Ojibwe Flutes were for making the music of love
After the drum, the other traditional instrument found most commonly in Ojibwe culture is the wooden flute.
The flute was generally about 15 to 20 inches long, usually with six holes, and constructed of cedar. Its tone is regulated by a carved, movable block. Melodies are often love-songs. Oral history states that young men would alternate singing songs and playing slow flute melodies to court a potential partner.
During an interview with a Red Lake elder, Sister Inez Hilger was informed that flutes were quite popular long ago. The informant stated that, “…the pretty tunes of the flute were used by young men to make girls aware of their presence. Flutes were made of cedar twigs or sumac stalks”.
Trader Thomas McKenney, en route with Governor Lewis Cass during a trip through Minnesota in 1826, heard such a flute and wrote:
“Nothing can be more mournful in its tones. It was night, and a calm rested on everything; and it was moonlight, all of which added to its effect. We saw the Indian who was playing it, sitting on a rock.… We afterwards learned that this Indian was in love, and that he would sit there all night indulging in this sentimental method of softening the heart of his mistress, whose lodge he took care should be opposite his place of melody, and within reach of his monotonous but pensive strains.”
Today knowledge of flute playing is still strong and a number of expert flute players are passing their teachings to new generations.
Adapted from Hilger, M. Inez (Mary Inez). 1951. “Chippewa Child Life And Its Cultural Background.” Bulletin. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
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