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Otter vs. hairplate drag?

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  • Otter vs. hairplate drag?

    The one dance item that distinguishes southern from nothern "traditional" dancing, is the "drag" that hangs down the back of traditional southern men dancers.

    I have noticed that most of the northern straight dancers have an otter skin drag (ie. Ponca, Osage, Pawnee, Otoe, Kaw and Quapaw). The otter drag on these dancers is either decorated or left plain. I wonder if the decorations have meaning (such as some dancers wearing combat medals)?


    Southwestern Oklahoma Tribes use the hairplate disk drag more commonly (ie. Comanche, Kiowa, Wichita, Delaware, Apache). The majority of these discs sets are round and descend in size the closer the disk is to the ground.

    Because we live in modern times, some straight dancers have a set of both. I wonder if this is because the dancer belongs to more than one tribe or is it just his personal preference.

    What is the story on the two types of drags?
    Powwows will continue to evolve in many directions. It is inevitable.

  • #2
    My son has both. He wears the otter, mainly because his grandpa told him too. That it was part of being Otoe. He also wears the hairplate drag more recently because he is 6'5" and otters aren't that big. That's the main reason for the hairplate drag. My son in law if also over 6', so he wears the hairplates as well -- he is also kiowa though.


    • #3
      Originally posted by luvstraightdancrs
      My son has both. He wears the otter, mainly because his grandpa told him too. That it was part of being Otoe. He also wears the hairplate drag more recently because he is 6'5" and otters aren't that big. That's the main reason for the hairplate drag. My son in law if also over 6', so he wears the hairplates as well -- he is also kiowa though.
      Really? I've found AND purchased two otters on Ebay that we're well over 6 ft long!! The last one I bought was 7ft in length!!!!!!

      I paid $80 for that one.....what a steal!!!!!!!!!


      • #4
        Big Canadian otter is the way to go!
        Mii iw keyaa ezhi-ditibiseyaan


        • #5
          All I find on Ebay are about 45-48 inches. Have bought a couple of them for otter caps. I did find one that was 55 once. Guess I just can't find them at the right time. I keep looking though. Crazy Crow had one at Red Earth that was 6' but they wanted $350 for it. Too much for my wallet to handle at that time. If you see any more...let me know.


          • #6
            I dance southern straight and wear the Otter drag. Most of the guys I know at powwows around here use the Otter drag decorated with either beadwork, mirrors, or conchos, so it dosn't seem to be just a northern thing. In my society dance in Oklahoma all full time members wear Otter Hats and Otter drags. Is this different in other areas? Anyway I personnaly like my Otter drag, he keeps me company.
            Last edited by Sharky; 06-30-2004, 01:27 PM. Reason: misspelled word


            • #7
              I have noticed that a lot of men who are not from the tribes of No. Oklahoma tend to mix their straight dance outfits up "intertribally." Whereas, down in Oklahoma, you can look at a straight dancer: his drag, ribbon work design, moccasins, feather placement, bandolier placement, leggings fold, breech-cloth placement, beadwork design and use of garters - to tell what tribe he is from.

              In learning about the straight dance, there are symbolic reasons why each article is put on and a reason why they are positioned by traditional straight dancers.

              Yet, most straight dancers cannot tell you why they wear an otter drag or why they wear a hairplate drag.

              Any comment?
              Powwows will continue to evolve in many directions. It is inevitable.


              • #8
                From what I understand the Otterhide drop is one of the requirements that go along with the ilonshka/hethuska/heluska society. That is why you see most "northern oklahoma" straight dancers have an otterhide as they come from the respective tribes, i.e. pawnee, otoe, ponca, and osage. All what have you, "heluska tribes".

                I know that osages dress different from other tribes, and we even dress different from each other, hominy and pawhuska dress differently from greyhorse people. I've never questioned these differences, just always been aware of them. That, and the fact that i was told to "quit asking so many questions" when i was younger.

                Good question though, i'd have to ask around some more.

                Just my thoughts on subject.


                • #9
                  I too have otter drags and I have made my sons hairplate drags, for my wifes Apache family. When they are grown and want to continue to dance I will help them make an otter drag. We do wear an otter turbin as well as a roach alternately. (Not to be confused with some old style Sauk/Fox that wear them together.) I hope that the otters will be affordable and large enough. I would like to find 1 or 2 of these long otters since I am 6'3'. My otter that I now wear is quite long about 5 1/2' long. My dads turbin otter and my turbin otter were not quite as long. My sons turbins were small otters, which they out grew a while back. It is hard to keep up with them. Our eldest now has his own family, he wants to come back and dance again.

