Arapaho Hair Traditions

Runs Medicine

Runs Medicine, 1899 Traditional Hair & Attire

In the early days, hair was part of an Arapaho’s identity. It was worn in such a way to signify who we were and our role in the tribe. For example, the Keeper of the Pipe was not allowed to comb his hair.

In the old days, before the 1900’s, an Arapaho man parted his hair on each side in either a braid or tied together. Over his temples, the hair was cut into a zig zag edge and stood upright on his forehead. This style was down to make the wearer look fierce and resembled the ‘mohawk’.

In the 1900’s, the style evolved so that the hair was worn in braids or masses tied together over the ear and scalp.

The old men did not comb their hair and instead rolled it. When it was sticky and matted, they would gather in in a bunch over their forehead much like the dreadlocks of today.

Hair styles also changed over the years for woman. Before the reservation, they would wear their hair loose with paint on it. The paint along the part of their hair was called “path of the sun”. They also painted streaks down their face, on their cheeks, forehead and nose, to signify war.

Black paint symbolized victory and Red was the color most used which represented old age and happiness or a wish for happiness. When in mourning, women and men did not paint their face and the first painting after completion of mourning would be with red paint and is called “washing” or “cleansing”.

The old women wore their hair loose and tangled. They painted a spot on each cheek bone and one on the forehead, the latter which signified a buffalo calf. A line from the mouth down to the chin represented a road. These symbols together signified peace.

By the 1900s, women wore two braids tucked behind their ears. Their hair was parted from the forehead to the nape of their neck. The old woman continued to wear their hair loose.

These traditions fell out of use after the boarding school era and the loss of the age grade society of the Arapaho.


The information for this article was found in “Arapaho People” by Kroeber, pages 25 – 27.

Jackie Dorothy, 2016


  1. Thank you for sharing. I was told by my grandparents a lot of things about our hair. I keep my hair long and don’t do any wild colors.

    • I would love to hear more about the things your Grandma told you about hair! Hohou!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *