Eagle feather war bonnet; Comanche; ca. 1860 Native leather, eagle feathers, wool cloth, glass beads, cotton cloth, ermine skin, silk ribbon, horsehair, pigment; 208 x 45 cm. RMV 710-5; acquired...

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Stichting Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
ca. 1860

Eagle feather war bonnet; Comanche; ca. 1860 Native leather, eagle feathers, wool cloth, glass beads, cotton cloth, ermine skin, silk ribbon, horsehair, pigment; 208 x 45 cm. RMV 710-5; acquired by Herman ten Kate in Fort Sill area, Oklahoma, October 1883 Headdresses are among the most spectacular and compelling objects of all Native American ceremonial regalia. Of all the varied forms, none are more resplendent than the magnificent eagle feather war bonnets created on the Plains. The men who wore these headdresses were known for their military achievement, personal valor and leadership. Each tail feather represented a distinct honor earned in war by the wearer or other tribal members, and the headdress in its totality symbolizes the owner’s bravery, political stature and responsibility to the people. Only the greatest warriors would presume to wear one in battle or for ceremonial events, and in pre-reservation times few men achieved this honor. By the beginning of the 20th century, however, eagle feather headdresses had become the prevailing symbol of Native American identity throughout North America, and much of their original significance was lost. Feather bonnets, caps with a circular, flaring, swept back crown of feathers usually featuring some form of brow band, appear to be a very old tradition. Both actual headdresses and representations by Native and Euro-American artists record an unbroken evolution of the form over at least two hundred and fifty years. While differing in degree, all are variants of the same concept. By the time this Comanche headdress was created, eagle feather bonnets were widespread throughout the Plains, with production extending into the Plateau, Intermontane and Southwest regions. The creation of feather headdresses – the ceremonial procedures by which they were made, the materials of which they were comprised and the complex of meanings embodied within their forms – varied according to the customs of the different tribes. There were also differences in the ways such headdresses were conferred upon men. Eagle feather bonnets were invested with spiritual power and originally worn into battle. To the enemy they communicated the wearer was a warrior of consequence. They were also spectacularly beautiful and visually dynamic works of art. A headdress such as this was designed to be worn on horseback, with the trailer flying behind. Constructed to respond to the movement of the wearer as well as the slightest breeze, they were the physical embodiment of flight and the spirit of the eagle. The Comanche headdress collected by Ten Kate is a superb example of Southern Plains featherwork. In its basic form the bonnet conforms to others from the region, the crown being more upright in profile than those of the Lakota and other Central Plains tribes. Both the cap and trailer are constructed of red wool cloth, the same material used to wrap the base of each quill. The feathers, which are laced to the trade cloth base, come from the tails of immature golden eagles. They number 18 in the crown and 33 in the trailer, and several are tipped with horsehair. The sides of the brow band are ornamented with strips of ermine skin with bead-wrapped bases. At the bottom edge of the trailer reaching to the ground is the white selvage of the trade cloth, a detail that helps confirm the age of the piece. The most distinctive elements of this headdress are the brow band and beaded motifs bordering either side of the trailer. Brow bands are typically fully beaded or quilled with simple, repeated motifs. This unusual example features a design of two upright crescent-shaped forms, possibly horsetracks, against an unbeaded ground of red, black and unpainted hide; the remaining areas of the band are beaded with a running triangular design often found on Comanche beadwork. The limited bead palette is also typical of early Comanche beaded objects, consisting of only white, medium to dark blue and a deep, dark transparent red. The sides or the trailer are finished with white edge-beading, and six delicately beaded blue with white-tipped crescents are spaced