one of my close friends and colleagues in Yirrkala as one of Buku-Ḻarrŋgay Mulka’s more successful artists and a founding Cultural Director of the Mulka Project. I interviewed him for the Yiḏakiwuy Dhäwu despite questions from others. “Why? He’s not a yidaki player!” I wanted a large cross section of Yolŋu voices on the website, but more importantly, Wukuṉ is a singer and young leader of the Marrakulu clan. They are the main local holders of gaḏayka, the stringybark tree that most yiḏaki are made from. He spoke to me in the past about his concerns. Others around the world were giving the didgeridoo, born from his own clan’s very soul, a new life without regard for its origins.
This painting on stringybark by the late Marrakulu artist and leader Ḏuṉḏiwuy Waṉambi may surprise you.
You might assume that it shows a yidaki and be confused by the title, Ceremonial Ground Design Associated with the Sugarbag Ceremony. In certain Marrakulu ceremony, Yolŋu dance in and around the sand sculpture Gundimulk. You know what? It’s kind of also a yidaki. And a ḻarrakitj, the hollow log coffin made from larger stringybark trees. It’s the home of the honey bees. It’s the stringybark tree itself. The Marrakulu clan family name Waṉambi is in fact a special name for gaḏayka. And it’s the river Gurka’wuy that runs through their land and empties into the sea at what the map calls Trial Bay. It is the whole of the stringybark and everything connected to it. Yolŋu art has many layers of meaning – a phrase I learned from the work of Aboriginal art scholar Howard Morphy. If you can, get your hands on the film Djungguwan at Gurka’wuy to hear Ḏuṉḏiwuy himself talk more about this story.
In August 2016, right when the Yiḏakiwuy Dhäwu crowdfunding campaign wrapped up, I got a rare email from Wukuṉ out of the blue. He never uses email. While in Melbourne for an art exhibition, he called on a common friend to write to me on his behalf. After some catching up, the conversation moved on to his continued concern for the yidaki around the world.
Now today, people are still asking me a question about yidaki and this reminds me of you playing didj in America. I know nowadays, yidaki is gone out into the world. It means Dhuwa side ga Yirritja side. It comes from one tree the stringybark yäku (called stringybark). But to name the yidaki name… I think you know what I am saying.
1. Respect the Yolngu.
2. Do not trespass the yidaki because that belong to Yolngu.
3. Put it in the surface side but don’t dig the gold because we don’t dig your gold.
As you know, today the yidaki is now a musical instrument in the world that is really not run by Yolngu, but by a lot of people. These are a few things that I am protesting in the protocol side.
My friend, I am not criticising, I am debating in a manner that I respect you and professional player of yidaki in the world, knowing that in this world we should work together somehow, because nothing is run by Yolngu only Ngäpaki.
I’m saying this because the future of our generation might not be doing this. Yidaki be still around but it will be all whitefella’s entertainment.
yours sincerely, Wukuṉ.
(email correspondence August 2016, used with permission)
Coming right on the heels of the Dhäwu crowdfunding campaign and my own questions about my role in supporting the culture that created the yidaki from afar, this seemed an incredibly auspicious benediction. My Yolŋu friend and colleague, a stringybark man, suddenly reached out with a new, personal revision of the 1999 Garma Yidaki Statement that inspired my 2004 Fulbright & master’s project in the first place. He still wants the story spread, and he still wants us to work towards more cooperation between the origin of the didgeridoo and those who are spreading it around the world.
And with that, I launch this blog. I’ll write one to four posts a month, depending on the size. Some big, some tiny. Reflections on my experiences in Arnhem Land. Reviews of books and films related to Yolŋu culture. Additions to the material in the Yiḏakiwuy Dhäwu. Over time, guest posts from Yolŋu. The ever popular more. This American who went down the rabbit hole of yidaki and Yolŋu culture will share his experience with you to deepen your awareness of the culture that brought us this wonderful instrument that we all love.
This new addition to YiḏakiStory.com extends the discussion of Yiḏakiwuy Dhäwu Miwatjŋurunydja with more personal thoughts and articles from Randin Graves, didgeridoo artist, yiḏaki seller, Fulbright Fellow, former coordinator of the Buku-Ḻarrŋgay Mulka art centre and Mulka Project multimedia centre in Yirrkala, northeast Arnhem Land, Australia, and all around nice guy.
New posts on all manner of subjects regarding yiḏaki and Yolŋu culture are coming soon. Things you don’t know. Books you should read. Movies you should see.