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Written by: Lori Soard
THE TRAPPINGS OF BATTLE: Apache Medicine Shields
The Apache were renowned for their cunning defense strategies. When going into battle, they always dressed for the occasion. Warriors traveled light, wearing buckskin moccasins, muslin pants, a rifle or bow and arrows (the arrows were reputed to be poisonous), a water4ight wicker jug to serve as a canteen, a blanket thrown over the shoulders, and a headdress of buckskin with hawk and eagle feathers. They carried lances, war-clubs and knives, oflen blackened for camouflage.
The choice of garments and decoration was made not as much from a need for physical protection as a necessity for spiritual protection. The warrior brought to battle all the supernatural help he could muster. To this end, the warrior and the garments were decorated carefully.
The Apache often fought with medicine shields, called nas-ta-zhih. The shields were made from hardened cowhide, sometimes with buckskin around the sides, and painted with sacred designs in order to protect their carrier in battle, and often had an ample amount of eagle feathers suspended from them.
The shields were traditionally made by di-yins, war shamans. However, sometimes a warrior constructed his own, then took it to the di-yin to be painted with power symbols. Since the shields could only be safely made by those with the medicine to control this great power, they were purchased only by wealthy warriors. Use of a shield indicated hand-to-hand combat, therefore they were carried only by the bravest warriors.