Culture and Heritage of Native Americans

4 Important Objects in Native American Heritage

It’s often been said that we can’t know where we’re going, until we know where we’ve been. That’s why Native American heritage is so important. Regardless of your exact background, if your ancestors included Native Americans then it’s important to familiarize yourself with some of key components.

They include:

1. Baskets

The Tohono O'odham Native Americans live along the border between Arizona and Mexico. Their tribal lands were established in 1874, and consist of three reservations consisting of about 5,000 sq mi. Basket making has been a long tradition of the Tohono O'odham people.

The baskets are made from a wide array of materials, such as yucca, willow, and even horsehair. Traditionally the man harvested the materials for the baskets, and the women were the basket-makers.

These baskets are available in a wide array of designs, including coyote tracks, crosses, dust devils, saguaro fruit-picking, squash blossoms, etc.  Also, several different methods are used to create the baskets.

2. Dreamcatcher

In some Native American cultures, the dreamcatcher is a symbolic handmade object. It’s produced on a willow hoop, which contains a woven or loose web or net. The dreamcatcher is then decorated with various sacred items, such as beads and feathers.

The dreamcatcher originated with the Ojibwe people, and was later used by neighboring nations. They became used by several different nations during the 1960s and 1970s. Some people perceive the dreamcatcher as a symbol of unity among the various Indian Nations.

3. Beads

Native American beads were originally carved from natural materials such as precious stones, silver, copper, wood, ivory, and horns. Glass beads are first used when European colonists brought them to the Americas 500 years ago. Today glass beads are the main materials that several tribes use to make traditional beads.

It’s important to realize that the styles, designs, and traditions for Native American beads are quite varied. The most famous type is from the Plains Indians. However, it’s only one of several different types available. For example, beads are available on items such as belts. They have been traded since ancient times. Distinct beads among different Indian Nations continued even after the Europeans first arrived.

4. Rugs

These rugs are usually both handmade and unique. And unique is quite literal—you’ll never find another one that’s exactly the same! These rugs serve two functions. They support the Navajo people, while also beautifying the buyers’ homes.

It’s important to keep in mind that these aren’t everyday rugs. They’re made from the natural fibers of sheep wool. As a result, it’s important that they also be cared for specially, due to their being extremely delicate. These rugs are available in rainbow of colors that originate from natural dyes: Aniline dyes, vegetal-based dyes, and blended wools.

Native American culture is preserved through various objects, such as beads, rugs, baskets, and dreamcatchers. While these items are on sale at certain locations, they have an even greater value. They help to keep the ancient spirit of the Indian Nations alive in modern times.  

By Shakir Zhulo

Navajo Rugs: Their Creation, History and Care

Spider Woman is credited with having taught the Navajo women how to weave rugs on a magical loom. Spider Man instructed the Navajo women to first make the loom by using the sky and earth cords for the cross poles, the sun rays for the warp sticks, crystal and sheet lightning would form the healds. A sun's halo would form the batten and the comb was made from ivory shells. The four spindles were created from lightning, coal, turquoise, abalone, and a rain streamer.

It is common speculation that Navajo rug weaving is an uncommon and slowly dying art. A short burst of excitement took the Southwest over like a storm when rug weaving had gained some popularity. Unfortunately, the excitement didn't last very long.  Many traders and artists moved on when sales begin to decline and little interest was paid towards the artistic rugs. Elaborate looms were left to collect dust.  At one point in time, Navajo rugs had attracted the interest of many. The public placed high value on these unique rugs that couldn't be duplicated elsewhere. The market slowly started declining with time.

This ancient art form still exists, but it's not as common as it once was.  Some hope has re surfaced however, as a new generation has begun to take interest in this dying art.  These artists are mainly female, but some males also choose to dedicate their time to sitting in front of a loom for many long hours.  

Perhaps these dedicated artists look at the creation of a rug as a form of meditation. Others seem to do it to keep with tradition and pay their heritage with respects. Once the rugs are finished, the rugs are often sold to museums, private collectors and even some trading posts.  For most Navajo people, this is their only form of income and helps put food on the table and pay most of the bills.

A wave of Anglo weavers have recently taken interest in learning how to weave rugs.  Many are willing to travel many miles to attend workshops to learn about the art of rug weaving and gain some additional experience from Navajos’ on the reservations.  These workshops may contain many different lessons taught over the span of many days.

