Arapaho Courting Flute

Arapaho Courting Flute from the Library of Congress, Dayton C. Miller collection, DCM 0687

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 according to Roger McGee, an artist with a passion for Native American flute making and playing.

Mr. McGee shares the following legend from the Lakota, a tribe with close ties to our own in current years.

“This story was told to me by a Lakota Elder named Phillip “Brown Bear” Lane….he came to visit my studio to see the statue I was sculpting of Walla Walla Chief Peo Peo Mox Mox ( Yellowbird )…he heard that a statue was being made to honor the Native People and he could not believe this was happening….He said he was afraid with his passing that his old Indian ways would be forgotten…..He was proud to see the statue I was working on.. I showed him my flutes and I played for him….that is when he sat down and told me his story of the first flute….He passed on shortly there after…..I am sure he would be pleased to share the story with you and your readers…Yes please use the story as you see fit….I only ask that you do not change any of the story, from the way it was told to me……Thank You again for your interest……..Many Blessings to You!    Aho!….Roger McGee

 Legend of the first flute

A very long time ago there was a young man who was very interested in a beautiful young girl. He was always trying to get her attention, but she never seemed to notice him. Whenever she was present he would ride his horse proudly, but nothing he did seemed to attract her. One day when the girls were down by the river getting water, the young man went down to the river and began diving off rocks and swimming across the river, to show her how skilled he was, but again she paid him no mind. Dejected, the young man walked into the nearby old growth forest and sat down at the base of a long dead cedar tree. As he sat there thinking about this girl, a woodpecker landed on a hollowed limb that was over his head, the limb had been hollowed over time from the wind and weather. The woodpecker began to peck holes….tap, tap, tap……… along the length of this hollowed limb…….. tap. tap, tap…….as the woodpecker pecked, the limb broke off and fell next to the young man, and as the wind blew over this hollow limb with the holes in it, he heard musical voices coming from it. He picked it up and found that when he blew into this limb and covered the holes, he could make beautiful, mournful music to match the feelings in his heart. He sat there for a time making up haunting melodies. The young girl heard this music coming from the old growth forest, and it was such a soulful sound that it captured her heart. She followed the sound of music into the woods, where she saw him sitting there at the base of this cedar tree playing this first flute that was given to him by the Woodpecker, and as she listened she fell in love with his music and fell in love with him. They went off hand in hand to live happily ever after. One of the more popular uses for the Native Flute was for courting, to attract a mate. The legend also says that once you got a mate, you were to put the flute away and never play it in public again, because if you played it in public again, you might attract someone else?

Phillip Brown Bear ( Phil Lane )

The Arapaho were no stranger to this wind instrument and used it for courting as well. A suitor could play the flute and in this way, announce his attentions to the young woman he wished to woo. Once he won her love, the courting flute was often tossed aside and never used again.

 “A lover also let his presence to be known at night by playing a flageolet (flute) close enough to a girl’s home to be heard by her…

A flageolet (kakush) collected on the Wind River Reservation by Dorsey in 1900 can be found in the collections of the Chicago Natural History Museum (Cat. Number 61315.) It’s length is 18 ½ inches. It is of wood, fringed in buckskin strips and held together by being tied at intervals with buckskin bands. The wood and buckskin are painted with red ochre.”

 Arapaho Child Life and Its Cultural Background [Hilger 1952], page 199