Object: Headdress

E/1945/2/1
Hair roach headdress
Unknown tribe
North America: Plains
ca. 1900
Materials: Hair, bone, feather, cloth, and metal

The hair roach headdress has been a popular form of personal adornment amongst Native American tribes since at least the 19th century. The origins of this style headdress are unclear but some have suggested it was influenced by the red crest of the Pileated Woodpecker, or the style of “roaching” a horse’s mane, or was an adaptation of the “Mohawk” hairstyle.

Hair roaches like this one are made by attaching bundles of hair to a base cord. The base cord is then sewn together in concentric loops, starting at the inside of the roach and working outward. A “spreader” holds the hair of the roach open and helps to attach the ties that are used to secure the roach to the wearer’s head. The size and shape of the spreader affects how the hair of the roach stands and changes the overall look of the roach. Spreaders can be made of rawhide, bone, or metal. This example of a child sized roach from the Sam Noble Museum has a bone spreader, possibly from the scapula of a bison and the hair appears to be either deer or horse.  In modern Fancy Dance regalia, feathers are attached to the spreader on either a “rocker” or a “spinner.” These attachments are designed to make the feathers move more vigorously when dancing.

The following video demonstrates how to care for and store a porcupine hair roach headdress. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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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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