Indian Bags and Pouches

Many varieties of Indian bags and pouches were made by the Indians of the United States and were used for a great number of purposes. The costume of the aborigines was universally destitute of pockets, and various pouches served in their stead. On occasion articles were tucked away in the clothing or were tied up in bits of cloth or skin. The blanket also served at times for a bag, and among the Eskimo the woman s coat was enlarged over the shoulders and at the back to form a pouch for carrying the baby. The pouch was a receptacle of flexible material for containing various objects and substances of personal use or ceremony, and was generally an adjunct of costume. The bag, larger and simpler, w r as used for the gathering, transportation, and storage of game and other food. The material was tawed leather of various kinds, tanned leather, rawhide, fur skins, skins of birds; the bladder, stomach or pericardium of animals; cord of babiche, buckskin or wool, hair, bark, fiber, grass, and the like; basketry, cloth, beadwork, etc. Rectangular or oval pouches were made with a flap or a gathering-string and with a thong, cord, or strap for attaching them at the shoulder or to the belt. The Eskimo had pouches with a flap that could be wrapped many times around and secured by means of a string and an ivory fastener. The Zuñi use, among others, crescent-shaped pouches into the horns of which objects are thrust through a central opening. Bags showed less variety of form. They were square or oblong, deep or shallow, flat or cylindrical. Many of these were provided with a shoulder band, many with a carrying-strap and a forehead band. The Eskimo bag was provided with an ivory handle, which was frequently decorated with etching. Small pouches were used for holding toilet articles, paint, medicine, tobacco, pipes, ammunition, trinkets, sewing tools, fetishes, sacred meal, etc. Large pouches or bags, such as the bandoleer pouch of the Chippewa, held smaller pouches and articles for personal use.

Bags were made for containing articles to be packed on horses, frequently joined together like saddlebags. The tribes of the far N. made use of large sleeping bags of fur. Most bags and pouches were ornamented, and in very few other belongings of the Indian were displayed such fertility of invention and such skill in the execution of the decorative and symbolic designs. Skin pouches, elaborately ornamented with beadwork, quillwork, pigments, and dyes, were made by various tribes. Decorated bags and wallets of skin are characteristic of the Aleut, Salish, Nez Percé, the northern Athapascan and Algonquian tribes, and the Plains Indians. Bags of textiles and basketry are similarly diversified. Especially note worthy are the muskemoots of the Thlingchadinne, made of babiche, the bags of the Nez Percé, made of apocynum fiber and corn-husks, the woven hunting bags of northern woodland tribes, and the painted rawhide pouches and bags of the tribes of the great plains.

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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