Many of you have heard Native Flutes, how their sounds can awaken a soul or tell a story. We can look and see how carefully they are made, all with a different stories or personalities of each. Within the Native Culture the Flute is known for music that sings a story of Love. In days gone by one would sit by themselves perhaps even lean on a great wise old tree for inspirations, or even in the darkness of the night skies with stars shining down upon them, creating their music to be shared as courting songs or love songs.
By nature most Indians are quiet, even the warriors who had fought wars, would find themselves trying to gather up the courage to speak to the one they loved. In the old days, couples were not allowed to be alone inside the village. The family dwellings where always filled with people yet it was not allowed to just walk hand in hand with someone you loved and were not married to. Often the only chance they had to met was at daybreak when the women of the tribe would journey to the river or brook with their skin bags to get waters edge to gather what was needed for the day. Then as they would appear, one would show them self long enough for the intended to see them and perhaps have a small exchange.
So it was that the song of the flute would have to speak for them. In the evening it was often heard as the soft night breezes would greet the night skies, magical and mystical sounds of the flute could be heard. Each having their own style of playing and each one intended for the heart of would know their love. If the Medicine of the song was right that night and strong between them, they could sneak out and meet each other for a short time going unnoticed.
The flute was traditionally made from cedarwood. In the shape it describes the long neck and head of a bird with a open beak. The sound comes out of the beak, and that’s where the legend comes in, the legend of how the Lakota people acquired the flute.
Once many moons ago the People had gourd rattles and drums but no flutes. During that time, a young warrior went out to hunt and that year the winter had been extremely harsh, so much so that fresh meat was scarce and the people were very hungry. Soon the young warrior came upon the tracks of an Elk. He tracked them for a long time excited as the Elk in tradition holds the key to the love charm. If one possesses Elk Medicine, the one he holds in his heart can’t stop thinking of them. This particular warrior had held no Elk Medicine as of yet so he was anxious. After many hours of tracking he finally reached the spot the elk were grazing. Being skilled with a bow and having just finished making a fine new one, a quiver full of straight, well-feathered, flint-tipped arrows he was ready. Yet the Elk always managed to stay just out of range, leading him on and on farther from his village. Soon having had followed the Elk so closely, he lost track of where he had gone and how far he had walked.
When night came, he found himself deep inside the woods where not only the tracks had disappeared but so had the Elk. The moon was covered with clouds and he realized that he was lost and it was too dark to find his way home. He stopped to get his bearings and saw he was near a stream with cool, clear water. He had been wise enough to bring along with him a dried meats and ground corn that would last a few days. So he drank and ate afterwards settling in for the night, wrapping himself in the warm hide of his pack. Yet rest did would come for the woods were full of strange noises, cries of night animals, owls and trees in the wind. They were familiar yet it was as if he heard these sounds for the first time.
Suddenly there was a entirely new sound, a kind he had never heard before. It was a mournful and filled with spirit, making him afraid. Drawing his robe tightly about himself, he reached for his bow to make sure that it was properly strung. He listened again, the sound was like a song, sad but beautiful, full of love, hope, and yearning. Then before he knew it, he was asleep. He dreamed and in his dream the bird called the redheaded woodpecker appeared singing the strangely beautiful song that spoke to him, so he followed it hoping he would receive teachings.
When the hunter awoke the sun was already high in the clouds and its warmth could be felt. On a branch of the tree against which he was leaning, he saw the redheaded woodpecker. The bird flew away to another tree, and another but never very far as it would look back all the time at the young warrior as if to say, “Follow me.” Then once more he heard that wonderful song and his heart yearned to learn the song. The bird kept flying leading the hunter towards the magical sound, as it darted through the the trees, its bright red top made him easy to follow. Finally it landed on a cedar tree and began pecking on a branch making a noise sounding like the fast beating of a Shaman’s drum. Then the winds blew bringing with it the beautiful sound that the warrior had heard right above his head.
Looking up he saw the woodpecker was tapping his beak. He realized also that it was the wind which made the sound as it whistled through the hole the bird had drilled. “Kola, (friend)” said the hunter, “let me take this branch home, you can make yourself another.” Carefully he broke the branch away from the tree, a hollow piece of wood full of woodpecker holes that was about the length of his forearm. Placing some tobacco at the foot of the tree he thanked both the bird and the Sacred Cedar tree for their gifts they had shared. He then headed back towards his village bringing back no meat from the hunt, but happy and smiling just the same.
Back in his lodge the young warrior tried desperately to make the branch sing for him, blowing on it, waving it in the air he sat frustrated for still no sound came. It made him sad for he wanted so much to hear that wonderful new sound. He went and sat in the sweat lodge, then climbing to the top of a nearby hill he sat and fasted for four days and nights praying for a vision to come and tell him how to make the branch sing. In the middle of the fourth night the little bird with the bright red top appeared and transforming itself to man teaching the hunter how to make the branch sing. Over and over he was shown how to play the branch, and in his dream the young warrior watched and observed very carefully.
When he awoke he went in search of the Sacred Cedar tree. He broke off a branch, laid tobacco at its roots in thanks for the gift it shared, and working many hours hollowed it out with a bowstring drill, just as he had seen the woodpecker do in his dream. He whittled the branch into the shape of the Woodpecker with its long neck and a open beak. He then painted the top of the birds head with the sacred red color. He then prayed, smudged himself and the branch sage, cedar, and sweet grass. He fingered the holes as he had seen the man-bird do in his vision and blew air softly into the mouthpiece. All at once there was the song, haunting and soulful beyond words drifting upon the breeze and back to his village. The people were amazed as they listened to the sound carry across the winds to their ears. With the help of the Sacred Winds and the little woodpecker, the young warrior had finally created the first flute.
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“An Eagle’s Heart Song” from The Long Journey Home by Ryan Little Eagle. Released: 2012 and available at http://www.spiritwindrecords.us/ryan-little-eagle#!__master-page-122