What Are the Differences in Native American Headdresses?

Written by patricia neill
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What Are the Differences in Native American Headdresses?
Different Native American tribes worn different headdresses. (Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Most American children grow up watching television and going to movies. Older Westerns, both TV programs and movies, portray Native American warriors wearing full feather war bonnets. However, different tribes of different regions of the United States wore many different types of headdresses. About a dozen Great Plains tribes wore the eagle-feathered warbonnets; other tribes preferred otter fur turbans, feathered headbands, roach headdresses, horned and furred headdresses and basket hats woven of straw.

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Feathered Warbonnets

Among the Great Plains tribes, Sioux, Blackfeet, Crow, Cheyenne and Plains Cree warriors and chieftains donned the full-feathered headdress known as a warbonnet for ceremonial purposes. Different tribes preferred different styles; some had feathers trailing all the way down the back, some that circled the head as in a halo and others still that stood straight up rather than the feathers tilted back. The feathers were tail feathers of the golden eagle; each feather told of a brave deed done. Furs and beadwork were combined with the feathers in the headdresses.

Roach Headdress

Of all Native American headdresses, the roach headdress were the most widely worn Indian headdress. Most of the tribes east of the Rocky Mountains donned the roach headdress for battles and for ceremonies. Made of porcupine guard hair, moose hair or deer tail hair attached to a bone hair piece, the roach headdress stood straight up from the head like a tuft or the crest of a bird. Roach headdresses could be dyed bright colours, with other materials such as fur, beads and feathers adding extra decoration. Some tribes, such as the Mohawk, cut their hair in a roach crest pattern. Only male warriors and dancers donned the roach headdress. While there were women warriors in these tribes, they didn't wear this type of headdress. Various styles of roach headdresses were worn by different tribes.

Feathered Headbands

Eastern woodland Indian tribes preferred headbands, usually woven from deerskin, occasionally with beaded tribal designs, with a feather or two at the back. Eagle, turkey, hawk, egret and crane feathers were worn, with eagle feathers singled out for warriors. Both men and women wore feathered headbands and they were not associated with war or battles. These headdresses were not as symbolic nor did they connote any spiritual meaning.

Otter Fur Turbans

Otter fur turbans were ceremonial headdresses worn by prairie and southern Plains tribes, such as the Osage, Pawnee and Potawatomi. These caps could be highly decorated with beads and paint, which symbolised the wearer's war honours. As ceremonial, formal headdresses, otter fur turbans carried symbolic importance. They were not worn for war.

Basket Hats

Basket hats were worn by tribes west of the Rocky Mountains. Different tribes made different shapes and styles. Basket hats were woven of coiled sumac, cedar bark or spruce roots. Californian and coastal tribes preferred conical or brimmed shaped hats. Like other headdresses, specific information about the individual wearer was revealed in the shape and decoration of the headdress.

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