Native American Flute Music Inspiration
Indian Arts And Crafts Act: Understanding What It Means
Zuni Governor, Lutakawi,
Photographed by Edward S. Curtis
Confronting The Term 'Anasazi'
If you are considering purchasing an Anasazi flute, it is relevant to
understand that this term is something of a misnomer. 'Anasazi' it a term
historically applied by archaeologists to a culture which inhabited
the Four Corners Region of the American Southwest, including major sites just
as Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde and Canyon de Chelly. The word 'Anasazi' is a Dine
(Navajo) word meaning something along the lines of 'ancient enemy' - not a
flattering term, in other words, and certainly not the name used by these
ancestral Four Corners people to describe themselves. The 'disappearance' of
the Anasazi culture from their elaborate townsites was long termed one of the
greatest mysteries of the archaeological world, but many modern Southwestern
tribes assert that they are the direct descendents of these lost people who
simply moved away from the big towns into smaller settlements. Happily, this
view, long held by Indigenous Peoples, is beginning to be better understood
by non-Indigenous researchers.
Native flute makers like Marlon Magdalena suggest that a more appropriate
term for the Anasazi flute would be the Ancestral Pueblo Flute and
Native Flutes Walking recommends reading Mr. Magdalena's forthright article
on the difficulties with the term 'Anasazi'.
We would applaud seeing 'Ancestral Pueblo Flute' being used more regularly to
describe this type of ancient instrument, but for the most part, convention
dictates that the Internet searchers will find these woodwinds listed as
'Anasazi Flutes'. Here, we will use the terms co-jointly.
The arid climate of the Southwest has uniquely preserved both large
structures and small, intimate artifacts. Archaeologists are consistently
placing earlier and earlier dates for the very first inhabitation of this
special region - no one really knows how long people have lived here, but
is has certainly been for many thousands of years. Everything from small
ancient farming communities to tremendous cities with vast systems of roads
and waterways are hallmarks of the Southwest, and the historic and modern
Peoples of this region include:
San Carlos Apache,
San Ildefonso Pueblo,
Santa Clara Pueblo,
San Felipe Pueblo,
Santo Domingo Pueblo,
Santa Ana Pueblo,
White Mountain Apache,
Ysleta del Sur Pueblo,
and Zia Pueblo.
Whether you have deep Indigenous roots in the Southwest, or none at
all, Native Flutes Walking encourages you to learn all you can about the
original inhabitants of this part of the continent. From the heartbreaking Long Walk
of the Dine to Bosque Redondo, to the breathtaking art of the Zuni, to the
spiritual guidance of the Hopi, here are cultures of immense richness and
value that deserve to be honored and preserved.
Map of the American Southwest
Archaeologist Earl H. Morris
of the Carnegie Institute
Historic Documentation of the Pueblo/Anasazi Flute
The oldest known Ancient Pueblo/Anasazi flutes were uncovered in the Prayer
Rock District of Arizona in 1931 by Earl H. Morris of the Carnegie Institute
at a site later to become known as Broken Flute Cave. Morris was one of the
foremost Southwestern archaeologists of his time, with his most famous work
being conducted at the Great Kiva near Aztec, Arizona. Of most interest to
musicians is Morris' excavation of 16 caves in North-Eastern Arizona and
the finding of some truly ancient flutes.
The illustration of the black flute, above, is one of the six flutes found
during this dig. Archaeologists date the
findings at Broken Flute Cave from 1620 - 1670 AD. Two of the flutes were tied
together with yucca fiber, one was stuffed with a corn cob, and others with
yucca fiber. All of the flutes were made of box elder. Some bore decorations
of the feathers of Stellar's Jays, Pinyon Jays and Sapsuckers. Though two of
the flutes were broken, the others could still be played and their notes were
subsequently determined by researchers. Each of the flutes had six holes and
were rim blown.
