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Names of the Native American Flute

What we now call the Native American flute has gone (and continues to go) by many names. This page lists many of the names I have encountered when researching this web site.

It also includes names in various world languages, particularly ethnic languages, as a possible aid for linguistic research related to flutes.

Names in English

Most of these English phrases have many citations – I am listing the earliest chronological references that I have found, based on year of publication.

Naming Conventions

By convention, English-language uses of the name of the instrument are capitalized as “Native American flute”. This is in keeping with the English-language capitalization of other musical instruments that use a cultural name, such as “French horn” ([CMS 2003], pages 366–377).

The use of abbreviations (e.g. “NAF”, "NASF”) is discouraged.

The prevalent term for a person who plays Native American flutes is “flutist”. This term predominates the term “flautist”. This is based on searches on the Google search engine performed on February 26, 2016 for “Native American flutist” (about 23,800 results) and “Native American flautist” (about 3,090 results).

“Flute maker” is the predominant term for people who “craft” Native American flutes.

Names in Other Languages

I'm including names for Native American flutes in this list, as well as words in some other languages for flutes of different designs. Check the context in the references provided, if you would like more detail on the use of the term.


Siyotanka [see-yoh-tahn-kah] – Lakota, literally “flute” or “great song” in English. Also written “Sĭyotanka”, “Ciyotanka”, “Cotanka”. ([Buechel 2002], pages 53 and 54).

Kevin Locke notes that the present-day meaning of “Šiyótȟaŋka” is “flute” as well as “Eagle bone whistle” (personal communications, May 11–12, 2013).

Early references to “Siyo tanka” translate it as “large grouse” or “prairie chicken” ([Riggs 1893], page 163, ¶4). The earliest reference relating it to the flute that I have found is [Densmore 1918], page 470-471:

An Early reference to Siyotanka

An early reference to Siyotanka, [Densmore 1918], page 470-471 Larger image

See also The Legend of the Flute — Brule Sioux in [Erdoes 1984], page 275.

See also the play and Grammy®-nominated CD Siyotanka by Michael Brant DeMaria.

In addition, [Buechel 2002] page 333 lists the Lakota word “wakanh'an” as a verb meaning “to court a woman, as by playing a flute, etc.”.

Other Names in North American Indigenous Languages

The names are as shown in the original cited reference, including any pronunciation directives. Some common pronunciation directives include:

  • a glottal stop, here represented by the Unicode character ʔ

The pronunciation provided uses the Flutopedia pronunciation guide. It is my best understanding of the pronunciation as provided in the cited reference, considering any pronunciation directives and additional pronunciation guides that are provided in the cited reference.

Please realize that this list is under development. The challenges of representing the characters from the original references are daunting, and more work needs to be done in this area …


These definitions are from the Cheyenne-English dictionary of the Chief Dull Knife College :

tâhpeno ni. flute; whistle. or other wind instruments such as a horn or trombone. Apparently animate for some speakers. Usage: obsolescing. Plural: tâhpenonôtse. Alternate Plural: tâhpenono.

-tâhpenoné vai. play the flute. É-tâhpenöne. He's playing the flute.

tâhpenonénootôtse ni. flute songs [this entry is augmented with double question marks]

tâhpenonó'êstse ni. flute shrub. wood used to make flutes.

Other References

These are references from various sources, listed in alphabetical order:

achipiquon, “flute, fiddle (any musical instrument, A.)”, Lenape — [Doyle 2000].

ajeluhisdi, “flute”, Cherokee — [GSU 2011].

atseluhisdi, “flute”, Cherokee — [Wolf-B 2004] English-Cherokee Words and Phrases.

bĭbĭ'gwûn [bih-bih-gwoon], “flute”, for what we call a Native American flute, Chippewa — [Densmore 1913], p42. Shown as bĭbĭg'wûn [bih-bihg-woon] in [Densmore 1929b] Chippewa Customs, page 21.

