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The Squash Blossom Necklace
 By Erick Begay

The squash blossom necklace is a classic Navajo necklace. The necklace's design is a symbol of acculturation.  Its design originates
from early Spanish and Moorsish symbolism and  with these cultural influences the squash blossom necklace emerged as a symbol that is
uniquely Navajo.The necklace's design can be disected into two parts: the squash-blossoms and the Naja.

The Squash Blossoms

The necklace is typically a strand of beads, sometimes two. Interwoven with these silver beads are squash blossoms: silver bead with
an attached silver flower-like blossom. In the language of the Navajo, they are called "yo ne maze disya gi," which is translated into "the beads that spead out."  In the squash blossom necklace usually there are five to seven of these on each side. 

In many contemporary designs the
concept is used; however, sometimes the actual squash blossom is only in concept. The term "squash blossom" nonetheless refers to the likeness of the bead to an actual squashes blossom. This name denotes Navajo ideaology. However, the designs likeness can be attibuted to the pomegranate's blossom of the Eastern world. Through the Spanish, the Navajo silversmith were acculturated by these subtle influences.

The Naja

The center piece is called  the Naja. Naja (názhah) in the Navajo language means "crescent shape" or "curve." The naja design is
derived from moorish origins who influenced the Spanish, who decorated their bridles with such ornamentations. These bridle pieces adorned the horses of the Spanish.  The Navajo silversmiths were influenced by the design.

In ascribing the origin of the najahe, anthropologist John Adair states: "This emblem was old when Columbus crossed the ocean to the
new world. It was wide spead from Africa to Serbia. In short, it was an Old World amulet fastend to horse trappings, perferably the bridle, to wardoff the evil eye from the animal. These crescent shaped amulets were made of two boars tusks joined together or fashioned out of brass, iron, silver, gold, or bronze.  The Romans had them, so did the Moors. The bridle trappings of the conquistadores no doubt carried these same traditional ornaments." (Adair42).

A Design Emerges

With these two aspects, the naja and the squash blossom, the necklace as we know it today emerged. From early achived
photographs there is an evolution of design.

In the infantile stages of the design, the crescent shaped naja is often placed as a center pendant on a string of plain silver beads. In
these early photographs there are no squash blossom.  From the plain row of silver beads the Navajo incorporated other designs into the necklace. The Navajo would incorporate coins to decorate the sides of the beads. Sometimes, crosses would adorn the side of the beads. In addition to coins and crosses, the squash blossom bead emerged into the design, establishing the entire necklace as a Navajo icon, and an American tradition.

A Step Further

During the initial stages of Navajo silversmithing, the use of turquoise was not abundant.  Very few pieces were made with turquoise. As turquoise became more assessible and as silversmithing technolgoy improved, the Navajo quickly employed the use of turquoise into the design of the necklace. Sometimes with simple
one stone designs, others with hundreds of stones into one piece. It is this necklace with the simple one stone for each blossom that became a symbol of the Navajo. This design is what was used on the two-cent postage stamp, released in 2004.

Today

These are many artist in today's world, and  there are many artists who still create the traditional squash blossom necklaces. Although
the design is incorporated into the repetoire of many noted silversmiths, many artists produce a contemporary version of this design. Today there are many artist that use "non-traditional" materials, such as stones , which includes malachite, lapis, gaspeite,etc. and the uses of other  metals,such as gold.  

Today, there are also artist that are producing a "classical/contemporary," whose designs lie on the border of yesterday and today.

Conclusion

Throughout the pages of history there lies a common path that connects humanity. Any one symbol, any one word, any one concept,t
here is a path that  connects it  to the past; it is this path that man ascends. From culture to culture, nation to nation, person to person, influences are made. The influences are marked, noted and incorporated into society, and these influence emerge as a completely new aspect of culture. It can be seen from rap music, jazz to Native American jewelry.Not only is the squash blossom a symbol of the Navajo; it is a symbol of this path. No man is an island.

References

John Adair, The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths, University of Oklahoma Press, 1944.




Erick Begay/Begay Indian Jewelry
1311 Nevada Hwy
Boulder City, Nevada 89005 
Phone 702-293-4822
Fax  702-293-5434

email:  
erick@ebegay.com