The workshops typically start off with the history of the rugs, and how the rugs were first introduced to the Navajo people.  The participants then practice the various methods and techniques to create their very own rugs.

 The remaining time may be used to practice until the students feel confident in their abilities.  

Rug weaving is slowly making a comeback and has even provided enough demand for the Navajo people to start earning income for their families again.    Anglo weavers have been working hard to preserve the art so it may never disappear completely.   

A friend on mine in the automobile industry called Ed Piotrowski has made himself Floor Mats Navajo Rug Style for his car. He found that people likes it very much and he decided to promote this types of floor mats with their partners at carpreview.

Each rug that is produced is handmade and unique to the creator. You won’t find an identical work elsewhere. This is what makes them so unique! Many people purchase them to support the Navajo people, but also add a conversational piece to their homes.

These rugs are not ideal for everyday use like a normal rug. They're made from delicate natural fibers from special sheep wool, which require special care in order to preserve their natural beauty.  

Rug Colors

The Navajo blanket can come in a variety of colors.  In the 1700-1800s it was common for the delicate wool to be dyed with blue and red natural dyes.   Today, the dyes that are used for rug weavings fall into three classes.

  • Aniline Dyes are synthetic or organic dyes that are extracted from coal or tar like materials. These were the very first synthetic dyes that were first used.  The term is frequently used with disregard towards the actual material source. The pigments may be synthetic or organic. The pigment for these dyes can range from dark to very bright.

  • Vegetal Based Dyes: These are usually subtle in color and may be difficult to achieve a consistence color for the entire rug.  These colors usually come from natural sources such as smashed berries, roots, flowers and seeds.  It may take up to a year for the rug weaver to collect enough materials to create the dye for their rugs. Vegetal dyed rugs usually fetch more value on the market due to the additional effort it may take to source the materials to create the rug.

  • Blended Wools: The color for these rugs are created by carefully combining special wools to achieve a particular color. The materials are often collected from both sheep and goat fibers.    

Here is how to preserve your own piece of history:

  • If you happen to spill anything on your rug, grab a natural white cotton towel and attempt to blot up as much as the mess as you can. Do not rub excessively as you may cause a permanent stain and ruin the natural fibers.  

  • If you feel uncomfortable cleaning the rug yourself, take it to a professional who knows what they're doing.   

  • It is often best to place the rug in a place where it can't be damaged by everyday use. For instance, avoid direct contact with sunlight. This can sun bleach the fibers and fade the colors. This is irreversible and is best prevented rather than treated.  

  • Avoid placing the rug in a place where excessive moisture collects. This can cause the rug to mold.    

  • The Navajo rug is not the ideal resting spot for furniture.  The pointed or sharp edges of most furniture can ruin the delicate fibers.  

  • Avoid placing pets near or on the rug, as they can also damage the rug with their teeth or claws.  

  • If you want to preserve your rugs, be sure to place them in a safe place that is neutral in temperature.  Avoid extreme heat and extreme cold. Attempt to find a balance so as to avoid damage from occurring.  You can place your rugs in a clean large container to prevent damage from temperature and pests. If you choose to place your rugs in a plastic container, make sure there are no gaps and the container is completely air tight.   

  • Taking care of these beautiful and unique rugs does require some extra care than most home furnishings, but the effort is well worth it to preserve these natural pieces of history and tradition.
By Shakir Zhulo

Authentic Navajo Indian Rugs

All weavings are new pieces in a variety of traditional and contemporary styles.

Each Navajo rug is hand-woven of 100% wool yarn on traditional upright looms by members of the Navajo Nation. Materials range from hand-carded, handspun, and natural color or vegetal dyed wool, to commercially cleaned, carded, spun, and dyed wool. Miniature Navajo rugs are likewise hand-woven of 100% wool that is generally respun commercial yarn so that it is much thinner.
They are woven in the same manner as the full sized rugs and most are of tapestry quality (over 80 wefts per inch). All Navajo weavings offered for sale on our site have been woven by contemporary weavers in regional and non-regional styles. They have intact edging and selvage cords and corner tassles, and are without stains, fading, holes, or insect damage. In cases where the weaver may be unknown, we unconditionally guarantee that the weaving has been made by a member of the Navajo Nation and by traditional methods.
By Shakir Zhulo

Navajo Baskets

Tohono O'odham Baskets

Members of the Tohono O'odham tribal nation (formerly known as Papago Indians), live along the Arizona, Mexico border. Their present tribal lands, established in 1874, consist of a three parcel reservation of 2,854,881 acres (approximately 5,000 square miles), in the Sonoran Desert in south central Arizona and into Mexico, an area comparable in size to the state of Connecticut, but with a population of 27,500 members. Basket making is a long-honored tradition of the Tohono O'odham people who make baskets from various materials such as willow, yucca (most common today), and horsehair. Traditionally, the men harvested the materials and women were the basketmakers. Some families began making the natural material harvesting a family event leading to a transition where now there are some men who are basketmakers in their families as well.

