Published on August 15, 2014 by Amy
For thousands of years before the arrival of European explorers, Native Americans lived off the land and developed distinct cultures. From the totem-carving natives of the Pacific Northwest to the peoples of the sprawling plains, American Indian tribes were diverse and complex. Many tribes had traditions relating to hair, from special styles to customs that prepared them for both war and love.
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Women from the Pueblo and Navajo tribes, who lived in the American southwest, wore a dramatic hairstyle known as the chongo, though the style was also adopted by some men. A large bun, the chongo was created by pulling hair back tightly and twisting it into a large bun. Next, a length of string was tied around the center of the bun, dividing it into two distinct sections. The result was a figure-8 shaped style.
The mohawk, consisting of a single section of hair running down the middle of the head, has been appropriated by punk rockers, but has origins in Native American culture. The Mohawk tribe belonged to the Iroquois federation and lived along the East coast. To prepare for battle, Mohawk men would shave their hair to create the look and shape it using animal fat, mud or plant extracts. This dramatic style was also known as a “roach.”
The Hopi Indians involved hair in wedding rituals to bond the bride and groom to one another for life. On the day of the wedding, two basins containing water and extracts from the yucca plant were arranged and the bride and groom would kneel in front of them. Their mothers would then untie their hair and wash it in the bowls before proclaiming them married. Afterward, the families would accept their child’s spouse as their own kin.
Both men and women of various Native American tribes have worn their hair in braids for centuries and many still do today. Some plains Indians and those in western tribes still grow their hair long and only cut it to show mourning. For special occasions, some women would add ornaments and ties to their braids, some of which indicated a woman’s status as single and available for marriage.