Smoke Signals

Imagine being in the dreaded scenario of being stranded on an island. No one is around, but you suddenly notice a ship in the distance. Or at least you hope for one. If you have any hope of communicating with others, your best bet might be a smoke signal.

Yes, we’re in the age of modern technology now, but years ago, before MTV, cell phones, and beepers, people had to rely on survival tactics to survive. One of these tactics was that of the smoke signal.

Usually created on a mountain or hilltop for optimal viewing, smoke signals are created using blankets and fire to release puffs of smoke into the air.  Long ago, Native Americans were able to signal pending trouble by releasing smoke signals. Because they were often used to signal various degrees of trouble or to convey messages, there are no standard symbols that can be deciphered today. Each tribe or group had its own smoke signals, which only their recipients could interpret.

The Chinese and even the Boy Scouts of America utilize smoke signals. Commonly, a single puff of smoke is intended as an alert. Two puffs of smoke released into the air signify that the problem has been resolved and that things are okay. However, if three puffs of smoke are released into the air, there is likely great danger. The Boy Scouts take these signals very seriously. You won’t catch anyone letting off three puffs of smoke as a prank.

Although modern technology makes smoke signals all but unneeded, they can still be valuable at times, say, when someone is stranded and has no other way to communicate. They were an effective way for Native Americans to send signals and warnings long distances in the days before the telephone, and their effects remain today.

Joseph Paige 2006

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