This artifact, commonly known as a bullroarer, is part of the Museum’s education collection, used to teach students of all ages. Bullroarers are one of the earliest artifacts that can be classified as a musical instrument, having been used by many different cultures over nearly 20,000 years. Bullroarers are used by holding the string in one hand and whirling the piece of wood. As it moves through the air, it creates a low pitched sound capable of traveling long distances.
Today, bullroarers are most closely associated with the Aboriginal people of Australia; however, we do not know what they call the instrument as they do not share their name for it with non-Aboriginal people. Australian Aboriginal people use the bullroarer during initiation ceremonies and other rituals, including burials. The sound is thought to ward off evil spirits. Traditionally, bullroarers are used only by men. Women are prohibited from using, touching, or in some cases, even seeing one.
This bullroarer, which was made for the tourist trade, is decorated with an image of the Rainbow Serpent, an important creator god in Aboriginal mythology.
For the month of July, this bullroarer will be available at the Museum’s front desk for visitors to handle. We will also have a bullroarer that visitors can play with, as well as a children’s book about the Rainbow Serpent. Come visit us to check it out!