Squash Blossom Necklace: a Piece of the Past
There are many designs in western style jewelry which are directly influenced by Native American culture, especially from the South West. One design speaks volumes, both in its striking beauty and the deeper meanings connected to it. I am talking about the Squash Blossom necklace, iconic jewelry of the Navajo. These large, silver and turquoise beaded necklaces have a unique story which connects us with the past, and perhaps surprisingly, with a variety of cultures.
When first made, and worn by Navajo people (and other regional tribes such as the Zuni and Pueblo), the Squash Blossom necklace was primarily a ceremonial piece. Much of our jewelry and ornamental wear of today began this way. These necklaces were made and worn with reverence for the spiritual path of the wearer. The main components of this necklace are symbolic in nature. Symbols have been used since the stone age to communicate ideas.
The most common form of symbols today is our alphabet.
Jewelry and other ornamental wear worn in days gone by, also spoke through their symbols. Often these symbols would aid in healing, protecting and guiding those who understood what they meant. There are many universal symbols, images which have been used across time and around the world. which represent similar ideas. Within the Squash Blossom necklace there is the universal symbol, the Naja.
Naja is a Navajo word meaning curved, or crescent shaped. Traditional
Squash Blossom necklaces have a centerpiece pendant which is a Naja. There are various accounts for the meaning behind this symbol as it relates to Navajo use, but in terms of its use in these necklaces, there appears to be a connection to Spanish influences from the time of the Conquistadors, which in turn provides a connection farther back to the Moors, who ruled Spain for over 800 years. For the Moors the crescent moon represented protection against the “evil-eye”, or negative forces. It was traditional to have metal-worked crescent shaped emblems adorning their horses. The Spanish in turn took up this fashion, which was then discovered by Native tribes like the Navajo.
During the 1800s and into the 1900s, jewelry artistry became an important and vital commodity for the Navajo. Such was the demand for their beautiful craftsmanship, a full industry was created. The Squash Blossom necklace was one of the most desired pieces. It is said that the name squash blossom was put into use to describe the style of flower-like beads which line each side of the Naja pendant. The Navajo description of this bead style says it is “the bead that spreads out.” It is possible this was translated into a “squash blossom” in an attempt to give a simplified name to English speakers. Whatever occurred, the name has stuck, and anyone who loves the Native influences of Western Style jewelry knows just what this design is.
There is a possible symbolic connection of the squash blossom beads themselves. As the spreading petals of the bead certainly look like squash blossoms in shape, they are also reminiscent of pomegranate fronds, another Spanish import. Food has always played an important role in our lives; in the past the annual cycles of planting, growing and harvesting literally ruled our daily lives. It is no big surprise to see important foods immortalized in symbol on ceremonial ornaments.
Today, jewelry is often worn for the sheer pleasure it brings the wearer. If you are attracted to the striking, traditional designs of Native American jewelry, a squash blossom necklace is one you will want to add to your collection. When you are adorned in this type of necklace, you can’t help but feel connected to the past, and to others, maybe now, not so surprisingly, from around the world.
If you love Western Style jewelry like I do, I invite you to check out our products at West Coast Cowgirl, where you will find a wide variety of jewelry options, including a lot of silver, from classic motifs, to more modern cowgirl bling. Whether you are looking for a gift for that special someone or ready to treat yourself to something new, products are added regularly, so be sure to check back often.