Fine Detail of Flags Beading

Strap ===>

Strap tab ==>

Yarn tassels =>
Ribbon ==>

The upper left corner of the bandolier pocket and bottom of strap. Notice the small flag (reversed on the left side) forming a tab on the strap. Tufts of red and blue yarn were used by the artist here and (with added yellow and black tufts) on the longer loom-beaded swinging tabs at the bottom. Red, gold and blue ribbons were sewn together and used for flutter-tabs as well as bindings. The 6-pointed stars have green, blue, and red sections.

Background beads are white. Despite the fact I can't show it by the scanned photo here, this bandolier's pocket panel and strap are made by double-needle applique in very even rows, with unusually uniform beads. The artist had to select them out of hanks which have slightly varying sizes, width, and sometimes casting lumps on the bead cylinder or ends. Beading with unselected beads -- just picking them up at random -- you cannot get your rows to lie down so evenly next to each other, whether curved or -- what really makes slight bead size differences show up -- straight rows like this.

This bandolier shows bilateral or mirror symmetry through an axis down the center of the pocket and shoulder-point of the strap, which fits the flag motif but is unusual for embroidery beaded work. (Almost all loom-beaded work has this symmetry.) But as is customary, the bandolier straps (i.e. left and right sides) differ. The two flags at the bottom and two at the top of each side point in different directions, as well as the small beaded flag strap-tabs, the left one here being a mirror reverse of the right one. The artist was enamored with mirror-symmetry (using the line down the center of the bag from the center of the strap that rests on the shoulder, whichever hip the bag is worn on) as the axis. The loom-beaded flag tabs across the bottom have little flags which face right on the right side and left on the left, just as the small strap flag tab shown here does.

But because the flag patterns on the straps have been done with central mirror-symmetry on the midline of the bag, the strap pattern will look the same, back and front, whether it is slung from left or right hip. It won't have the Midewewin quality of "looking different, coming and going" when danced. Though the artist undoubtedly knew no higher math, it is interesting to analyze this bag's patterns from the viewpoint of geometrical symmetries. I would love to see the reverse side of the bag itself. The shown-side's pattern, being bilaterally symmetric, the back pocket (if beaded at all) is probably the same, but she might have pointed the flags inward, rotated them, or done some transformation on the stars.

Earl Nyholm, Michigan Ojibwe, professor of Ojibwe language at Bemidji State University, picked this among 5 Ojibwe bandoliers as the theme for his essay on Native art objects in the book clebrating opening of the new NMAI-Smothsonian in New York. For him, this bag symbolizes "Indian loyalty" as indicated by world war service. He notes that flag designs usually indicate a novelty ( something made for tourist sale), but says "this example is not in the novelty category; it is extremely carefully made. It could be a signature piece. In the white man's culture, 3 and 7 are the big numbers. In Ojibwe culture, however, 4 is the important number -- thre are 4 parts to your life, 4 parts to a tree, 4 directions, 4 layers to the sky. Within this piece, there are 4 stars on each flag....4th of July celebrations continue to be important for the Ojibwe....One of the first songs is the handshake song, then up goes the American flag, accompanied by the flag song. So for a lot of Indian people, the flag motif has significant symbolism."

In the post-World War I period (when a relatively small number of Indian fought in Europe) and especially after World War II, when many fought, flag motifs are usually symbolic of veteran warrior status -- that is, traditional in this older way. Before that period, though, one still finds a lot of flag motifs on traditional work such as beaded drum skirts. There the flag is being taken as a symbol of the white man's military power, and it is hoped to ward off or assimilate this power by beautiful use of that symbol.

NMAI uses a small version of this bag on one of the museum web pags dealing with programs or internships. There, they ID it as Winnebago. I feel that Nyholm (an Ojibwe who picked 5 Ojibwe bandolier bags from the museum collection -- including this one -- for his illustrated essay in NIMH's All Roads Are Good) took better care with the identifications than the person who labeled this bag Winnebago on the museum web page.

The few examples I've found of Winnebago bandoliers (from the late 19th century) are loom-beaded. Wisconsin Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) lived a Woodland lifestyle, but are a Siouan-speaking, not Algonquian, culture. They never participated in Midèwewin tradition, and took up the Peyote (Native Amrican church) religion in the late 19th century. Bandoliers for them were a kind of sidebar, not central to ceremonial and honoring practices as they are for Ojibwe people. I think Nyholm's ID is right, and the museum's current one is wrong.


Explanatory text and graphics copyright 1995, 1996.

CREDITS: Flag bandolier photographed by David Heald for National Museum of the American Indian photoessay book, "All Roads Are Good: Native Voices on Life and Culture," Smithsonian, 1994.. Earl Nyholm slcted a number of Ojibw bandoliers as the focus for his essay there.

Last Updated: Monday, August 26, 1996 - 1:37:40 PM