Haudenosaunee Children's Page
Photo of Mike & Rae McDonald 1999 ©
Mohawk * Oneida * Onondaga * Cayuga * Seneca * Tuscarora
The Iroquois, or as we prefer to call ourselves, the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse), used materials for clothing found in our natural environment. Traditionally the Haudenosaunee used furs obtained from the woodland animals, hides of elk and deer, corn husks, and they also wove plant and tree fibers to produce articles of clothing. What I find very interesting about Haudenosaunee clothing, is that even though in modern day we have incorporated calico and other fabrics into our clothing, the style and the symbolic decorations of our regalia remains the same as it did since time immemorial. Therefore, when you see our women's regalia made from calico and broad cloth, if you could make you mind's eye think of it as being made from deerskin you would be stepping back in time to when no stores existed in which to buy such materials. This is not to say that we no longer use traditional materials to create our regalia because we still do, but one should understand that Native American culture is dynamic, for it is a living culture where adaptation and inherence to tradition is necessary for life to continue. In this article, I will describe and explain the Haudenosaunee regalia of our men and women from head to foot.
Haudenosaunee Men's Regalia
In describing Haudenosaunee regalia, let me begin with the headwear. Many people mistakenly think that all Native American Indians wore plains style war bonnets, which is untrue. This myth began in the early part of the 1900's to the 1950's when photographers wanted Iroquois people to wear war bonnets when posing for pictures because they thought it looked more "Indian", which has lead to old pictures of Iroquois people in war bonnets. I even have a picture of my great uncle wearing one. However, the Haudenosaunee have their own type of feathered headwear, which is quite beautiful, called in the Mohawk language, a Kastoweh (gah sto wha).
Kastoweh (Feathered Hat)
The Kastoweh has a frame that is made from 3 black ash splints. One splint wraps around the head. The second splint runs from north to south and it is bowed to fit over and around the top of the head, and the third splint runs from east to west and is also bowed, then both strips are secured to the splint that runs around the head by sinew. This makes a wonderful frame. Sometimes the top of the splint frame is covered with deer skin or today by cloth. On the outside of the headband, it was traditionally decorated with Haudenosaunee symbols, usually made with porcupine quills, or wampum beads. In later years a band of silver was designed and attached. When glass beads were introduced some kastoweh bands were beaded. Today one might see any of the aforementioned bands attached to the Haudenosaunee feathered hat. The Haudenosaunee also wore fur headdresses, as well as deer hair roaches.
Shirts, Sashes, and Bibs
Haudenosaunee men traditionally wore fringed shirts made from deerskin. In the summer months men would often not wear a shirt, but would wear a finger-woven sash that went over the right shoulder and was attached to the waist. These sashes were woven from plant materials sometimes elm, or basswood fibers were used, as well as nettle fibers. Sashes can were made of deerskin and decorated with clan motifs or other Haudenosaunee symbols made with porcupine quills, wampum beads, or glass beads. Sometimes the silver brooches are attached to create a very beautiful design. In recent times, the Haudenosaunee have added the use of cloth (broadcloth and calico are some of the favorite types) and ribbons to make shirts.
Haudenosaunee men's regalia can also consist of a leather, wool, or cloth neck pieces, which is known as a bib. These bibs are elaborately decorated with either quill, or beadwork. While I am mentioning belts and sashes, I should mention that wampum belts were also worn as sashes, and that deer toes were worn around the knees, which made noise, much like bells do.
Kilts, Leggings and Breech-Cloth
Kilts were traditionally made from leather and the edges fringed and decorated with porcupine quill-work. Kilts are secured around the waist by a sash. Today kilts can be made from cloth, usually wool in red or black is preferred. Also worn with a kilt, or breech cloth are leather, wool, or broadcloth leggings that are either attached by separate ties to a sash--or threaded through a sash or leather belt.
Leggings are often worn so that the seam faces the outside of the leg. This allows the fringes, if made from leather to face outward from the body. Sometimes the seam is left so that it faces towards the front, if made from cloth, and is left open a few inches at the bottom of the legging. Either way, the bottom of the legging and along the seam is decorated with very fine work. Traditionally porcupine quills were used, but working with quills is becoming a dying art, today small white glass beads are used that creates such fine work that it looks like lace work. A breech cloth can be made from leather or cloth.
