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




GALLOP. Make sign for RIDE; then bring hands in front of center of body, hands held edgewise, left near the body, right in front of same; move the hands simultaneously up and down several times in vertical curves, to imitate action of horse.

GAP (meaning: mountain pass).  With index and thumb spread, hold left hand out in front of breast, in form of gap; then pass right hand edgewise through the gap.

GENEROUS.  Make signs for HEART and BIG.

GET. Make the sign for POSSESSION.

GIRL. Make the sign for WOMAN; then bring hand down on right side to indicate height; fingers compressed and pointing up.

GIVE. Hold right flat hand, back to right, pointing to front and upwards, in front of body at height of shoulder; move hand out and down.

GIVE ME.  About height of neck, bring right well out in front of body, back of hand downwards and slightly to left, lower edge nearest to body, hand flat and pointing upwards; bring hand in towards body and lower slightly.

GIVE NAME TO. Make the signs for CALL and GIVE.  Clark says: "A young man, after making his maiden effort on the war path, if he has met with success, sheds his boyish name, and is given frequently the name by which some of the old men of his tribe have always been known."

GLAD (meaning: sunshine in the heart).  Make sign for HEART; then sign for DAY or OPENING UP, and SUNRISE.  By carrying hands into position on curves as indicated gives grace and beauty to movements.

GLOOMY (meaning: the clouds are close).  Make the sign for CLOUDS; then draw them down to near the head.

GLOVE. Pass the spread thumb and index of right over left hand, meaning any covering for the hands.

GO. Hold flat right hand in front of body, back to right, pointing front and downwards; move hand to front, and by wrist action, raise fingers to front and upwards.

GO AHEAD. Make the sign for PUSH.

GOAT (meaning: horns, and whiskers under chin).  Bring 1 hands alongside of head, pointing upwards, hands held just over ears; then place back of right wrist against under side of chin, hand compressed and pointing downward.

GOD (meaning: the great mystery). Make signs for MEDICINE and GREAT, and point to zenith.

GOLD.  Make the sign for MONEY; then point to something YELLOW in color.

GONE.  Make the signs for GO and LONG TIME.

GOOD (meaning: level with the heart). Hold the flat right hand, back up, in front of and close to left breast, pointing to left; move hand briskly well out to front and to right, keeping it in a horizontal plane.

GOOD EVENING.  Make the signs for GOOD, DAY and SUNSET. (The true Indian version would be SUNSET, DAY and GOOD.)

GOOD MORNING.  Make the signs for GOOD, DAY and SUNRISE. (To be exact, the Indian would say SUNRISE, DAY, and GOOD.)

GOOSE.  Make slow sign for BIRD; then indicate triangular shape taken by flocks of geese in their migrations.

Click on picture to enlarge

GRANDFATHER.  Make the sign for FATHER, and for OLD, by rotating right hand by right ear to indicate that hearing was poor.

GRANDMOTHER.  Make the sign for MOTHER, and for OLD, by rotating right hand by right ear to indicate that hearing was poor.

GRASS.  Hold the hands, back downwards arms extended downwards to full length, in front of body, fingers extended, separated and slightly curved, pointing upwards; then swing hands apart.

GRAVE.  Make signs for DIE and BURY.

GRAY (meaning: white and black). Make the signs for WHITE, LITTLE, BLACK, LITTLE, or make sign for COLOR and point to something gray.

GREAT.  With palms toward each other bring extended hands out in front of breast; then separate the hands to right and left.

GREAT MYSTERY. Make the signs for MEDICINE and GREAT.

GREEN. Make the sign for COLOR; then point to the grass if convenient, otherwise to something green.

GRIEVE.  Make sign for CRY, and for cutting off hair.

GROW.  Hold right hand, back down, index extended, and pointing upwards, in front of body; hand held near the ground; raise hand by gentle jerks.

GUN. Make as though shooting gun, then add sign for FIRE.   For rifle add working of lever.

H  Click on picture to enlarge

HAIL.  Make the sign for RAIN, for COLD; then indicate size of hailstones with curved index and thumb of right hand.

HAIR.  To denote hair of human being, touch hair of head.

HALF.  Hold flat left hand out in front of breast with back out; lay lower edge of right hand on upper edge of left, resting at knuckle of left index, back to right and front, fingers extending, touching; move right hand to right and outwards.

HALF BREED (meaning: half of body one kind, half of another).   Place flat right hand upwards, in center of breast, little finger near breast; move hand one foot to left, then back and one foot to right.  Have seen Sioux make the sign "One-half Indian, one-half white man."

HALT.  Hold flat right hand palm outward, in front of body, height of shoulders; move hand sharply to front and downwards, stopping it suddenly.   Some Indians raise the hand higher for emphasis.


HANG (to) (meaning: as pendant).  The left index is extended and held horizontally in front of body, other fingers closed, and the right index curved and hooked to it.

HAPPY. Make the sign for GLAD.

HARD. Hold out left hand palm, straight up; strike it with right fist two or three times.

