Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Aborigines of Australia

Do you Didgeridoo?

What a fun word. Didgeridoo.  We can thank the native peoples of Australia, the Aborigines for it and many other fun Australian words.  Let's get a little of the history of the Aborigines and then we'll make our instruments.

Just how long the Aborigines have lived in Australia is uncertain, they believe they were brought to life on the island during the creation or "the Dreaming", but scientists believe that they actually migrated to the uninhabited island from Asia around 50,000 years or so ago.  During that time, which was right about the end of the last ice age, the continent of Australia was much larger.  Why was it larger?  The seas were lower because the water was frozen into glaciers and the islands of Tasmania and New Guinea were connected with land bridges .  Because of the lower seas and the larger land mass, those early settlers only had to travel about 80-100 miles over the sea to reach Australia.  Still pretty far when you consider the boats they had, but do-able!  Soon these first settlers had spread to every part of the island and evolved with different languages and customs but one common belief - the concept of "the Dreaming".

The Dreaming is the Aboriginal version of how the world was created.  They believe that once the world was nothing, until some beings they call the Ancestors arrived and took many shapes (mostly snake shapes for some reason).  As the Ancestors travelled they created new life and formed the landscapes of Australia.  The stories of the Ancestors have been told and retold for generations but not written down.  They were also painted for ceremonial purposes on pieces of Eucalyptus bark with natural paints, but many times those were burned at the end of the ceremonies.  The Aborigines lived in peaceful isolation on their beautiful island until the 1780s, when British settlers arrived.  (The country had been lightly explored by the Dutch in the 1600s but they had not settled.)  The settlers brought with them many new diseases, sheep and cattle which fouled the waterholes and a desire to "claim" the land as theirs.  As you could imagine, soon the the Aborigines and the English were fighting.  Guess who won?  Not the aborigines, there were many restrictions put on them, including not being able to marry interracially or owning land.  In fact, it wasn't until 1967 (!) that they were given citizenship and equal rights!! That's a pretty hard pill to swallow when you were there first.  Eventually, the Australian government has realized that the Aboriginal culture is a valuable asset to everyone and many efforts have been made to protect it from further decline.  All this history learning is making me sad. 

Luckily, we have a fun project to do !!  We are making a didgeridoo!!!!!  What is a didgeridoo?  I'm glad you asked.  The didgeridoo is a wind instrument (that means you blow into it) that has been played by the Aborigines for at least 1,000 years.  It is a long tube made from a tree or branch that has been hollowed out by termites.  They strip the bark and sometimes decorate it, sometimes not.  A mouthpiece of wax is made on one end to form a tight seal around the mouth and the player vibrates his lips and hums and drones constantly while breathing through his nose.  Typically, it was played during ceremonial dances and it was always played by men.  Well, that's their rule not ours - here in this house we ALL get to didgeridoo!!!

Didgeridoo Project

For the project you will need:
  • hollow branch.  If you can't find that you can use some PVC pipe or a cardboard tube :)
  • paints or markers and any other decorations you'd like

1.  I think you can guess where I'm going with this.  Paint the tube with gleeful abandon and then let it dry.  Waiting is the hardest part.
2.  Put one end over your mouth and make humming motorboat noises into it.  Breathe through your mouth and see how long you can go :)  If you'd like some inspiration check out this video to see how it is played by a professional.  If you'd like to see some wonderful Aboriginal art while listening to some didgeridoo music click here

Here you see the finished didgeridoo being used to drive us all crazy :)  Who's brilliant idea was it to make this instrument??  Just kidding, it's fun to try to make it sound authentic - or just sing Aussie Christmas Carols !
Have Fun!!

1 comment:

  1. Just realized you can't see any of the decorations because we used the markers for instant gratification!!