bibugwen [bih-bug-wen], “you are a musician / you are playing a flute”, Micmac — [Metallic 2005], page 65.

bícusirina [bahy-kus-ee-ree-nah], “flute”, in the Eudeve language of the Teguima, a people who lived between the Pima Alto and the Pima Bajo — [Bancroft 1875c], page 700.

bidda-kóhotse [biduh koh-oh-ht-su], “whistle (or flute)”, Minnitarris, or Grosventres — [Wied 2007], page 273, which notes that: “(o full; ot short; e 1/2)”.

cakwalenya, “Blue Flute”, Hopi — [Culin 1907], page 337.

cho'-tan-ka, “flute”, which means literally, “big-pith”, Dakota — [Riggs 1869] Tah-koo Wah-kan or, The Gospel Among the Dakotas, page 478.

ćotaŋke, “rude pipe, from the bone of a swan's wing, or from some species of wood”, Dakota — [Riggs 1893], page 205.

chotonka-chanta-ki-yapi, “vertical flute”, Sioux — [Morris-F 1913], page 127.

chotunkah, “flute”, Dakota — [Schoolcraft 1884], page 177 ¶3.

domba, “Courting Flute”, Kiowa — [Merrill 1997], page 299.

do'mba', “bugle, flute, or flageolet”, Kiowa — [Mooney 1898], page 400 (with the added note that “Nearly every tribe of the plains and eastward has its native flute.”). Note that this word was the source of the name of “Toubat” given to Dr. Richard W. Payne, according to Dr. Payne in 2002 (personal communication).

gusau-ōka, “eagle bone whistle”, Northern Ute — [Densmore 1922], page 20.

ha'hpkopig', “a flute, or the sound of a flute or any wind instrument”, Chitimacha — [Densmore 1942], page 12, footnote.

hano or "ka hano", “nose-flute”, Hawaiian — [Beckwith-MW 1919], pages 526–527.

harri-harri or yarri-yarri, “flute”, Arawak of Guiana — [Roth 1915], page 182 and 386.

hiju'juk, “Flutes”, Winnebago — [Radin 1923], page 442.

hižužu´k, “Flutes”, Winnebago — [Susman 1943], page 59.

ikiázis, “flute”, Blackfoot — [Holterman 1996].

I'k'oce war'axue, “flute”, Crow — [Lowie 1912], page 222.

káʔkē'taʔ [kah/kee-tah/], “whistle (no stops)”, Allegany Seneca — [Conklin 1953], page 287.

kakush [kah-kuhsh], “flageolet”, Arapaho, Wind River Reservation — [Hilger 1952], page 199.

A lover also let his presence be known at night by playing a flageolet 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). Its length is 18½ inches. It is of wood, fringed ith buckskin strips and held together by being tied at intervals with buckskin bands. The wood and buckskin are painted with red ochre.

ka-putatshigan [kah-poo-taht-shee-gahn], “Flute”, Naskapi, Davis Inlet — [Diamond 1994a], page 69.

kir-mu, “bamboo flute”, Wapisliana — [Roth 1924], page 455.

ku'ku'ki'ka''tci, - “blow the flute” (with auxiliary -ga-) ; an onomatopoetic and archaic stem, Fox — [Michelson 1925], page 634.

Kyana'w*' (T) , “player of flute”, Fox — [Michelson 1925], page 42.

le’nûñ, “Flute” (the name of the Flute kachina), Hopi — [Stephen 1929], page 31 ¶3.

lh-koschka [luh kosh-kah], “Flute (without holes)”, Mandan or Númangkake — [Wied 2007], page 239.

lh-wochka [luh wokh-kah], “Flute (with holes for fingering)”, Mandan or Númangkake — [Wied 2007], page 239, which notes that the “och” is gutteral.