Breech cloths can be made in two different styles. In one style, the breech-cloth is made from a single long piece of deerskin or cloth that is 2 yards long and 10 o 12 inches wide, which is long enough to hang in the back and front and pass between the legs. The breech- cloth is secured to the waist by a sash, or leather belt. Today some people make breech cloths by taking two panels of cloth or leather and attaching them to a sash or belt, which is then secured around the waist. With this method, the cloth does not pass between the legs, so shorts must me worn because there is no covering of one's private areas. Both types of cloths are decorated. If leather, the fringe would hang down in front and back and the front and back panels would be decorated with quill or bead work. If made from cloth, wool, or broadcloth, the front and back edges are beaded. The front and back of the breech cloth is also beaded with Haudenosaunee symbols or clan animal.
The Haudenosaunee moccasin is made from strong leather, like deer or elk. Both men and women wear the same style moccasin. The Haudenosaunee moccasin is not a tall moccasin although it has a cuff that when folded up made be two to three inches wide--this leather is folded down to make a cuff. This cuff is decorated with porcupine quill work. Often times bead work is done on a separate piece of fabric like velvet and then it is attached to the cuff. This is done so that when the moccasin wears out the beading and easily be taken off and reattached to a new pair of moccasins. The front top of the moccasin consists of a long u shaped vamp. This vamp is also decorated in the same manner as the cuff. Sometimes porcupine guard hairs are gathered and made into tassels, which are then sewn unto the cuff of the moccasin. These Haudenosaunee moccasins are very beautiful.
Interestingly, the Haudenosaunee used a small bone that is found near the ankle joint of the deer was made into a needle, which was used as a needle to sew with. Also sinew was taken from the deer to be used as thread--along with twisted elm bark fibers.
Tota Wari Martin-Fisher 1999©
Haudenosaunee Women's Regalia
Haudenosaunee women's headwear is said to resemble a tiara because of its shape. These headbands are very strikingly beautiful. To create the headband cloth, either velvet, wool, or broadcloth is beaded onto a stiffer backing. Then the beaded cloth is attached to either leather or cloth. These layers are sewn together. Edging the top with glass seed beads completes the headband. Haudenosaunee use the smallest white seed beads when decorating their regalia. The beading is so exquisite that many people say the finished work looks like fine lacework. Often times the designs used when beading are taken from Haudenosaunee cosmology, clan symbols, or woodland designs of flowers, vines, and leaves.
Haudenosaunee women wear dresses made of deerskin, which are decorated with Haudenosaunee designs using porcupine quills or beading. Also silver brooches are used to decorate women's dresses. Today the Haudenosaunee have incorporated cloth, like wool, broadcloth, and calico into the materials used to make the dress, but the styles remains the same as it did from time immemorial. One type of women's regalia is the overdress, which is fitted at the waist and flares out. The bottom edge of this dress is left with an open upside down V shape, and is beaded. The neck portion of the dress may have a collar, which is beaded, or it may have a rounded neck. If the dress has a rounded neck, then a beaded collar is usually worn to add beauty to the top of the dress. Sometimes women wear sashes or leather belts around their waists, which looks very nice.
Skirts & Leggings
With the overdress a skirt and leggings are always worn. The skirt can be made of deerskin, or cloth. Today many women's skirts are made from broadcloth or wool, and are elegantly beaded along the bottom border and edge. The skirt fits around the waist and is long enough to come mid way between the knee and ankle. Legging can be made from leather, or cloth. Most leggings today are made from cloth, broadcloth, or wool. Leggings are tied just above the knee and must be long enough to just touch the top of the moccasin. The legging is made so that at the bottom edge is an inverted V shape that is worn facing the center of the ankle. The bottom boarder and edge of the legging is decorated with beading and sometimes ribbons. The moccasins are the same for both men and women. The Haudenosaunee made footwear out of braided cornhusks that both men and women wear.
The Haudenosaunee also wore fur robes and mantles that were also decorated. I did not get a chance to go into the beaded purses and other clothing the Haudenosaunee wore and still wear when gathering to go to the Longhouse for ceremony or other important event. I hope this essay has helped to shed a light on Haudenosaunee regalia.
Kanatiyosh 1999© Reprinting of this article must be done with permission from the author Kanatiyosh@aol.com
She:kon (greetings in Mohawk)
Please check out my Haudenosaunee Paper dolls. The Paper dolls are a good way to learn about Haudenosaunee clothing while having fun.
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Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Paper Dolls