Unlike the more commonly known Native American Flutes (the Plains flute
and Woodlands flute)
which are termed 'fipple' flutes because of their whistle mechanism which
enables very easy playing, the Ancestral Pueblo/Anasazi flute requires the
player to develop an embouchure with the muscles of the mouth to get a good
sound from the instrument. By blowing air across the rim of the flute, a tone
Some 40 years before the famous Prayer Rock District expedition, another archaeologist, George Pepper, was studying the Pueblo Bonito site in Chaco Canyon
in New Mexico as part of the Hyde Exploring Expedition. In a very small room at Pueblo Bonito, designated room 33, a discovery was made of several beautiful
end-blown flutes, one of which was magnificently decorated with an orange and green design, and another suggesting the squash blossom design so typical of
Southwestern Indigenous art. Two other flutes bore animal fetishes, possibly a
bear and a lizard. Read George Pepper's complete field notes on his findings.
The Prayer Rock district, site of Broken Flute Cave
Pueblo Bonito is the largest dwelling in the Chaco Complex
and, from tree ring dating and other forms of research, archaeologists conclude that this amazing abode was inhabited between AD 828 and 1126. These dates
help us to estimate the antiquity of the flutes found in room 33.
Aerial view of Pueblo Bonito,
Bob Adams, Albuquerque, NM
It is from flutes like those found at Pueblo Bonito and Broken Flute Cave that many modern Native American-style flute makers draw their inspiration today,
and it is important to reiterate here that many Indigenous People of the region continue to make flutes in the styles of their ancestors such as the Hopi 5
hole flute and the Jemez 4 hole flute. While archaeological findings have much to teach the public, more is still to be learned from the stories and
wisdom of Indigenous Peoples, themselves.
Historic Documentation of the Ancestral Pueblo/Anasazi Flute
There is a sad irony in the fact that research into early Native American flutes is often dependent upon the written records of the Europeans who brought
disease and violence to the American Continents and eventually usurped most of the land. Unfortunately, these documents frequently display the ignorance
and prejudice of their writers and their times. Nonetheless, these accounts are important to researchers looking for earliest mentions of the use of the
Researchers may run into confusion in the erratic terminology used to describe Native American Flutes in the earliest written documentation of
them. Europeans use the terms flute, flageolet, fife, pipes and whistle
interchangeably in these reports.
Pedro de Castanada, chronicler of the violent Coronado expedition, made
these two observations while traveling in the Southwest in the 1540's:
"Five days from here he came to Cicuye, a very strong village four stories
high. The people came out from the village with signs of joy to welcome
Hernando de Alvardo and their captain, and brought with them into the town
with drums and pipes something like flutes, of which they have a great many...
A man sits at the door playing on a fife while they grind, moving the stones
to the music and singing together." (Page 146, The Journey of Coronado,
1540-1542, George Parker Winship)
In a Report from the American Ethnology Bureau, this information is given
about the sacred Hopi Flute Ceremony:
"The Lenya or Flute ceremony is one of the most complicated in the Hopi
ritual, and one of the most important in the calendar. It occurs in five
pueblos, not being celebrated at Sichumovi or at Hano. The ceremony was first
described by the author in an article in which the public rites or "dance"
at Walpiwere briefly noted and their relation to the Snake dance was first
recognized. When this paper was published the author was unaware that the
Flute ceremony was of nine days' duration, for in 1890, when the description
was written, the existence of nine days ceremonies among the Hopi was unknown.
A more extended study of the Hopi ritual in the following year (1891) revealed
the fact that a Flute ceremony, similar to that at Walpi, occurred likewise
in the four other Hopi pueblos which celebrate the complete ritual, and
in 1892 the author described the last two days of the Flute rite at
Shipaulovi. In the course of these studies it was recognized that this
ceremony lasted nine days, that it was performed by two divisions of Flute
priests, and that each division had an elaborate altar about which secret
rites were performed."
(United States. American Ethnology Bureau, Annual
Reports, Volume 19, Part 2, 1900)
Flute player petroglyph near Embudo, NM
Happily, in the case of the Southwest, we need not rely solely on European accounts. The petroglyph art of this region testifies to the importance of the
flute in countless examples, such as the one shown above right. Recently, a Hopi deity referred to as 'Kokopelli' has become an internationally familiar symbol,
embellishing everything from garden sculpture to textiles. This now-widely-recognized character resembles the familiar humpbacked flute player pecked into
rock faces throughout the Southwest, some of very ancient origin.