łokᴀn', “flageolet”, Yuchi — [Speck 1909], page 62 ¶2 and Plate VII, Fig. 2.

lula, “flute”, Miwok — [Barrett 1933], page 250, ¶3. “Flute” is shown as lúliš and lú·la in Jesse O. Sawyer's handwritten notes ([Sawyer 1975], 24th page, which also cites “lul·a in Broadbent's dictionary”), and “to play the flute” is shown as lùliš.

Na'`k ā'gw Anwäwä`tA'megini pe'pigwä`ckwi`, “Nor is the flute blown”, Fox — [Michelson 1921], pages 24–25.

nicudetunga, “flute”, Omaha — [Fletcher 1911] The Omaha Tribe, page 372.

nisude, “flute”, Omaha-Ponea — [Gilmore 1919], page 80.

o-ba'-da-zhe, “flute”, Osage — [LaFlesche 1932], page 120.

odre'nod'a'kwa, “flute ("something to produce song")”, Cayuga — [Speck 1949], page 455.

O'-gump, “Whistle, made of reed; a music of same; any music”, Southern Numa — [Fowler-DD 1971] Anthropology of the Numa: John Wesley Powell's Manuscripts on the Numic Peoples of Western North America 1868-1880, page 145.

ohe hano ihu, “nose-flute”, Hawaiian — [Emerson 1909] Unwritten Literature of Hawaii — The Sacred Songs of the Hula, page 134.

o'kaiyatan, “flute”, Acoma — [White 1943], page 316.

O'ni pe'pigwä`ckwi me`sōtäwi'megu ma'netōwA wī`kā'`cke-`tAmwA änwäwä`tA'mägwinni`. “And all the manitous will hear the flute when you blow it.”, Fox — [Michelson 1921], pages 42–43.

Pá:kav’lena, “flute”, Hopi — [Wright-B 1979], according to [Brown-EJ 2005] page 170.

Pakaf lena, “reed flute”, Hopi — [Wright-B 1979], according to [Brown-EJ 2005] page 170.

papigan [pa-pih-gahn], “Flute”, Attikamek — [Diamond 1994a], page 69.

Pe'pigwä`ckw aiyā`cō`kA'megu Anwäwä'`tAmōg īni'gi ne'niwAgwi`. “Those men alternately blow the flute.”, Fox — [Michelson 1921], pages 14–15.

Pe'pigwä`ckwi nyäwe'nwi`, “The flute is blown four times”, Fox — [Michelson 1921], pages 20–21.

pib-be-gwun [pih-beh-gwuhn], “flute”, Sioux — [Bancroft 1875b], page 514, plate 75 as cited in [Morris-F 1913], page 110, footnote 4, with the explanation that “Bancroft mentions a similar Siouan flute (pib-be-gwun) with five, six, or seven holes, made of a split tube of cedar, glued together, sometimes held by rings of pewter, and states that the Dakota made it from a single tube of wood while the Chippewa frequently drew a snake's skin over the cedar tube.

pib be gwun[Schoolcraft 1839], page 37. “And not content with these proofs of his attachment he fasted himself, and would often take his pib be gwun* (Indian flute), and sit near the lodge indulging his mind in repeating a few pensive notes.

pibbegwon [pih-beg-wahn], “a kind of flute, resembling in simplicity the Arcadian pipe. It is commonly made of two semi-cylindrical pieces of cedar, united with fish glue, and having a snake skin, in a wet state, drawn tightly over it, to prevent its cracking. The holes are eight in number, and are perforated by means of a bit of heated iron. It is blown like a flagolet, and has a similar orifice or mouth piece.” The tribe being discussed is not clear — [Schoolcraft 1845], page 42.

potacikan [poh-tah-see-kahn], “Wind instrument”, Cree — [Diamond 1994a], page 69, citing a work of Ellis 1983.

puhpequon, -quoan, n. “an instrument of music; pl. -ash, Eccl. 2, 8; I's. 150, 4; Gen. 31, 27. From puhpequan, for puhpequan-un. [Abn. bibi8an, trompette. Del. ach pi quoan, flute, pipe, Zeisb.]”, Natick — [Trumbull 1903], page 133.

pulipequon, “musical instrument”, Natick — [Trumbull 1903], page 299.

pugwin, “flute”, Potawatomi — [McKinney 1997], sourced from Martha Lewis, who kept notes and handouts from a series of Potawatomi lessons taught in Topeka in the 1970s.

quama, “bamboo flute”, not sure whom — [Roth 1924], page 455.

sepuunnes, “flute”, Nez Percé — [Peters 2003].

