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Information on Yidaki from Ben Hicks website www.Hickssticks.com

Yidaki is one of the original names for didgeridoo, which comes from the Yolngu aboriginal people of northeast Arnhem Land, Australia. According to aborignal legend, and most hard data, the instrument we have come to know as didgeridoo originated with these people, and a few other aboriginal groups in the Arnhem Land area. Historically, didgeridoo has been an important part of the culture of these tribes, and did not spread until more recent times to other aboriginal people in other parts of Australia. Even more recently, non-aboriginal people in Australia and the rest of the world have adopted the instrument for their own purposes, often far removed from it's original use. Authentic yidaki come only from northeast Arnhem Land. The didgeridoos from the center of Australia or New South Wales for example, are not yidaki, and the people who make them do not have as long a history with the instrument.

The yidaki is traditionally used by the Yolngu people as an instrument in ceremony to accompany song (manikay), percussion with clapsticks (bilma) and dance (bunggul). Aboriginal laws govern the use and production of yidaki in northeast Arnhem Land. Elder men in each clan pass on the knowledge of the songs, rhythms, stories, and yidaki making techniques to the younger generation. Since Yolngu traditionally have no written language, this knowledge of yidaki has been passed down orally and through ceremony for perhaps hundreds to many thousands of years. The actual time frame is not truly known.

In North East Arnhem Land, most of the trees used for yidaki are stringybark eucalyptus. Termites (white ants) chew out the insides of living trees which creates a hollow inside the tree. A yidaki maker will search for an appropriate hollow tree, cut a section from it, then work the hollow log with tools to further shape the bore and the outside, and sometimes decorate the yidaki with clan or other designs. Sometimes beeswax is used for a mouthpiece if the opening is too large, or to add a little comfort. A large part of the art of making yidaki is in finding a tree that already has the characteristics for a great instrument. Yolngu makers are very skilled at finding the right trees to start with. The most prized yidaki have a totally naturally hollowed bore, and are essentially found that way, requiring very little work to make playable.

Different style instruments are made based partly on the individual trees that grow in their particular area, clan traditions, and the purpose of the instrument. For example, an instrument made for Yirritja ceremony will typically be fast to play, smaller in size and higher pitched for the Yirritja song style. A Dhuwa style instrument tends to be a larger, lower pitched instrument that accompanies the slower deeper Dhuwa song style.

Traditionally, yidaki were made for ceremony, but these days are also made for sale. As the Yolngu people interact more with Western culture, making money also becomes a necessary part of their survival., and by selling yidaki, Yolngu share an important part of their culture with the rest of the world. Often a yidaki is made by a single maker, but sometimes makers, artists, and family members collaborate. In some circumstances one person will make the yidaki, and then an accomplished artist entrusted with a particular painting/story will paint the ceremonial designs. In this way, more individuals participate in the tradition, the work, and share from the benefits of instruments that are sold.

Though many people generically refer to didgeridoos as yidaki, authentic yidaki are made only by the Aboriginal people who use this word as part of their native tongue, and have had the yidaki as part of their ceremonial tradition for a very very long time. Luckily, unlike many of the generic didgerdioos made in Australia, Yolngu yidaki are still made with the full cultural heritage, tradition and knowledge of the Yolngu. These instruments best represent the tradition of didgeridoo from its very roots, and convey a sound and feeling that only comes from the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land.

 

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