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That Roach Is Smokin'

“Hey, Gents! Ready those roaches!” When the pow wow M.C. puts out the call for roaches, he is not referring to marijuana or those creepy, scuttling bugs. Instead, he is hoping to see the beautifully-crafted headdresses worn by male dancers that are made with colored porcupine quills. Aside from the standard headdresses made world-famous by early Hollywood westerns, male head adornments worn as part of a regalia ensemble also include Iroquoian headdresses known as Kastowes, Cherokee-style turbans, cedar hats worn by many tribes on the west coast, Plains-style full feathered headdresses, animal skins and porcupine quill roaches. Here are five noteworthy styles of Native men’s headdresses.

War bonnet roach

War bonnet roach

Plains-Style Headdress (War Bonnets)

Full-feathered headdresses are the most recognizable form of headdress, the one the public sees as the definition of regalia worn by Native American tribes. The full-feathered headdress—made from eagle feathers— was worn by tribes of the Great Plains and indicated the status of chief or warrior. These headdresses were generally made by men using feathers only earned after a deed of bravery or honor. After colonial encroachment, many other tribes wore Plains-style headdresses to appeal to tourists. This practice has faded substantially and the headdress is gaining more reverence as awareness about its true significance and history increases.

Iroquois headdress roach

Iroquois headdress roach

Cedar / Basket / Twined Hats

When visiting tribes on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, you are certain to see twined, basket, cedar or weaved whaling hats. While many California tribal nations wore rounded headdresses such as the Hupa basket headdress, northwest tribes such as the Haida and Salish Kootenai wore larger, weaved headdresses such as the cedar wood hat. The cedar hat had one of its biggest modern photo ops in 2016, when National Congress of the American Indians president Brian Cladoosby placed his hat on the head of then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama smiles as he wears a ceremonial blanket and cedar basket twined hat given to him by Brian Cladoosby, President of National Congress of American Indians, at the 2016 White House Tribal Nations Conference, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington.

President Barack Obama smiles as he wears a ceremonial blanket and cedar basket twined hat given to him by Brian Cladoosby, President of National Congress of American Indians, at the 2016 White House Tribal Nations Conference, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington.

The Porcupine-Quilled Roach

The roach headdress (or porcupine roach) is the popular Native headdress for male dancers of all ages at almost any pow wow. Though most often made from the softer, hair-like quills of the porcupine, it is also made from moose hair or deer’s tail hair. The roach quills can be dyed in a multitude of colors, and decorated with beads, shells and feathers. The quills are attached to a base to be worn on top of a man’s head and are similar in appearance to a large mohawk.

porcupine-Quilled roach

Porcupine-quilled roach

Modern Cherokee Turban

In 1730, seven prominent Cherokee leaders traveled to England to meet King George II. English ministers thought the Cherokee leaders looked so fierce that they deemed them “too severe” for King George to look upon. So, the ministers swapped the Cherokee’s clothing for garments left behind by a delegation from India, including turbans. The Cherokee delegation brought them back to the Cherokee homeland where turbans became a highly prized part of Cherokee clothing. Modern Cherokee turbans are created from long strips of fabric wound around the head. The ends are tucked under the initial wrap and often decorated with a feather, which can be from a turkey, eagle or hawk. The fabrics can be cotton or silk, and were traditionally red calico print. However, modern Cherokee men often wear turbans of many colors, including fabrics printed with the Cherokee syllabary.

Modern Cherokee Turban

Modern Cherokee Turban