I Hit the Yidaki Jackpot!

UPDATE: Nine of the yiḏaki mentioned below are now listed with demo videos and all the details I have at http://gingerroot.com/catalog/yidaki.htm.


Apologies for the lack of recent posts. I’ve been busy in my other role as non-yidaki musician. However, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of yidaki while on tour as a guitarist this past week.

My first full blog post included this pic of me with Wukuṉ Waṉambi at the opening of the Barrku! exhibition at Harvey Art Projects in Ketchum, Idaho back in 2011.

Randin plays yidaki with Wukun singing

I stopped in on the gallery a few hours before my performance in town this Thursday night. Julie, the owner, shocked me with the revelation that she has thirteen finely painted yidaki sent by my old colleagues in Yirrkala. We pulled them out of storage, admired them for a bit, then recorded quick videos of me trying them all out. We’ll work out how to list them for sale online soon. Up until now, they were for sale to her art collector clients. Now, they will be available to yidaki players around the world.

For now, check out these examples. Attention fellow film snobs: I am not responsible for the aspect ratio of the videos.

Manini Gumana painted the first one with miny’tji (sacred design) of Yirritja moiety salt water at Garrapara. This one is a great instrument, but is a little awkward to play due to a roughly shaped natural mouthpiece. A little wax or wood filler will easily fix it.

Buwathay Munyarryun adorned this powerful yidaki with Gularri and Djapana miny’tji of his Wangurri clan.

Lastly (for now), is a fantastic yidaki with old school playing characteristics, painted in a very fine hand by my friend and former co-worker Marrnyula Munuŋgurr with her Djapu clan’s characteristic square design.

I honestly would love to buy all three of these yidaki and a few others in the collection, but simply can’t come up with an excuse to own any more than I do already. Soon I’ll post information on how you can make me extremely jealous by buying them for yourself. Stay tuned!

8 Replies to “I Hit the Yidaki Jackpot!”

    1. Well, I certainly wouldn’t give any of mine up and not all of this collection are great players. But some are players and all of them are exquisitely painted by artists who wouldn’t normally work on yiḏaki.

  1. Wow Randin great find, these instruments have a way of finding their way to players, far better than being on a wall and not sounded! You have seen some phenomenal instruments in your time and now these, I look forward to updates as and when they come. I would be interested to know also about the ‘non players’ and why they are not as good in your opinion, I have repaired not so good ones myself but of a more modest variety.
    I did however write to you recently at Ginger Root with regard to one I bought of some age Will Stubbs couldn’t place it within the NE Arnhem tradition, guessing your recent commitments have prevented a reply. ( FromWill: Thanks Chris,I will show this to Djalu and family.
    Looks a little short to be Eastern from my non-expert impression. Never heard of snake skin being attached to Yolŋu instrument either.
    Otherwise appears to be an Australian didjeridu of some age.
    Most likely picked up in Darwin I guess given its status as a port.
    Not something that Yolŋu would attempt to exercise spiritual authority over I assume but i will ask.
    Our contact at SA Museum is a wonderful man called John Carty.
    John.Carty@samuseum.sa.gov.au
    I would encourage you to contact him with some better imagery and any further provenance you can gather.
    Will Stubbs
    Co-ordinator

    In case you didn’t get the email, here it is again;
    (Hi Randin, I have been trying to contact Djalu with reference to an old instrument I have saved from collectors in USA which looks similar to the one collected by Mountford currently displayed on the Adelaide museum’s website. I have imported it to the UK as the rules for organic import are not so stringent as Aus. It may be culturally significant to Yolnu people, I was hoping to get permission to even touch it but have not had any replies from the Yothu Yindi foundation or the Adelaide museum so far, I wonder if you could help?
    I am aware how busy Djalu is and knew he was working on a collection of instruments at the museum to make them playable, also that he has been unwell and this may be a sensitive time for the Gurruwiwi / Yunupingu families.
    Perhaps you may be able to give me some advice as to best proceed or speak to Djalu for me, I wondered if it might be possible to help raise funding for the completion of ‘Westwind’, if appropriate.
    I thank you for any time you might spend getting back to me, I have been playing for some 27 years now and make some of my own instruments from UK woods blown down in the 1987 great storm. I have recently been buying didgeridoos on ebay to repair and this is how I came across this really old instrument.
    Apparently it was bought by a US naval man around Darwin in 1947, he says it had age when he bought it and two bands of reptile skin as decoration attached by what I think is either sugarbag, spinefex gum or some other organic adhesive. I am also aware of an American scientific expedition to Arnhem at about that time and wonder if they were dropped off from a US naval vessel ( perhaps the one in question which took the instrument back to the states).
    I wonder if you could let me know what you think about it and possibly get a message to Djalu and his clan).

