Native American Bandolier Bag

The Bandolier Bag

Seminole bandolier bag

Seminole bandolier bag

Hello everyone!

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?

obijwe bandolier bag

Ojibwe bandolier bag

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!

Loom deaded bandolier bag

Loom beaded bandolier bag

spot stitched bag

Spot stitched bandolier bag

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!

bandolier bags in ceremonies

Men at a dance, wearing bandolier bags

Men at a dance, wearing bandolier bags

Different styles

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).

Shawnee bandolier bag

Shawnee bandolier bag

cree bandolier bag

Cree bandolier bag-19th century









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.

Chippewa bandolier bag

Chippewa bandolier bag

cherokee bandolier bag

Cherokee bandolier bag









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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16 thoughts on “Native American Bandolier Bag

  1. Ed

    Hi Emily,
    Your review of the Native American Bandolier Bag is very thorough. I really like those pictures and the bead work on them is fantastic. It’s quite obvious they were all hand made. No mass production could get that much quality. It looks almost as if the Bandolier Bag was a substitute for pockets back in the early days. Cheers

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Ed! Oh for sure all hand made, time consuming too. But just gorgeous! Well the Bandolier bag was for ceremonies only. But you are right, other types of bags were used instead of pockets which did not exist yet 🙂

  2. Sharon

    Emily, this was a really great history lesson. The bags are beautiful and the men seemed to wear them proudly from looking at the pictures. That Cherokee bandolier bag is simply exquisite!

  3. Pete Wiliams

    Hi Emily
    Thanks for your post on the Bandolier bag, it always good to discover something about our history and the things that were made then as a symbol as status and decoration.
    There was a lot of soul put into these items and they took time and pride to make them.
    They are all made authentic,unique and original by the maker & by the wearer of the Bandolier.
    It’s good to learn and see that some traditions are still being kept alive and the spirit of the natives lives on .
    All the best,

  4. Darren

    Hi Thanks for the great read! Just a question as to where the picture came from with the two gentlemen? one seems to be wearing a jingle type breach clothe and i find that very intriguing.

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Darren
      I am glad to hear you enjoyed the article. I honestly do not remember where I took this particular picture as it is has been a while. They do seem to be Plains men though.

    1. Emily Post author

      thank you. I normally do not allow links to other sites and promotions of products on my site but you do seem to have beautiful authentic products.


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