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date: 18 February 2020


  • Susan M. Taffe Reed
  •  and Glen Jacobs


Generic term for an ‘object that is blown into’, used by the Munsee Indians of the Eastern Woodlands in North America; their relatives the Unami use the word ahpikòn. Known historically as the Lenape or Delaware Indians, the Unami and Munsee have bone flutes (waxkanii-pootaatiikanushal), reed flutes (kweenaskwii-pootaatiikanushal), and wooden flutes (xwusii-pootaatiikanushal), all of which are personal instruments.

The waxkanii-pootaatiikanushal is made of bird bones, though other animal bones can be used. It is a small, very high-pitched whistle without fingerholes. Sometimes called a war dance whistle, it is worn on a necklace by a man who blows into it while dancing. Larger types might have fingerholes. Little is known about the historical kweenaskwii-pootaatiikanushal though it was probably similar in construction.

The xwusii-pootaatiikanushal is a double-chambered duct flute made from eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), a lightweight, fragrant, pinkish to brownish-red softwood that has sacred associations in Delaware cultures. Before harvesting the wood, the maker offers tobacco to the tree. A piece of cedar approximately 5 cm in diameter and 45 to 60 cm long, roughly measured from the player’s elbow to his fingertips, is selected and the bark is removed and the wood split in half. Hickory or other hardwood coals are placed on the inner side of the split pieces and blown on to begin hollowing each half. Mud is smeared on the edges of the wood to protect it from being burnt. The charred wood is scraped away and this process is repeated until both halves are sufficiently concave to make a wide, open chamber. The two halves are glued together by a mixture of resinous pine tree sap with bear grease, traditionally heated in a mussel shell. Leather strips are tied at intervals around the assembled body to reinforce it and serve as decoration....

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