Decorative basket patterns include fret designs, turtle back designs, coyote tracks, dragging coyote tracks, cross designs, stars, squash blossoms, dust-devils, human figures, saguaro fruit picking scenes, the well-known "man in the maze" pattern, and representations of antelopes, bats, bees, ducks, humming birds, rattlesnakes, and turtles. Some designs are done in the negative using devil's claw as the the background and yucca or willow for the design
Navajo Ceremonial Baskets

The present day tribal lands of the Navajo Nation consist of 17,686,465 acres (over 27,000 square miles) in northerneastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. Approximately the size of West Virginia, the Navajo Reservation is larger than ten of the 50 states in America. The reservation was created in 1868, and has since been expanded to its current size. It features over a dozen national monuments, tribal parks, and prehistoric sites. Population on the reservation today is over 180,000. Sumac is the material that Navajo weavers gather to make ceremonial baskets. Thin sumac branches are used for the rods around which the split sumac is woven. Baskets are used in most of over fifty different kinds of sacred ceremonies practiced in the traditional Navajo culture and depending on the length of the ceremony, up to seven different baskets may be needed.

(Regarding the Navajo ceremonial or "wedding" basket) "The basket is viewed as a map, through which the Navajo people chart their lives. The central spot in the basket represent the sipapu, where the Navajo people emerged from the prior world through a reed. As the people emerged, all was white. The inner coils of the basket are white to represent this lightness, or birth. As you travel outward [in a circular direction] on the coils you begin to encounter more and more black. The black represents darkness, struggle and pain; the darker side of life. As you make your way through the darkness you eventually reach the red bands, which represent marriage; the mixing of your blood with your spouse and the creation of family. The red is pure. During this time there is no darkness. Traveling out of the familial bands you encounter more darkness however, the darkness is interspersed with white light. The light represents increasing enlightenment, which expands until you enter the all white banding of the outer rim. This banding represents the spirit world where there is no darkness. The line from the center of the basket to the outer rim is there to remind you that no matter how much darkness you encounter in your world, there is always a pathway to the light." (As told to Steven P. Simpson by an informant, 1993)

By Shakir Zhulo

About Shakir

We hold a deep regard for the work of the many talented Native American artists and craftspersons who live in the Southwest and who create in a variety of styles from the traditional to the contemporary. We first began dealing in American Indian made products in the 1970's. With our experience in retail, wholesale and service businesses spanning over three decades as business owners and operators, our goal is to make available many of the fine works by Native Americans that we ourselves appreciate

My name is Shakir and on this blog I will be giving you a lot of information and research on the customs my people, the native americans, have and how they live today...

By Shakir Zhulo

Meaning of our Arts and Curiosities

We can start by talking a little more about the meaning of our art to be able to understand and learn more of this culture. Let's start by Corn Maiden or blue Corn Maiden as it is also known, according to legend, was created by the hand of the Great Spirits to help humans on earth, giving them peace and happiness as well as given the opportunity to grow your faith in the Great Spirits relying on their ability to plant and care for their crops, a beautiful legend.

Another striking representative of our culture and art is the Frog Fetish, this is achieved with the rock carving technique preserving the essence of the animal in the rock, this represents fertility within the Zuni culture and is also related to water such as in times of drought you pray for rain. We can also mention the White Marble Sheep that represents patience, charity and wealth and the Zuni used it for trading between tribes. The Horned Toad Fetish an animal that represents longevity and self confidence in your spirit and your strength.

On the other side and a little more ceremonial, we have the Navajo doll, made entirely by hand with natural materials and bright colors as well as stones, feathers are also used among other materials for decoration. Each Navajo doll are created to represent a spirit and what it will be used for, these are representative of the good and evil spirits who often are asked to answer the prayers offered.

Definitely this culture have a very ancient and spiritual art. Through the artistic expressions we learn a little more, with great respect for what it means for them.

By Shakir Zhulo