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Warriors of the Plains: 200 years of Native North American honour and ritual

 Returning the Gaze (detail). Assiniboine dancer Kevin Haywahe with face paint © Jeff Thomas

Returning the Gaze (detail). Assiniboine dancer Kevin Haywahe with face paint © Jeff Thomas

A rare opportunity to explore the fascinating world of Native North American warfare and ritual. The exhibition focuses on the material culture of Native North American Indians of the Plains between 1800 and the present, and the importance of the objects in a social and ceremonial context.

Men of these tribes were expected to join a ‘warrior society’ – a social, political and ritual group that engaged in warfare and organised ceremonial life. The societies played a prominent role in battles, offering members the opportunity to gain honours through individual acts of bravery such stealing horses, capturing women, and taking scalps during war raids. These societies, however, had a rich ritual life that was marked by a strong sense of spirituality. In their ceremonies society members made use of objects such as pipes, rattles and headdresses, as these were significant to their shared ideas of ritual and honour. The exhibition explores the world of the Plains Indians through exceptional examples of feather head dresses, shields, moccasins, painted hides, scalps, pipes, tomahawks, and traditional and contemporary dress.

Although many of these items may seem initially familiar from popular culture, the exhibition uncovers the deeper ritual significance of these iconic objects. A selection of photographs shows past and present contexts of the objects used in these societies. The legacy of the warrior societies is also examined, revealing how crucial they are in the maintenance of tribal identity among Plains Indians today.

“The British Museum and RAMM have a long history of working in partnership and we are delighted to continue that with Warriors of the Plains. The exhibition explores the fascinating world of Native North American Indians from 1800 to the present and includes unique and fragile material from feather headdresses to pipes and tomahawks. Exeter holds one of the strongest collections of Native North American material in the country so the two museums together can tell an unparalleled story about chivalry and honour, warfare and ritual.”

John Orna Ornstein, Head of London and National Programmes at the British Museum

Associated display

Fri 12 Oct to Sun 13 Jan 2013: Once a Warrior

Westcountry servicemen and women find parallels with Native North American warrior societies in their own experiences of the military. Their recorded voices and artwork, inspired by Warriors of the Plains, are displayed digitally alongside the exhibition.

22 September 2012 to 13 January 2013

Entry

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