Photo of the day (85): dress with cowries

This is a Native American woman’s dress with cowrie shells.

The dress is on display in the Náprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures in Prague. It is a part of the temporary exhibition Indians in 2017-2019.

dress with cowrie shellsIt is a woman’s dress made of cotton. The bodice is decorated with six lines of cowrie shells (family Cypraeidae). They are probably shells of money cowrie Monetaria moneta, that is the most common cowrie.

dress with cowrie shellsThe dress is from the first half of the 20th century. It comes from the Western Plains Indians. According to the Museum staff is was made by Crows or by Cheyennes. Shells comes from the Indo-Pacific tropical waters and therefore they were imported to the Great Plains.

There is also a belt made of hide and of cloth. There were used porcupine quills in the embroidery of the belt:
dress with cowrie shellsSuch cowries decorations were used also by other Native American tribes, including for example Sioux. Decorating by Crows with elk teeth looks very similar. Elk teeth were probably used in times when cowries were not available yet.

The same style of the dress is shown for example on this 1904 photo:

Cheyenne baby in dress with cowrie shells

1904 photo of Cheyenne baby by American photographer Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942). Public domain. It comes from the website of Missouri Historical Society.

It depicts the Cheyenne baby. There are only four rows of cowrie shells. It seems that there are money cowrie Monetaria moneta shells too, but there are also some ring cowrie Monetaria annulus shells on the right sleeve and on the right part of the dress (on the left part on the photo).

References

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Photo of the day (60): shell headdress from New Guinea

This is an original tribal ceremonial men’s feather and shell headdress from Tambanum village on the Sepik River, East Sepik Province, northern Papua New Guinea. It was made in 19th century. It was shown in the exhibition “Crown jewels in the world’s history” in Ostrava museum at December 9, 2016 – March 5, 2017. It comes from the private collection of goldsmith Jürgen Abeler, owner of the Wuppertaler Uhrenmuseum, that was closed in 2016. The headdress is in the collection of Juwelier Abeler company (juwelier means jeweler) in Wuppertal now. I was happy to see it because it was the only thing on the exhibition, that contained shells.

feather and shell headdressLeft side view:
feather and shell headdressLarger shells are some species from the family Cypraeidae. It is probably Monetaria moneta, a common species, that was used as a shell money in various parts of the world including the New Guinea.

headdressThe smaller shells are also from marine gastropods, but I did not identify the species. Some headbands and other things from the area contain the same shells that are called “Nassa shells”. This does not mean the genus Nassa from the family Muricidae. It may mean some species from the family Nassariidae, that are commonly known as “Nassa mud snails”.

Other things of the headdress include feathers of a cassowary (Casuarius). There exist three extant species of cassowaries and all of them live in New Guinea. All of them have black feathers. According to the locality of the headdress and the distribution of cassowaries, feathers probably comes from the northern cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus) or from the dwarf cassowary (Casuarius bennetti).

There are also used animal teeth and number of strings.

Right side view:
feather and shell headdressI also do not know what is the material, from which “eyes” of this headdress were made. It looks like the same thing on the ancestor’s figure.

Such headdresses were and are used to emphasize the status of the owner. They are worn usually in festivals.

One more oblique view:
feather and shell headdressThe headdress also closely resembles for example feathered headdress for ancestor’s skull made by Asmat people.

That’s all. And if you can identify those small shells, let me to know. Thanks.