Cart 0

The Handpan + a Digeridoo = Cultural Appropriation x 2

digeridoo handpan hand pan blog hang pan hang pan blog karibpan steel drum blog steel pan steel pan blog steeldrum steeldrum blog steelpan steelpan blog

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 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!

Older Post Newer Post

  • bled on

    The commonalities you share with a culture don’t give you the right to speak on its behalf. You don’t have to discuss anything with me. I’m not denying white people are privileged, that colonialism hasn’t ravaged, and continues to ravage, indigenous cultures around the world, and that cultural appropriation isn’t a problem. What I’m saying, and listen carefully, is that you yourself are engaging in a form of cultural appropriation when you claim to speak on behalf of Aboriginal Australians, as a non-Indigenous black person. Simply being black and suffering the effects of colonialism do not give you that right. Don’t listen to me, a white person, that’s fine. I have nothing to tell you. Reflect on yourself and you’ll see the contradiction. Whether or not you address it is up to you. Goodbye.

  • Admin on

    Dear bled,

    drop an aboriginal person anywhere in EU or north america, and guaranteed, he will be mistaken for an African. Be honest, where white people are concerned, all black people look the same, regardless of our ethnic background, we are all black, with little to no distinction. The negroes of the west and the aboriginals of Australia have way more in common than you care to admit. We are all losers under white supremacy and our cultures have been stolen for profit and entertainment at our expense. What has not been stolen from us has been destroyed. We have no land, no human rights, no dignity and no future. I could go on and on, but like I say, I do not wish to discuss matters of race with entitled white people like yourself! there is obviously no point and I have better things to do with my time!

  • bled on

    You being a ‘negro’ does not give you the right to speak on behalf of other cultures that you’re not a part of. How you “think” they feel about it means literally nothing, you have no right to speak on their behalf, and you giving your opinion as if it does mean something is condescending and arrogant. They can speak for themselves, they don’t need you.

  • Admin on

    Dear bled,

    My goodness, from your tone, you sound as if you are one of the culture vultures who has bled indigenous cultures dry!

    I think aboriginals ’’accept’’ the culture being misappropriated as much as they ’’accept’’ being forcibly removed from their native lands and effectively colonized and reduced to nothing. They basically have resigned themselves to the fact that they are powerless in the face of all of this.

    If you accuse me, a negro, of ’’tokenising’’ the aboriginals, then obviously your accusation is coming from a place of white privilege! While accusing me and justifying cultural misappropriation via your lengthy comment, you conveniently failed to mention exactly how the handpan IS NOT cultural misappropriation for the most part. And this was essentially the point of the article.

    And we have highlighted a couple of European/white steelpan makers who approach the culture with respect:

  • bled on

    We have heaps of Aboriginal musicians down here who play guitars and all sorts of so called ‘western’ instruments and they’re famous and well paid for it. We also have a burgeoning hip hop culture amongst Aboriginal youth and it’s fast becoming some of the most popular rap and hip hop coming out of Australia, with national airplay on our radio stations, and increasing attention and admiration. They’re not mocked and ridiculed.

    I get the concern about cultural appropriation, but there are sensitive ways of engaging in another culture and insensitive ways. Trivialising or parodying the instrument would be insensitive. Respecting it and learning to play it in interesting new ways and contexts isn’t cultural appropriation, and Aboriginals generally have no problem with non-Indigenous people playing them. It’s never been an issue here, although there is some controversy about whether women are allowed to play them. The quote you posted says exactly that, that it’s acceptable for people of other cultures to play the instrument.

    What you’ve done in this post is tokenise the Aboriginal people to make your own personal point. You’ve claimed to speak on their behalf, which is presumptuous and insulting. There’s nothing wrong with non-Indigenous people playing didgeridoos.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published