The first assemblage of items illustrates what an accomplished Lakota (western Sioux) warrior would have worn and used during the middle of the 19th century. By the mid 1800s, guns were so prevalent on the plains that heavy protective armor and helmets had been abandoned. War bonnets had become symbols of status and past accomplishments. Hide shirts, once extremely heavy and stiff for fighting on foot had become light and flexible. Shirts were often decorated to indicate the owner’s spiritual power and war record. Although the surfaces of bows and arrows offered limited opportunity for creative expression, knife sheaths and the combined bow case and quiver presented ample suitable space for decoration.
The second group of items is from the Moro culture. The Moro from the Island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines crafted probably the most elaborate armor in Southeast Asia. Much of its form and decoration were inspired by and borrowed from other cultures. The brass helmets were derived from the Spanish helmets dating back to the 1600s, yet the variety of shapes and decoration are distinctive and indigenous to Mindanao. No two helmets are alike and they were usually also adorned with long and exotic feathers, making them even more individually unique. The armor of water buffalo horn is painted to imitate brass, with brass mail and silver clasps similar to Japanese, Chinese and other Asian armors. However, there are also elements that are uniquely Moro elements including the decoration on the front clasps. Both the wooden shield design and the reinforcing ridges of the Moro spear heads are also distinctive characteristic not seen elsewhere in the Philippines.
The third mannequin displays armor from the Kirabati. Body armor was a rarity in the region known as Oceania. The surprisingly complete armor found on the Gilbert Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean, is an exception. It is made from coconut fiber, which was widely available. Why the people of the Gilbert Islands elaborated it to such a degree is unknown. Much was plain, but considerable decoration of the protective back guard was very common. An individual would have also worn armored pants, which are not displayed here. Multi-prong swords as well as long spears of carefully designed and shaped wood inset with shark teeth were carried. In the case of the helmet, a porcupine or puffer fish was used and Nature did the decorating here. The spines would have made the wearer appear larger and more ferocious. The inside of the helmet was padded and provided more protection that it appears.
The final set of armor is from the Tlingit culture. Armor and helmets were widely used in the Pacific Northwest, but they seem to be the most elaborate among the Tlingit. Wooden helmets with crests and face and neck protecting visors were always symbolically decorated. Armor could be made of hide, or more commonly and in this case, of wooden slats. These wooden slats also usually displayed symbols or crests of Tlingit clans. The Tlingit fashioned daggers with highly ornamented handles and blades made of bone, meteoric iron, copper or imported steel, as seen here. Clans are central to the organization of Tlingit culture with meaningful roles in the protocols of warfare and are made visible through the symbolism on war gear. The symbolic imagery used on Tlingit helmets, armor, and weapons often features animal-inspired designs or clan crests and reflect a shared kinship, cosmology and political organization.