along the length of each side beneath a cross. Crescents, usually inverted, commonly appear on a variety of Comanche artistic forms and were undoubtedly imbued with significance and meaning. They are especially prominent in the painted designs of parfleche cylinders, and also appear in various forms of beadwork and as the suspensions of German silver pectorals, bridles and other ornaments. Gaylord Torrence Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO 710-5 Comanche feather warbonnet with single trailer; hide, wool, eagle feathers, horsehair, glass; l. 208 cm., h. 45 cm., ca. 1870. Indians of the Plains used feathers from eagles, hawks, turkeys, pheasants, and grouse for their warbonnets. Plains feather warbonnets came in a variety of types. The Blackfeet wore a hide and cloth headband with eagle feathers standing straight-up. Much more common and especially popular among the Sioux and the Upper Missouri village tribes (Mandans, Arikaras, Hidatsas) was the crown warbonnet, consisting of a hide cap with a backward flaring crown of eagle feathers. The crown shape symbolized the Sun, the source of life. The third type, represented by RMV 710-5, consisted of a crown feather bonnet with a single or double cloth half or full trailer attached to the back, studded with eagle feathers. These were usually worn while mounted. Feather warbonnets used to mark the status of its wearer, but when the intertribal and interethnic wars on the Plains came to an end, such headgear was increasingly used by Indian men for festive occasions of a social nature (Douglas 1951; Schneider 1976:15-16,24; cf. Coe 1976:160,175; Conn 1979:165; Hail 1980:116-24; Walton et.al. 1985:103-110; Horse Capture 1992). Berlandier (1969:51,115) described how the Comanches went to war in the 1820s: "… their clothing is quite varied. I have seen some of them elegantly attired, wearing bonnet and cloak of feathers cunningly fashioned, while others were hideously arrayed in the horns and scalp tufts of buffaloes, with their bodies covered with hideous painting. … Their shields are decorated with feathers flowing from their borders. Their heads are covered with a bonnet of feathers, to which they add a sort of tail of feathers long enough to cover the shoulders, and which streams in the air when they ride fast." Berlandier (1969: plate 3) is also the source of the earliest known illustration of Comanche warriors, used by lieutenant José María Sánchez y Tapia. Most of the feathers on the Leiden bonnet are from the tails of young golden eagles, each bird providing about 12 feathers. There are 33 feathers cascading on the trailer, and 18 on the crown. Their shafts are wrapped in red stroud, and the feathers are held in position by a lace. The headband is ornamented with painted and beaded tabs with circular and triangular designs, and beaded appendages at the sides (cf. Ewers 1969:177-180; Kavanagh 2001:897). (Hovens 2008-09) Veren hoofdtooien zijn typerend voor de Indianen van de Plains. Daarvoor werden de veren van de adelaar gebruikt, een vogel aan wie bovennatuurlijke kracht werd toegeschreven. Veelal werd de adelaar beschouwd als de boodschapper tussen de wereld van de mensen en godenwereld. Ook was de vogel de belichaming van de mythische dondervogel die met het klapwieken van zijn vleugels donder veroorzaakte en met het knipperen van zijn ogen bliksemschichten voortbracht. Als zodanig bezaten adelaarsveren spirituele kracht. Veren hoofdtooien werden gedragen zowel vanwege de bovennatuurlijke bescherming die ze boden als vanwege hun esthetische uitstraling. Er waren meerdere typen in gebruik. Tot de oudste behoort de met kralen of pennenwerk versierde leren hoofdband met een krans van rechtop staande veren, een type vooral in zwang op de noord-westelijke Plains bij o.a. de Blackfeet. Vaak worden repen hermelijn-bont in de hoofdband verwerkt. De meest verbreide hoofdtooi was de versierde hoofdband waaraan een krans van naar achteren wijkende veren was bevestigd. Tenslotte was er de hoofdtooi met een lange leren band van achteren van plm. een meter (de zgn. loper) die geheel was bezet met veren. De veren werden op hun plaats gehouden door de pennen in leer of stof te binden en op de hoofdband of loper te naaien. Om het dramatisch effect van deze hoofdtooien nog verder te vergroten werden toefjes rood geverfd paardehaar aan de uiteinden van de veren aangebracht.


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