Although styles and sizes vary between Nations, geographical locations, and medicine societies, many have certain elements in common: a long neck of cloth or leather, a rim which is often beaded or quilled, a lower panel, or pouch, also beaded or quilled, and a fringe at the bottom. Some bags are left unadorned.
Many of the more recent bags have a quilled "slat panel" between the pouch and the fringe, while many of the older ones do not. Quillwork was much more prevalent before the late 18th and early 19th century, after which beadwork - made with beads obtained from Europeans - became more common.
Examples and symbolism
The Sioux Quilled Tobacco Bag at left is decorated with quillwork forming flora and fauna, buffalo and caterpillars. The "cocoon" design symbolizes spiritual and physical transformation, and the Sioux spirit Yumni, the whirlwind, responsible for the four directions of the world.
Both the moth, which breaks free of its confining cocoon, and the untamable wind, are viewed as spirits impossible to contain.
Clark Wissler described in his 1907 field notes the "whirlwind bug," a creature with spiral grooves that creates small dust clouds along the ground. By this action, the cloud was thought to confuse the enemy and make him lose his senses. The cocoon above what appears to be the head of the bear may represent the whirlwind phenomena.
- Taylor, Colin (1987) "Wakanyan: Symbols of Power and Ritual of the Teton Sioux". The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, VII, 2 (237-257).
- Walker, James R. (1917) "The Sun Dance and Other Ceremonies of the Oglala Division of the Teton Dakota" Anthropological Paper, Vol. 16, 2. American Museum of Natural History
- Wissler, Clark (1902) "Field Notes on the Dakota Indians Collected on Museum Expedition." Ms. 1911 of the American Museum of Natural History, New York
- Mallery, Garrick 1893 "Picture Writing of the American Indians." Tenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Washington, D.C.
- Painter, John W. (2003) "A Window on the Past". Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum. p. 38