Bandolier Bag

Tales and Treasures from the rich legacy of the Hudson’s Bay Company

Text by Amelia Fay

Posted March 24, 2017
Colour photograph of bandolier bag.

The Anishinabe word for bandolier bag is Aazhooningwa’on, which means “worn across the shoulder.” These bags are worn diagonally across the body, like a messenger bag. They originated with Indigenous groups in the Eastern Woodlands/Great Lakes area and were actually modelled after European military ammunition bags. Using trade cloth, women would sew hundreds of small glass trade beads over the entire surface of the bag and its strap, often filling all of the negative space with beads. The result is an incredibly beautiful but very heavy piece of wearable art. The earliest bags were purely decorative, lacking a pocket or pouch, and they were worn as part of men’s ceremonial outfits. This late-nineteenth-century bag is an excellent example of the symmetry and floral and leaf designs of the Anishinabe.

Amelia Fay is curator of the HBC Collection at the Manitoba Museum.

This article originally appeared in the April-May 2017 issue of Canada’s History.

This article is also offered in French.

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