Northern Ireland

Native Americans reach Plumbridge

Native American dance regalia
Image caption Pow-wow dance regalia by Dennis Zotigh, (Kiowa) 2000-9 shows just one of the stunning pieces of Native American history on display

Amid the subdued lighting and cool air of the atmospherically-controlled room at the Ulster American Folk Park, a dramatic head-dress stands out, its vivid colours shining.

It is part of a pow-wow costume and like much of the material on display, it has never been seen before.

As well as the pow-wow regalia, the exhibition includes tomahawks, pipes and a replica warrior society costume.

There are also detailed drawings, taken from ledgers kept by different tribes in the 18th and 19th centuries.

"This exhibition complements very well the history of immigration to the Americas and the encounter between the first pioneers and native North Americans, this very different culture," said British Museum curator, Max Carocci.

Even he was surprised by some of the objects he found while compiling the exhibition.

"For me, the most interesting object is a rattle, which is in the ritual case. It epitomises the particular ritual and meanings attributed to war and warfare.

"It was a bit of a discovery, I did not expect to have such a precious item in the British Museum collection."

It may seem obvious to bring a Native American exhibition to the Folk Park, but there is a more subtle connection.

Ambassador role

In 1822, 18-year-old Robert Campbell left Aughalane near Plumbridge to seek his fortune in America. Not long after his arrival, he was diagnosed with consumption and advised to travel further west for his health. He became a very successful frontiersman, hunting beaver in the rivers of the Rocky Mountains.

"Hunting beaver was a big pull (to the area) and to do that, you came in very close contact with the different tribes that lived in the Mississippi and Missouri regions," said Pat O'Donnell, the assistant curator of collections and exhibitions at the Folk Park.

Image caption Ledger drawing of a mounted warrior by Tall Bear (Sioux), 1874

And that was exactly what happened to Campbell on his travels. His diaries and letters tell of his contact with the tribes. He managed to establish good relations with them and even became something of a peace broker for them.

"Different tribes were at war with each other," said Pat. "At some stages in his life, Robert teamed up with the Shoshone, whose chief asked him to speak on their behalf with the Crow people. So Robert was a sort of ambassador, if you like."

The exhibition shows some of the sights that would have greeted Campbell in west North America, a very different world to the one he had left behind him in Plumbridge. He returned there just once to visit, but kept in constant contact by letter, giving a glimpse into the life he was leading in the New World.

"In the spring of 1823, Robert came back to visit Plumbridge and I can just imagine the stories that were told round the fire," said Pat.

"Here in the wilds of the Sperrins was this guy straight from the Rockies, having met and been in contact with the kinds of objects you see on display here and the people that would have used them. There's that lovely connection between what's happening in the outdoor museum and this lovely temporary exhibition here."

The house Robert Campbell was born in is now preserved at the Ulster American Folk Park. The Warriors of the Plains collection is on loan from the British Museum until next February.