Published on March 25, 2013 by Casey
Feather warbonnets are better-known to popular culture, but roach headdresses (also called porcupine roaches or artificial roaches) were the most widely used kind of Indian headdress in the United States. Most Native American tribes east of the Rocky Mountains were familiar with some form of roach headdress. These headdresses are made of stiff animal hair, especially porcupine guard hair, moose hair, and deer’s tail hair. This hair was attached to a bone hair ornament or leather base so that it stood straight up from the head like a tuft or crest. Often the hair was dyed bright colors and feathers, shells, or other decorations were attached. In some tribes, men wore their hair in a scalplock or crested roach style (frequently given the name Mohawk or Mohican after two tribes in which roached hair was common), and the artificial roach was attached to the man’s own hair. The Caddo man in the first picture is wearing his roach headdress this way. In other tribes, porcupine roaches were attached to leather headbands or thongs and worn over long hair or braids. This is how they are most commonly worn today.
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Roach headdresses were usually worn by warriors and dancers. Like warbonnets, the porcupine hair roach is traditionally men’s headwear, not worn even by female warriors. Their use varied from tribe to tribe. In many tribes, roaches were worn into battle, while more formal tribal headdresses (like warbonnets, otter-fur turbans, or gustowah caps) were worn to ceremonial events. In other tribes, roaches were worn primarily as dance regalia or sports costume. In some tribes, individual men chose to wear porcupine roaches while other men did not. Like other clothing styles, roaches sometimes went into and out of fashion. They were not generally as spiritually meaningful as warbonnet headdresses, though a boy earning the right to wear a roach for the first time was an important ceremony in some tribes. Today, porcupine roaches can be commonly seen at powwows, where they are still worn as regalia by male dancers from many different tribes.