American Indians, Their Headresses and Shields

American Indian with eagle. Absaroke (crow).

“The Medicine Man”. Louisiana, 1904.

Indian leader from Mazatzal, Arizona.

Late 19
th c. Lakota headdress (red cloth, glass beads, porcupine quills, eagle feathers). “Such bonnets were the regalia of Plain leaders, whose exploits were numbered in eagle feathers.”

Absaroke (Crow) shield from the Northern Plains.
Buffalo hide with feathers. New York Museum of the American Indian.

Northern Plains shield. New York Museum of the American Indian.

From the movie of Kevin Kostner. “Dances with Wolves”.

“Sitting Bull”. Dakota Indian (1885 A.D.).

The number of feathers and the position (in the middle of the head or on the side, vertical or oblique, was not accidental.

Fool Bull (1849-1911). Dakota Indian with shield of feathers. Many will have feathers through the nose and ear.

For the Indians of North America,
  when there was no more space for feathers on the head they used to hang them on their back and breast and shoulder.


Feathers, Shields and Headresses from Other Societies

Chinese fan (1850 A.D.) made of painted duck feathers tipped with the eyes of peacock feathers N.M.N.H. Photo from the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar (1978).

Aztec fan from about 1500 A.D. with Quetzal feathers. Feather fans were a mark of nobility. Vienna Museum fur Volkerkunde.

Monster made of feathers and gold on an Aztec leather shield. Feathers are affixed to the rim. Colors of feathers: “scarlet macaw, blue cotinga, yellow oriole and rose spoonbill bird.” Vienna Museum fur Volkerkunde.

Leader of the Ami tribe of Taiwan (one of the nine Aboriginal tribes) during the Japanese occupation.

Silver figurine with parrot feathers found near the body of an Incas child. Cuzco, Peru. Photo: LIFE TIME books.

Mongol Princes used to have feathers on the head. The eagle (like the eagle of Zeus) was trained to kill and bring many birds. Indian miniature (about 1600). Paris Guimet Museum.

Papua of New Guinea, where the paradise birds are at home.

The Kalash, known as the “the descendants of Alexander the Great” in Pakistan also have feathers on their head.

A wedding of Aboriginals of Taiwan.

One of the nine Aboriginal tribes of Taiwan dancing with feathers.

Funeral ceremony in Northern Australia.

The minorities of Yao and Dong in Southern China still decorate their head with feathers.

Native of the Louson island, the largest of the Archipelago of the Phillippines in a rice field.
The tribe of Ifugaos, men and women, decorate the head with feathers.



Isolated elements that survived in the most unlikely and distant corners of the Earth helped  find the missing rings in the history of mankind. “To bring together again the two halves of Humanity will be the great work of our times” (P.L. Couchoud, French Diplomat and Historian, 1879-1959).

The Egyptian Goddess Maat with egret feather. 19
th dynasty relief in the Museum at Florence.

God with a bird’s face and feathers. From a Chinese children’s book.

The Chinese general Cai E (1911) with ostrich feathers on his hat. 1983 Chinese History movie. He is riding a white horse like the Indian of Kevin Kostner.

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793). Austrian Princess and French Empress.

Queen Elisabeth II of England with ostrich feathers and the Order of the Garter on the left shoulder. Prince Charles of Wales also has three ostrich feathers (called “the Wales Feathers”) on his coat of arms. The first prize for the winner of the Aboriginals of Taiwan also consisted of three feathers. Ostrich feathers are indispensable in the official attire of UK sovereigns. The feather was given as a prize maybe because feathers were the proof that the hunter had succeeded in killing birds to feed the people (today we do not eat, for instance, the eagle or the seagull but at that time any bird was edible). To understand that the feather was given as a prize and reward for a certain achievement helps the expression in English “you have now a feather in your cap”.

Paradise birds of New Guinea. They live at a height of 5,000 ft. The tail of the male bird is twice as long as its body

One female and two male Paradise birds, one of fifteen species of Paradise birds of New Guinea and the only one that has the long feathers growing from its head and not from its tail. Probably this bird about which not much is known gave the idea to decorate the head with feathers. Strong sexual dimorphism is the characteristic of the Paradise bird and the female has neither the beautiful colors nor the long feather of the male.

Goddess on phoenix bird.12
th c. painting on silk in the Museum of History at Beijing.

“Supernatural bird” (probably a phoenix) from Palaikastron, in Crete. Ivory plaque (LMI).

Phoenix birds embroidered on the back of a Qing dynasty imperial chair. Collection of the Summer Palace of Chengde.

Forked-tail male flycatcher. Chromolithograph (c. 1860) N.M.H.T.

Cloisonne parrots made (1871) in the imperial workshop. N.M.N.H.

The coats of arms of Austria decorated with birds and feathers. From the “handregister” of the Emperor Frederick III (1446). Vienna Staatsarchiv.

Austrian imperial musketeer. Oil on canvas, about 1640. Vienna Heeresgeschichtliches Museum. The hat of the national costume of Austria, today, is decorated with feathers and woodcock feathers have the Scotch on their hat.

French cadets of the military school St. Cyr in dress uniform. The cadets of the military school Saint Cyr north of Paris have on their hats cascar bird feathers (a kind of ostrich from Malaysia). Eagle feathers have the Italian Alpini and pheasant feathers decorate the hats of Tyrol.

Korean warrior during a ceremony with feathers on his hat.

Philharmonic orchestra of the Athens Municipality. Red feathers and red or blue jackets.

Africa and Shaka Zulu

It was easy for Shaka Zulu and the colored people of Africa to find feathers for their headdresses.

Shaka with one feather on his head...

....and his “prime minister” with his head full of feathers.

Warriors of Shaka Zulu with feathers on their head and blue paint on their breast for protection.

National Day of Nigeria. Horsemen, that look medieval, wear helmets decorated with feathers.

Karo woman of Ethiopia.

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