The power of feathers

Since feathers are often difficult to obtain, they are associated with status and luxury. The rarer and more exotic the bird, the more valuable its feathers.

Feathers signal wealth, abundance and supremacy. Something that must be earned or requires special powers to be able to handle.

Since the Middle Ages members of the nobility in Europe have used feathers. At first, they used mainly ostrich feathers from the Middle East and Africa. From the 16th century explorers and merchants would bring exotic feathers back to Europe, where they became a valuable commodity.


Due to the expense of obtaining exotic feathers, they were historically real luxury items, representing the prestige of an individual, family or group. Power symbols like mantles and headdresses made of feathers, were often reserved for royalty and important persons. Yellow and red are the dominant colours in kings' cloaks from Hawaii, where red was traditionally a royal colour, and yellow was an exclusive colour that enhanced the wearer's status, as there was only one bird with yellow feathers. Red was also a royal colour in some groups in Congo. Various South American cultures associate red and yellow with the birth of the sun.


Shamans are central to many cultures in South America. In their community, these men and women are doctors, psychologists, priests and cultural experts all combined in one person. Shaman costumes often feature feathers. Many birds are believed to have supernatural powers, which are transferred to those who wear their feathers. For the uninitiated eye the feather diadems worn by ordinary participants in ceremonies and dances is no different than the shamans. However – everything with the shaman is "non-ordinary". The shamans' feather crown and other feather ornaments are charged with supernatural powers which emanate from spirit allies and are acquired through training.


In some cultures, the higher a person's rank, the more feathers they are allowed to wear. The best-known examples of this is Native American headdresses. Chiefs often wear headdresses made of feathers from eagles and other birds of prey. They earn the right to wear them by making a special contribution to their community in politics, battle or religion. In other cultures, people with a certain status or in a certain age group wear feather headdress.