Ceremonial Instruments Used by Aboriginal Tribes

Written by michael staton
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Ceremonial Instruments Used by Aboriginal Tribes
A skin drum and percussive stick are examples of Aboriginal instruments. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

A corroboree just isn't the same without the proper instrumentation. Corroborees, also known as Aboriginal ceremonies, are songs that represent tribal history. Aside from vocal work and dancing, tribes employ many different instruments in their ceremonies. Some of these instruments pull double-duty as practical, everyday tools and objects, while others are designed specifically with music in mind.

The Didgeridoo

The didgeridoo is perhaps the most recognisable instrument that emerged from Aboriginal culture. According to the Aboriginal Art website, the didgeridoo is possibly the world's oldest wind instrument and is made from hollowed-out limbs and tree trunks. The didgeridoo is used in chants, songs and ceremonies. According to Dr. David Horton, contributor for the Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia, the didgeridoo is the most important non-percussive instrument in Aboriginal culture. The sound of the instrument is a deep note changed into rhythmic patterns by accents made by the tongue and cheeks. Aboriginal Art suggests the didgeridoo is employed to replicate sounds from nature.

Other Wind Instruments

Although the didgeridoo is the most prominent and well-known wind instrument used in Aboriginal ceremonies, other wind instruments can be employed. Aboriginal Art notes the use of bone and reed whistles or even whistles fashioned from folded leaves to produce sound. Another wind instrument associated with the didgeridoo is the llpirra, also known as the Central Australian trumpet.

Percussive Sticks

Much like African music, Aboriginal music is mainly percussive in nature. Drums and other percussive instruments are more common than wind instruments, and considering there are no traditional string instruments in Aboriginal music, percussion makes up almost all of the instrumentation. Clapsticks are common percussive instruments, where a flattened and a rounded stick are beaten together. According to the Pacific Island Travel website, the boomerang, although widely known for uses in hunting, is also used as a clapstick-like instrument in music and ceremonies. Horton indicates that tribes also use rattles and scraping sticks called rasps, made from spears, in their music.


The beating of objects is a central sound in Aboriginal ceremonial music, according to Horton. Drums play an obvious role here in the form of a skin drum, which is an hourglass-shaped drum made from lizard skin. However, many objects in the environment can become suitable drums. Sticks beaten on shields or percussion tubes qualify as drums. The percussion tube is a hollow log played during ceremonies.

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