|Native American Tribes Overview: Their Culture and History Page 1 Page 2
(Photos Courtesy of Denver Museum Digital Archive and Library of Congress)
Santo Domingo Indians:
The Santo Domingo Pueblo is situated approximately
midway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, on the banks
of the Rio Grande. By 1591 the Santo Domingo ancestors
had settled close to the present location to farm, but the
original site flooded, and the pueblo was moved several
times before it was established at its present site by the
end of the sixteenth century, still near the river and desirable farmland, but on higher ground.
While the location was chosen for its farming potential, other geographical factors influenced the
future of the people and their art, for the pueblo is approximately thirty miles from the Cerrillos
turquoise mines, which were active from about AD 1000 until the 1930s, and also near a large
deposit of gypsum, both of which were used in their jewelry.
The Santo Domingo have the longest jewelry-making tradition of any of the pueblos, and still make
jewelry using the traditional techniques and many of the same materials used by their ancestors.
This cannot be said of other Native American jewelers, who incorporated techniques they learned
from other cultures, most importantly silversmithing, introduced by Mexican silversmiths and
later taught at Indian schools and in the "factories" that stocked the curio shops frequented by
tourists to the Southwest.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, jewelry making was the main source of
income for many families within the pueblo, and several sources indicate that most families were
involved in jewelry making at some time during this period.In fact, often all members of a family
were involved in making jewelry, with different members having different skills or
responsibilities. Shop Heishi Necklaces
A large part of the jewelry made by the Santo Domingo consists of the
strings of beads called heishi (which means "rolled beads"), originally made
from shell and local stones such as turquoise, although by about 1900 coral
had also become popular. These necklaces and a type of earrings called
jaclas, which consisted of short loops of turquoise heishi (often combined
with coral beads), were extremely valuable as trade material, and the Santo Domingo exchanged or
sold them for almost everything they needed.
Many early photographs of Indians from other tribes from the region show them wearing strings of
Santo Domingo turquoise or shell heishi. In addition to making heishi necklaces and jaclas for
trade, the Santo Domingo developed ceremonial jewelry for their own use. Made from large shells
-- usually reddish spiny oyster shells acquired by trading with other tribes -- the pendants bore
geometric mosaic patterns formed from small pieces of turquoise, jet, and shell. Although they
were originally made for use in the pueblo's traditional Corn Dance, similar pendants are made for
Another style of Santo Domingo necklace consists of tear-shaped "tabs" strung on heishi. The tabs
were made from bone overlaid in the traditional mosaic style with bits of turquoise, jet, and shell.
These necklaces are also sometimes identified as Depression jewelry, but they were certainly
made earlier than that. We have found a photograph documenting their use in 1925.
Santo Domingo Indian Rituals and Dances- Did they change after tourist influences?
For the most part, Santo Domingo jewelry was not affected by contact with other cultures, until
the twentieth century, when economic conditions made it difficult to get the shell and bone needed
to make heishi and the traditional Santo Domingo tabs and ceremonial pendants.
They found in gypsum, the soft whitish stone from a deposit near the pueblo, a substitute for the
more expensive materials they had used previously to make heishi. The heishi made from gypsum
are longer than those made from shell, and more closely resemble earlier tubular stone beads used
by their ancestors.
In a few instances they also used gypsum as a substitute for the bone backing of tabs and
pendants, but oral tradition relates that this is also when they discovered they could use the
plastic from discarded car batteries, which could be worked with simple tools, as a backing.
According to oral tradition, in the late 1920s or early 1930s the Santo Domingo began to create
necklaces with thunderbird pendants to appeal to tourists. The earliest document we have found of
their use is a photograph published in Pedro Lemos's Indian Arts, Pueblo and Navajo in 1932.
Importantly, birds were the only life form the Santo Domingo were allowed by the traditions of
their pueblo to use to decorate their pottery and jewelry. However, within that restriction, they
created a great variety of bird images. Most represent the thunderbird,
a motif the Harvey Company claimed was derived from Native American
pictographs, which they modified and copyrighted in 1909.
