Musical Termites

4 minutes to read | Updated for 2018

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Is it possible that an insect makes a musical instrument? Incredibly, the answer is yes. The Didjeridu is a wind instrument made from a Eucalyptus branch hollowed out by termites. The hollowed-out branch is the beginning of a wind instrument. The didjeridu is native to the Aborigines of northern Australia, where it has been played and used in their ceremonies for 1,500 years.

There are approximately 40 different Aboriginal names for the didjeridu, such as yidaki and yirdaki. Non-Aborigines typically call the instrument a didjeridu, but spell it in many different ways, such as didgeridoo, didgeridu and didjeridoo. Some anthropologists have even called it a drone trumpet because of its soft, melodic low tones.

Didjeridu harvesters go into the woods and tap on branches to find those that have been hollowed out by white termites. The artist who  will design and paint the didjeridu first removes the bark and scrapes or chisels the ends to improve the sound. Beeswax is used to cover the mouthpiece so that the players do not get splinters.

The traditional colors used to paint the didjeridu are yellow, black, red, brown, white, green, tan and reddish brown. Traditional designs vary by tribe, but they typically include paintings of native animals, insects, plants, dots, cross-hatching and stripes. Didjeridu-like instruments are made today throughout the world with many different kinds of materials, such as agave cactus, bamboo, PVC pipe, yucca, clay, cans, and glass.

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