The Squash Blossom Necklace
One of the most recognizable Native American necklace designs is the squash blossom. What does this traditional design represent?
Worn by both men and women, Native American squash blossom necklaces are a chunky, bold, antique design crafted from silver and often featuring turquoise. The beads, which appear to be blooming, lead down to a silver central inverted horseshoe, or sideways crescent moon.
Traditionally, Native Americans wore their wealth, and necklaces and other jewelry was a symbol of status and belonging. Native American jewelry of the Southwest, particularly the Navajo, was often bold and featured heavy-gauge silver and large nuggets of turquoise.
The History of the Design
The image of the squash blossom predates European settlement in North America however the necklace design dates to contact between the Navajo (Dine) and Spanish Mexicans of the late 1870s. The Navajo were the first to learn silversmithing techniques from the Spanish, and traded for iron buttons, saddles, and bridles. Spanish adornments found their way into the Native jewelry and inspired new designs.
The name of the design is based on the Navajo flared bead which “spreads out”. The necklace features plain round beads, flared beads that resemble the flowering plant, and the horseshoe pendant at the base called the Naja.
The Navajo were the first to adopt the squash blossom necklace design in the 1870s, and it spread to the Pueblo Indians and Zuni tribes by the early 1900s. It is believed that the Navajo were inspired in this design by the Spanish pomegranate emblem which was so prevalent on buttons and other Spanish items. The pomegranate is a fruit that is revered in Spain, and it is the heraldic symbol of Granada (the city whose name is taken from the Spanish word for “pomegranate”).
The design may also have been directly representative of the flowering part of the native squash plant which was so important to the people of the southwest as one of the Three Sisters (beans, corn, and squash).
The Naja is the crescent-shaped piece at the base of the squash blossom necklace. “Naja” is the Dine word for the ancient Middle Eastern symbol which was used by the Moors as a protective talisman, often attached to horses’ bridles and to ward off the evil eye.
How did the Naja become intrinsic as the centerpiece of the squash blossom necklace? Historians are unsure about whether the Navajo were first exposed to this talisman by the Spanish Mexicans, or via the Plains Indians. It was initially used by the Navajo on their horse bridles but was eventually added to the squash blossom necklace as its centerpiece. The Naja as used by the Navajo was originally exclusively silver, however, the design has evolved to incorporate turquoise, red coral, or mother-of-pearl.
The Naja is said to represent the womb, and when a single piece of turquoise is suspended from the Naja, it symbolizes an unborn child.
There is no more instantly identifiable jewelry piece synonymous with the Native Americans of the Southwest than the squash blossom necklace, especially when turquoise is also incorporated. Born of cultural fusion, it is, regardless, the epitome of Native American tradition and style.