Posts Tagged 'Headdress'

Object: Feather Bonnet

Accession Number: E/1944/1/047

Object: Feather Bonnet

Culture: Cherokee (Yuchi?)

Location: North America – Southwest

Date of Origin: Unknown

Materials: Turkey Feathers, Leather Straps, Colored Yarn, Blue Wool, White String, Red Feathers, Cloth Cap

Keywords: Bravery, Feathers, War, Ceremony, Plains

E_1944_1_47

The material object for this blog post is a feather bonnet that was made by a member of the Cherokee or possibly Yuchi tribe. The feathers on the bonnet are in bad condition, some torn or falling apart. There is blue wool that wraps around each end of the feather and they are fastened to the cap with leather straps. The feathers are held upright with a white string running around the middle of the feathers. There are two red feathers flanking the sides of the bonnet, and on the front there is a multi-colored pattern in yarn, possibly to mimic bead work.

The entry in the Ethnology database says that the object is either Cherokee or Yuchi in origin, but in this blog post I focused mainly on the Cherokee culture. For the Cherokee people, it was important to use every part of the animal that they killed and incorporated parts of the animal into everything they used.[i] With turkey feathers, the Cherokees mainly used them for feather wands and in capes, but during the reservation period and the Cherokees adopting the Plains style headdress, they could easily have added feather bonnets to their list of uses for turkey feathers.

With a plains style feather bonnet, or war bonnet, the main purpose of them was for war. In order for a warrior to receive one, he had to have demonstrated his bravery in battle. In a process known as counting coup, a warrior collected a golden eagle feather that symbolized a specific deed of bravery. Once enough coup was collected, a warrior could make himself a bonnet. In some tribes, all the warriors would get together to help make the bonnet, and with every feather that was wrapped and attached to the bonnet, the warrior would relate the heroic deed of how he received the feather and pass on his story to the rest of the tribe.[ii]

War bonnets were not restricted to the battlefield. By them wearing a war bonnet during dancing, they were honoring the warriors of the tribe. This custom is still true today, especially during Armed Forces Day or Veterans Day.

The feathers also held special meaning themselves. The most prestigious feathers for bonnets were Golden Eagle feathers.[iii] With each feather signifying a specific act of bravery, a warrior would wear them proudly for the whole tribe to see. Today they would be equivalent to medals awarded by the armed forces. The feathers and other parts of the animal that adorned the bonnet was also thought to pass on the animal’s powers to the wearer. For instance, the feathers on the bonnet were thought to protect the wearer from being hit by bullets.[iv]

Feather bonnets held many functions. They are a badge of honor, showing the bravery of the warrior on the battlefield. They are a ceremonial peace used to honor warriors during dances and celebrations. And they are also a story telling device. The materials used in creating these objects mean something very personal and important to the person making it. These bonnets pass on the story and the culture of the tribe associated with them and remind us that there is meaning behind the beauty of feather bonnets.

washambrian_112566_9634254_war bonnet 3

((Brian Washam))-Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

[i] Perdue, Theda. 2005. The Cherokees, Indians of North America. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers.

 

[ii] Hardin, Barry. 2013. The Plains Warbonnet, Its Story and Construction. Pottsboro, TX: Crazy Crow Trading Post.

 

[iii] Klapstova, Rajchard, and Jan Prochazka. 2015. “Species Determination of the Feathers on Native American Warbonnnets and other objects from the Collections of the National Museum- Naprstek Museum.” Annals of the Naprstek Museum 36/2: 67-80.

 

[iv] Klapstova, Rajchard, and Jan Prochazka. 2015. “Species Determination of the Feathers on Native American Warbonnnets and other objects from the Collections of the National Museum- Naprstek Museum.” Annals of the Naprstek Museum 36/2: 67-80.

 

Object: Chi Wara Headdress

Figure 1    Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali, Africa from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali, Africa from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/2014/3/5
Chi Wara Headdress
Bamana
Africa, Mali
Materials: Wood, metal, fabric

This wooden African headdress was made by the Bamana people from Mali. It is 43.25″ tall, 12.25″ long, and 2.75″ wide. The headdress represents a stylized antelope with elongated curved horns and open mane. Red cloth and metal trim are attached to the face, and a dark brown patina covers the surface. There are four holes on the base of the headdress used for attaching the headdress to a raffia covered basket and the head of the wearer.

