History of the Indian Headdress

The History of the Indian Headdress is long and varied. Most people are familiar with the full eagle feather war bonnet as seen in many films and other depictions of Native Americans. However, this form of headdress is not very common in most American Indian cultures. In fact, headdresses varied among cultures and also had special significance based on factors such as feather length and placement as well as the overall design. In addition to headdresses, there are also many basket hats and turbans along with masks.

War bonnets are probably the form of headdresses most familiar to people. Despite this familiarity, only a handful of tribes wore this type of headdress including the Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Plains Cree and Sioux. War bonnets have impressive ornate designs such as the trailer war bonnet made of either a single or double row of eagle feathers that descend into a tail to the ground. War bonnets are important ceremonial regalia that only men who are chiefs and warriors. Women do not wear war bonnets in any of their many forms.

Women and girls do wear basket hats with beautiful decorative designs. Men can also wear basket hats as well. The designs of these hats vary according to various factors such as the specific tribe and the status of the wearer. For instance, the Haida and Salish peoples tend to make large hats that are brimmed or conical shaped while those like the Hupa typically made small rounded or fez shaped basket caps. Basket hats are made from many materials such as cedar bark or spruce root and worn for occasions like ceremonies and dance regalia.

Buffalo headdresses are unique to the Plains tribes and a few others who wore helmets made of buffalo hide with the buffalo horns still attached. The buffalo’s shaggy fur and long tail were used ornamentally. Only men wear these spiritually and ceremonially significant pieces and they must have achieved some type of specific deed in order to wear the bison horns. Men in the Iroquois tribes also wear formal feathered skullcaps called gustoweh that included large eagle feathers to symbolize his specific tribe such as the Mohawk.

Some women wear distinctive headdresses that are shaped like tiaras or crowns and fit as headbands. High crown headdresses are used in formal occasions. Some women such as those of the Wabanaki also wear peaked hoods. Headbands with long fringes have been used as dance regalia. In many of these designs, beads are used ornately as well as other materials such as abalone, dentalium shells and other kinds of precious metals.

There are many other forms of headdresses besides these. These headdresses tell stories in and of themselves. One can determine not only specific tribes and genders according to headdresses but also rank and statuses such as chief or warrior. Some headdresses are worn for everyday use while other have special places in particular ceremonies. Headdresses have also changed over the times for many American Indian cultures as they continue to adapt.