Manataka American Indian Council














by William Tomkins



Introductory Notes


A - Abandon I -   Ice Q - Quarrel
B - Baby J - Jealous R - Rabbit
C - Cache K - Keep S - Sacred
D - Dakota L - Lake T - Tail
E - Eagle M - Mad U - Ugly
F - Face N - Name V - Vaccinate
G - Gallop O - Oath W - Wagon
H - Hail P - Pack Y - Year



J  Click on picture to enlarge

JEALOUS (meaning: elbowing to one side).  Hold closed hands near right and left breasts; move right elbow a little to right and rear, then left elbow a little to left and rear.  Repeat.

JOKE. Hold right hand with back down, in front of mouth, fingers separated, partly curved and pointing forward; move hand to front and upwards.   This is a recognized Indian sign, but not in general use.

JOYOUS.  Make signs for HEART and GLAD.

JUMP. Hold compressed right hand, with back to right, close to right shoulder, fingers pointing to front; move hand to front, upwards, over, and down in vertical curve.

JUNIOR. For persons or officers this is generally indicated as in INFERIOR.  The tip of one index lower than the other, the distance determining the difference in rank.


KEEP. With right hand grasp left index firmly and move hands slightly to right and left.

KEEP CLOSE.  Make the signs for GOOD and CLOSE.

KEEP QUIET.  Make sign for HALT, and repeat; then by lowering the hand gently the meaning would be, "Fear not," "Do not be anxious," etc.

KETTLE.  Form an incomplete circle as in ISLAND; then with left hand in position, carry partially-closed right hand across and down over imaginary kettle, making motion as though about to lift it by the handle.

KILL.  Bring right hand in front of right shoulder, hand nearly closed; strike to front downwards and a little to left, stopping hand suddenly with slight rebound.

KINSHIP (meaning: near or distant from one source). Bring tips of extended, touching first and second fingers of right hand against lips, as in sign for BROTHER; then make the sign for CLOSE or DISTANT, as relationship may be.

KNIFE (meaning.: cutting a piece of meat, held with the left hand and with teeth).  Hold right flat hand close to face, lower edge just over mouth; move the hand upwards and to left two or three times, as if trying to cut with lower edge of hand.  Sometimes left hand is held in front of and a little higher than right, as though holding meat.

KNOW.  Hold right hand, back up, close to left breast; sweep hand outwards and slightly upwards turning hand by wrist action until palm nearly up; thumb and index extended, other fingers closed, thumb and index horizontal, index pointing nearly to left, thumb pointing to front.

KNOW NOT.  Make the sign for KNOW, then open hand and sweep it to the right, making the sign NO.


LAKE (meaning: water and shape).  Make sign for WATER; then with thumbs and index fingers make an incomplete horizontal circle with space of one inch between tips; then swing wrists together, tips of indexes apart.

LAME (meaning: limping motion of animals).  Hold closed right hand, palm down, one foot in front of right breast; move hand slightly to front, and by wrist action bend the hand downwards and to left, repeating motion.

LAND.  Push both flat hands toward the ground, then spread them sideways.

LARGE.  Make the sign for BIG, and if very big, add sign for HIGH.

LASSO.  Make sign for ROPE; then make as though to swing and throw same forward; then draw the hand back quickly as though catching the animal.

LAST. Bring right and left indexes together well out to left of body, representing a race; then pull right hand away back, representing last in the race.

LAST YEAR.  Make the signs for WINTER and BEYOND.

LAUGH.  Hold both 5 hands partly closed, in front of both breasts, palms up; then move them up and down.

LAW. Make the sign for TRUE.

Click on picture to enlarge

LEAD (to) (meaning: leading, a pony with lariat).  Hold closed right hand, back to right, in front, close to and a little higher than right shoulder; move the hand to front by gentle jerks.

LEAF. Make the sign for TREE; then hold right hand out in front of shoulder, index and thumb curved, one inch between tips, other fingers closed, back of hand nearly to right, lower edge pointing to front and upwards; give a wavy motion to hand to represent leaf on limb of tree.

LEGGINGS.  Pass hands upwards over that portion of legs covered by leggings, thumb and index spread, backs of hands outwards.


