Why Do Native Americans Wear Head Dresses?

Most people see the Native American head dress and know that it is part of the Native American culture and tradition. However, since Native Americans have been counted as a cultural minority in the North Americas specially in the US, people a times do not understand the significance of the head dress. They wear it as part of costumes when it is Halloween or similar events without knowing that doing so is offensive to Native Americans.

The War Bonnet

The Native American head dress also known as the war bonnet is normally donned by the chiefs and the high ranking members of a Native American Tribe. The number of feathers, the color and how it is arranged is deemed by the rank of a person. It is not only a symbol of war but also a symbol of wisdom, selflessness and power.

The term war bonnet was coined by the white colonizers who came into the shores of the land they named America. Head dresses come in different styles and reasons. Most head dresses are worn for ceremonies and are seen as part of spiritual rights.

1. Meeting of the elders – when the elders convene, the chief would done his head dress. The other members of the council will also wear their head pieces. The pieces are made of sacred feathers, beads, horns and other adornments.

They signify rank and wisdom among the tribe

2. Medicine man/woman - A medicine mane is a person of great spiritual prowess and wisdom. He cures those who are sick and is there allowed to wear the headdress.

3. Times of war – During the times of war, when the men would march to battle, they would done head pieces. The chief wil have the most feathers, while his warriors will have one or two on their leather headbands.

4. Weddings - When people get married, they wear their head pieces as a sign of prowess and wealth. The headdress is also a sign of honor and thus is given a place in such ceremonies.

5. Coming of age – When boys come of age, they are given an animal totem. They are normally given a necklace that has their spirit animal as a pendant. They are also given headbands with one or two feathers.

The Adorments

The Native Americans believe in animism. They strongly feel the connection between Earth and man. And thus they believe that each creature, each plant, rock, river, land, bird or animal have spirits. These Spirits guide man to living life. The Native American Braves feel that they need to connect with the spirits through symbolism and through ceremony. With this in mind, they use elements from the Earth to represent Nature’s guiding force.

1. Eagles’ Feathers - Eagles feathers are a prominent feather of the head piece. This is because the eagle is the strongest birds. Many Natives Believe in reincarnation and connection to the spirit animals. The eagle is one of those animals that they revere.

Eagles’ feathers adorn a chief’s headpiece because he is the highest member of the tribe. He has the highest level and thus this allows him to “watch over” his tribe. Many of the war bonnets show s a full head of feather connected to the head pieace in an erect manner.

2. Buffalo Horns - The buffalo is the strongest animal of land. But not only is it strong, it is also gentle and wise. A herd of buffalo is an important symbol the the Natives becaus these animals, when together are unstoppable.

3. Bear’s Fur – The bear is another animal revered by the different tribes. The bear is brave and cunning. He is also big but fast. When he roars other animals hide. The bear also symbolizes healing and goodness.

4. Different Beads – Beads are used not only for decorative purposes but also for spiritual reasons. They can ward off enemies and can be used as talismans. They can be used to protect the wearer from fatal wounds, be able to run fast or be used to harness strength.

Respect for the Head Dress

In the recent years, kids and even adults wear the Native American costume together with the headdress without any regard for the culture and traditions of the different tribes. They do not see it offensive. But many Natives feel offended about this. The head dress is a sacred piece of adornment only reserved to those who deserve it.

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