A newsletter for the Portland area Didjeridu player...... JUNE 1998 Volume 4 Issue 5
Aboriginal Sound Instruments is a recording which was first released on vinyl in 1978. It was a collection of field recordings done by Alice Moyle who wrote an excellent companion booklet which not only annotated the recording but also included musical transcripts of the performances recorded. On track 1B, side 2 of the cassette release I have, there is a recording of a Mara woman named Jerimina Wimalu. What Moyle suggested was most interesting about that recording was the fact that Jerimina demonstrated skill in both Eastern and Western Didjeridu playing styles, not her gender. Leaving present day readers to wonder why in 1998, we are still hearing stories about a tradition which may have been totally unknown in Aboriginal culture in the regions most closely associated with Didjeridu playing. The allegation that women are not allowed to play the didjeridu.
Every since I've been playing the Didjeridu, I have been told stories by women players who have been confronted by people (none them aboriginals) who claim that their playing is everything from disrespectful to potentially dangerous to them. I've also heard various rationalizations on the part of some women who even believe such taboos do exist. I'm not sure any explanation is necessary.
In my research into the subject of female didjeridu players, I have found no authoratative evidence to indicate there is a specific taboo which would preclude a female touching, owning or playing the instrument under any circumstance other than ceremonial playing and for all I know, there may be specific secret ceremonies where even that is allowed. I did find many cases documented of Aboriginal women players and non-aboriginal women being taught to play by Aboriginals. One famous example is Tracy Chapman who learned to play the didjeridu in Alice Springs at the Didjeridoo School of the Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre. The AACC is Aboriginal owned and operated and seems to have no problem teaching women how to play the didjeridu.
In spite of all the claims that women playing the didjeridu is a sign of disrespect, I've never heard of an instance where a female was not allowed to buy a didjeridu from any vendor, Aboriginal or otherwise. If there is a strong taboo, money seems to over come it. As far as the stories about women not being allowed to even touch the instrument, most didjeridus made for the tourist industry are painted by Aboriginal women.
It would seem that taboos against women players, if they exist at all, are greatly misunderstood if not grossly over stated. Obviously, there are times when it is not appropriate for any non-Aboriginal person to play the didjeridu. Respect for tradition is a valid concern and respect for the beliefs of others is paramount in cases where certain behaviors are discouraged.