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Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region (1933) by S. A. Barrett and E. W. Gifford


The most important articles of dance costume were the feather plume, the flicker feather head band, the magpie feather crown, and the feather skirt. With these were used certain auxiliary items, such as paints, ear plugs, nose sticks, bead necklaces, and belts, clouts and skirts. Also there were objects carried by the dancers, such as the feather ropes borne by women, and the beads, arrows, feather sticks, and imitation bear claws, carried by the men. The music consisted of songs accompanied by the foot drum, the split stick clapper rattle, and the bone whistle.

The feather plume (ma'kkī, P, N, C) consisted of feathers tied upon a stick about a foot long and about the diameter of a lead pencil (plate LXXII, figs. 1-4, and Kroeber, 1925, fig. 21d, e). These feathers might be attached to the end of the stick only, or they might be arranged so as to completely cover it. In the former case the remainder of the stick was wound and covered with eagle down. The feathers were lashed on with a tight winding of string. The rods projecting upward from the center of the feather bunches are tightly wound with red thread (not Miwok). These slender rods are inserted in the wooden handle. Small triangular or rectangular abalone bangles and glass beads (not Miwok) are attached to the projecting iron wire rods (not Miwok) of one example, in which the wrappings are of American red cloth. Little squares of flicker quills are attached to the feather plumes, suspended by string from the middle of one edge. Variation in the little squares of flicker quills was attained by inserting whitish or blackish quills at intervals among the pink ones. The elaborate feather plumes were employed in dances only, while the ordinary ones were worn daily by chiefs and other men of importance. They were usually worn in pairs, being so placed in the hair as to project forward at an angle from the top of the head. Turkey feathers (not Miwok) are employed in part in the feather head ornaments. In one example even guinea fowl feathers are present. Plate LXXII, fig. 5, depicts one feather ornament (sonolu, C) carried in the hand. Apparently rather large stiff tail feathers were used. The outer half of the quill of each has been cut or torn off, possibly to make the feathers more flexible.

The flicker feather head band, plate LXXIII, (tama'kkilī, P, N; tamikila, C) was made of the salmon pink shafts of the primaries of the flicker, laid side by side and sewed through to form an elongated mat (Kroeber, 1925, pl. 58). These were bordered by the dark brown feathers: in one specimen tail feathers; in the other, wing feathers. It was worn in two ways: (1) attached by its middle so as to form a horizontal band across the forehead, with the two ends floating; (2) fastened on top of the head by one end, so as to pass over the crown of the head and hang down the back.

The feather crown (tī'ūka, P, N) was made entirely of the tail feathers of the magpie. It comprised two wooden rings of equal diameters with the feathers attached to form an erect cylinder. The lower of these two rings fitted over the head, while the other was fastened some distance up on the inside of the cylinder and thus held the feathers erect. The quills of the feathers were painted red. This headdress was held in place by a string passing under the chin. It was used in the lo'le (a women’s dance) and the hī'we (a men’s dance).

The feather cloak or skirt (sīhlī'wa, P, N; metikila, C) was made by attaching wing and tail feathers to a net (plates LXIV and LXV). The feathers of the crow, turkey vulture, magpie, and Western Red-tail Hawk were employed, but never eagle feathers, because they gave bad luck. Plate LXIV, fig. 2,87 has Great Horned Owl and hawk feathers. The dark feathers on its lower part are perhaps magpie and vulture. Figure 1 is apparently all magpie feathers. In both of these specimens the mesh is about forty-five millimeters square. Another specimen (1-9977) has turkey feathers on a netting of white cotton string, with meshes about fifteen millimeters square. Figure 1 has a double, bone whistle and a little mat of flicker quills attached. The two whistles are of unequal lengths and give different tones. The short one (50 mm.) is of the humerus of the Sierra Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus). The long one (70 mm.) is of the tibia of a jackrabbit (Lepus californicus). The pair of whistles attached to figure 2 are of jackrabbit tibias. The feather cloak was tied about the arm pits, hanging down the back to about the knees, and was worn for nearly every dance. When worn by the character called motcilo (C) in the kuksuyu performance, it was called tcakala (C).

The Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, at Harvard University, possesses a set of dance regalia (64521) from the Northern Miwok of West Point, Calaveras county. Included in this is a dance stick of solid wood (not elder), probably such as is used by a master of ceremonies. It is forty-eight inches long, with three encircling bunches of feathers in the upper twenty-two inches. The upper and lower bunches of feathers are black and appear to be turkey vulture feathers. The lower encircling bunch has a few flicker feathers on its exterior. The middle bunch is of hawk feathers. All feathers are split along the middle. There is a painted, encircling, black band, one inch wide, between each two bunches of feathers. At the bottom there is a similar band one and one-quarter inches wide. At the base of the lowest bunch of feathers there is an encircling band of modern red and yellow glass beads. Below the base of the upper bunch of feathers hangs a little square composed of the salmon-pink flicker quills. There are also two such flicker quills inserted base first in a hole drilled through the stick just below the upper bunch of feathers.

The feather rope (hū'na, P, N) carried by the women in certain dances was made of goose feathers or down twisted into a rope about six feet in length. Comparable with this feather rope for the women were the strings of beads, feather sticks, and arrows carried by the men, these varying according to the dance.

Down was attached to the faces of dancers by first sprinkling them with water. It was stored in small pouches, made by everting the skin of the Western Red-tail Hawk’s leg (plate LXIII, fig. 5).

Earplugs by men and nasal septum ornaments by women were worn in the Central Miwok hekeke (valley quail) dance. For dances men used a plain hair net, but for non-ceremonial wear one with abalone bangles.


87Kroeber, 1925, pl. 80.


Ceremonial Objects.

Figure 1. Invitation string, used to call people together for a ceremony; the knots indicate clays to elapse before ceremony commences. Spec. No. 1-10360 (N).

Figure 2. Mourning string tied about neck of mourner at funeral of near relative; must remain there until it wears in two or falls off, or until next annual mourning ceremony. Spec. No. 1-9965 (N).

Figure 3. Paint stick; by charring end and rubbing directly on skin a black design is produced. Length, 133 mm. Spec. No. 1-9982 (N).

Figure 4. Olive shells. (Olivella biplicata) used in making shell ropes and other ornaments. Spec. No. 1-10159 (C).

Figure 5. Pouches made of the everted skin of a hawk’s legs, used as receptacles to store down. Spec. No. 1-10314 (C).

Figure 6. Long tubular bead of shell, worn as nose stick. Spec. No. 1-10195 (C).

Neg. No. 5978.

Ceremonial Objects.
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Figure 1. Old magpie feather dance skirt, with pendant of flicker feather band and double bone whistle. West Point, Calaveras County. Cat. No. 10037 (N). Neg. No. 4772.

Figure 2. Old dance skirt of Great Horned Owl and hawk feathers, with pendant and double bone whistle. West Point, Calaveras County. Cat. No. 10038 ( N ). Neg. No. 4773.

Feather dance skirts.
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Feather skirt.
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Feather skirt. Back of 1-10038, shown in plate LXIV, fig. 2, showing manner of attaching feathers, length about 902 mm. Neg. No. 8279.

Feather dance plumes.
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Figures 1-5. Feather dance plumes. Spec. Nos. 1-10047 (N), 1-10043 (N), 1-10045 (N), 1-9978 (N), 1-10229 (S). Neg. No. 4813.

Flicker quill headbands.
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Figures 1-3. Flicker quill headbands. Spec. Nos. 1-14540, 1-10039 (N), 1-10040 (N). Neg. No. 5000.

(Figure 1 is Wintun, included for comparison.)

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management