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Pueblo/Basketmaker (Anasazi) style flutes


History of the Pueblo/Anasazi style flute

The origins of the Native American flute are hazy and full of mystery. Bone whistles dating from Basketmaker times (B.C.300 - A.D. 300 ) have been found in northeastern Arizona, and bone flutes of the Pueblo I era (A.D. 800-900) were also unearthed in the Anasazi area. However, since most prehistoric flutes were made of plant material, i.e. river cane and wood, they have long since disappeared due to decay. A few examples, however, have been discovered.
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A set of four end-blown flutes made of Box Elder and dating to 625 AD were discovered by Earl Morris, in a cave in northeastern New Mexico, and similar flutes were found in Canyon de Chelly and the Verde Valley. They are commonly called Anasazi flutes after the prehistoric cultures that once lived in the area, popularly called Anasazi, but flutes similar in construction have been found throughout the Americas. These flutes were much different than the Native American Flutes of today. The sound is produced with the lips, not unlike a modern Silver Orchestral flute, but blown at the end. This is Kokopelli's flute.
These finds have lead many scholars to believe that the Native American flute originated in the American Southwest and then made its way north toward Utah. However there is growing evidence that pre European contact Native Americans were playing flutes throughout all of North America. Early explorers in what is now Virginia, noted many encounters with Native Americans playing flutes. George Percy, three time supreme commander of the early Virginia colony and Capt. John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, both wrote of flutes " made of Reed." Smith wrote in 1607 that "For their musicke they use a thicke cane, of which they pipe as a Recorder"

Pedro de Castaneda a member of the exploration of what is now Arizona and New Mexico by Coronado in 1540-1542 make several references to flutes in his journal. He writes of the explorers being greeted "with drums and pipes something like a flute, of which they have a great many."

We don't know what these flutes look like as none of the Europeans that wrote about them sketched drawings of them. The so called Anasazi flutes found in the American southwest have been dated from AD 625 to AD 1270, indicating a very long use. Even as recently as 1900 the Hopis, who have a long tradition with flutes dating back hundreds of years with their flute clan and flute ceremonies, were playing a flute very similar to the Anasazi style flute, with the exception of one finger hole missing. Yet even though the Anasazi end-blown flutes were being played for over 1500 years, the modern Native American flute, as we shall see below, is more like a European Recorder. How this change in design came about is a complete mystery.

The modern Native American flute first appeared in photos in southern Utah in the 1850s among the Ute tribe. One theory holds that from Utah, this more modern flute moved south into the area of Taos pueblo, which has a long history with the instrument. It then continued south to the now abandoned pueblo of Pecos, east of present day Santa Fe. Until the late nineteenth century Pecos was a major trading post between the peoples of the Pueblos and the Plains. Once there, it quickly migrated into the Plains. It is the Plains version of this flute that has become synonymous with the Native American flute of today.

Modern "Recorder-like" Native American flutes did not develop from the end-blown Anasazi flute. One theory is that recorders and fifes were taken as spoils of battles with Europeans. These instruments were then copied, but with changes reflecting the materials of the maker. Another theory is that Native Americans worked with organ makers. The pipes of a Pipe Organ have much in common with Recorders and Native American flutes. Recently there have been discoveries that seem to show that the Native American style flute pre date European movement into North American, making it completely indigenous. None of these theories however have been conclusively proven. The mystery around the origins of the NAF remain hidden even today.

On the next page we look at
Pueblo/Basketmaker Scales

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