HAT.  Bring right hand, back outwards, in front close to and a little above head, index and thumb spread and nearly horizontal, other fingers closed; lower the hand until thumb and index are about opposite the eyes; spread thumb and index, passing down close to forehead, index to left, thumb to right.

HATCHET.  Make signs for AXE and SMALL.

HAVE. Make the sign for POSSESSION.

HAWK.  Make the sign for BIRD; then hold partially compressed right hand a little higher and in front of right shoulder; move swiftly to front and down with slight curve up, imitating a hawk's dive through the air after its prey.

HE or HIM.  Point right index at person indicated.

HEADACHE.  Make the sign for SICK, by imitating throbbing in front of head.

HEAP. First indicate gathering in from the sides, then bring hands upwards in curve to show the shape.

HEAR.  Hold right cupped hand behind right car.

HEART.  Bring compressed right hand pointing downwards over heart.

HEAVEN.  Point upwards with right index, looking up with reverence. (Modern.)

HEAVY (meaning: cannot hold up).  Hold out flat hands in front of body, palms up; raise hands slightly and let them drop a few inches.

HELP.  Make the signs for WORK and WITH.

HER.  Point right index at person indicated.

HERE.  Make sign for SIT.

HIDE (to).  Hold out left flat hand, pointing oblique to right; hold right hand in same relative position, pointing at left hand; then pass right down under left.

HIGH.  Hold right flat hand, back up, in front of right shoulder; then raise or lower to height desired to be shown.

HILL.  Make the signs for MOUNTAIN and LITTLE.

HIS or HERS.  Point to person and make sign for POSSESSION.

Click on picture to enlarge

HOLD.  Hold both hands, back out, with fingers spread; lay the fingers of one hand over the interstices of the other, as if to prevent anything passing through between the fingers; move the hands, held in this position , slightly to right and left, by elbow and shoulder action.

HOLE.   Make circle with thumb and index of both hands; then, holding left in position, press compressed right through hole.

HOMELY.  Pass palm of hand over face and make sign for BAD.

HONEST.  Make the sign for TRUE.

HORSE.  Hold left flat hand edgewise, back to left in front of left breast.  Some Indians to make the sign more emphatic place the right index and second fingers astride the left hand.  The sign used in illustration is most generally used.

HORSERACE.  Make sign for HORSE and for RACE.

HOSPITAL. Make signs for HOUSE, SICK, and MANY.  Some Indians make signs for HOUSE and MEDICINE.

HOT (meaning: rays of sun pressing down). Hold flat hands above head, few inches apart; then bring hands down and slightly towards head.

HOUSE (meaning: corner of log house).  With hands in front of body, interlace fingers near tips, fingers at right angles, horizontal.   This is the primitive sign for house, though Cheyennes frequently indicate shape of gable roof with both 5 hands pointing up.

HOW MANY.  Sign INTERROGATE or QUESTION; point left hand at 45 degree angle to right and front; then with index of right hand strike little finger and others in succession.  As fingers are struck they remain down.

HOW MUCH.  Expressed by HOW MANY.   How much money would be, how many dollars?


HUNGRY (meaning: cuts one in two).  Hold little finger edge of hand against center of body; then move to right and left as though cutting in two.

HUNT. Make sign for WOLF, that is bring 2 hand near eye and move it around.

HURRY.  Make the signs for WORK, and FAST.

HUSBAND.  Make the signs for MALE, and MARRY.


I (meaning: myself).  With right extended thumb touch center of breast.

ICE. Make signs for WATER, for COLD, and bring hands together as in FREEZE OVER.

ICICLE. Make sign for WATER, for COLD, and hold right index in front of body, pointing downward.

IMPOSSIBLE.  Make sign for CANNOT.

IMPRISON (meaning: seizing hold of).  Hold left fist, back to left, a little higher and in front of left shoulder; then seize left wrist with right hand and pull it some inches to right; then cross wrists in front of body, right on top, hands closed.

IN.  For a person "in my house," make signs for HOUSE and SIT.

INCREASE.  Hold hands out in front of body, palms toward each other, few inches apart, fingers pointing to front; separate hands and move them out and apart by gentle jerks.

INDIAN.  Hold the flat left:hand, back up, in front, and rub it from wrist to knuckles, back and forth, twice.


INFERIOR (meaning: in rank or influence).  Index fingers side by side, extended pointing upwards; one index to represent the inferior is held a little lower than the other.  For several persons inferior to one, right index is held a little higher than the extended fingers of left.

INJURE (meaning: doing evil to).  Referring to someone else, make signs for WORK and BAD.  Referring to one's self, make the signs for DO, TO ME, BAD.

INTERPRETER.  Make the signs for HE, TALKS, LITTLE, WHITE MAN, TALK and name particular language.

INTERROGATE. As this means QUESTION, the reader is referred to the explanation given under that head.

IRON. Make the sign for HARD and point to something metallic.

ISLAND. Form an incomplete circle with thumbs and indexes of both hands out in front of body, ends of thumbs and indexes an inch apart; leave left hand in position, and make sign for WATER with right hand; then with tips of compressed right hand draw a circle outside the circle first formed.