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



TAIL. Place right 1 hand to rear of center of body, index finger pointing to rear and downwards.

TAKE.  Push the right 1 hand well out in front, to right of body, index extended, pointing to front; pull hand quickly towards body while curving index finger into a hook.

TALK.  A "little talk", or "one person talking to another", is expressed as follows: with nail of right index pressing against thumb, move hand a trifle to front and snap the index straight forward (these words "are thrown out").  Repeat motion.  For a council to "speak at length", hold right flat hand, back down, in front of mouth, and move hand outward a few inches; repeating the motion.

TALL.  Hold right hand as in STAND, but at full length of extended arm.

TANGLED. Move the hands, one about the other, with fingers slightly separated.

TASTE.  Touch the tongue with tip of right index.

TATTOO.  Compress the right hand, and tap with ends of fingers that portion of body which has been marked.

Click on picture to enlarge

TEA.  Take the sign for TREE, for LEAF, for DRINK, and for GOOD.

TEEPEE. With index fingers, touching at tips, form an angle of 60 degrees.  Sometimes index fingers are crossed at first joints, to indicate extended teepee poles.

TELEGRAPH. Make sign for WRITE; then hold flat hand back out, in front of breast; with lower edge of extended right hand strike upper edge of left, with a rebound, and then make sign for GO, quickly.  A flexible modern sign.

TELL ME--TALK TO ME (meaning bring the word to me). The open right hand is placed palm up in front of mouth; then draw toward the lips with a quick jerk.

THANK YOU.  Extend both flat hands, backs up, in sweeping curve outward and downward, toward another person.

THERE.  Make the sign for SIT, moving the hand well out from body.   Have seen Indians simply point with middle finger.

THEY or THEM.  Point to person and make sign ALL.

THICK.  Hold up flat left hand sideways in front of breast, with right hand reach around from below and clasp thickest part; move thumb and finger back and forth few times.

THIEF.  Make the sign for PERSON and for STEAL.

THIN. If possible point to something thin; otherwise with right thumb and two fingers rub lower edge of left hand just back of little finger.   This is a somewhat confusing sign, as it also stands for BACON.  If making sign for BACON, add the sign EAT.

THINK (meaning: drawn from the heart). Hold right hand, back up, against left breast, index extended and pointing to left; move hand horizontally outwards eight or ten inches, turning palm downward.

THOUSAND.  Make sign for HUNDRED and for TEN.

THREAD.  As though twisting thread rub inner surface of tips of thumb and index; make the sign for SEW, ending by carrying right hand well out to right to imitate motion of sewing.

THUNDER.  Make the sign for BIRD, and for FIRE, holding the hand a little in front of and higher than head.  (Indian lore records thunder as being caused by the "Thunder Bird".)

TIME. There has been some diversity of gesture in regard to passage of time, but we present the most logical.  For abstract TIME, extend right and left 1 hands towards the left, hands tandem, then pull right hand about three inches backward to right.  See BEFORE, AFTER, FUTURE, PAST, BEHIND and LONG TIME.

TIMOROUS. Make the signs for COWARD, and LITTLE.

TIRED. Hold out 1 hands together, backs up; lower hands a few inches while drawing them slightly towards body.

TOBACCO. Hold the flat left hand, back down, in front of body; place lower edge, or heel, of closed right hand on left palm; then with heel of right hand rub left palm with a circular motion.

TODAY.  Make the signs for DAY and NOW.  Many Indians merely use NOW.

TOGETHER.  Make the sign for WITH.

TOMAHAWK.  Generally indicated by using right forearm and hand as a hatchet, by elbow action, striking forward and downward with flat hand held edgewise.

TOMORROW.  Make the sign for NIGHT, then sign for DAY; then with left hand indicate SUN rising in east.

TONGUE. Protrude tongue a trifle and touch with first finger.

TORNADO (meaning: the wind charges).  Make the sign for WIND, and for CHARGE.

TOWN. Take signs for CITY and LITTLE.

Click on picture to enlarge

TRACK.  Make the sign for WALK and point to the ground.

TRADE.  Make the sign for EXCHANGE.


TRADER. Make the signs for WHITES, CHIEF and TRADE.