LIAR. Make sign for the person and for LIE.

LIBERATE.  Make signs for HOLD and GO.

LIE (meaning: two tongues or forked tongue).  Bring right 2 hand to right of mouth, fingers pointing to left; move the hand to left past mouth, LIGHT (not heavy).  Hold extended flat hands, back down, at same height in front of body, few inches apart, fingers pointing to front; raise hands briskly by wrist action.

LIGHT (not dark). Make the sign for DAY.

LIGHTNING (meaning: zigzag flash).  Point right index upward; then move hand to right, rear and downwards in jerky motion, to imitate lightning flash.

LIKE. Make sign for EQUAL.

LISTEN.  Hold right 4 hand, cupped near right ear; turn hand slightly back and forth by wrist action.

LITTLE. Hold right hand at height of shoulder, back to right, end of thumb pressing against inner surface of index, so that only the end of index is seen beyond the thumb nail.



LIVER. Place extended hands over location of liver, then give them a tremulous motion.


LONG TIME.  Make the sign for TIME, then for PAST TIME continue drawing right hand towards the right while pushing left index slightly forward.   For FUTURE TIME, hold left index in position and pass right index past and beyond the left.

LOOK.  Make the sign for SEE.

LOST.  Make sign for HIDE.

LOVE.  Make the sign for FOND, with more intense pressure.

LOW.  Hold right flat hand, back up, towards the ground at height desired.

LUNG.  Hold right hand, fingers nearly extended and separated, over breast.


MAD.  Make sign for ANGRY.

MAKE.  Use sign for WORK.

MALE.  Elevate the right index, back out, in front of face.  Same as MAN.

MAN.  Elevate the right index, back out, in front of face.  Same as MALE.

MANY.  Hold hands well in front, to right and left of body, fingers curved and pointing to front; move hands towards each other on vertical curve downwards; move them slightly upwards as though grasping hands, and finish full movement with hands opposite and few inches apart.

MANY TIMES (also, EVERY LITTLE WHILE).  Hold left forearm horizontally in front of left breast, pointing front and right; touch forearm of left several times with side of tip of extended index of right hand, other fingers and thumb closed, back of hand nearly to front; commencing near left wrist and moving hand towards elbow.  This is also used to mean.  OFTEN, ALL THE TIME, and WHILE.

MARRY (meaning: trade or purchase).  Make sign for TRADE; then join index fingers, side by side, pointing to front.


MATCH (lucifer).  With right hand hold match between thumb and index; then rub quickly against left forearm, as though scratching a match.

MATE or CHUM.  Make the signs for FRIEND and EQUAL.


Click on picture to enlarge

ME.  Point right thumb at breast.

MEAN (meaning: compressed heart).  Make the signs for HEART and SMALL.

MEAT.  Hold flat left hand, back up, in front of left breast; then with the flat right hand, palm up, slice imaginary pieces off the left palm.

MEDAL.  Make an incomplete circle with thumb and index of right hand, spaced one inch between tips, other fingers closed, and place little finger on center of breast.

MEDICINE (meaning: mysterious and unknown).  Hold right 2 hand close to forehead, palm outwards; index and second fingers separated and pointing upwards,others and thumb closed; move hand, upwards while turning from right to left in a spiral.

MEDICINE MAN.  Make the sign for MAN and for MEDICINE.

MAKING BAD MEDICINE, or MAKING GOOD MEDICINE.  Many Indians use this idiom which is somewhat typical.  To express either of the above, make signs accordingly.

MEET (to).  Hold I hands opposite each other, pointing upwards; bring the hands towards each other until tips of index fingers touch.

MELANCHOLY.  Make the signs for HEART and SICK.

MEMORY. Make the signs for HEART and KNOW.

METAL. There is no general sign for this except that for HARD.  Anything made of metal must be pointed to or touched.

METEOR. Make sign for STAR, and with hand in that position make sign for FIRE; and then let it drop in a wavy, tremulous motion.

MID-DAY.  Indicate that the sun is exactly overhead, or make the signs for DAY and MIDDLE.

