Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
August 2004

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


Bags and Pouches of the Canadian Natives



[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 American 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.]



Many varieties of bags and pouches were made by the Indians [.] and were used for a great number of purposes. The costume of the aborigines was universally destitute of pockets, and various pouches served in their stead. On occasion articles were tucked away in the cloth­ing or were tied up in bits of cloth or skin. The blanket also served at times for a bag, and among the [Inuit] the woman's coat was en­larged over the shoulders and at the back to form a pouch for carrying the baby. The pouch was a receptacle of flexible material for containing various objects and substances of personal use or ceremony, and was generally an adjunct of costume. The bag, larger and simpler, was used for the gathering, transpor­tation, and storage of game and other food. The material was tawed leather of various kinds, tanned leather, rawhide, fur skins, skins of birds; the bladder, stomach or pericardium of animals; cord of babiche, buckskin or wool, hair, bark, fibre, grass, and the like; basketry, cloth, beadwork, etc. Rectangular or oval pouches were made with a flap or a gathering-­string and with a thong, cord, or strap for attaching them at the shoulder or to the belt. The [Inuit] had pouches with a flap that could be wrapped many times around and secured by means of a string and an ivory fastener. The Zuni use, among others, crescent-shaped pouches into the horns of which objects are thrust through a central opening. Bags showed less variety of form They were square or oblong, deep or shallow, flat or cylindrical. Many of these were provided with a shoulder band, many with a carrying-strap and a forehead band. The [Inuit] bag was provided with an ivory handle, which was frequently decorated with etching. Small pouches were used for holding toilet articles, paint, medicine, tobacco, pipes, ammunition, trinkets, sewing-tools, fetishes, sacred meal, etc. Large pouches or bags, such as the bandolier pouch of the Chippewa, held smaller pouches and articles for personal use.


Bags were made for containing articles to be packed on horses, frequently joined together like saddle-bags. The tribes of the far N. made use of large sleeping bags of fur. Most bags and pouches were ornamented, and in very few other belongings of the Indian were displayed such fertility of invention and such skill in the execution of the decorative and symbolic designs. Skin pouches, elaborately ornamented with beadwork, quillwork, pigments, and dyes, were made by various tribes. Decorated bags and wallets of skin are characteristic of the Aleut, Salish, Nez Percés, the northern Athapascan and Algonquian tribes, and the Plains Indians. Bags of textiles and basketry are similarly diversified. Especially noteworthy are the muskemoots of the Thlingchadinne, made of babiche, the bags of the Nez Percés, made of apocynurn fibre and cornhusks, the woven hunting bags of northern woodland tribes, and the painted rawhide pouches and bags of the tribes of the Great plains.

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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. 54-55.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College