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Decorated moccasin tongues.

Most moccasin tongues among various Dakota / Lakota tribes, Assiniboin, and Atsina were undecorated. This article features those which were decorated using several techniques by the various Dakota/ Lakota groups. Similar techniques are seen, very rarely, on moccasins from Ft. Berthold, the Plateau tribes, and the Crow.

Moccasins made for Lakota; Yankton /Yanktonai Nakota, and Assiniboine males often had decorated tongues. Female plains moccasins don't use this decoration because their leggings cover the tongue. These decorated tongues are beaded, quilled, or a combination of the two. The patterns used are varied, but the most common tongue style is beaded with two appendages each terminating with undecorated leather fringe, two tin cones filled with fluffy feathers, or horse hair. Other tribes such as the Cheyenne, and Arapaho also used decorated tongues for male moccasins, but used a different pattern (Stewart 1971).

Because of the extra materials and work involved in decorating a tongue, most moccasin makers have eliminated this feature. The cost of leather, porcupine quills, beads, tin cones, feathers, and horsehair is prohibitive. In today's market, a pair of moccasins with an undecorated tongue can be used by both male or female, thus increasing the possibility of a sale. I have looked at a number of commercial moccasin patterns and instructional material, none mention the decorated tongue.

The decorated tongue goes way back at least 150 years or more. Museum moccasin collections, and historic photographs, attest to this date.

The Dakota name for a moccasin tongue is hanpacezi (Hanpa = moccasin; Cezi = tongue). In rapid speech it is usually abbreviated to hancezi (han- Chay-zhee). In English the term "tongue" originated with the shape, similar to the human tongue. The Dakota term is perhaps borrowed, as early moccasins had an integral tongue; therefore the word "tongue" was not part of their tribal language terminology.

The majority of decorated tongues are 3.5 inches long from base to the end of the beadwork, and the width of the opening of the moccasin about 2 inches wide. Some of the historic examples have a very long tongues. These longer tongues will have a tendency to fall to the side of the moccasin when in use. Historic photos attest to this statement.

Moccasins with fully quilled or beaded soles where made to show love or honor to a noted individual. It is possible that decorated tongues went along with this thought pattern. The beads and or quills were destroyed by the wearer of the moccasins when walked or danced upon. The maker demonstrated their esteem for the honoree by going beyond the standard by decorating the moccasin soles and tongues (Garcia 1976).


In most examples shown here, tin cones and rarely, dentalium shells, are attached filled with short tufts of dyed horsehair or colored fluffy feathers. In some cases unembellished tin cones alone are used, and even more infrequently simple cut leather fringe fills this role.

Figure 1: Rawhide rectangle sewn to a buckskin tongue. The stiff rectangle is cut into long tabs as shown. Our example shows greater space between the tabs than is usually encountered, but this is done simply for clarity's sake. Porcupine quills are wrapped around the rawhide tabs and spliced underneath. The ends of these quilled tabs are secured with a penetrating thread or sinew cord holding one or more beads. One or more bands of sewn quillwork maybe stitched across the soft hide tongue just above the rawhide tabs.

Figure 2: In this example, the quills are wrapped around long fringes cut into the soft hide tongue and spliced underneath. Again the ends are strung together with one or more beads between them.

Figure 3: This example is decorated with sewn quillwork. No tab extensions appear. Both the simple band and zigzag quilling techniques were used..

Figure 4, 5, & 6: These three examples are the ones most often encountered. They consist of double, sometimes triple, beaded tabs. Lane stitch is the most frequently encountered beading method. Note that the tabs in Figure 4 terminate in buckskin fringe, the ones in Figure 5 terminate in dentalium shells holding fluffy feathers, and the ones in Figure 6 terminate in tin cones holding dyed horsehair.

Figure 7: This example consists of a single fairly broad tapered tongue beaded in Lane Stitch.

Figure 8: Illustrates one method for encasing feathers or horsehair tuffs inside the tin cone.


Cowdrey, Mike. (2007). Moccasins Types: Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Lakota. Unpublished manuscript.

Garcia, Louis. (1976). Honor Moccasins. Whispering Wind. 9:8, pp 4-5.

Stewart, Ty. (1971). Cheyenne Moccasins Part 1. American Indian Crafts and Culture. 5:8, pp. 2-8 & 14-17. Part 2. 5:9, pp 2-8, 18.


Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.
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Author:Garcia, Louis; Sager, David
Publication:Whispering Wind
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2012
Previous Article:From the editor.
Next Article:A rare beaded Athapaskan camera case: Slavey or Slavey-Metis, circa 1930.

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