Object: Hat

Mariana Islands (Saipan)
ca. 1950
Materials: Banana leaves

This object is an open top hat made from banana leaves. It was produced on the island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands of Oceania.

Fourteen islands comprise the Mariana Islands archipelago, including Saipan, Rota, and Tinian. The Mariana Islands are a commonwealth in political union with the United States, and indigenous inhabitants have citizenship in the United States. The islands are home to two indigenous populations–the Carolinian and the Chamorro. The populations of both cultures were greatly reduced by disease and relocation when Europeans occupied the islands in the 1700s. Additionally, tropical storms reduced numbers of Caroline and Chamorro peoples.

The climate in the Mariana Islands is tropical, and temperatures are steady throughout the seasons. Tourism is an important part of the local economy on many islands, though agriculture and exports contribute as well. Items made from natural resources in the environment, such as the hat above, are important to preserving cultural practices. In recent years, some of the islands have experienced cultural revivals and returned to practicing and teaching traditional songs and dances. Teachers of stick dances, for example, were recently recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts for their contributions in maintaining the cultural relevancy of traditional ceremonial activities.

[Lauren Simons]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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