Indigenous Woven Caps of Northern California, Wyoming State Museum

What’s in the name? Twined, double twined? Bowl shaped, Crown center natural tan; decorated overall yellow & brown overlay. Design: center encircled by dk brown w/ four sets of three angled lines radiating out; two rows of tan, red, brown; six sets of three triangles w/one point touching and points of two connected by a bar, three of the elements are inverted; parallelograms around brim

Called Xoji Qosta:n (ho ji kos than), the woven caps made by the indigenous people of Northern California resemble acorn tops, and reflect the importance of the acorn as a staple food in the region. The name is difficult to translate into English: ta:n refers to trees, qos means “from the neck up,” and xoji means “with spirit” or “truthfulness” or “traditions.”

Indigenous peoples, also known as first peoples, aboriginal peoples, native peoples, or autochthonous peoples, are ethnic groups who are the original inhabitants of a given region, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied or colonized the area more recently. Groups are usually described as indigenous when they maintain traditions or other aspects of an early culture that is associated with a given region. Not all indigenous peoples share this characteristic, sometimes having adopted substantial elements of a colonising culture, such as dress, religion or language. Indigenous peoples may be settled in a given region (sedentary) or exhibit a nomadic lifestyle across a large territory, but they are generally historically associated with a specific territory on which they depend. Indigenous societies are found in every inhabited climate zone and continent of the world.

This is a cap. It’s an example of woven headwear often made and worn by women of the Hupa, Karuk, and Yurok tribes of Northern California. But the museum that acquired it mistook it for a basket. How do we know?

See the spots of white paint at the top?

That’s called Acryloid B-72, and that’s how a museum puts identification numbers onto objects in its collection. Ideally, this ID is put in a discreet place. Whoever labeled this hat thought it was a basket, and thought he was labeling it on the bottom.

“I can tell right away by what is termed ‘the lifeline’ near the bottom of the basket, as well as the materials that were used to make the entire thing. Bowls would be made using spruce root, which these caps do not have. ”

Some of these caps were possibly collected when non-natives arrived in California during the 1849 gold rush. Oftentimes an object was collected without a complete understanding of its intended purpose.

“Choosing to weave a cap brings up a whole host of emotions: fear, anxiety, wonder, awe, excitement, hope, and gratitude, to name a few.”

A cap like this one might take a year to make, including gathering materials, and would be worn on ceremonial occasions.

“None of these materials are found in stores. Only after you have gathered them can you delicately tuck root and fern behind stick, row after row in different designs, all the while putting good intentions and prayers into your creation.”

The materials and techniques used to make caps today are very similar to the ones used hundreds of years ago.

Caps are made from natural or dyed grasses woven over a structure of alder twigs

Black is often made from adiantum, a type of maidenhair fern.

Red was made from woodwardia fern dyed with alder (Krober 109).

“I wear it for ceremony, I wear it for presentations, I wear it when I am working on my dissertation, and I most certainly wore it on my wedding day.”

Caps like this are still made today, and are sold, given as gifts and passed down through generations. They are worn during the traditional Flower Dance ceremony at other important events like weddings and graduations.

My cap reminds me to be patient and deliberate about the things I do. Stephanie Lumsden

Information regarding the construction and preservation of basket hats from Wyoming State Museum