It was popular on Harvey style jewelry, and the Santo Domingo would have seen
it worn by tourists and displayed in trading posts and curio shops throughout the
Southwest. In shape the Santo Domingo thunderbirds often resemble eagles on
American and Mexican coins and military insignia, but the decoration is carried
out in their traditional mosaic technique, albeit substituting plastic for more
In addition to salvaged turquoise chips, they used red plastic to imitate coral and the reddish spiny
oyster shell; white plastic to replace the white shell, black plastic instead of jet, and occasionally
other colors such as yellow. On a small number of pieces, the decoration is executed entirely in
turquoise chips. More on the Development of Santo Domingo Indian Jewelry
Zuni Indian Jewelry
Like many other early Americans, the Zuni people lived sedentary lives. They
built stone and adobe houses, farmed, hunted and pursued craft production,
whether in the making of baskets, weaving or brocading fabrics. They also
fashioned technically and aesthetically accomplished functional handbuilt pots
from the abundantly available clay. All such activities are reflected in the
decoration applied to the pots, carried out with finely ground minerals.
Information About Zuni Culture and History
Much of the decoration, mostly abstract, recalls the patterns achieved through weaving and
basketry, but here are related to the three-dimensional form. One of the most famous designs is
that of the 'heart-line deer', in which a stylised deer or similar animal, complete with antlers, has
a line from the mouth to the heart. While the significance today is not clear, it may have
represented the 'sacred breath of life'.
Zuni carved stone animals are beautiful, highly sought after and
small, most fit easily in the palm of the hand. The Zuni are centered in
New Mexico's Zuni River Valley, west of Albuquerque, near the
Arizona border. The land might never have been noticed by outsiders,
except that in 1539, Spanish explorers decided that the Hawikuh
pueblo was one of the Seven Cities of Cibola, a city of gold. This did
not do the locals any favors. But today Zuni Pueblo is one of the
most traditional Native American areas left in the state, with an
economy largely supported by the arts. Zuni carved animals can be
made of anything from shell and antler to cornhusks, and are added to enhance necklaces. Most
on the market are of stone, frequently decorated with string, feathers or beads.
Above: Zuni Wearing Carved Stone Necklace 1903. Shop Zuni Jewelry
More on Zuni Indian Jewelry Development
What separates from other carvings is their use and power. A carving is decoration; a animal
symbol offers a connection to the larger world. Through a stone carved like a bear, one
comes into contact with Bear, the embodiment of strength and introspection.
Whether known as animals, charms, amulets, or talismans, these small objects, usually
representing an animal, have existed since the earliest days of the Pueblo peoples. At first,
concretions, or stones, naturally suggestive of an animal's shape were carried for power or
protection. Carving was added to embellish or emphasize the animal form.
With anthropological research in the late nineteenth century and growing market appreciation
throughout the twentieth, the carving of stone animals has become a serious and successful art
form. While many Native American tribes produce and use carvings, the most renowned
carvers are undoubtedly the Zuni.
This skill has been honed in artistic apprenticeships within family groups, and is derived from
spiritual beliefs found in the Zuni creation story. Zuni believe that the world was originally covered
by water. The First Twins created lightning and a great fire to dry the land. To keep humans safe,
predators were struck by the lightning and turned to stone. Deep within, the animals' hearts were
kept alive, with instructions to help humankind with the magic captured in their hearts.
This spirit is often represented by a "heart line," also called "spirit line" or "breath line." The
heart line may be carved, inlaid, or painted.
Another spiritual aspect of some stone carving is the bundle offering attached with animal sinew.
Arrowheads are common in bundles and offer protection to both the stone symbol and its owner.
Although these figures are generally referred to as religious symbols, it is important to
recognize that objects offered for sale are carvings, as opposed to religious images. None have
blessed by the Zuni Medicine Society.
Materials are a significant choice for carvers. Availability and
workability are practical factors. Early carvings were from local
stone, but today's market provides a wealth of choices from
around the world. Color is a key spiritual and/or aesthetic element.
In the latter sense, an artist may choose a color that represents
the animal's natural color or may opt for a hue based on personal or
patron's preference. A very popular and fairly recent stone choice
is a marble found in Utah, which is called "Picasso" for its artistic
patterns of brown, tan, gray, white, and black. Among a wide variety
of materials, serpentine and turquoise are other frequently carved Zuni Working With Stone 1945
stones, and antler, bone, wood, and shells are also used.
Cherokee Indian Culture and Jewelry