War Bonnet: Native American History Paper Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  2058 Words
Date:  2022-10-08


War bonnets, also known as headdresses are headgears made from feathers. They are traditionally used by the male leaders from the American Plains Indians. In their tribes, the America Plains Indians Nations earned a lot of respect. The bonnets were not to be worn by people just because they could make them; only the people who earned the honor and rights through the recognition in a formal way were allowed to wear such war bonnets. The reason the bonnets were given such honor is that they were taken to be of great political and spiritual importance. War bonnets were very important to the Native Americans since it was used after wars as ceremonial regalia. The war bonnets were worn only by men warriors and chiefs. Women who were participating in wars were given Plains Indian tribes, and women chiefs were also not allowed to wear the masculine war bonnets instead they wore Plains-styles. War bonnets were worn occasionally by the Plains Indian men whenever they were fighting, but more often they used to wear roach headdresses into the battle so that they can save their war bonnets for the celebrations. An example of the war bonnet which was never worn in the battled field is the long feather trailers since it was difficult to fight while wearing it and that it was specifically meant for formal occasions. Due to the fact that wars were of importance in the ancient times, people still look for and preserve any materials that were used at the time. Some of such materials can be made today, but in the same appearance as they are supposed to be used as symbols. Studying the Native American War Bonnets help understand their importance in ancient American history as well as their influences in the world today

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The Cultural Context of the Native American War Bonnets

In the 1980s, men from other tribes of the Native Americans partially started to wear Plains-style War bonnets because of the American tourist industry which expected their men to start looking in a certain way. War bonnets had their meaning in the lives of the Native Americans despite the misconception of the native groups from the North America who treated the war bonnets as a contemporary fashion accessory that perpetuates a lack of understanding. For a warrior to wear the war bonnet, he must have worked hard during the war and earned it. A person could not just decide to wear a war bonnet since it was not seen as a fashion accessory rather a symbol of bravery. In fact, even the warriors who deserve the war bonnet must have shown great bravery in the battlefield. During the occasions that a warrior has accomplished great deeds, he is given an eagle feather war bonnet which shows his bravery (Khan Academy). This act of giving the eagle feather to a warrior shows that feathers also meant something during specific moments of time. When such war bonnets are worn during the battle, a warrior could not surrender his war bonnet since it was what showed how the warrior is brave and his valiancy. Warriors who have been given the war bonnets or who had elaborated bonnets clearly possessed desirable qualities in great quantities.

Since the war bonnets were not to be used by the female member of the society, the culture of the Native American people is viewed as a sexist culture that only made people believe the men could take an active part in wars and emerge victorious. Discrimination against the female gender in society is an issue that has been practiced for ages. In some cases, the representatives of such cultures come out and say men are better than the women (Khan Academy). However, in other cases, such as the case of the Native American culture, the representatives may not openly say they did not regard women as people who could be engaged in some of the cultural responsibilities such as leadership and wars, the appropriation of the objects such as the war bonnets help many people to understand a lot about the fact that Native Americans did not allow women to become chiefs of the clans or go to war and earn the honors men earn by being awarded the Eagle-feathered war bonnets.

Appropriation of Historic Tradition

First, the war bonnet is evident in popular culture. Most of the feathered headdresses are found in an outdoor music festival that portrays the popular culture films, objects, and images. Many of the native groups do not like the ideas and have been making attempts to end the appropriation which they call as the problematic stereotypes and misunderstanding what it conveys. One of the misconception that the Native Americans are trying to end is that all the Native Americans wore and are still wearing feathered headdresses instead of only the warrior men and the male chiefs of the Great Plains used such regalia (Khan Academy). Another reason for the wearing of the Plain-style war bonnet was because many of the Native Americans tribes forcefully moved to Oklahoma and other Indian territories making them adopt the culture of the such places. Although the customs were adopted, they never saw the significance of the headdresses especially the feather war bonnet. For them, they treated the feather war bonnet as a matter of fashion or a symbol of authority to the people. On the other hand, Plain Indian tribes' feather war bonnets were treated as a sacred display that showed a man's honor and his courage, and they believed that each feather in the war bonnet had its story. Till to date, Eagle feathers are awarded to Plains Indians who are serving in the military or soldiers who have done brave deeds.

The appropriation of the Native American cultural materials such as the war bonnets in the modern setting has been considered as negative portrayal and dishonor to the culture. For instance, the traditional headdresses are currently worn and displayed by people who do not earn the honor for using such indigenous traditional arts among other sacred objects (Udy). According to many American Natives, it is offensive, especially when the non-natives use such costumes for fashion purposes in the media and the film industry. In fact, some Native American activists have taken steps in ending what they term as cultural genocide by indigenous citizens in Canada and the United States of America (Crossan).