Shoh-k'on-ne, “Sacred flute”, Zuni — describing artifact 69467 in [Stevenson-J 1884], page 583. This is from a collection of about 4,900 "archæologic and ethnologic specimens collected in Arizona and New Mexico during the season of 1881. These collections were all obtained from the pueblo of Zuñi in Northwestern New Mexico, and the pueblos comprising the province of Tusayan, in Northeastern Arizona."

sho'kona and sho'konna [shoh-koh-nah], “flute”, Zuni — [Stevenson 1904], pages 48 (first spelling) and 256 (second spelling).

sinīgādtci-, “blow the flute (with the auxiliary -gä-). 522.23”, Fox — [Michelson 1925], page 640.

Sk-a'na, “Whistle or reed”, Northwest Coast … — [Galpin 1903], page 117.

so-wen-tuk'-wah, “flute”, Onondagas — [Beauchamp 1905], page 177.

Sogán, “wooden trumpet or flute”, Navaho — [Matthews 1902], page 288.

tayazo, “the flute player”, Dakota. Adopted as the stage name by Samuel C. Kurz — [Kuhl 1998].

Tchá-he-he-lon-ne, “Sacred warbling flute”, Zuni — describing artifact 69312 in [Stevenson-J 1884], page 583. This is from a collection of about 4,900 "archæologic and ethnologic specimens collected in Arizona and New Mexico during the season of 1881. These collections were all obtained from the pueblo of Zuñi in Northwestern New Mexico, and the pueblos comprising the province of Tusayan, in Northeastern Arizona."

tekaluloʔtá-lu, “flute”, Oneida — [Abbott 2006]. This word, spoken by Maria Hinton, is from the Oneida Language Tools web site:

Oneida word for ‘flute’

Maria Hinton.

too-too, “bamboo flute”, Surinam — [Roth 1924], page 455.

totoqpi [toh-tohk-pee] or ta-toyk-pi [tah-toik-pee], “eagle bone whistle”, Hopi — [Morris-F 1913], page 110.

tsal-eet-quash-to [tsahl-eet-kwah-toh], “courting flute”, Winnebago — [Catlin 1857], page 243, letter 30. Also cited in [Morris-F 1913], page 110, footnote 4, and alternately describes it as a “deerskin flute, which has three, four, and six finger-holes producing the same number of notes with their octaves”.

tsa-puun-mas, “flute”, Nez Percé — [NPSMMP 2007]. Also: tsa-puun/miute, “to play the flute for someone else”; tsa-puun/mii-u-wat, “a flute player”; tsa-puun-mas/hanyawaat, “a flute maker”.

ts-tsêhs, “reed flutes”, Osage — [Kurath 1953], page 278, citing [Tixier 1844], page 225.

u-bi'-xo", “any wind instrument, as a flute or horn”, Osage — [LaFlesche 1932], page 166.

uskulushi, “whistle, fife, or flageolet”, Choctaw — [Byington 1915], page 360 and [Howard 1990], page 29.

