Date of Award


Document Type




First Reader

Dr. George Keck

Second Reader

Dr. Mark E. Miller

Third Reader

Dr. Barbara Pemberton


In recent years few other pieces of Native Americana have attracted more attention than the Native American Plains flute. It is widely admired for its beautifully lyric, yet often haunting tone quality. The layperson interested in non-western music can delight in its relative ease of performance, while those interested in Native crafts will find that with basic woodworking skills and a bit of patience a Plains flute is easy to construct. The Native American flute has inspired numerous recordings by such artists as R. Carlos Nakai, Doc Tate Nevaquaya, and the Grammy Award winning Mary Youngblood. There are hundreds of amateur and professional flute makers around the world. In addition, the International Native American Flute Association, co-founded by R. Carlos Nakai, has been established to connect individuals and flute circles worldwide, as well as to promote the continuation of the traditional and contemporary flute, among other things. Such enthusiasm has spawned a flurry of scholarly research in recent years, yet much remains to be discovered.

While it is impossible to state definitively the exact meaning and symbolism of the flute to the ancient peoples whose culture existed in the Southwest thousands of years before European contact, it is equally naive to suggest that the flute had only one symbolic association in their minds. It is likely that the flute meant many things to many people. What is clear, however, is that the significance of the flute in the culture of the Pueblo Indians did not lie in its inherent musical qualities but rather was due to its importance as a cultural symbol. The prominence of the flute in tribal myths, and the nature of these myths, the abundance of rock art images depicting a humpbacked flute player, the nature of these depictions, and the accounts of the ceremonies in which the flute played a role all give clues as to the nature of that symbolism. Due to its strong association to fertility, the flute was given a prominent status among the Pueblo tribes of the Southwest.



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