The Bandolier Bag
I recently learned more about those wonderful, beautifully beaded Native American bags, called bandolier bags. I mean the details and amount of work on those bags are just incredible! Just like the Seminole bandolier bag on the right. One can safely assume that numerous hours were spent on beading this bag… Let’s look at the origins of the bandolier bag.
Origins of the Bandolier bag
Where do those beautiful bags come from? Well most of them were made in the second half of the 19th century into the beginning of the 20th century. But some are still made today. Natives from the Great Lakes region (some ended up being traded to Plains nations later on) originally copied them from bags carried by European soldiers (they would put their ammunition in them). They originally were solely decorative and did not have any openings. With time, a slit was added. They were made by women for men to wear during ceremonies and dances. The Bandolier bag is then a ceremonial bag in a sense. It is not meant to be used in every day life to carry your things.
So what is the Bandolier bag for?
As one can see the Native American bandolier bags are quite ornate. The beadwork on them is exquisite and glass seed beads were originally used by the women making them. Wool, velvet or leather were the chosen materials for the bag itself. Women either used spot stitching (one bead added at a time using a piece of thread) or loom beading (using a wooden loom). it was labor intensive and basically a labor of love! Just look at the details on the Obijwe bag on the right!
Designs did vary slightly (the Cree-Ojibwe bags being somewhat slimmer) but bandolier bags were meant to be worn by men, the beaded strap placed diagonally across the shoulders (so it would sit at hip level). They were considered to be an object of prestige and status, especially if a man wore two at a time, like the men in the pictures below. It becomes a decorative piece in itself. Just gorgeous!
Looking at different pictures, one can notice that different nations have different bead work or slightly different styles of bandolier bags. Below you can see the Cree bag on the right (quite slimmer and with the typical Cree 5 petal flowers on it) and the Shawnee bandolier bag on the left (quite larger, straps being wider).
Finally, the Cherokee bag below is just unique in its details and tassels and ornate. While the Chippewa (Ojibwe) and Cree nations often have similar designs, the bag below is certainly one of a kind.
Finally, I thought I would mention that the Metis nation is also known for its beading work on bags and clothing. Some say that Cree and Ojibwe nations were introduced to beading by the Metis. It will be the topic of an upcoming post. Stay tuned!
For those of you who would like to have a bandolier bag, you can still find some today. However, you will have to pay, as they will be vintage. You can check out this Etsy shop for great ones. Another Etsy shop also has great options as well as other native authentic products.
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