Choctaw Dress and Personal Decoration
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Narrow strips of the bark of the cypress tree (cupressus disticha; Choctaw, shamgo’lo) serve as cords, which are employed for various purposes. Spanish moss was never used to make ropes.
Men wore their hair long enough to enable them to make two braids, one on each side of the head. In front the hair was cut straight across, above the eyebrows. Women allowed their hair to grow very long. Their ancient method of wearing it is shown in the photograph of the old woman, Heleema (Louisa).
Ornaments, as pins, earrings, etc., were formerly made by hammering silver coins until they became thin and then perforating them in various designs.
Quantities of glass beads and much bright-colored ribbon are said to have been obtained from the traders. The Choctaw are very fond of bright and gaudy colors. Among the older men are remembered several who were experts in the art of making silver ornaments. One small pin is shown in the image; this was made from a silver dime and the date 1856 still may be clearly read on the back. Larger ornaments were made from larger coins. Pendant earrings were also fashioned, having glass beads attached to the lower part. When dancing, the men often wore strings of small brass bells around each leg, below the knee. These bells were highly prized by the older generation. Feathers do not seem to have been held in great esteem, although they were worn.
Both men and women painted, especially when dressed for dancing. The women remember having seen blue, red, yellow, and green used on their faces. They say there were no special designs and that no combination of colors had any meaning. One of the favorite patterns, the only one they remember, was a yellow crescent, outlined with blue, that was painted on both cheeks. This was used by both men and women and represented a new moon in the dark blue sky.
Tattooing (hauchahale) was practiced by both men and women, but only to a very limited extent. An old woman who died a few years ago is said to have had lines of tattooing extending from the corners of her mouth across both cheeks to her ears. According to the writer’s informants, no totemic devices were ever represented, and tattooing was done only as a means of ornamenting the face. In some cases the shoulders were tattooed, but no other part of the body. The method of tattooing practiced was as follows: A needle was used to puncture the skin and soot caused by a fire of yellow pine was rubbed over the surface. This was then wiped off and more soot rubbed in, to make certain that all the punctures were filled. The soot gave a bluish tinge to the dots. No other substance or color was ever employed.