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History of Navajo jewelry

History of Navajo jewelry

by Binasaji

Jewellery played an important part in native American lives. Several pieces dating back to over 150 years have been found areas of Arizona and other southwestern states. Shells adorned with images of snakes and frogs (both symbolizing fertility) were used as bracelets. The use of Turquoise is common in most of the jewellery.

Tall and proud wearing Skin, Leather, Feathers, Silver and Turquoise. Able to communicate with the Air and water. Skilful hunters. The Indians – Hopi, Navajo, Sioux, Zuni, Chippewa, Apache, Cheyenne, Shawnee and plenty more. Scattered all over Mexico and America, with a concentration in Arizona in the Navajo Reservation, these proud people were known for their fighting skills and for their creativity. The Native Americans loved to adorn themselves. Shells, Bones were carved and made into neckwear. Feathers and even Quills were strung together to create headgear. Colorful shells, small stones, flowers and leaves were crushed and used for body painting. The Indians loved color and were one with Mother Nature.

Jewellery played an important part in their lives. Several pieces dating back to over 150 years have been found areas of Arizona and other southwestern states. Shells adorned with images of snakes and frogs (both symbolizing fertility) were used as bracelets. The use of Turquoise is common in most of the Jewellery. In fact, Native Jewellery has enabled historians to learn a great deal about the life and social culture of the Native Indians. Jewellery was also traded in exchange for brides, goods, food etc. between tribes.

Jewellery was not only a form of ornamentation but different pieces symbolized various things in an Indian’s life. It indicated the position of the person in the clan – the richest, the healers, the hunters etc. Different tribes had distinctive designs and it was possible to know the tribe just by looking at a person’s ornamentation.

The Indians were in union with nature and believed in signs sent to warn them or inform them about the future. For e.g.. if a snake was sighted it was a sign of fertile times, the bear was a symbol of good luck and bears were rarely killed by the Navajos, except in self-defense. The Bearclaw, bear tooth etc. were harvested from dead animals and worn for good luck and positive energy. The Native Americans were even named after animals and believed that their animal name would protect them from harm.

The first form of Indian Jewellery is Beads, also called Heishi. Beads were used for creating Jewellery before the Indians learnt to craft silver. Bone, wood, shells were some of the natural items used to make beads, which were freely traded amongst the tribes and used for ornamentation as well. The Indians carved these beads till they were smooth as silk to touch. It is amazing how these skilful people polished the beads to a high gloss and silken finish with their hands and natural materials available to them. The beads were expertly carved with different designs of the Indians – animals, old folklore people etc. They were sometimes also made into beautiful garments for the Chiefs of the tribes and for other special occasions too. These Heishi necklaces are very sought after by collectors of Navajo Jewellery.

Jewellery made of Turquoise and Silver is the imagery associated with Navajo Jewellery. Mined by the Natives, Turquoise was found in abundance in Arizona, Mexico etc. – the strongholds of the Native American. This pretty blue stone was considered to be a gift from the sky. Carved Turquoise beads were the early form of the prized Navajo Jewellery. This blue stone was also used for good luck and happiness. Turquoise is considered a healing stone, even today. Good gems were used for ceremonial purposes also and have also been found embedded in breastplates of the warrior Indians.

The Indians learnt the art of using Silver for Jewellery from the Mexicans and soon silversmithing led to the beautiful combination of Turquoise and Silver – the trademark of the Navajos. Although most Indian tribes create Jewellery with Silver and Turquoise, the Navajos were the first to become silversmiths and hence the name Navajo Jewellery. Learnt by an Navajo by the name of Atsidi Sani, from the Mexicans, silversmithing was an art known only to the Navajo’s for almost 25 years (hence the name Navajo Jewellery). Later, the other Indian tribes like the Hopi, Zuni etc, learned this skill. Several varieties of silver are used to make this Jewellery – sterling silver (92% purity silver), coin silver (90% purity, refers to currency melted to make silver) and even some German silver (which is not silver but a combination of metals which give it the silvery look).

Although the ancient and original Navajo Jewellery has only turquoise, the more recent Navajo pieces use other gems as well in combination with silver – Onyx, Carnelian, Corals etc. Indians who have learnt the art of silversmithing from their ancestors handcraft these pieces even today. Some gems used by them are treated to improve the look of the gems. Designed by the Navajo artist, these Jewellery pieces use Indian designs, historical figures and animals for authenticity.

The Navajo Jewellery is a piece of history – extremely sought after by connoisseurs of jewellery. Handcrafted jewellery is rare and Indian jewellery is appreciated not just in America, but all over the world. Crafted by hand, each piece is one of its kind and even similar pieces have tiny differences. The range of Jewellery is vast – rings, belts, buckles, earrings, neck ornaments, armlets, bracelets and even some headgear.

Authentic Native American Jewellery – Heishi (beads), the Squash Blossom design necklace, the Naja set, the Kitohs (bow wrist bands) etc – the jewellery of the Indians have unusual names. Beautiful creations in Silver by a proud people who understood the meaning of being one with nature. Navajo jewellery will always catch the eye of the aficionado.

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