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Porcupine Hair Roaches Worn at Powwows: From the Eastern Woodland Warriors to the Plains
Almost all tribes at one time had warrior societies. In those societies, the men who belonged to them wore specifically related clothing items. Those items were only allowed to be worn when the men were dealing with warrior society meetings, dances, and rituals. As time progressed, certain items of clothing lost its religious connections to the warrior societies, and everyone in the tribe started to wear them. One such item that has grown through cultural changes is the hair roach. Worn by many men on the powwow circuit, the hair roach is not just worn by members of warrior societies any longer. It is now a pan-Indian clothing item that is worn by hundreds of men in the contemporary prairie powwow culture.
Early Warriors Used the Roaches for War
The hair roach has origins in the Eastern Woodland tribes hundreds of years ago during pre-European contact. The first roaches were small, approximately the span of a hand, and round in shape. These were attached to the warriors head by the braid of their scalp lock. A scalp lock was a circular patch of long hair at the crown of the warriors head, which was usually braided. The rest of the hair was shaved or plucked out. The early roaches were made from many different types of animal fur (deer, wolf, porcupine, turkey beards), depending on the want and honors earned by the warrior. If earned, a socket made of bone would be added to the roach, where a plume would be tied on to decorate in times of war. As tribes began to barter with each other, the way of the roach spread from the East to the Plains areas tribes, with only the warriors allowed to be adorned in the roaches.
The Many Different Shapes and Sizes of Modern Hair Roaches
There are several sizes and shapes of the hair roach today. Some are still small and circular like the Woodland ones. Others are located on the head from the hair line to the base of the neck, considered medium sized. There are other roaches that start just behind the hair line and go halfway down the back, these are considered large sized. Some roaches that are worn by the Crow people will have extra long porcupine guard hair that will be flattened by a spreader. Today the roach can be worn several ways. One way is the old style mentioned above, but men need long hair, and small to medium roaches only. Another method would be to take strings that are connected to the roach, and tie them around the neck and under the chin. This way is the most common way, due to many men with short hair as well as for the roaches that are large and heavy. Another way is to attach a headband to a medium sized roach, and wear the combination like a hat.
Hair Roach Hardware
Many of the medium, large, and flatter roaches have spreaders located on the woven spine of the roaches. This spreader will keep the roach from curling on the dancers head, and it is where the sockets or rockers for the feathers are located. A simple spreader with one or two sockets can be worn by traditional dancers, straight dancers, grass dancers, and chicken dancers, and be made of metal, leather or bone. The rocker spreader is worn by the fancy dancers. With every movement of the head and every turn of the body, the rocker spreader will teeter-totter back and forth. This adds another dynamic of movement to the fancy dancers. The rocker can be made from silver, and the rocker is center balanced with the feathers attached. The more complex rocker is made from wires and a wooden block. This is all hooked together with a rubber band inside to add the rocking motion.
By the time the roach reached the Plains tribes, which was early to mid 1800’s, the men still believed that to wear a roach was to first earn it, as well as the feathers attached to the spreaders. Some Plains tribes call it the ‘Pawnee war bonnet‘. It is known that many of the warrior society customs of the Plains had been bought from the Pawnee and adapted by many tribes on the Plains. Where the Pawnee first learned the custom of using a roach is still unsure. But what can be seen, is the expansion and use of the hair roach to the pan-Indian powwow culture that is seen all over the United States today.