A ‘down under’ termite tale

2009 August 17

Welcome everyone to my ‘down under’ blog of all things Didgeridoo related. Let me first introduce myself as a ‘Top End’ Australian indigenous man of the Larrakia nation. We are the traditional owners of what is now called ‘Darwin’, the capital of the Northern Territory of Australia. The didgeridoo (Mamalima in Larrakia) is a traditional mens instrument played during ceremony. We are one of many aboriginal nations across the top end of Australia that include the didgeridoo as part of our cultural heritage. The didgeridoo is classified as a drone instrument and is without a doubt one of the oldest ceremonial instruments on earth.

The Mamalima was passed onto me by my great uncle ‘Wally Fejo’ and is part of my cultural identity. I am one of the most recorded indigenous artists on this instrument in the world with a catalogue of music spanning over ten years. I am a featured artist on the ‘Indigenous Australia label’ the most successful recording label in Australia for aboriginal themed music. I have also been more recently enjoying independent releases through my own website and live touring. I have spent the last few years promoting abroad my aboriginal Dreamtime themed multi-media show ‘Territory’ internationally and now once again make Australia my full time abode. It is from my new home on the beautiful and wild south east coast of Tasmania, Australia’s southern island state that I write this introduction.

The didgeridoo really has two distinct voices, one of aboriginal tradition and one of contemporary sharing and dialoguing with the world. As a custodian of this instrument it is my obligation to honor first the traditional role and place of the didgeridoo in aboriginal culture. The traditional voice of the didgeridoo can still be heard throughout the top end of Australia and is alive and well in ceremonial practices. This voice remains unchanged though thousands of years of lineage. It has many cultural applications and much of this is scared knowledge shared only by initiates. It is considered ‘mens business’ meaning the traditional law of aboriginal men’s society. The didgeridoo represents the voice of the supernatural world and is the accompaniment to traditional songs representing the life cycles of renewal. These song cycles are inherently about the story of creation, what is known as the Aboriginal Dreamtime. You can think of them as perhaps the oldest poems on earth. They are the foundation of our culture and hold within them the understanding of place, society, personal responsibility and life. In my cultural area the ‘Bamboo man’ was a person who got special training on the Mamalima to embody the practice of ceremonial playing. There are many rhythms and many different styles of traditional playing across the top end of Australia, all of which require the ‘native tongue’ to play well.

It is important to understand that from a cultural point of view we can not separate the didgeridoo from our culture and treat it simply as an instrument. It has as its foundation a relationship between us and the creator ancestors set up in the Dreamtime that continues to this day as an integral form of our ceremonial expression. The didgeridoo and the ‘story of place’ are not separate and therefor when you play one, you are playing the spirit of a place.

Who exactly makes these things?
One of Australia’s many termites ‘Mastotermes darwiniensis’ is responsible for eating out northern Australian eucalyptus trees and giving us the classic hollow log with its characteristic inner grooves and shapes. This termite, commonly known as the ‘white ant’ is one of the largest termites in the world and apart from dinning on your house can and will eat anything including rubber, leather, wool and electric cables. All up there are an estimated 350 termite species in Australia with over 100 of them residing in the hotter tropical north. From my point of view an authentic Didgeridoo is one from northern Australia, as that is where the tradition is held. There are also more recently southern cultural areas in Australia now producing didgeridoos as well due its popularity rise over the last few decades. These are also created naturally by termites and hand finished by indigenous Australian’s and make available other species of Eucalyptus trees not found in the tropics.

Dreaming the future
I will be covering many Didgeridoo topics in the future and I’m open to your expressions of interest regarding the direction of information. For now, I return to a southern island sunset and the colors of deepest red.

Ash Dargan

17th August 2009

15 Comments leave one →
2009 August 17
Buteo permalink

Hey Ash,it is really great to see you here! I have met you at John Madill’s and the Potomac flute Festival. I love your C.D.s Ash,dust and dirt,as well as “Stories of wind”which incorporates Native American Flutes with Didgeridoo. Well mate,cheers to you! And Good on ya for finding this great flute portal!

2009 August 17

Have not had a chance to see you play yet but hope to. I’ve had a didge made by Naiuwa for a few years now and am still trying to get the hang of circular breathing despite a couple of private lessons from Phil Jones, another Aussie. I get close, but then that feeling of drowning or hyperventilation kicks in. I look forward to future posts. Thanks for being here.

2009 August 22
Wanbli WiWohpe permalink

Hau! We have much the same outlook, it seems. Our People, The Lakota know that One must have a Dream, One must be a Relative, and it is simply that simple. Good to read your Words. Wopila.

2014 July 10

I’m delighted to have stumbled upon your blog here, Ash. My beautiful now adult daughters have been speaking of you with great enthusiasm for a good while now, so every time I hear of you I pay plenty of attention.

Thank you so much for both sharing knowledge of the didgeridoo as it relates to your culture’s history, and also for bringing this instrument to the world at large. I’m a 5th generation white Australian who, by virtue (or lack therefo) of being born a white australian, carries the ’sin of the fathers’ with me, and says “sorry” with all my heart and soul for the unconscionable devastation done to your people. Yours is a beautiful, profound and respectful culture, in it’s many forms across this expansive continent, and, like so many others who abhor the wrong done to your people, my heart sings whenever I see Indigenous people, the First Australians, proudly demonstrating and even sharing their art, music, dance and culture with us all. Thank you.

And I never knew there was that one particular termite species, or that it ate electrical cables!!!!! :-)

2015 June 9

Love it! He’s so awesome to acutally come up with the idea himself to show you and you both did a great job with the vibrant colours! Really reminds me of aboriginal art! My crafts usually end up different from planned too but that’s the beauty of art, right? =) Leaves you with so much room to explore and be creative in the process! Thanks for linking up once again!

2015 July 7

At last! Someone who understands! Thanks for posting!

2015 July 25

This piece was cogent, well-written, and pithy.

2015 July 27

Wow, this is in every respect what I needed to know.

2015 August 13

The ability to think like that shows you’re an expert

2015 September 3

If I were a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, now I’d say “Kowabunga, dude!”

2015 October 10

It’s always a pleasure to hear from someone with expertise.

2015 November 25

This piece was cogent, well-written, and pithy.

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