|HOW INDIANS CUT THEIR HAIR |
Nearly every Indian tribe, especially those that were
well organized, paid particular attention to having the hair
neatly trimmed. There were three general reasons why the hair
was cut. First there was the reason of convenience and cleanliness.
Long hair became tangled and dirty; it was not easy to care for.
Second, it became a custom for tribes to adopt special types
of hair dressing, whereby they might be known and distinguished.
Third, in special instances the manner in which the hair was
cut became a symbol of some belief or superstition in magical
power. As a rule the northern Indians, except those, perhaps,
on the Pacific coast, had little hair on the face and almost
none on the body. Some did raise sparse beards and mustaches,
but as a rule the hair of the face, sometimes even to the eyebrows,
There were three general methods of removing hair. In ordinary practice
any one might be used, but because of certain religious beliefs one
way was sometimes used to the exclusion. of others. The first, and
perhaps most natural way to remove hair, was to pull it out. It was
a severe test of a warrior's courage to have his excess hair pulled
out one hair at a time, but it was not half as bad as to have it
yanked out by the fistful. Just how it did feel was told me by my
He had been courting two sisters and could not decide
which he liked the best, as both were tall, powerful
women who could work in the fields and cook in the
lodge with great excellence. For many moons he had
tested their cooking, until at last they grew weary
with suspense. Finally they decided that the young
man had wanted food more than he had wanted a wife.
This was wrong; the man was not a natural warrior.
It must be his hair that was to blame; it was not cut
in proper style. With this belief, when the youth had
called one evening and proposed to each maiden with
equal ardor, both girls rushed upon him and knocked
him down. Then they literally sat upon him. One cushioned herself
upon his thighs where she could pummel his stomach and the other
sat upon his chest, from which vantage point she began to pluck out
his hairs one by one, calling upon him to be brave like his ancestors
and not wince at having his hair cut in ancient style. When all was
finished he looked like a warrior indeed, and he had blood in his
eye. All ardor had left his heart and he turned his back on the maidens
who had so kindly trimmed him. "It hurt most mightily awful," he
said. And his remark explains how every warrior felt when his hair
was plucked out. Some have said, however, that when the custom is
kept up from childhood, the nerves become accustomed to the shock
and little pain is experienced.
plucking out hair the Indians had tweezers of wood or pinchers
made by the shell of a fresh-water mussel, which had a natural
spring hinge. This was easily held in .the hand and its sharp
lips would cut into the hair at its roots so that it was
True cutting, or rather shaving, was done by means
of flint or obsidian (volcanic glass) knives and razors.
These were long flakes chipped from a cylindrical core. They
were very sharp and cut with great efficiency. The obsidian
razors of the Mexicans were particularly useful, and as many
as twenty to forty might be struck from one cylinder. They
had the advantage of having a rustless edge. Those that have
been found cut as well to-day as when originally made. When
they became dulled through use (by having the edge nicked
and smoothed by the hair) they could not be resharpened,
but were thrown away or reworked into small arrowheads.
method requiring greater skill was sometimes employed. This
was burning the hair from the head by use of tapers or hot
stones. The eastern woodland Indians
often used this way of getting their hair "cut."
The singeing process was aided by the use of a comb,
much as it is by modern barbers. The comb was shoved under
the hair and the taper applied. The singeing-stones were
long flat pieces of rock that would not explode when heated
to a dull red. The cool end was wrapped in a piece of skin
and the hot end rubbed over the hair. Where the hair was
long it was grasped, held upright and the stone applied as
near the roots as was comfortable.
cutting or singeing hair, the scalp was rubbed with oils
and even perfumes. Bear oil was the 'standard' hair dressing
in many localities, though buffalo fat, sunflower
oil, and deer tallow were not despised.