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You Are What You Wear

Bags of beauty and power
<H6>Anishinabe (Ojibwe) culture<br>Great Lakes/Woodlands region (United States)<br><i>Bandolier bag</i>, about 1870<br>Beads, cotton, wool<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>Gift of Mary Joann Jundt</H6>
Anishinabe (Ojibwe) culture
Great Lakes/Woodlands region (United States)
Bandolier bag, about 1870
Beads, cotton, wool
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gift of Mary Joann Jundt


The Anishinabe, a Native American people of the Great Lakes/Woodlands region, are known for making decorative bandolier bags. Such bags have a wide strap that goes across the chest, like the shoulder belts (called “bandoliers”) worn by European soldiers to carry their ammunition bags. Anishinabe bandolier bags were used mainly for show rather than for carrying things. They are sometimes worn in unmatched pairs, one on each side of the body, as part of a man’s dance costume.

Early bags, which were quite small, were made of deer or buffalo hide and embroidered with dyed porcupine quills. Later, cotton or wool was used, with colorful glass seed beads for decoration. Women made the bandolier bags. They learned as young girls how to make the intricate designs and also learned the meanings of the abstract designs. The bags became precious heirlooms, worn during ceremonies and celebrations. They were once so valuable that one bag could be traded for a pony.

The geometric shapes on this bag represent manitos, or spirit beings. The rectangles going up each side of the pouch symbolize the Underwater Panther. On the left side of the strap, two triangles joined at their tips, in an hourglass shape, stand for the Thunderbird. Thunderbirds signify the power of the sky. Using symbolic decoration was a way of paying respect to these powerful forces.

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1. The thunderbird is a manito of the upper world. Its realm is the sky.
2. The abstract images on the bandolier bag refer to the power of nature. Tracks of animals and birds coexist with symbols of the manitos.


December 2008