Native Americans use fans for many purposes. Some uses for fans are merely practical: fans provide a deserving cool breeze; fans can motivate the flames of a diminishing fire; as well as protect eyes from the harsh glare and heat of the flames. Some old fans were even used in house cleaning. However, many fans had social and spiritual uses as well. Both men and women of most Native American tribes use fans for dancing. Some fans are passed down from one dance leader to the next. Feathers or markings used to decorate the fans can also display a man's leadership status or indicate the family to which he belongs. Fans are also used in medicine ceremonies and purifying rituals.
When desired, Native Americans in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions could quickly make birchbark fans from materials easily found in the woods. Several styles of fans are made from birchbark. Birchbark sheets could be folded in half or separate flat pieces could be slipped into a split stick handle. Stitched together with split spruce roots or with strips of inner bark of the basswood tree, these fans often incorporated the feathers of turkeys, owls, or other large birds. The fans are made to show the sturdy dark inner bark of the birch tree. This tough, dark surface can be ornamented with designs etched through to expose the lighter, more papery layers of bark. Ornamented fans among the Great Lakes Chippewa were usually reserved for men to carry, while women used more simple forms.
Birchbark Bibliography and Books to Buy On-Line
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© 1994 - Tara Prindle
unless otherwise cited.