Faw Faw Beaded Turban

Faw Faw Beaded Turban


 Title:  Faw Faw Beaded Turban

Region / Tribe:  Kansas/ Nebraska border/ Otoe-Missouria

Circa:  1891-1895

Material:  Various cloths, glass beads, cotton thread, shell disk

Dimension:  Diameter 10 inches, Height 2 3/4 inches  

Condition: Overall excellent. Minor bead loss along bottom rim of turban. No restoration

Collection History:  From a Midwest collection.

Acquired from Jason Baldwin, Chicago, Illinois


David Wooley and William T. Waters, “Waw-no-she’s Dance” in American Indian Art Magazine, Winter 1988, pages 36-45.

George Hamell, “Trading in Metaphors: The Magic of Beads,” Presentation at the Glass Trade Bead Conference, sponsored by the Rochester Museum and Science Center, Rochester, New York, June 12-13, 1982.

Description:  A cloth bead and shell decorated turban approximately the size and shape of a traditional Prairie otter skin turban. Beaded images of stars, stellate devices and eagles are spot-stitched in curvilinear fashion, outlined in white on a dark cloth ground. 

Comments:  Every element of this extraordinary headdress suggests its origin as a ritual Faw Faw garment. More broadly represented and understood ceremonial coats and breechcloths reveal the same beadwork techniques, design vocabulary and application upon a dark cloth ground. In David Wooley and William T. Waters’ fine article on “Waw-no-she’s Dance,”  the Faw Faw movement is described - its background, its vision and its articles of dress. Stars and eagles figure prominently. “Faw Faw instructed the faithful on what to wear. He told them to wear ‘eagle feathers…’” (p.39). The stylized bead embroidered eagles on this turban clearly satisfy this instruction. “Faw Faw saw birds flying about and heard their songs.” (p.38).

Even more remarkable are the positions of the five pointed stars surrounding and atop the turban. “…stars play an important role in Otoe-Missouria religion and oral tradition. Furthermore, it is reported that Faw Faw had stars tattooed on his forehead and painted 

on the doors of his house…” (p.44). It is not unreasonable to speculate that a star on the rim of his turban was positioned over a tattooed star on Faw Faw’s forehead. 

Interspersed between and around the stars and eagles are white nucleated circles and stellate devices with pony-trader blue centers. Clear pony beads shine out along the bottom rim. Color symbolism reflecting the Upper, Middle and Lower Realms provides visual harmonization to the dynamic forces empowering this headdress. 

In the center of the nucleated star on the crown of the turban is a large white shell disk. The symbolic importance of this dramatic embellishment positioned at the apex of the head cannot be overstated. George Hamell in his essay “Trading in Metaphors: The Magic of Beads,” describes the central importance in Native culture of objects that shine out and spiritually illuminate. “When consecrated to ritual use, shell and crystal are metaphors for light, mind, knowledge and/or greatest being…Shell is most frequently associated with rituals promotive of the continuity of life…” (p.3)

Through the stunning association of stars, eagles, celestial orbs, color symbolism and shining beads and shell an overall vision of cosmological harmony is achieved in this Otoe-Missouria Faw Faw Turban.

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