Published on June 27, 2014 by Amy
The Native American flute has been reported to be the third oldest known musical instrument in the world, with bone flutes dating back over 60,000 years. Drums were discovered first, and then various rattles were made, followed by bone whistles. Eventually, more holes were added and they were made larger. Over time, the instrument evolved with different materials being used in its creation – whatever was available in the area. Virtually, all types of hardwoods and softwoods were used for flutes at some point in time. Flutes had many different configurations – 2,3,4,5,6,7 or 8 holes. In parts of the southern United States, river reed was used to make flutes. This reed has a natural joint that serves as a sort of barrier that helps create a chamber. These flutes are relatively easy to make and may have contributed to the design of what is commonly referred to as the plains style flute. Which is the type that most flute players use today.
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Native flutes and whistles were used for many reasons, usually varying by tribe. The Tribes of the NW Coast used bone and cedar whistles for different dances and spirit calling ceremonies. Still today, Eagle Bone Whistles are used at many Pow Wows. Flutes were used for entertainment by many tribes while traveling; many of these songs still exist today. The Hopi Tribe had flute societies that performed powerful prayer ceremonies with their flutes. The Lakota Tribes used the flute for courting and love songs.
Like many other parts of native culture, the flute was not allowed by the government in most parts of the United States for a period of time. There were those Elders on rural reservations that kept the tradition alive, and people like Dr. Richard W. Payne, helped to re-introduce it to native societies. The renaissance began in the early 1900s from the Southwest, and started to grow rapidly in the 1960s. Until today, when the native flute is now widely accepted in most parts of North America. The instrument is so advanced that very little changes have been made in the last 150 years or so.