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The Handpan + a Digeridoo = Cultural Appropriation x 2

The steelpan via the hang/handpan is not the only sacred, cultural institution of an instrument that has been co-opted, colonized and corrupted by Europeans on a wide scale. As I have discussed this particular matter in previous blog posts as it pertains to the handpan, I will add another example which proves my point about the erroneous sense of entitlement that most people of European descent have when it comes to culturally misappropriating the sacred cultural institutions of indigenous cultures globally. 

The digeridoo/yidaki comes immediately to mind as an instrument that is intimately connected to the the handpan community at large. For as long as I have seen the hang/handpan being played, I have seen the player accompanied by a digeridoo player who was NEVER an aboriginal Australian. Another frequent sight consists of a handpan player playing handpan + digeridoo simultneously.

If you the readers fail to see something horribly wrong with the following picture, I dare say you are part of the problem of cultural misappropriation:


Why do Europeans have such a knack for appropriating the sacred inventions and intellectual property of the indigenous humans of the world and performing corny, soul-less, cheap tricks with them for entertainment and profit?

In my professional opinion as a pannist and performing musician, the only reason why cultural misappropriators like the fellas featured above can gain money/attention exploiting these indigenous instruments as they do, is due to the fact that they come across as gimmicky and novel to their predominantly European audiences. These overwhelmingly ignorant audiences who support these tacky musical acts often derive great pleasure from seeing members of their own race exploiting these indigenous instruments.

It goes without saying that these same European audiences would more readily patronize a fellow European, bare-foot digeridoo player than they would an aboriginal, Alpine Horn player decked out in lederhosen, if there ever was one! It is absurd to even imagine an aboriginal dressed up in lederhosen and playing an Alpine Horn in Europe for money! 

It is very likely that the aboriginal individual, who by chance decides to learn the Alpine Horn and start busking in Bavaria in the attempt to please European audiences, would garner outright scorn for his efforts! As far as such a hypothetical aboriginal Alpine Horn busker in Bavaria making any sort of real money, much less procuring stage gigs from his hypothetical exploits, I think it is safe to say that he would not make much money from such activity, neither would the the Germans be rushing to book him to grace their stages! 

I would go even further and say if an aboriginal were to ever wear lederhosen and busk with an Alpine Horn in Bavaria, he would be met with more insults than praise as most Bavarians would be appalled at the sight, and driven to a rage which would stem from a feeling of being culturally and aesthetically insulted. 

Knowing this, the stark level of hypocrisy where the cultural misappropriation of the handpan and digeridoo are concerned is that much more egregious. Furthermore, the slavery, genocide and colonization that both the handpan and digeridoo were birthed from is an afterthought to many who take up these instruments, if they are even a thought in the first instance.

The handpan, which is a direct descendant of the traditional steelpan, is an instrument with a direct lineage to negro slavery, genocide and colonization at the hands of a white supremacist, global regime. 

Regarding the digeridoo, the same is true.

The website Tranceshamanismbodyandsoul.blogspot.de has a very insightful article entitled, ''The Cultural Appropriation of Indigenous Art, Music and Spirituality'', which states:



'' Many Indigenous people see the use of their art as a continuation of colonisation. On this issue, Galarrauwary Yunupingu, a Yonglu man and land rights activist, states, 

'They are using the same old tactics of assimilation, except this time they are trying to assimilate our culture into their world because it is fashionable in their eyes and will make money. …[W]e will survive these attempts to wipe out our peoples. … Just as our struggle for land is still strong, so is our fight to maintain and revive our culture, for our land and our culture are indivisible from our lives' (Coleman, 2005: 2).''
The article goes on to state,
''This appropriation has made it difficult to determine if there are taboos surrounding non-indigenous people playing it. In addressing this issue Manduwuy Yunupingu, lead vocalist of Yothu Yindi and brother of Galarruway Yunupingu states,

'Yolngu understand that the yidaki has become an Australian icon and accept that non-Yolngu people throughout the world use it for informal purposes and enjoyment. Be aware, however, that its origins are sacred and secret to Yolngu men. Those stories cannot be told here, can only be shared with initiated men. The yidaki is a male oriented instrument. In Yolngu society women are forbidden to play it, as its origins are sacred to men.' (Nuenfeldt, 2006:39).''

As the indigenous spirituality behind the digeridoo has been colonized and monetized by Europeans for profit, so has the steelpan, mainly via the hang/handpan. I will expand more on this topic in the next KaribPAN blog article entitled, ''The Hang as The Illegitimate, Red-Headed Step-Child of the Steelpan Family''. 

But for now, I would like to conclude by reminding the readers that just because an instrument may look fun and profitable, it does not mean that it is meant to be exploited, especially in the case of the digeridoo. 

Concerning the handpan however, if it were treated with significantly more respect among the cultural misappropriators as far as embracing and acknowledging the ugly history of the instrument, this would go a long way in making the colonization inherently less evil than it has been and currently is. On top of that, if the cultural misappropriators would see themselves as guests in a culture that does not belong to them instead of viewing themselves as inventors of a new, unique instrument, they would be making significant progress as far as rejoining their steelpan family as the runaway, illegitimate, red-headed step-child they truly are!

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