The Truth About The Mohawk And Why Mohawk Warriors Shaved Their Heads

Oka Crisis Mohawk Warrior By Akokatssini (Steven J. Black Weasel) on DeviantArt.

Mohawk Warriors and those cool haircuts

Perhaps one of the most known Native American tribes for a hairstyle are the Mohawks – an Iroquoian-speaking tribe and the easternmost tribe of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy.

The name Mohawk comes from a name their enemies called them, meaning “man-eaters.” The term man-eaters does not really mean that they ate people. It means that they were fierce warriors. The Mohawk’s name for themselves (Kanien’kehá:ka) means “people of the flint.”

Where did Mohawk Warrior haircuts come from?

To address the namesake of the Mohawk people, it goes without saying that we should recognize the haircuts of the warriors preparing to go into battle. History dictates Mohawk warriors cut the sides of their heads with a strip of hair remaining in the familiar shape of today’s mohawk. This style is also called the scalplock.

“Iroquois Warriors” by Craig Mullins.

What history doesn’t say however is that this was not the only style of hair and as in any culture, styles varied. Many warriors did cut their hair, but in various ways such as cut on one side, in front and more.

According to Arnold Printup – who himself sports a scalplock, “Our ancestors wore several styles to their liking. According to our oral traditions one historian said there was a warrior who also had a strip down the middle shaved out. The majority shaved our heads in some way. We valued the length of hair for its strength, spirituality and power,” said Printup.

The Flag of the Mohawk Warrior Society.

Warriors shaved heads to protect women and children

Mohawk Tribal historian Printup also says at a time when scalps were desired by settlers for bounty, Mohawk warriors decided to cut their hair in various ways to make their scalps more desirable to bounty hunters. “It was an in your face bold move as if to dare bounty hunters to seek their scalps. It was a distinction and a way to protect women and children.”

To throw a bit more confusion into the fire, Mohawk author and historian Darren Bonaparte says Mohawk isn’t a Mohawk word, because “M isn’t one of our letters.” Bonaparte says the hairstyle was originally Huron, yet old movies and Mohawk warrior paratroopers shaving their heads on D-Day inspired the namesake attached to the haircut.

Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division in 1944 with a “mohawk” hairstyle.

While the mohawk haircut takes its name from the people of the Mohawk nation, who originally inhabited the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York, the association comes from Hollywood and more specifically from a popular 1939 movie called Drums Along the Mohawk.

Mohawk Morning by Robert Griffing.

The Mohawks and others from the Iroquois confederacy (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Tuscarora and Oneida) often wore a square of hair on the back of the crown of the head. They did not shave their heads when creating this square of hair but rather the hair was plucked out, small tufts at a time and worn with short braids that were decorated.

Among the Pawnee people, who historically lived in Nebraska and Kansas, a “mohawk” hairstyle was common.

By Black Powder

Image: Painting And Drawing 1 (Oka Crisis Mohawk Warrior) By Akokatssini (Steven J. Black Weasel)

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