How to Make Native American Whistles

Written by christy bagasao
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How to Make Native American Whistles
Music is an important part of Native American culture. (native American image by Joy Fera from Fotolia.com)

According to Native American customs, the eagle bone whistle was an important spiritual tool. A young man would hide in the brush and ambush an eagle, capturing it in his bare hands. After honouring the eagle in a ceremony, the young man would form a whistle from the eagle's wing bone.

Today, replicas of Native American whistles are made of turkey, goose or swan bones because the law prohibits the marketing of birds of prey. Apart from being slightly shorter, a whistle made from a goose or turkey wing bone will be identical to the eagle wing bone. Antlers, other long animal bones and wood can be used in a similar fashion to the turkey bones to make your own Native American whistle.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Raw turkey wing or drumstick
  • Knife
  • Awl
  • Lemon juice
  • Pitch, beeswax, cork or a wooden dowel
  • Sandpaper
  • Drill
  • Leather or cord

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Boil the wing or drumstick until the meat falls off. Scrape the remaining meat off with a knife.

  2. 2

    Cut the curved ends off the bone with an outdoor knife or a saw, leaving a long, straight tube.

  3. 3

    Hollow the marrow out of the bone using an ice pick or an awl. A pipe cleaner will also work if the marrow is still soft. Boil again if you need to loosen the marrow more.

  4. 4

    Whiten the bone by soaking it in lemon juice or by leaving it in the sun for several weeks.

  5. 5

    Make a half-inch cut along the width of the bone one inch from the blowing end. Make another cut a quarter-inch from the first cut, slanting the second cut to meet the first. This creates an air hole into the hollow of the bone.

  6. 6

    Heat a pea-size amount of tree pitch or beeswax to the consistency of chewing gum. Use more for a larger bone. Fill the whistle with the pitch from the mouthpiece to the beginning of the air hole. Using an awl or stick, clean out a passage for the air to travel from the mouthpiece to the air hole. Blow and mould until you achieve a solid whistle sound. Let the pitch or beeswax harden.

    An alternative method is to cut a cork or dowel to fit snugly in the turkey bone from the mouthpiece to the start of the air hole. Cut the top of the plug at an angle, allowing space for the air to blow from the mouthpiece over the cork and out the air hole. The thicker part of the cork should rest at the start of the air hole. Test the sound. If you want a stronger sound, gradually enlarge the whistle's air path, blowing gently to test the sound as you progress. Glue the plug in place.

  7. 7

    Cut a bevel or curve into the bottom of the mouthpiece if you wish your whistle to have a more polished look. Sand away any sharp edges.

  8. 8

    Drill five equally spaced finger holes through only one side of the shaft if you want a Native American whistle that plays various tones like a flute.

    An alternative is to position the holes as on a penny whistle, 42.5, 70.5, 92.5, 116.5, 140.5 and 152.5 millimetres measured from the bottom of the whistle toward the mouthpiece.

    Native Americans based the finger hole placement on their own anatomy, but they used eagle bones the length of the forearm. With this method, cut the first hole a hand's width down from the air hole and the last a hand's width up from the bottom of the whistle. Using the distance between your first two knuckles as a measurement, position a hole one knuckle measure down from the upper hole and one knuckle measure up from the bottom hole. If you want one more hole, find the centre of the bottom of the flute and the air hole. Move slightly less than a finger's length down from that position for the fifth hole. Since your turkey bone is smaller than an eagle bone, experiment with scaling these measurements down.

  9. 9

    Raise the pitch of a hole by making it slightly larger on the side of the mouthpiece and lower the pitch by enlarging the bottom end of the hole.

  10. 10

    Wrap leather or cords around the whistle and tie them off long enough to wear around the neck or over the neck and one shoulder.

Tips and warnings

  • Do not roast the bone. Roasting will make it crumbly.

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