Marlon Magdalena playing Ancestral Pueblo Flute
in Room 33 at Pueblo Bonito
Flutemaker Michael Graham Allen is widely credited with making some of the first Anasazi-style reproduction flutes, based upon the findings of archaeology.
Allen's work inspired other flutemakers to try their hand at these somewhat challenging instruments, and several wonderful options are available to anyone
who would like to own a Ancestral Pueblo/Anasazi-style flute. These craftsmen are using numerous materials - everything from cedar to PVC pipe to make
flutes for sale.
Notes on Tuning of the Anasazi Flute
Historic Pueblo flutes were hollow - quite different from the two-chambered-duct Native American flute - and it has been noted by researchers that most of
the flutes found in the Four Corners Region of the Southwest are tuned to the same scale. In other words, the sound chamber and holes were arranged to
produce like sets of notes. It is conjectured from this that early Pueblo flutes may have been played in a call-and-response setting, or perhaps, in concert, but
no one knows for certain. Today, flutemakers can base the tones of their flutes on the traditional scale, or can craft them to fit Western scales or other
musical patterns. For further information about the tuning of the
Anasazi Flute, we recommend Mark Purtill's Guide.
How Hard Is It To Play The Ancestral Pueblo/Anasazi Flute?
Beginners may be discouraged by the fact that some flute players and makers warn it may take days or weeks to get a good sound from this type of flute. Unlike
the Plains flute or Woodlands flute which simply requires blowing into the mouthpiece and covering the tone holes, the Anasazi style flute requires you
to develop a specific manner of holding your mouth (embouchure) to correctly play the instrument. Once you have developed this skill, however, you will be able
to enjoy the uniquely warm and satisfying tones of this majestic woodwind. If this seems too challenging, you might like to investigate the
EZ Anasazi Flute, created by Steve
DeRuby. It features a special fipple flute construction common to the Plains/Woodlands flute, but is supposed to have a tone similar to that of the Anasazi flute.
Butch Hall Flutes
Walnut, Cherry, Exotic Woods
Exact reproductions of the Broken Flute Cave flutes
CDs, flute bags, books
Beautiful and authentic construction. Butch hall is a recording artist.
Visit Site »
Oak, Poplar, Bamboo, PVC
Beautiful painting and carving
Inspired by Pueblo Bonito flutes. Beautifully crafted by a Jemez flute maker.
Visit Site »
Coyote Old Man
Michael Graham Allen
Request Quote at firstname.lastname@example.org
Credited with energetically promoting the Anasazi-style flute
Workshops, performances, recordings
Michael Graham Allen has been hand-crafting Native American-style flutes since
Visit Site »
Earth Tone Flutes
$175 - $285
Black Walnut, Curly Maple, Many Exotic Woods
Offering two lines of Anasazi-style flutes
Many styles of flutes
Endorsed by Anasazi flute master player Scott August.
Visit Site »
There are many types of Native Flutes from North, Central and South America.
In order to ensure that your purchase of a Native Flute is truly satisfying,
answer the following 3 questions:
Question 1. What Are Your Needs In A Flute?
Are you a beginner who will be happy with the most economical, student flute or a serious musician with more specific requirements? Is the flute
for a man, woman or child? This is important to identify, as the size of flutes varies so much. Most
modern Anasazi-style flutes are quite long, and may even need to be played
standing up. If you are short of stature or have small hands, you may be
better off choosing a different type of Native Flute. Contact Anasazi flutemakers
directly to inquire about their measurements. Additionally, be prepared to
spend time practicing before getting a good sound from an Anasazi-style flute.
Question 2. What Is Your Budget For A Flute?