    Whilst the didje is short and without painted clan designs it may have come from an era before Djalu, I suspect the reptile skin was a binding used to hold it together before molten beeswax was poured inside to repair it maybe a few times over the years! Being old and brittle the skin disintegrated since 1947 now missing and the wax also. Apparently it travelled to the States in the breach of a five inch gun mount captained by the previous owner with a batch of Canadian Clunky whiskey(moonshine?)
    It is a bit of a mystery, so much of the story is lost as the captain of the gun mount is of some age but he entrusted it to me so any suggestions would be most welcome.
    Yours seeking best advice Chris Troth

    1. Actually, I remember replying to this. I see it in my send mail from May. I see you’re on gmail. They tend to filter my emails into spam boxes. So log into the gmail web interface and dig through their automatic folders. But in short, I largely agree with Will. From your description, there’s no reason to think it’s a northeast Arnhem Land instrument that would be Djalu’s business. You mentioned something about it being similar to something displayed at the SAM from Mountford’s collection. I’d contact them for a comparison.

      When I said they’re not all players… well, they’re not all the best players. But it’s OK. They all are playable. These were made for an art exhibition rather than to be used in ceremony or sold to players, so it’s understandable that they’re not all THE BEST. It would be possible to much around with the interior hollow and improve them, but since they’re priced as art works, I wouldn’t suggest that they are pieces to take into the workshop and risk damaging.

    1. Hi Randin thanks for the reply and heads up on gmail spam possibility! As yet no luck in locating your original reply and my spam folder has a 30 day delete preset so if it did go to spam it has gone. I wonder if you would be kind enough to resend it if you still have access to it via your sent folder? I get what you say in brief however and think the comparison with the Mountford piece is valid, when I saw it the carving on the mouthpiece was what seemed so familiar. The bell end looks like a reasonable size Mago 9-10 cm exterior, thin walled so interior 8-8.5 cm but the mouthpiece is far smaller than you might expect for playing in the lower register drone! The end has been almost bevel carved (2.5cm) almost as if something may have fitted over it. Just before this bevel it is only 15cm in cicumference then reduced to only 12 cm which is tiny. Internally the hole left is only 2.2cm (diameter) which is roughly carved and narrows in a cone to a constriction beyond which the bore becomes a more classic cone with a slight upcurve. The mouthpiece carving is almost suggestive of a trumpet or trombone mouthpiece profile but not as extreme.
      Overall length is a short 105cm ending in a 31cm circumference bell. This is all suggesting to me that it was meant to be played more like a long horn on the first trumpet note? Have you come across any traces of special calling to ceremony long horns, I understand that the first trumpet is sometimes this signal and would travel for quite some distance like a signal trumpet.
      There are severe cracks along its length, five in all two of which resemble the pair of seams on a split didje, the other three seem more random two in one half and one in the other using the split didje analogy.
      Some of the patina externally suggests water immersion and possible decay but weirdly inside there seems to be a fine silt!
      Most bizarrely there would seem to be a tack or nail embedded in the wood 23.5 cm from the bell end, just one possibly copper(in colouration).
      Apart from the Mountford piece I mentioned the only other “hollow wooden tubes” that spring to mind are known as the”Killyfaddy four”, four wooden tubes with male and female ends thought to fit together making a hollow pipe with possibly a missing bronze bell found in a peat bog. Referenced via Simon O’Dwyers book about the curious bronze/wooden horns or trumpets found in peat bogs in Ireland(Prehistoric Music of Ireland ISBN0-7524-3129-3).
      A*an D*rg*n became very interested in these instruments and played replicas which weighed far more than the originals, for a long time no one realised that they could be played in the lower register as a drone instrument.
      Will mentioned that skin decoration or banding was unheard of but since then I have bought a didjeridu which is thin walled and bound by two strips of crocodile skin it is numbered 675 in white inside the bell so presumably someone makes them like this and perhaps has used reptile skin in the past.
      Any reference or thoughts you may have would be most welcome if you have time to reply, and I will let you know if I make any progress with carbon dates etc.
      Also a big thank you for your site and Yolgnu content I wish it had been around when I first started trying to play in the late 80s.
      I hope to hear from you when you have a spare moment- Chris

  2. Hi Randin, I have had no luck retrieving your email but have set up a filter to stop the same thing happening again. Does this happen just at your Ginger Roots email or might the same happen here?
    Please resend email if and when you can, I have had no response from John at the museum, any suggestions?
    Thanks Chris

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