TRAIL (to).  Make the signs for TRACK and LOOK.

TRAP.  For iron or steel traps, touch or point to something made of metal; hold closed hands side by side, knuckles touching, index fingers curved and touching; then bring sides of indexes together, to represent closing of jaws of trap.

TREATY.  If the treaty is between two tribes make the signs for MAKE, SMOKE, and SHAKE HANDS.  If treaty is with the whites, make signs for SHAKE HANDS and WRITE.

TREE.  Hold open left hand about ten inches in front of shoulder, back outward, thumb and fingers spread.  Move slightly upward, slowly, to indicate growth.

TROT.  Make sign for the animal; then bring both fists in front of body, same height, equally advanced, and few inches apart; then imitate action of front feet in trotting by alternately striking to front and downwards.

TROUBLE. Make sign for HEART; then hold right 5 hand over heart, palm almost touching, and by wrist action vibrate as in PERHAPS.

TRUE (meaning. one way or tongue straight).  Hold right 1 hand, back up, under chin, close to neck; move index finger straight to the front.   This means straight from heart and tongue.

TRY. Make the sign for PUSH.

TURKEY (meaning: beard). Make the sign for BIRD; then place compressed right hand under chin, pointing downwards; vibrate hand slightly by wrist action.

TWEEZERS.  With tip of thumb and index, make as though same were a small pair of tweezers; then indicate pulling out hair from face or eyebrows with a jerk.  This is a constant practice with Indians.

TWINKLE. Make the sign for STAR, and while holding hand in that position snap index and thumb as in LITTLE TALK.


UGLY.  Pass the palm of flat right hand in a circle close to face; then make the sign for BAY).

UNCERTAIN.  Make the sign for PERHAPS.

UNDECIDED. Make the sign for PERHAPS.

UNDERSTAND.  Make the sign for KNOW.

UNITE. Make the sign for WITH.

UNLUCKY.  Make the signs for MEDICINE and BAD.

UP. Point upward with right index.

US. Make the signs for ME, ALL.

UTE--Indian.  Make sign for INDIAN and for BLACK, and rub the face as in RED.


VACCINATE.  Make the signs for WHITES, MEDICINE, MAN, and with extended right index finger strike left arm between shoulder and elbow.

VIGILANT.  Make sign for LOOK, pointing in different directions and moving hand rapidly; then signs MUCH, SLEEP, NO.

VILLAGE.  Make sign for TEEPEE, and for MANY.


Click on picture to enlarge

WAGON (meaning: wheels).  Hold hands, backs down, at equal distance in front of body, four inches apart, index fingers curved, others and thumb closed; indicate motion of wheels by making small circle with indexes.

WAGON (COVERED).  Make the sign for WAGON; then hold both flat hands, backs up, indexes touching, height of face, and sweep them out and down in a curve to indicate wagon top.

WAGON-ROAD.  Make the signs for ROAD and WAGON.

WAIT. Make sign for HALT, but more gently and not stopping abruptly. Repeat gesture.

WALK (meaning: motion of feet).  For a person, hold flat hands in front of body equally advanced; move right to front, upwards and downwards describing an oval circle; move left to front in same way; as left is brought down draw right hand to rear and repeat first motion, thereby alternating the motions of the feet. For an animal, close the hands and make same motions as above.

WANT (meaning: give me). Hold the right hand close to chin back to right, form an unclosed circle with thumb and index, back of index at height of mouth, half inch space between tips of index and thumb, plane of circle vertical; move hand in slight curve downwards, outwards and upwards; turning hand by wrist action, ending with little finger as high as index.

WAR.  Make the sign for FIGHT.

WAR BONNET. Carry the flat hands from front to rear, close to sides of head, fingers pointing upwards, palms toward head; then carry right hand from top of head well down to rear of body.

WAR-CLUB.  Show the size of war-club stone; denote rawhide covering of handle by clasping left index with right hand; then strike to front and down with right hand.

WAR-DANCE.  Make the signs for WAR, and DANCE.

WARRIOR.  Make the signs for MAN, and WAR.

WASH.  Make the sign for WATER; then by motions imitate the act of washing.


