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Desert Diary


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A fluttering humming sound, strangely eery, not loud, but carrying far. Considered by some to be the sound of one of the oldest musical instruments known to man, others consider it the very voice of the gods, and others as a warning that sacred ceremonies are in progress--keep your distance.

Known in English as a bullroarer, the instrument is important in cultures from Australia and New Guinea to the Athabaskans and Aztecs of the New World. In our Southwest, it plays a part in ceremonies of the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Apache, and other tribes.

For something so important, it's amazingly simple. At its most basic, it consists merely of a flat piece of wood with a hole bored in one end for a cord several feet long. In use, the wood is twirled overhead by the string, producing the sound that can be varied by speed and the length of the attachment.

Somehow it's refreshing that an object so simple that it can be made by a child can speak with the voice of spirits.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Web Resources

Bullroarer general information.