The shoulder strap of Maude Kegg's museum-quality contemporary bandolier shows a characteristic that is usually found in Ojibwe bandoliers, whether they are floral or geometric, double-needle embroidered or woven. This characteristic is important if the bag is to be given -- as most of them were originally -- to someone participating in Midè rites. In that case, both front and back rectangles of the pouch are beaded in related but different designs, and the shoulder strap is beaded to the shoulder point on each side in related but different patterns. At the artist's choice, the point of the shoulder, center of the strap, may be a partly-symmetric flower such as the 5-petaled hawthorn.
The reason for this was explained to me more than 22 years ago, when I had asked the elder lady who was teaching some of us AIM women beading about a bandolier bag (I didn't know what they were called) worn by Vernon Bellecourt at a recent demonstration. I took no notes, it was 22 years ago, so my memory has gaps. This, though, I remember. The Midèwinini may have one or two bags, and either one can be slung from either shoulder. Say he has only one. For some dances and some parts of the rites, he may sling the bag from either the left or the right hip, strap across his chest to the other shoulder. "The bag should look different but the same whether he is coming or going," she said. When the man is dancing the bag, the patterns are different as you see him from the front or from behind, according to which hip he has slung the bag from.
The woman who made the bag will have had certain thoughts -- prayers -- in mind, "Not exactly praying in words," she said, " but thinking about what it means -- each flower, leaf, color of beads she is using." The prayers (as I understand it) are in the patterns themselves, and mean somewhat different things according to which way the patterns are facing (all directions) during a Midè dance.
If you are interested in this -- thinking of making a Midè person an honor bandolier -- you should be aware that these are not Midèwayaanag, the practitioner-doctor's medicine bags. That's made of a whole animal hide. Just which one depends both on the initiate's degree and on some local considerations and customs. Bandolier bags are honoring, but they have also been spoken of as doctor's bags.
In collecting pictures of bandoliers for this exhibit, I've seen quite a few (more than are used here). I had not thought for many years of what she said, until I began to realize that almost all of them -- except for one or two that appear to have been made perhaps for sale, or late, or are woven beadwork patterns of no particular distinction or interest (to me) have variations on the strap design left and right sides. From the pix of course I cannot tell if the pouch backs are also beaded, and if the artist varied her patterns there. If the bags were really made by a knowledgeable person who is involved in Midèwewin, the strap and pouch sides will be different, if she knows this tradition.
The tradition is women's knowledge and is not told to the men to whom the bags are given, just as I am withholding here some of the things she said about the reasons. So if you are making one for someone, try to find an elder lady who knows and can explain it orally. Not only is it not supposed to be told to any men, it is not supposed to be written down either. (BTW, if you are a man who has lately taken up beadwork for sale or Native craft competitions, you should not make bandolier bags.)
Maude's strap field beading is so fine and even that the pro photographer, with quality camera and lighting, and the full-page high-quality print in the Coe traveling collection catalog, cannot pick up even a hint of the shadowing that defines the even rows and border edging of the white beads.
As you can see from this overview photo, I have used part of the right strap as the theme for these bandolier exhibit pages, which (like the entire beadwork section) is a tribute, honoring Maude Kegg. I changed the color of the vine and dark flower outline beads to white, so it can show against the black background. White is the traditional color for beads that make up connecting vines, stems, and tendril scrolls on the traditional black cotton velveteen (which apparently is not made any more or anyway very hard to find) used for vests, cradleboard covers, and black velveteen backing for flower patches that are sewed onto the fronts of Ojibwe-style mocassins. (Occasionally vines are made light green, but this is modern.)
Text and graphics copyright 1995, 1996.
CREDITS: Photo of Maude Kegg's 1982 Museum woodland bandolier bar (strap) is by Bobby Hansson for American Federation of Arts catalog for the travelling Coe collection show.
Last Updated: Friday, August 30, 1996 - 8:41:51 AM