'Daring Book for Girls' breaks didgeridoo taboo in Australia

An Australian publishing house was forced to apologise today for a book that encourages girls to play the didgeridoo, an instrument that in Aboriginal culture is usually reserved for men.







Aboriginal academics accused HarperCollins of “extreme cultural insensitivity” over its decision to include instructions on playing the didgeridoo in an Australian edition of a British bestseller, The Daring Book for Girls.

Traditionally, women do not even handle the long, tubular instrument, which has been part of indigenous culture for thousands of years, and is played at funerals and initiation ceremonies. Some Aboriginal people believe that girls who break the taboo will be infertile.

Mark Rose, head of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, said that HarperCollins had committed “an extreme faux pas” by publishing a chapter on didgeridoo playing. “I wouldn’t let my daughter touch one,” he said. “I reckon it’s the equivalent of encouraging someone to play with razor blades. I would say pulp it.”

In Britain, where the activity manual and its companion volume, The Dangerous Book for Boys, were originally published, both have been bestsellers. In the US, the two books have been on the New York Times bestseller list for months.

HarperCollins Australia, which will release its version of the girls’ book next month, has replaced some of the original content with material aimed at the local market, such as the rules of netball and instructions on how to surf.

Shona Martyn, the company’s publishing director, initially defended the didgeridoo chapter, saying she was not convinced that all Aboriginal people would be offended by it. But today she bowed to pressure, issuing a statement apologising “unreservedly” for any offence caused, and saying that the chapter would be replaced when the book was reprinted.

Dr Rose , who spoke out after an advance copy of the book was circulated, told ABC radio today that the ignorance of the general public was also to blame. “I would say, from an indigenous perspective, [it was] an extreme mistake, but part of a general ignorance that mainstream Australia has about Aboriginal culture,” he said.

Dr Rose said that, in indigenous culture, there was “men’s business” and “women’s business”. He said: “The didgeridoo is definitely a men’s business ceremonial tool. We know very clearly that there’s a range of consequences for a female touching a didgeridoo. Infertility would be the start of it.”

His views were echoed by an indigenous author, Anita Heiss, who is chair of the Australian Society of Authors. “I haven’t seen the book, but that sort of stuff, had it been written by an indigenous person, or had they actually spoken to an indigenous person … clearly that chapter wouldn’t have been in there,” she said.

“It’s cultural ignorance, and it’s a slap in the face to indigenous people and to indigenous writers who are actually writing in the field.”

The didgeridoo, believed to be the world’s oldest wind instrument, is made from tree trunks and branches naturally hollowed out by termites. Traditionally made and played only in northern Australia, it is now found across much of the country, largely because of tourist demand.

While most Aboriginal cultures consider it a man’s instrument, not all believe that women should never touch or play it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Training and Development Consultant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This software development organisation are loo...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Admin / Studio Manager

£17000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable