Early Native American Jewelry Traditions


What Do You Think Of?

Most people probably visualize lots of ornate silver with turquoise when they think about Native American tribal jewelry. Surprisingly, North American Indian artisans did not start using this style until the 1800’s when they learned it from the Spaniards. It was not initially Native American at all, even though today many Indian tribal jewelry artisans fully embrace it.

Native Americans certainly wore jewelry before the arrival of the Europeans. In alignment with nature, they used the natural materials to make meaningful ornaments and beads.

How Did They Do That?

With their primitive tools, the process was a pain staking and time-consuming process. They meticulously handcrafted each bead from antler, shell, horn, bone, quills, feathers, claws, teeth, wood, and stone. These components provided the wearer with a spiritual connection to nature – and spirituality is a defining characteristic of all Native American cultures.

Except for the unique copper jewelry of the Great Lakes region, most of this early Native American tribal jewelry did not survive. Only a few isolated stone beads remain.

Trade Changed Everything.

Things changed when the Europeans arrived. They brought trade with them – and trade meant a steady supply of colorful, uniform, and plentiful glass beads. Native American crafts of all kinds- especially textiles and tribal jewelry suddenly acquired a new aesthetic.

Despite these changes, Native American artisans continued to integrate traditional symbols into their work. The exact symbolic meaning varied from tribe to tribe, but is enlightening nonetheless.

What Does It All Mean?

bearFor example, the bear was considered a cosmic guardian and fierce humming birdprotector by many tribes people. Birds carried prayers to heaven – especially the spirit bird depicted in flight. Kokopeli playing a flute assured the tribe of crops and babies. The three sisters – corn, beans, and squash – gave both spiritual and physical nourishment. These are just a few of the repeating symbols that continue to embellish Native American tribal jewelry even today.

NEXT: Some Native American Jewelry Traditions in North America Today

Send your comments and suggestions…I would love to hear from you!

Andrea @ Tribal Muse  www.tribalmuse.com


Turquoise for Your Thoughts? : History of Native American Turquoise Jewelry

native_american_jewelryTurquoise is one of the most prevalent stones used in Native American jewelry. Dating back to thousands of years ago, Native American tribes mined turquoise stones as they believed that it was a sacred stone. They designed masks and other accessories to decorate themselves with this amazing stone. In the 19th century, Spaniards taught Navajo American Indians to construct the turquoise and silver jewelry that remains their trademark today.

The color of turquoise, to the Navajo tribe, symbolized luck, happiness and health. These qualities led to the use of turquoise in many different aspects of Native American life for attracting luck and good fortune. Simple beads dating from around 7,000 BCE are among the first forms of jewelry found in the archaeological record from any Native American tribe. Originally, these beads were made out of shells or rocks. Over time, colorful stones and ornate construction gained favor, especially for tribal celebrations. Even during combat, Native American warriors wore impressive jewelry to show their superiority to the other tribes.

If you are looking to purchase certified Native American Indian Jewelry in Turquoise and Silver, visit us at TribalMuse.com. Our Jewelry was handcrafted by Navajo, Santo Domingo, and Zuni silversmiths. The artisan’s Hallmark (stylized signature) is on each piece. You might like our Southwestern Jewelry too.

Peru for You? : The History of Peruvian Jewelry

peruvian_jewelryThe Inca people are known for their crafting and jewelry making according to archaeologists. It has been found that countless examples of their intricate work have been found, bought and sold. The types of Peruvian jewelry include earrings, necklaces, pendants, nose rings, bangles and chest aprons. Here are a few facts about Peruvian jewelry.

  • Materials – The primary metal of Peruvian jewelry is gold. However, leather, gemstones and feathers were also use in their accessory pieces. Ornate pieces of gold, such as chest plates and crowns were also created at this time to symbolize wealth.
  • Wear – Usually, Incas of high class were the main wearers of the jewelry. However, over time, there was an influx of pieces worn by lower class people for special religious occasions or in times of war to reflect their superior status over the enemy.
  • Purchase – At this time it is becoming more and more difficult to find pieces of Peruvian jewelry. However, the trend of tribal inspired pieces continues to grow.

Are you looking to purchase Peruvian Jewelry? Check out TribalMuse.com, for the best selection possible at the most affordable prices. The items sold are all fair-trade and purchased to support local communities in Peru. Shop today to choose the historical piece of tribal jewelry you’ve been looking for!

Tribal Jewelry or Ethnic Jewelry?

There is something about Tribal Jewelry that speaks to just about all of us. Not many things are common to all cultures, but wearing jewelry seems to be one of them.  It does not matter if  you are talking  about prehistory or present times…people like to wear jewelry.

Just what is Tribal Jewelry?

Tribal Jewelry refers to handcrafted jewelry pieces that are made and worn by indigenous people, and not mass produced for sale to others.  Tribal Jewelry often holds special meaning and significance to the people making and wearing it – including unique symbolism, identification of social status, and not surprisingly as a source of wealth.

What does Tribal Jewelry look like?

There is no one-look for Tribal Jewelry, since the styles, materials, and construction vary from group to group.  Some pieces may be as simple as a garland of flowers and twigs placed on the head, while others are exquisitely detailed with extreme precision and elegant beauty.

PicMonkey Collage

Tribal Jewelry does have a few elements that distinguish it almost at once, however. The designs are frequently not symmetrical, which may be intentional or simply convenient.  Vintage and old pieces may have stones missing, broken sections, and even debris from being spread out on the ground when they were sold.

Most pieces have an age patina, which is a warm darkening of the surface that can only be achieved over time (many try to reproduce it with new jewelry, but it is not the same).  Having lived through many lives over many years, some Tribal Jewelry becomes individualized as each wearer adds their own flourish.

A delightful thing about Tribal Jewelry is that it was often worn in multiple ways.  A necklace might be worn as a headpiece or part of a belt, a large clasp becomes a pendant when placed on a ribbon, multiple rings can frame the face when threaded with locks of hair, and so forth.  Finally, Tribal Jewelry generally tends to be larger and more exuberant than contemporary jewelry, with some of the larger pieces weighing up to a pound (0.5 kg) or more.  See more on Tribal Jewelry…

Ethnic Jewelry vs. Tribal Jewelry

Ethnic Jewelry on the other hand is usually new jewelry that is made to look like Tribal Jewelry.  Its style is often streamlined by removing a little of the chunkiness and imperfections found in true Tribal Jewelry.

People who like their jewelry polished, yet still somewhat large and perhaps symbolic are particularly fond of Ethnic Jewelry. Because most ethnic jewelry is mass produced and not handmade, prices are generally lower and availability is higher.

??????????????Some Ethnic Jewelry is wonderful at capturing the tribal essence, others not so much.  Bollywood Jewelry with its lavish design is great at retaining the opulence of ancient Mogul tribal traditions.  Many jewelry artisans in Nepal are equally skilled at replicating old Tibetan and Himalayan tribal pieces for general consumption.

The quality of Ethnic Jewelry can differ significantly among manufacturers, even when using the samTurkish Jewelrye design.  For example, contemporary Ottoman Ethnic Jewelry from Turkey is far superior to copies of the same jewelry made elsewhere.  Still, Ethnic Jewelry is a great every-day alternative for Tribal Jewelry lovers.

What has been your experience with Tribal and Ethnic Jewelry? Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to hear.


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