MIDDLE. Hold left I hand well in front of left breast, with back to left; hold right 1 hand in front of right breast, raise it slightly up and over in small semi-circle until tip of right index rests on middle joint of left index.

MIDNIGHT. Make the signs for NIGHT and MIDDLE.

MIDWINTER. Make the sign for WINTER and for MIDDLE.

MIGRATE (meaning: of birds).  Make sign for BIRD, MANY and FLYING to south or north.

MILKY-WAY (meaning: ghosts, or dead men's road).  Make sign for DIE, for TRAIL; then with right flat hand fully extended sweep in a segment of circle that part of the sky.

MIND. Touch the two first fingers of right hand to forehead.

MINGLE. Hold slightly compressed hands out in front of body, opposite neck, hands pointing upward, close together, move them one about the other in circles, surfaces touching.

MIRROR.  Hold up flat right hand with palm twelve inches from face, fingers pointing upwards.  This represents a hand mirror.

MISLEAD. Make sign for TRAIL; then show deception by pushing right index out at a different angle.

MISS (to).  Make the sign for AVOID.

MISTAKE.  Make the signs for WORK and HIDE.

MIX. To mix by stirring imitate the motion.  To mix otherwise, make the sign for MINGLE.

Click on picture to enlarge

MOCCASIN.  Pass spread thumbs and indexes up from toes, over feet to ankles; right over right, left over left, palms close to feet.

MONEY.  Hold right hand, back to right, well out in front of right breast, index and thumb curved, forming an incomplete circle, space half inch between tips, other fingers closed.

MONKEY (meaning: half white man, half dog).  Pass the spread thumb and index finger of each hand, other fingers closed, over and near the surface of body from waist upwards, palms towards body; then make sign for WHITES; then pass the hand similarly from waist down, and make sign for DOG.  The upper portion like white man, lower like dog.

MONTHS or MOONS.  See pages 58 and 79.

MOON (meaning: night sun).  Make the sign for NIGHT; then with curved thumb and index of right hand form a segment or quarter moon, and hold it in line of vision to where moon should be on high.

MORNING.  Make the signs for DAY and SUNRISE.

MOTHER.  With partially curved compressed right hand give two or three gentle taps or pluckings at left breast.

 MOTHER-IN-LAW. Make the sign for HUSBAND or WIFE, and then for MOTHER.

MOTION PICTURES. This is a strictly recent proposition, and must be so regarded. The modern Indian, however, knows all about the pictures, and thousands act in them.  Have seen different descriptive signs made, the most common being to extend both flat hands, upright, and vibrate them rapidly, to show flicker of the picture, and sign LOOK.  One Indian who had been to Hollywood made sign similar to OWL, as though looking into opera glass, and then sign for turning crank.

MOUND.  Partially curve the hands and, with backs up, bring them alongside each other in front of body; separate the hands in downward curves, to right with right hand, to left with left.

MOUNTAIN.  Push up the closed hand as in bluff, but raised higher; then make the sign for HARD.  Use both hands to represent a mountainous country.

MOUNTAIN LION.  Make the signs for CAT, for LONG TAIL, and for JUMP.

MOURN (meaning: cutting off the hair and crying).  With extended separated right 2 hand make as though to cut off hair horizontally just below ears; then make the sign for CRY.

MOUSE.  To represent height hold the right flat hand close to ground, and partially closing same hand imitate its movements in running; then make sign for NIGHT, and with right thumb and index nibble at left index.

MOVE (meaning: to move camp).  Make sign for TEEPEE: then lower hands from this position as though taking down the lodge poles; then make the signs for WORK, for PACK, and GO.

MUCH.  Make the sign for MANY.

MUD. With left compressed, catch or hold right compressed hand and drag down over same; then reverse and repeat (imitating an animal pulling its feet out of the mud); point to ground.  For soft in any other sense, use signs for HARD and NO.

MULE. Hold extended hands alongside of ears, palms to front, fingers pointing upwards; by wrist action move hands forward and back to represent their motion.

MUST.  Make the sign for PUSH. (Used as a command.)

MY or MINE.   Make the sign for POSSESSION.