Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 30, 2001 - Issue 39



Who Really Sported the First Mohawk?


 by Mitchel Raphael National Post - June 13, 2001


Academics say the 'mohawk' haircut is a misnomer

art - Mohawk HuntersThe first time Western Europeans set eyes on and recorded a mohawk haircut may have been in Canada in the early 1600s -- and it wasn't even on a member of the Mohawk tribe.

According to George Hamell, a curator of ethnology at the New York State Museum in Albany, "the hairstyle itself was first seen and described by French explorer Samuel de Champlain among the Hurons of southwestern Ontario."

Bruce Trigger, a professor of Anthropology at McGill University and author of The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660, says the word Huron comes from the 16th-century medieval French term hure, meaning boar's head.

Hamell says "the stiff ridge of hair bristles along the head of a boar is the source for the name given to the Hurons." So it's likely that the mohawk haircut was first seen by Europeans on members of the Huron tribe, whose French name was inspired by their haircut.

"To my knowledge, I don't know of one contemporary image of a Mohawk wearing that particular hairstyle," says Hamell, an expert on historical images of North American natives.

Hamell says the first time the mohawk hairstyle is identified with the Mohawk tribe is in a book written in 1656 on the Mohawk Iroquois by a Dutch Reform church minister named Johannes Megatolensis.

But Hamell notes that the image used to illustrate the book had the "Mohawk's" head lifted from another source. The pasted-in head, he says, is actually of an Algonquin Indian from Long Island. That may be the reason the haircut was identified with the Mohawk people.

photo - Hair RoachThe mohawk cut, he says, was one of many hairstyles sported by a variety of native men, including the Mohawks.

Dean Snow, the head of anthropology at Penn State University, says it often wasn't even real hair -- it was almost a mohawk toupée.

"A lot of male Indians would wear deer roaches that look like what we call a mohawk," he says. "It's deer hair and a piece of hide -- the external skin of the tail with the hair attached. It could be stained or dyed red. So it looks like hair, but it's not."

Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte
The ancestral homeland of the Mohawk Nation is the Mohawk River Valley of present day New York State. The Mohawks are considered the easternmost tribe within the Iroquois/Six Nations Confederacy consisting of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora Nations.


Mohawks of Akwesasne
The Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne is part of the Greater Mohawk Nation who presently live on a number of territories stretching along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers, by Lake Ontario and beyond, all the way to Brantford, Ontario, Canada. The territory called "Akwesasne" straddles the international boundary of Canada and the United States of America, and the national boundaries of two Canadian Provinces and the US New York State Line.




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