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The Beautiful Crafts Of The Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation lives on a 27,000 square mile reservation encompassing parts of Northern Arizona, New Mexico and Utah in a land that covers more area than 10 of the states in the USA. The Navajo comprise the largest individual tribe in North America and are famed for their breathtakingly beautiful silver and turquoise southwest jewelry, though the stones they use also include topaz, opal and azure.

During Word War II the Navajo helped the Allies win the war against the Japanese through the use of their language as a secret code. The Japanese could never break this ‘code’, and the Navajo were able to pass messages between themselves without the Japanese understanding that it was their native language they were using. The officer in charge of this operation, Major Howard Connor, stated that Iwo Jima could not have taken without the help of the Navajo, who made not one error in all the messages they had to handle.

The Navajo are also well known for their pottery, and the horsehair designs are particularly valued by many. With these, the pottery has horsehair laid over it prior to firing, and when fired the hair burns to leave a distinctively dark combustion pattern. The most famous is the wedding vase pottery which is traditional to the Navajo nation. Horse hair and standard pottery are still made on the reservation though the number of craftsmen is dwindling.

Youngsters are growing up and going to college rather than take up the traditional crafts of their fathers, and some are taking employment in the casinos that are being built in the reservations in an attempt to earn money. These jobs are more lucrative than the traditional crafts.

However, not all craftsmen have disappeared, and the southwest jewelry is particularly in high demand due to its outstanding beauty. There is something about turquoise set in silver that is appealing to the eye, and many tourists visit the reservation just to buy this jewelry. There is more to Navajo art than just this turquoise jewelry though, and many outstanding pieces have been crafted using opal, onyx and ebony. Their silver work is very advanced, and they can solder many pieces together to form lovely silver necklaces.

It is the geography of the Navajo reservation, called Navajoland, that allows them access to these metals and stones that are native to Southwest USA, and southwest jewelry is famed over all the USA and many other parts of the world.

Kachinas are said to be spirits that pass messages on from the Navajo through songs and dances. The Southwest is a very arid region of America, and rain is critical to a successful crop. Kachinas are strictly small dolls made to the designs of the Hopi tribes, but they have been copied by the Navajo. Each of the Navajo Kachinas has a story to tell, or a song to sing, and represent the Navajo pleas to the spirits for rain and a good harvest. They are available in a number of designs.

The Navajo craft other dolls, some of which are produced to display the traditional dress of the old Navajo, much of which is still worn by the elders of today. Among other Navajo crafts are stuffed animals, made from wool and backed with suede from the skin of young deer. These are very colorful and can be used as cushions and pillows. A few strewn around a room look very attractive and colorful and can turn an ordinary room in something quite unique.

However, it is the Navajo pottery and southwest jewelry that the Navajo are mostly famed for, and that are in most demand in the antique shops and craft stores in Southwest USA. They are also available on the internet at reasonable prices, and can be used to add character to any room in the house.

Submitted by:

Susy Matthews

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