The word chi wara translates to “farming beast” and is an extension of the Bamana deity associated with creation. For the Bamana (also known as the Bambara) who live in the dry savanna of west central Mali, farming is held in high esteem as the noblest profession. Tyi wara, or chi wara (also tyi ouara) is a dance for a supernatural being that is half man and half antelope. Tyi wara is the one who taught Bamana people about agriculture. Tyi wara was the son of the first woman and tilled the soil even as a baby, transforming weeds into millet and corn. He helped man to be prosperous farmers, but man became wasteful and careless in their farming. So, Tyi wara left them and buried himself in the ground. The Bamana are agrarian, and they are dependent on the success of their harvest. Now the headdresses are worn to call on Tyi wara’s aid for a successful harvest, and the name chi wara has come to be associated with an exceptional farmer.

The headdresses are worn during performances that depict male and female antelopes that symbolize the relationship between man and woman and between the earth and the sun. Art in Africa consists primarily of wood sculpture, with the majority being less than 200 years old since wood deteriorates easily from exposure or destruction. The chi wara sculpture is a zoomorphic headdress made of wood carved into a stylized antelope whose head and horns are exaggerated while the body is minimalized. It is also comprised of metal and segments of cloth. The unique chi wara headdress comes in variations depending on time and place created. Masks are worn during agricultural ceremonies when there is need of water for the crops to grow.

References to the Bamana are seen as early as the 18th century, and Bamana is identified as an ethno-linguistic group of the Mande people of Mali. Islam has encroached on the traditional religions in many areas of Africa, but the chi wara headdresses are still in use today. Bamana age-based fraternities, called tons, structure much of community life. Overall, this Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali provides insight into an interesting cultural tradition and a fascinating group of people.

Take a look at this video to see a Chi Wara dance:

[Samantha Hayes]

References

Azeez, Olaomo A. 2011. Indigenous Art of West Africa in Wood Global Journal of Human Social Sciences 11(2) Global Journals Inc. USA

Bickford, Kathleen E. and Cherise Smith. 1997. Art of the Western Sudan. African Art at The Art Institute of Chicago 23(2): Pp. 104-119+196 The Art Institute of Chicago

Crowley, Daniel J. 1976. Images from the Ancestors African Arts 9(4):73-74 UCLA James S. Coleman, African Studies Center

Dombrowsky-Hahn, Klaudia. 2012. Motion Events in Bambara (Mande) Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 33(1): 37-65 De Gruyter

Goldwater, Robert. 1960. Bambara sculpture from the Western Sudan Museum of Primitive Art University Publishers : N.Y.

Hanna, Judith Lynne. 1973. African Dance: The Continuity of Change Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 5: 165-174

Imperato, Pascal James. 1970. The Dance of the Tyi Wara African Arts 4(1) Pp. 8-13+71-80 UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center

Object: Feather Headdress

E/48/8/15
United States of America
1930′-1940s
Materials: Feathers, Leather, Dye, Glass Beads

This feather headdress was worn by one time University of Oklahoma mascot Little Red, who was mascot up until the early 1970s. He was a Native American and would wear tradition tribal dress and an iconic headdress known as a war bonnet. Little Red would perform on the sidelines at football and basketball games, and he would preform war dances when the team would score a touch down.

Little Red became controversial in the minds of many in the 1960s. The ethics of using a Native American as a sports team mascot became a subject of much debate at the University and in the greater Native American community. On the surface, the discussion appeared like it was between Indians and non-Indians, but the truth of the matter was it was far more complicated than that. This debate was centered in the Native community eventually bringing many Native families into odds with each other. Families and friends couldn’t agree on whether or not Little Red was an acceptable depiction of their culture. In the end, Little Red became the first Native American mascot to be removed from a college setting.

In the late 1960s, many groups began to petition for the removal of Little Red. The National Indian Youth Council, claimed that, “Little Red serves as a symbol of the physical oppression and cultural degradation that American Indians had faced in the past.” For all of those fighting against Little Red, there seemed to be just as devoted a crowd fighting for him.

Randy Palmer, in particular, was noted as being particularly invested in saving Little Red. The Daily Oklahoma reported that Palmer went so far as to run on field at the OU – Wisconsin game in September of the 1970 season, and preformed in the capacity of Little Red to an ecstatic crowd even though the mascot had already been banned. The controversy over Little Red is still relevant today. With discussions and disputes over mascots and team names in college and professional athletics taking center stage, it is important to remember all of the cases that have come before. It is important to remember Little Red. If you would like to learn more about some of the debate surrounding the topic of Indian mascots, watch the video below from a panel discussion at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian:

Work Cited

DeSpain, Matthew S.
2013  Little Red Died for Your Sins: Playing Indian at the University of Oklahoma and the Rise and Fall of Little Red. Native Matters The Journal of Native American Studies. http://66.147.244.221/~nativema/2013/04/11/50/

[Abbey Take]


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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