There are many stories among the various Nations as to the origin of the flute. Some American historians believe that the flute was developed after German organ-pipe craftsmen came to America in search of woods with which to make organ pipes. Given that these craftsmen did not arrive in America until the late 1700's, this could not be a plausible theory, as indigenous flutes dating back nearly 2000 years have been discovered by archeologists.
The flute was used by some Nations in ceremony or healing at one time, but it has been said by the Elders that these ceremonies have been removed from the People for a period of time. The flute's primary purpose was to be used as a courting instrument for young men's use only. Traditionally, women never would touch a flute. Many contemporary flute players still prefer this to be the case. However, various Nations having different customs, there are now several female flute players. The Elders tell that a woman is so powerful, that even her touch could destroy a flute's special ability to win the heart of the one it was played for. Charles Littleleaf, a good friend of mine, once said, "If the Creator gives a woman the talent to play the flute, then who am I to say she shouldn't play it?"
The flute came to the People by way of a young man who had nothing. He fell in love with a girl whose father was a leader, a man among men. As the young man had nothing, he could offer the girl and her family nothing, meaning he could not even speak to her. He ran up a hill, sat beneath a tree, and began crying. The wind felt sorry for the young man, and began to gently blow around him, so as to dry his tears. A woodpecker began pecking at a tree branch above the young man's head. Although it was irritating, the young man did his best to ignore the woodpecker. Soon, the wind began to blow through the holes pecked in the tree branch. The branch fell from the tree, and the young man recognized the gift that he had been given. As the young man walked down the hill, a bull elk challenged him with a bugling cry. The elk sang his love song to the cows when he realized that the young man posed no threat., and the young man learned to play this song on his flute. That night, he sat down behind the lodge of the girl he loved, and played the song given to him by the bull elk. For 4 nights, he did this, and he knew that the young woman he desired was listening, as no one came out of the lodge to chase him away. On the fifth day, he followed the young woman to the stream where she went to get water each morning. He hid in the bushes, and played his song. When she turned, he stood, showing himself for the first time. He told her, "I know I am not much to see, and I have nothing to offer you but myself. I will protect you and provide for you if you will have me. If you can look at my eyes and tell me that you are not in love with the song that my heart makes for you, then I will leave you and say no more". Of course, the young woman was indeed taken by his song, as songs are very powerful when they are sung correctly. And the young couple became the first to come together because of the flute. And the young man, he came to be known as 'Tayazo hoksine" or "Flute Boy".
Kokopelli is a flute player, a vagabond with a pack on his back, a lover, a coward, and an overused image of the southwest art culture, depending on which opinion you choose to accept. His figure appears in Hohokam and Fremont petroglyphs, and the stories of his wanderings are many. Some say he is not a flute player at all, but an image of a traveling man. They say that the stick he holds is not a flute at all, but rather a cane for traveling with. Some say that the stick is to hold a bag over his shoulder, but this would be highly uncommon for an indigenous person to travel with such a pack. Most Fremont, Hohokam, and Anasazi drawings and historical finds would indicate a 'tump' line (a band running over the forehead, to the top of the bag or basket, leaving the hands free) or a dog pack.
His name most likely is an amalgam of Hopi and Zuni word for a god, "Koko", and the word for an insect, "pelli". Some believe he was a black man who led the Spanish through the Southwest in their search for Cibola. Some Kokopelli figures on rocks are highly phallic, while others do not contain such embellishments. Many petroglyphs did not originally contain phalluses, but were later added by Spanish conquistadors, setting an early trend for graffiti. However the origin of his extremity is from indigenous cultures, not from the Spanish. Many cultures have believed that hunchbacks were fertility symbols, and this furthers that idea. In any event, Kokopelli was always welcome at corn time, or when the men left for long periods, so long as the men did not know he was lurking about.....
Nevertheless, his mystical and mythical figure has spawned many legends, most of them contemporary and to be taken with a grain of salt. Only the Pueblo People have the original stories of this legendary person, although many books have been written about him and his prowess with the female gender. Regardless of the cultural view of the Native flute, it seems to always be seen as a means of winning over a woman's heart. Many would say that the flute still holds that power today.
THE FLUTE IN CONTEMPORARY CULTURE
The Native flute is the only melodic wind instrument belonging to the People of this continent, and in fact, is the only instrument indigenous exclusively to the United States. There are some that believe that the flute should be preserved exclusively as a cultural instrument, and still others that believe that access should be granted to all who enjoy it's beautiful tones. Certainly, the resolve for both sides lies somewhere in the middle. The arguments surrounding the cultural views have merit, as contemporary times seem to allow non-Natives to simply 'steal' what they wish from Native culture, without regard to context or concern for personal injury, spiritual or otherwise. Therefore, the flute should be respected as the cultural icon that it is. However, as the instrument grows in popularity, and is heard in many forms of music today, it is obvious that the groundswell of aspiring flutists cannot be stopped. The issue is similar to when the violin became available to the 'lower classes' in Italy during the Dark Ages. The ruling classes felt that in the hands of the 'working classes', the value of the violin would be diminished, and eventually become a toy for children. There was much outcry among the politicos of the time, much as there is today surrounding the flute. As a flutist involved with children, I see the flute as a tool for all peoples to use in a positive manner. There will always be those not respectful of the instrument for it's cultural value, and this is distressing. However, the benefits to the large number of children and adults alike that enjoy the flute far outweigh the numbers of those who would not understand the flute as more than just a piece of wood. Therefore, it has been proposed that Native flutes replace the plastic recorders that most 4-5 grade students receive during their music units in school. The flute will not only give them a sense of music, but also a sense of cultural awareness. Student flutes are available from Native Restoration with costs beginning around $12.00 for a quality, beginning instrument. A helpful video guide with Douglas Spotted Eagle is available as well. The unfinished flutes are simple to finish out in wonderful sound and appearance.
Instructions for making each of these flutes may be found in the "VOICES OF NATIVE AMERICA/MUSIC AND INSTRUMENTS" book. Flute music and other Native American music may be ordered from Sound of America Records, 1-800-890-SOAR. Lastly, custom flutes may be ordered from here.... They have great flutes from several different makers, and awesome storage bags from Laughing Mallard. They carry flutes for the beginner, as well as instruments for the recording professional. They even carry a video that teaches players more techniques about the flute, featuring Douglas Spotted Eagle.
Finally, if you'd like to learn flute songs, here is the tablature for the flute song, "Sunrise Prayer", adapted from the popular "Zuni Sunrise" as found on Douglas' Higher Octave release, "PRAY".