Will you be wearing a feather headdress of sort to a festival or a party this summer? Then let me tell you about where these originally come from..
War bonnets are the impressive feather headdresses commonly seen in Western movies and TV shows. Although warbonnets are the best-known type of Indian headdress today, they were actually only worn by a dozen or so Indian tribes in the Great Plains region, such as the Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Plains Cree. Most types of warbonnets were made from the tail feathers of the golden eagle, and each feather had to be earned by an act of bravery. Sometimes a feather might be painted with red dye to commemorate a particular deed. Besides the feathers, Plains Indian warbonnets were often decorated with ermine skins and fancy beadwork. Warbonnets were important ceremonial regalia worn only by chiefs and warriors. Also, only men wore warbonnets. (Women sometimes went to war in some Plains Indian tribes, and there were even some female chiefs, but they never wore these masculine headdresses.) Plains Indian men occasionally wore warbonnet headdresses while they were fighting, but more often saved their war bonnets for formal occasions. In particular, long feather trailers were never worn on the battlefield. It would be impossible to fight while wearing them!
In the 1800’s, Native American men from other tribes sometimes began to wear Plains-style warbonnets. Partially this was because of the American tourist industry, which expected Native Americans to look a certain way. Partially it was because many Native American tribes were forced to move to Oklahoma and other Indian territories during this time in history, so tribes that used to live far apart began adopting customs from their new neighbors. In most cases, the feather warbonnet did not have the same significance among the new tribes that adopted it. For them, it was a matter of fashion or a general symbol of authority. But for the Plains Indian tribes, feather warbonnets were a sacred display of a man’s honor and courage, and each feather told a story. Eagle feathers are still sometimes awarded to Plains Indians who serve in the military or do other brave deeds today.
The Indian headband is also well-known from movies and other popular images of Native Americans. However, this style of headband was typically only used by a few tribes of the northeast Woodlands. Usually the headband consisted of a finger-woven or beaded deerskin strip with tribal designs on it. This band was then tied around the brow with a feather or two tucked through the back. Not only eagle feathers but turkey, hawk, egret, and crane feathers were also used for Woodland Indian headbands. Both men and women wore headbands and these were not associated with war. The number and type of feather did not usually have special symbolic meaning, though in a few tribes that bordered the Plains eagle feathers were reserved for warriors. For the most part, Woodland Indian headbands were worn for their beauty, and were often decorated with intricate patterns and beads.
You can find many beautiful headdresses on Etsy.com so if you like this style, wear it with pride, but do not fight!8)