One of the concerns in the appropriation of the Native American War Bonnets is that the people who portray them do not use the right feathers to make them. For instance, the original war bonnets were made using eagle feathers. Since the law does not allow for killing eagles just to get their feathers, people who use such costumes use feathers from other birds. Others even use materials that are not feathers. This deviation from the original objects makes the use of such objects in cultures such as music festivals offensive and unacceptable to the Native American activists. The people who make such war bonnets to use in music festivals are non-American Natives in most cases (Khan Academy). The use of such objects in music festivals is meant to attract an audience from the non-American, Natives who have an interest in understanding the culture and history of the American Natives. Again the target audience for the people using such objects in movies and the fashion industry target people who do not know the real meaning of such objects in the context of the culture of the Native Americans (Udy). That is because, to a person who fully understands the Native American culture, the use of the honored objects in music festivals, movies, and fashion industries makes no sense.

Materials and how to make a war bonnet

The materials, which were used to make war bonnets include long and short feathers, thick and thin cotton thread, American Indian beads, a knife, rabbit skin, leather dye and oil, cotton fabric, a skullcap or a headband and needles for the thread. Traditionally, various feathers were used in making war bonnets. Some of the feathers, which were used in making war bonnet were eagle, pheasant, turkey and grouse feathers. Each type of feather had its story, for example, the feathers of turkey and eagles symbolized bravery. Before the feathers were used in making the war bonnet, they were to be trimmed and straightened in order to come out with a perfect war bonnet (Native Languages). After everything had been put in place and the feathers trimmed then the procedure of making the war bonnet could proceed. First, a skullcap or a headband was used to be the typical base of the war bonnet. A skullcap or a headband was made of either a buffalo or a deerskin. After a skullcap or a headband was selected, then punch holes were made around the rim of the cap at regular intervals using a sharp knife. After the holes, feathers were to be laid in those holes. Sewing of the feathers in the holes using the thread and a needle was the procedure that followed. Addition of cords was also done though it was optional (Native Languages). It was only done when the feathers were not straight and parallel to each other making the shape of a flare. When the feathers pointed at a different direction after they had been sewed, then the maker would punch some of the additional holes in the headband or the skullcap and lay the feathers then sew them for the second time so that they stay straight and parallel (Crossan). A browband was also attached to the war bonnet but not all. Not all war bonnet had the browband, but many of them had the brow band to make it firm on the head. Again, the addition of side drops was made of ermine tails to the war bonnet by the use of long fur. The side drops were sewed just above the ears, and finally, rosettes were being attached at the war bonnet. The rosettes were attached either at the war bonnet as a decoration on sides or at the forehead. The rosettes were in form of beads tied in a circular position using the leather cords. The rosettes could be optional since not all war bonnets had them.

A discussion of the Findings

Some of the important issues for discussion include the use of American War Bonnets in the world today, the differences between the original objects and the contemporary ones, the portrayals and the impact of appropriation. First, from the study, it was established that in the world today, people do not use the appropriate materials to make the war bonnets. In as much as they make objects that may be the exact copy of the Native American war bonnets, the materials used differ, and the purpose also differs (Udy). The materials used for making the war bonnets in the past included feathers from specific birds such as the eagle and the turkey (Native Languages). In as much as the feathers could come from other birds as well, the use of feathers from the eagle was symbolic of the courage and, aggression and valiance of the bird. In the world today, the bonnets are made of feathers from any birds, some are even made of plastic feathers as they do not use them for their original symbolic purposes, but to simply achieve fashion or for entertainment purposes (Crossan). It is important to point out that from the research, it was found out that the purpose for the use of the war bonnets shifted from awarding the honor to achieving uniqueness in the fashion industry and for entertainment purposes in the music festivals and in the movie industry.


In summary, Warbonnets were very important since they were only worn by the honored men of many Great Plains tribes and today the war bonnets are used in the cultural ceremonies and in religious ceremonies too. The Native Americans associated the objects with the cultural appropriation. Therefore, they do not allow the object to be used outside of the tribe because they considered it controversial. The use of war bonnet by non-Native American tribes is only accepted by them if the object is used as a decoration on the wall but not putting it on. The materials that are used to...

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War Bonnet: Native American History Paper Example. (2022, Oct 08). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/war-bonnet-native-american-history-paper-example

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