Published on May 24, 2014 by Amy
Breastplates had originally been worn as armor and for protection in both battle and hunting. In the hot climate of the Southwest, they were often worn over a bare chest. During winter months and in colder climates, they were often worn over a shirt. The material used in the hand crafting of breastplates dates back to pre-columbian days for various types of Native American dress. Plains indians were famous for the individual workmanship that went into a breastplate. Many believed that, by wearing one made in a specific fashion, a spiritual advantage was obtained during hunting and battles. Breastplates are hand crafted from what is called hairpipe beads. These long bone beads are strung on strong cord with spacer beads and leather between them.
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Specific specialists in each tribe generally made various types of breastplates. Many Native Americans had dreams about a certain type of breastplate and then have their tribe’s specialist make it for them. Most of the breastplate makers were helpers to the great medicine men and other times, they were the medicine men themselves. Rarely would a Native American make his or her own breastplate if it was to have the great spiritual power.
The Sinew used to string breastplates were usually from Deer or Buffalo. The sinew strips from these main sources were generally not only longer than other animals, there was an abundance of them. At one time, there were more buffalo roaming around America than there were people. Before metal and needles were invented, Native Americans used a sharp piece of filed down bone as hole punchers for the hide spacers often found between the bone beads.
As time moved forward, breastplates became a sort of status symbol among many Native Americans. Aside from a functional use for protection, breastplates were and are still worn in Native American dances and ceremony. It is important to note that Native Americans did not recognize the concept of land ownership and that the land belonged to all humans to use with respect. Their personal positions thus became something that they could be proud of and the breastplate became part of that pride.
Long hairpipe beads were originally made from various animal bone. Since the bone marrow could be carved out, they could be used for various types of stinging of both necklaces and chokers and for breastplates. Bone chokers have a very close connection to the history and development of the breastplate. (Click here to review bone chokers) The first types of breastplates where very rustic looking. Breastplates today are worn ceremonially and as regalia. Today, Breastplates can be embellished and decorated in a number of ways. They are often decorated with carved horn, shells, leathers, fringe trim and sometimes contrasting colorful beads.