Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Little Taste Of History (25)

Topic: The North American Indian Pre: 1900 #1

As became tribes largely made up of hunters, the dress was generally of skins, so fashioned as to combine the greatest protective warmth with the least encumbrance of weight. From the Arctic Circle to the Rio Grande or farther, except in California and the adjacent region, the native dress was usually of buckskin, consisting, for the men, of a shirt, G-string, or breech-cloth, leggings, and moccasins, and for the women, of a short-sleeved tunic, waist-cloth or apron, belt for knife and sewing-awl, with leggings and moccasins, generally made in one piece.

The warrior's shirt was frequently fringed with scalp locks. In cold weather and on ceremonial occasions a decorated robe was worn, while in warm weather or when engaged in active exertion the the men were usually stripped to the G-string. The young children went entirely naked in warm weather. Among the plains tribes the investiture of a boy with the G-string occurred when he was about ten years old, and was an occasion of good-natured rejoicing in the family, as indicating that he was now considered old enough to accompany his older relatives on hunting or war expeditions. The Gulf tribes and those of the Southwest wore turbans of bright-colored woven stuff; but elsewhere, except in the extreme North, the head was usually bare. Some tribes west of the Rockies went practically naked. On the northwest coast the woman's dress was often of bark fibre. The Eastern moccasin was made in one piece; the plains moccasin had a separate sole of rawhide.

East of the Mississippi the men usually shaved the whole head, excepting for a crest along the top and a long scalp-lock plaited and decorated with various trinkets. This scalp-lock, the prize and trophy of the victor in battle, was universal east of the Rocky Mountains, and over a great part of the country westward, but seems to have been unknown in California. On the plains the men generally wore their hair its full length, in two long braids hanging down over the shoulders in front, with the scalp-lock behind. The Osage and Pawnee shaved the head, excepting the scalp-lock, while the Wichita and Apache let the hair flow loosely down the back. The Pueblo, Piute, and most of the California tribes usually wore it cut off in front above the eyes and at the shoulder level behind. The Navaho bunched it into club shape. Women usually wore it flowing loosely. Those of the Sioux and Cheyenne wore it neatly braided at the sides. The Pueblo women cut it off at the shoulders and rolled it at the sides, while among the Hopi the unmarried women were distinguished by an extraordinary butterfly arrangement of the hair on each side of the head.

Head-flattening was practiced by the Choctaw and some of the Carolina tribes, and throughout most of the Columbia region. Labrets of bone were used by many tribes of the northwest coast. Nose pendants were common with a few tribes (hence the Nez Perce), while ear pendants with both sexes were almost universal. Tattooing was widespread, reaching its highest development among the Haida and others of the northwest coast, and the Wichita of the southern plains. Excepting with the tattooed tribes, painting was an essential part of full dress, colors and designs varying according to the occasion or the particular "medicine" of the individual.

Necklaces of shells, turquoise, mussel pearls, or, among the Navaho, of silver beads, were worn, with breastplates and gargets of shell or bone and bracelets of copper wire. Feathers and small objects supposed to have a mysterious protecting influence were worn in the hair, and the dress itself was profusely decorated with shell beads, elk-teeth, porcupine-quills, antelope-hoofs, and similar trinkets. (14)

Photo Credit: "Old Cheyenne"- Repository:Northwestern University. Library., Evanston, Ill. Creator: Edward S. Curtis. Library of Congress.

Sources Utilized to Document A Little Taste of History

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