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Classic Toys & Puzzles' Page
Background: The bull roarer is a primitive wind instrument
and one of the first musical instruments Man invented. It has
been used by primitive cultures in Africa, Australia, New Guinea,
Europe, the Americas, and the Arctic polar region. Its origins
can be traced to 24,000 years ago! It has been a symbol of fertility,
and evidence of them has been found in several Paleolithic sites.
The bull roarer was an important acoustical part of various
spiritual rituals and certain rites of passage in some areas
of the world. When spun overhead in a circular motion, it produces
a pleasing "whirr, whirr" hypnotic droning sound. This
sound was incorporated into primitive rituals to produce a "voice"
of an ancestor, a spirit, or deity. To others, its sound represented
various insects and animals.
The bull roarer has been used for several purposes. It has
been used to call out to the spirit world and to gain the attention
of spiritual beings who were thought to be able to influence
the natural elements, such as wind and rain. Hence, bull roarers
are usually painted with various symbols representing clouds,
raindrops, lightning, and other depictions. The Apaches in North
America used bull roarers to call forth rain.
This ancient wind instrument was made with a flat wooden board
(called a "rhomboid") and pierced with a small hole
at one of the ends for attaching a length of cord or rope. The
rhomboid was sometimes carved, painted, or both. Sometimes animal
bone or stone was substituted for the flat wood board. Oftentimes,
a thong handle was tied to the other end of the cord for a better
grip to control speed and direction.
The bull roarer's sound is produced by vibrations of the flat
wood as it rotates in the air. Changing in the speed and angle
to the ground changes the sonority and allows an individual to
make the sounds of a whimper, moan, roar, or scream.
There is not a typical range for bull roarers as each one
is a one-of-a-kind instrument. Change the velocity of the spin,
however, and the size of the instrument affects the relative
pitch. The smaller the bull roarer, the faster it can be spun
for a higher pitch. Conversely, a larger instrument spinning
at a slower speed results in a lower pitch.
The bull roarer has been used by Native American cultures
such as the Athabaskan, Nootka, Yokuts, Pomo, Hopi, and Aztecs.
The Navajo call their bull roarers "Tsin di'ni" (groaning
stick) and used them to drive away evil spirits. It is called
several different names, including "Burliwarni," "Ngurrarngay,"
and "Muypak." Sometimes a bull roarer was used to send
animals into ambush or to alert a tribe of another's presence
in their area.
To the Maori, the bull roarer is called "Purererhua"
(butterfly), and a smaller version (called a "Porotiti")
was used for healing by spinning over areas of rheumatism or
arthritis. (The sound's vibrations massaged joints in a similar
way to modern ultrasound therapy!)
The main academics that have studied ancient bull roarers
have been ethnomusicologists and anthropologists. This is because
of the instrument's use in ritual and magic ceremonies.
Fact: The bull roarer is also called a Rhombus and is
still used today as the "voice of God" by Aborigine
tribes in Australia!
Fact: The bull roarer is an "aerophone" and,
along with the flute, one of the oldest musical instruments of