                  I was taught that we wear the otter turbin and drag to honor the otter. I was taught that the otter was the one that help GOD get the grains of sand from the bottom of the water when the earth was covered by the water. These sand grains were what GOD created the land for Humans to live on. Not sure if this is fact or just a story to appease my childhood questions. I too do many things and wear things that I'm not sure about but was told this is just the way it is.
                  Last edited by CHEROSAGE; 04-10-2007, 04:00 AM.


                  • #10
                    Otter Dragger vs Hairplates

                    The Otter Dragger is said to be derived from the otter fur originally wrapped around the Grizzly Claw Necklaces worn by such tribes as Omaha, Ponca, Oto, Missouria, Kansa, and Pawnee, with the tail of the otter attached to the Grizzly Claw Necklace and hanging down the middle of the back, usually folded in half and decorated one edge. With the evolution of time, materials availability, and personal expression, (also because the Grizzly Claw necklaces became harder to come by), the Otter Tail became a separate component as it evolved and became longer to now include the entire center strip of otter skin from nose to tail mounted on broadcloth and is referred to as an Otter Dragger and is tied around the dancer's neck. This Otter Dragger component is a major element of the Omaha Heluska Society and the Ponca Hethuska Society members and is considered by elders to have been introduced to the Osage and other Oklahoma tribes by the Ponca and the Omaha in the 1870s.

                    A set of Hairplates, as the name implies, were originally a leather strap with bone or tin discs, silver cochos or some other trade metal plates worn tied to the scalplock at the back of the head by tribes such as the Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa/Apache, Southern Cheyenne, Southern Arapaho, and Osage. It has been said that this element was originally to focus attention to their scalplock as a taunt to their enemies as it provided something to grab during close combat. Today, the set of Hairplates are usually worn similar to the Otter Dragger tied around the dancer's neck.

                    With tribes such as the Comanche and the Osage having been given the rights to dance the Ponca Hethuska traditions, some individuals will wear the traditional Otter Dragger of the Ponca, and some will choose to wear their more tribal tradition of Hairplates instead. Conversely, it is not uncommon to see Ponca wearing Hairplates as a personal preference. During the 1970s, 80s and into the 1990s it was very common to see Straight Dancers mix tribal components to see what looked good. You could see a Ponca dancer for example, wearing Cheyenne moccasins; Kiowa tab leggings; Osage ribbon aplique aprons; and a Comanche set of hairplates. Lately however, there has been a trend to return to a set of clothes that is tribal specific of one tribal tradition as much as possible.

                    Lastly, neither the Otter Dragger, nor the Hairplates, should not be confused with the "sash" that some "Sashwearers" would wear in Warrior Societies such as the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, that would trail out 10 or 12 feet behind them. These sashes were staked to the ground by a lance during battle, and the wearers would pledge not to move until killed by the enemy or released by a fellow warrior. This is a totally unrelated tradition, according to what I have been taught.

                    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
                    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

                    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


                    • #11
                      In the pre 9-11 days, sometimes there were practical reasons. I have flown to Oklahoma to dance on several occasions. I kept my outfit in the overhead, not the plane belly. The hairplate is more easily packed than the otter, and takes up less room. Also, a handful of dancers who fly will pack a Pendleton saddle blanket instead of a full sized one.

                      I haven't flown to dance since 9-11. I doubt whether a guy could carry his regalia on board nowadays. Airport security might think a scarf slide is like a box cutter.


                      • #12
                        I tend to alternate. I usually will wear my hairplates with my Comanche clothes, and the otter drag with my ribbonsuit.

                        The other note with Gledanh Zhinga, it does seem to have become difficult flying with your regalia. I never had any problem going across country as I do a carry on. The only problem I run into was being jacked up so to speak at the Lawton airport from an overzealous guard, but rescued from their boss. My last trip home last year, I heard the guy had been fired from other incidents, and that it shouldn't be to much of a problem now. Of course I shipped my stuff last time and it cost me an arm and leg too.

                        Sorry for the off topic portion here.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Gledanh Zhinga View Post
                          I haven't flown to dance since 9-11.....Airport security might think a scarf slide is like a box cutter.
                          Or a Japanese throwing star!
                          Last edited by Privateer6; 01-26-2007, 03:52 PM.


                          • #14
                            I had a problem with them letting me through the airport the last time I flew a couple years back. They did not like my roach pin so I had to put it in the suitcase to go into the hold. Strange what they focus on since I had a pocket knife with my stuff that I use to cut ties and so on if I need it. Duhhhh!


                            • #15
                              Well Albert, true isn't it. Mine was over a beautiful expensive flute that was given to me as a gift. They thought I'd use it as a weapon, but they let the guy with rastifin hair and guitar through before me. Of course the only lethal force I could use would be that I can't play the thing and the tune would have been awful.


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