You can spend anywhere from $50 to hundreds of dollars for an Anasazi-style
flute. Identify how much you can afford to spend, and do a lot of looking around to find the best quality for your money. Remember, there are many poor quality Native-style flutes
out there that may look fancy with a lot of beads and feathers or other adornments, but that do not play well. Buy from trusted, endorsed flutemakers, only,
even if you are only buying the least expensive good flute on the market.
Question 3. Who Will You Buy Your Flute From?
This brings up the somewhat controversial question of Native-made versus Non-Native-made flutes and deserves clarification. While searching on the Internet,
you will find many websites selling Native-American-style flutes which are not crafted by Native American people. This is not automatically a bad thing. The
negative aspect of this is that some flute sellers illegally attempt to pass their flutes off as Native-made when they are, in fact, not. They may
be manufactured by non-Native U.S. residents, or they may come from China or another foreign country. There is nothing wrong with non-Natives making and
selling flutes, but it is illegal for anyone to sell a flute falsely listed as being Native-made. Such makers are legally obligated to describe their
flutes as Native American-Style Flutes rather than Native American Flutes. Do not trust any website that does not make it clear whether
the flute maker is Native or not. You have the right to know, and Indigenous
Peoples have the right to avoid exploitation of their heritage.
In searching for an Anasazi Flute, you will likely soon discover that there are very few Native Americans flutemakers who have websites. Only a handful
will show up for most searches, whereas there are many more non-Native-American flutemakers offering instruments for sale. Again, there is nothing
wrong with purchasing your flute from the latter category of craftsmen, and in fact, many famous Indigenous musicians endorse and celebrate the work of
these instrument makers, but just be sure any non-Native flutemaker is
disclosing that he is not of Indigenous origins before you do business
Many Native Americans across the country look to the Southwest for
spiritual inspiration and guidance. The Hopi People are especially beloved
for their wisdom and prophecy. The United States is currently experiencing
a time of change and upheaval, and many people from all walks of life are
seeking new attitudes towards their fellow beings and the Earth.
Native Flutes Walking strongly recommends the following five-part video
series in which Native American elders speak out about the changing times
and the need for a fundamental change in American society.
If you watch these videos, you will hear elders calling you to slow down,
to quiet down and connect with the Earth. Music offers a wonderful medium
through which you can become more reflective, calm and aware of yourself and
your surroundings. The Ancestral Pueblo/Anasazi flute may enable you
to express yourself, and also to begin to better discern your place on the
Take your Anasazi flute to a woodland, beach, desert canyon or out under
the stars. Spend time with your flute regularly, being sensitive to the
sights and sounds around you. For many people, the Native American Flute has
become an instrument of meditation and prayer, just as it has always been
for Indigenous Peoples.
Consider sharing the gift of your music with others. There may be lonely
people in your community who would love to hear you play. You might also
volunteer to visit classrooms or community centers. Music can both heal
and bring people together for fun and friendship.
Nearly all Native American flutemakers encourage their customers to view
time with the flute as personal time. This is not a time to strive to be
perfect, exact, or regimented. It's just you and your flute - a moment to
enjoy. You can't go wrong making music on the Anasazi Flute because
what you play is all about you. If you express what is in your heart, your tune
will always be true.
Recommended Books and Films on Native American History
- The People: Indians of the American Southwest, Stephen Trimble
- 1491, Charles C. Mann
- House of Rain, Craig Childs
- Video Documentary: How The West Was Lost
Recommended Books on the Native American Flute
- The Art of the Native American Flute, R. Carlos Nakai
- Love Flute, Paul Goble
- Flute Magic: An Introduction to the Native American Flute,
Tim R. Crawford
Recommended Websites about the Native American Flute
The Anasazi Flute May Be Right For You If...
- You have Southwestern indigenous ancestry
- You respect and admire Southwestern cultures
- You are looking for a challenging instrument to play
- You want an instrument on which you can improve with practice
- You enjoy warm, deep tones
- You appreciate natural materials and fine workmanship
- You feel you have music inside you waiting to come out
Native Flutes Walking wishes you joy through music, and a good
journey along the Native flute path.