WATCH. With thumb and index of left hand form a horizontal circle; then hold right index over same and move tip around the indicated circle; make sign for LOOK pointing at circle; make sign for KNOW, and for SUN-all of which indicates size of watch, movement of hands-by looking at same you will know where the Sun is.

WATER (meaning: drinking out of palm of hand). Hold the cupped right hand, back down, in front of and little above mouth; fingers pointing to left and upwards; then move hand downwards, turning palm towards mouth. At end of RIVER or LAKE some Indians make the sign of dipping a handful of water with right cupped hand, held waist high.

WE. Make the signs for I or ME and ALL.

WEAK. Make signs for STRONG and NO.

WHEN. Make the sign for QUESTION, for HOW MANY, and indicate whether SLEEPS, MOONS, or WINTERS.

WHERE (meaning: what point). Make the sign for QUESTION, then point with right index in different directions.

WHIP. With closed right hand strike from front to right and rear, as though riding a horse and whipping him with a quirt.

WHISKEY. Make the signs for FIRE and WATER.

WHITE.  Make the sign for COLOR; then rub with tip of right index the small segment at upper end of left thumb nail, or point to something white.

WHITES (meaning: cap wearers).  Hold right hand to left of face on level of eyes, back up, index pointing to left; draw hand over to right side, index finger passing across above the eyes.

WHITE MAN. Make the sign for WHITES and for MAN.

WHY. Make the sign for INTERROGATE or QUESTION, but turn the hand very slowly.

WICKEY-UP.  Hold hands several inches apart in front of body, indexes extended and lapping; from this position change the hands, back up, edges pointing to front, fingers separated and slightly curved, move hands downward on curve.

WIFE. Make the signs for FEMALE and MARRY.

WILD.  Make the sign for BY ITSELF.

WILL (meaning: I will).  Make the sign for PUSH.

WIND. Hold the hands with backs up, near body at height of shoulders, and with wavy motion move the hands in direction of the wind.

WINTER. Hold up the closed hands in front of body, forearms vertical, hands several inches apart; then give a shivering, tremulous motion to hands.   With most Indians, a year is called a winter, or one cold.


WISE  (meaning: heart and head both good). Make the sign for HEART, touch forehead, and make sign for GOOD.

WITH.  Hold flat left hand, back to left, in front; bring side of extended right index against center of left palm, index pointing to front.

WOLF.  Hold the right hand with palm outwards near right shoulder, first and second fingers extended and separated and pointing up; move the hand several inches to front and upwards.

WOMAN. Make the sign for FEMALE and indicate height.


WOOD. Make the signs for TREE and CHOP.

WOODPECKER.  Make the sign for BIRD; then hold left forearm about vertical in front of left shoulder; now bring partially compressed right hand and place it near elbow of left forearm, right side; move hand with a jump to left side; then to little higher up, showing manner of hopping around a tree; then lower left hand and tap palm several times with tip of curved index of right hand.

WORK. Bring flat hands in front of body edgewise, few inches apart, right hand higher and back of left; then raise and lower the hands by wrist action, to indicate working.

WOUND. Hold right 1 hand in front of body; move hand briskly towards body, turning index finger to left or right so that it grazes surface of body.

WRAP. Bring slightly compressed hands, backs outward, in front of body, backs of fingers of right hand resting against palm of left, fingers horizontal; then move hands around each other in rotary motion.

WRITE. Hold flat left hand, back to front and down, out in front of body, fingers pointing to right; then as if with pencil between thumb and index of right hand, make as though writing on left palm.


YEAR. Make the sign for WINTER, for this year add sign for NOW.

YELLOW.  Make the sign for COLOR; then point to something Yellow.

YES (meaning: bowing the head and body). Hold right hand, back to right, in front of right breast, height of shoulder, index extended and pointing upwards, other fingers nearly closed, thumb resting on side of second finger; move the hand slightly to left and a little downwards, at same time closing index over thumb.

YESTERDAY.  Make sign for NIGHT; then, still holding left hand in position, sweep the right upwards and to right in a semi-circle, until it is at same height as left hand, terminating with back of hand down.

YOU.  Point right 1 hand at person addressed.

YOUR or YOURS. Point to person indicated and make sign for POSSESSION.