In case you ever wondered why much of the old pawn vintage Navajo made jewelry often features flower blossoms, buds, blooms, squash blossoms, ornate leaves and curling vines, there is a very practical, yet important cultural and spiritual reason for that. The wild growing and domestic plants that the Native American tribes lived on were sacred to them, as these plants provided valuable food sources for entire tribes and their progeny for thousands of years. These tribes were primarily hunter / gatherers and for generations they traveled to regions where they could forage for wild edibles, fish from streams and rivers and hunt on the plains for large game. For more than 85,000 years North American Indians lived a more or less nomadic lifestyle, following the seasons and game trails to feed their families. Nearly all of the internecine warfare which was waged between tribes had to do with encroachments into other tribes ‘foraging’ territories, which they would guard with their lives. Most Native Americans continued to “move with the seasonal herds” for many generations until white settlers forced remnants of their tribes onto small reservations in the 1800s as the west was being settled by whites.
Traditionally the Native American women gathered wild vegetables and herbs, and tended their gardens, while the men hunted big game like bison, elk, deer or antelope. When a tribe relocated, they were most often following wild animal herds and / or had located lush wild stands of edible plants which usually grew close to flowing water. These sites were also ideal gardening spots. The wild yam, wild potato, cattail, domesticated squash, beans and corn provided traditional food staples that inspired the nature imagery of leaves, florals, curling vines and buds in Navajo jewelry design. They venerated and paid tribute to the flowering vegetables and plants that had carried their tribes and kept them alive for thousands of years. Squash especially, was a mainstay in the diets of the Navajo tribe.
The squash blossom plant was especially sacred to the Navajo people. They venerated the life giving properties of the squash by adorning their jewelry with raised relief repousse’ sterling silver work of blooms, blossoms, squash leaves and fancy curling vines. Almost every Navajo old pawn ring you will find dating to the “Fred Harvey” [ 1900s to late 1970s ] era will be adorned in decorated blooms, vines, leaves and buds. This adornment of their personal family jewelry was a traditional way of giving thanks and paying homage to the humble garden vegetable which had fed their families and their ancestors for thousands of years.
We have the generosity and gardening ingenuity of the Native Americans to thank for helping to feed the very earliest settlers of the original 13 colonies, many of which had never grown crops like squash, tomatoes and corn before they arrived in the wilderness of North America. Had the Cherokee, Shawnee, Seminole and other east coast tribes not taught early European settlers how to plant, cultivate, harvest and store the profuse array of wild edibles growing in the eastern North American forests in the 1600s-1700s, many of these early pioneers to American soil would have starved to death in the winter.
Just a little Native American jewelry design trivia I thought my customers would enjoy knowing about! 🙂 Below are some photos of classic “old pawn” Navajo jewelry which exemplifies the sacred bloom in design details.