Wahí nisúde, “bone flute”, Omaha — [Dorsey 1896], page 282.

wilwil, “flute”, Mojave (part of the Yuman language family) — [Herzog 1928], page 189, ¶1. This word is also shown in two recordings made in March 1908 now curated by the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

wilwiraxtii', “transverse flute”, Yuma — [Densmore 1932], page 25.

wilwirtelhuku'p, “vertical or end-blown flute”, Yuma — [Densmore 1932], page 25.

wi'nip, “flageolet”, Northern Ute — [Densmore 1922], page 20.

woina, “flutes”, Paiute — [Steward 1933], page 277, ¶8. “… were elderberry, 8 or 9 inches long, end blown with several holes. Mono Lake said 4 holes, blown across the end. Three Western Mono flutes in Field Museum (specs. E-71446, 7, 8), from Hooker's cove, are this type with four holes each, made of Sambucus mexicana, elderberry. B.T.'s [Bridgeport Tom's] doctoring flute, supposedly made by hand, had 6 holes near the distal end, a seventh near the mouth end, and was end blown. No standards in flute making were known.

Wu-suk'-wi-nump, “Whistle made of reed, a” — Southern Numa [Fowler-DD 1971] Anthropology of the Numa: John Wesley Powell's Manuscripts on the Numic Peoples of Western North America 1868-1880, page 156.

Ya-ah-ga-da-wasta, “vertical flute”, Tonawanda-Iroquoian — [Morris-F 1913], page 126.

Ya’lu, “flute”, Maiduan — [Densmore 1939a], page 116.

Ya’lulupĕ, “Flute-Player”, Maiduan — [Dixon 1902], page 101.

ya-o'-da-was-ta, “flute”, Senecas — [Beauchamp 1905], page 177.

yä-ó-dä-was-tä, “flute”, Iroquois — [Morgan 1922] League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee or Iroquois, Two volumes in one, New Edition, volume 2, pages 38 and 320.

yé'ōtawásthaʔ [yey oh-tah-was-th/], “white man's flute with finger holes”, Allegany Seneca — [Conklin 1953], page 287.

ye-o-da-wus-toh, “lover's flute”, Seneca / Tonawanda reservation — [NYStateMuseum 1908], page 104 (see below).

Flutes acquired in 1906 by the New York State Museum

Flutes acquired in 1906, from [NYStateMuseum 1908] Larger image

Note in the above image the text: “Flute made 1804 by Chief Senoiucieh”. Almost surely a typographical error that should have read “Flute made 1904

Names in Central and South American Indigenous Languages

akai-kara, “bamboo flute”, Makusi (spoken by 25,000 people in Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela) — [Roth 1924], page 455.

pfilica or pivillca, “flute”, Mapuche — [Izaguirre 2008], page 135. Also note the translation of the Spanish “flauta de la paz” in Mapuche as paillapifil, which is also shown as “die Friedensflöte” in German by Michael Palomino (2011).

waña [wahn-yuh], “flute”, Wanka Quechua — Catalog card of the NMAI (National Museum of the American Indian) for item 14/2732.

xo'lb', “flute”, Q'eqchi Maya — Catalog card of the NMAI (National Museum of the American Indian) for item 26/2683, Collected by Francisco Caal (Q'eqchi Maya) in Cobán, Guatemala in 2003.

Names in African Indigenous Languages

Flutes acquired in 1906 by the New York State Museum

Nama greeting. Photo by Greg Willis,
October 4, 2006,
Swakopmund, Namibia Larger image

mabusa, “flute”, Hausa. Spoken by about 39 million speakers, mainly in northern Nigeria and Niger, and also in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Congo, Eritrea, Germany, Ghana, Sudan and Togo — [Olderogge 1960], page 797.

vnanis, “a reed pipe, a flute”, Namaqua-Hottentot. Spoken by the Nama people (Namaqua in older source) of South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana — [Tindall 1857], page 117, which also cites “vnani-vnon as “to play the flute” and “vnani-churu-aup as “one that plays the flute”.

Names in Other Languages

bucinae, bucinam, “flute”, Latin — [Wolterbeek 1985], page 59 and following.

vorsatz, a German-language term used by some European ethnomusicologists for a Native American style of flute. See Vorsatz Flute in the glossary.



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