Native American Use of Grass

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Grass Work. The Native American found the widely diffused grasses of the United States of great value, almost a necessity, and adapted them in numerous ways to his needs. The obvious needs supplied by loose grass were for house building (see Grass house), bedding, for lining caches, etc.; it was also worked into baskets (southern Indians, Hopi, Pima, Tlingit, Aleut, Eskimo), mats, leggings (Ntlakyapamuk), socks, towels (Eskimo), and other articles. The polished yellow or white stems were used by various tribes to ornament basketry, and by the Hupa of California as fringes of garments. Stiff stems were gathered into bundles and used as hair and floor brushes by the Pueblos and cliff-dwellers. Slender, flat grass stems, sometimes dyed, were applied to dressed skins by some tribes with sinew thread for ornamental purposes, just as were porcupine quills (Grinnell).

Grass was generally found useful as tinder; some species furnished excellent fiber for cord, and some were employed as perfumery. The Cheyenne burned grass and mixed the ashes with blood and tallow to produce paint. So far as is known the Indian invented no implements for cutting grass; basketry fans, gathering baskets, etc., were used in harvesting seeds for food. In ceremony grass had an important place. It was a component of various prayer-sticks and wands of the Hopi, and the sacred buffalo skull of some of the Plains tribes was thought to be made to live by stuffing balls of grass in to the eye sockets and nose. Sweet grass w r as also burned to produce consecrating smoke and for lighting the pipe in sacred rites of the Plains Indians. The sod used in the Hako altar of the Pawnee, described by Miss Fletcher (22d Rep. B. A. E., 1903) was in Indian thought a symbol of life and growth. (W. H.) 

MLA Source Citation:

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906. Web. 25 January 2015. - Last updated on Jul 18th, 2012


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