When native American Indian jewelry is mentioned, the squash blossom necklace is often the first that comes to mind. It is one of the most iconic and well-known designs of American Indian jewelry, with the inverted crescent-shaped pendant -- “naja” as so called by the Navajo -- as its signature centerpiece.
There have been different sayings about the origin of the necklace. One popular speculation is that the Southwest Indian designs were heavily influenced by the Spanish. They first saw the crescent-shaped pendant as iron ornaments on the horse bridles of the Spanish Conquistadors in the late 16th and early 17th century. The Spaniards adopted the symbol from the Moors as a protection for their horses and soldiers. The local Indian populace acquired these ornaments through capture or trade and put them on their own necks. The ornaments were also proudly displayed during ceremonies. Since most ceremonies were related to the agricultural cycle, naja soon came to represent agriculture and was associated with crop fertility.
The earlier acquired najas were certainly hung around the owners’ necks by a simple thong. Once silversmithing came into fashion in the 19th century, Navajos started to attach these najas on non-ornamental beaded silver necklaces. In about 1880, the more complicated tri-petal form that we now call a squash blossom bead appeared. It is said that the Navajos learned the design from the pomegranate decorative element of the colonial Spanish who wore variations of pomegranate flower blossoms as their trouser and jacket ornaments. The blossom was represented with long petals beginning to open and a sphere attached at the base of the flower.
There are often five or six squash blossoms on each side of a necklace with one central naja. In the early 1900s, turquoise and coral inlay patterns were incorporated into the design and made the squash blossom necklace even more popular among native Indian jewelry.
It is unknown where the name "squash blossom necklace" originally came from. In Navajo words, the “squash blossom” bead means simply “bead that spreads out.” It’s referring more to a design than the actual squash or pomegranate blossom.
Besides its historical connections and symbolic meaning, today we recognize the squash blossom necklace for its exceptional aesthetic appeal. It stands the test of time and exceeds being only a fashionable jewelry but an elegant collectible.
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