Quebec History Marianopolis College

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L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Hair Dressing of Indians



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North-West Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



Hair dressing. Many tribes had a distinctive mode of cutting and dressing the hair, and the style occasionally suggested the nickname by which the people were called by other tribes, as, for instance, in the case of the Pawnee, who cut the hair close to the head, except a ridge from the forehead to the crown, where the scalp-lock was parted off in a circle, stiffened with fat and paint, made to stand erect, and curved like a horn, hence the name Pawnee, derived from pariki, 'horn'. The same style of shaving the head and roaching the hair was common among eastern and western tribes, who braided and generally hung the scalp-lock with ornaments. The Dakota and other western tribes parted the hair in the middle from the forehead to the nape of the neck, the line, usually painted red, being broken by the circle that separated the scalp-lock, which was always finely plaited, the long hair on each side, braided and wrapped in strips of beaver or otter skin, hanging down in front over the chest. The Nez Percés of Idaho and neighbouring tribes formerly wore the hair long and unconfined, falling loosely over the back and shoulders. In the S. W. among most of the Pueblo men the hair was cut short across the forehead, like a 'bang,' and knotted behind. The [Inuit] wore the hair loose.


The first cutting of the hair was usually attended with religious rites. Among the Kiowa and other southern Plains tribes a lock from the first clipping of the child's hair was tied to the forelock (Mooney). Among many tribes the hair was believed to be closely connected with a person's life. This was true in a religious sense of the scalp-lock. In some of the rituals used when the hair was first gathered up and cut from the crown of a boy's head the teaching was set forth that this lock represents the life of the child, now placed wholly in the control of the mysterious and supernatural power that alone could will his death. The braided lock worn thereafter was a sign of this dedication and belief, and represented the man's life. On it he wore the ornaments that marked his achievements and honours, and for anyone to touch lightly this lock was regarded as a grave insult. As a war trophy the scalp-lock had a double meaning. It indicated the act of the supernatural power that had decreed the death of the man, and it served as tangible proof of the warrior's prowess in wresting it from the enemy. The scalper, however, was not always the killer or the first striker. The latter had the chief credit, and frequently left others to do the killing and scalping. With the Eastern or timber tribes, the scalper was usually the killer, but this was not so often the case among the Plans Indians. The scalp was frequently left on the battle ground as a sacrifice. Among the Dakota a bit of the captured scalp-lock was preserved for a year, during which period the spirit was supposed to linger near; then, when the great death feast was held, the lock was destroyed and the spirit was freed thereby from its earthly ties. There are many beliefs connected with the hair, all of which are inter woven with the idea that it is mysteriously connected with a person's life and fortune. One can be bewitched and made subservient to the will of a person who becomes possessed of a bit of his hair; consequently combings are usually carefully burned. According to Hrdlicka the Pima, after killing an Apache, purified themselves with smoke from the burnt hair of the victim.


Personal joy or grief was manifested by the style of dressing the hair. Young men often spend much time over their locks, friends assisting friends in the. toilet. The Pueblo and Plains tribes commonly used a stiff brush of spear grass for combing and dressing the hair, while the [Inuit] and the N. W. Coast tribes used combs. A pointed stick served for parting it and painting the line. These sticks were often carefully wrought, ornamented with embroidery on the handle, and kept in an embroidered case. Perfumes, as well as oils, were used, and wisps of sweet-grass were concealed in the hair of young men to add to their attractions .


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 191-192.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College