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The Squash Blossom Necklace
Squash blossom" is a term which has long been applied
to a unique necklace produced by Southwestern
Indians. It was first made by the Navajo and later by
the Zuni and Hopi Indians.

To this day it is still made by these three tribes,
either to be worn by the Indians or for sale. The
term squash blossom was evidently attached at an
early date to the unusual bead which has a flowering
end.


T
he Navajo word "Chil Bitan" means flower-like bead,
or more literally translated, "bead which spreads
out."


However, the flower is not believed to be a squash
blossom, and really does not resemble one: it is like a
young pomegranate. The pomegranate was a symbol of
Granada, Spain, and Spanish and Mexican dandies
wore a small silver version of this symbol to decorate
their blouses, capes, and trousers.

Navajo Indians  may have seen one of these decorations and incorporated it into a plain silver
bead necklace.
They had already borrowed the Spanish crescent moon and star symbol which
was attached to the horse's bridle, on the center of the animal's forehead.


Navajo craftsmen simplified this theme, often to a plain crescent; in fact, the Navajo word
for this ornament is "nazhahi" - now commonly spelled naja which means crescent.

The naja was first worn with plain silver beads, but later became a part of the distinctive
squash blossom necklace.









                                        Naja, 1930.


                                                                   

You may buy Squash Blossom necklaces here.



The squash blossom has been explained in other ways. For example, Mrs. John Wetherill, the
wife of an early trader on the Navajo reservation, is said to have contended that this bead
was inspired by the tiny flowerets in the center of the common sunflower.

There is a resemblance here, but it is more likely that the young pomegranate, by way of the
Spaniards, was the real inspiration for this bead. The term squash blossom will continue to be
used as it is so well established.

When the squash blossom was first used by the Navajo is questionable. On a drawing of a
shorter-leafed type, Woodward has the dates 1865-1880, and the dates 1880-1937 for a
longer-petaled style.

However, when Washington Matthews described Navajo silvercraft in 1881 he makes no
mention of this bead type,
yet he describes in detail the plain bead and other pieces of this
early date. Adair simply notes that the squash blossom "probably did not come into existence
until sometime after 1880."

Early photographs, several dated about 1890, show the squash blossom worn by Navajos.
Navajo are the best known, for they have been the most productive of this piece and have
maintained a purity of  representation which Zunis and Hopis have not observed.

Zuni Indians often expose so little of the flower that it would not appear to be a squash
blossom.
Hopi Indians  have produced relatively few of these necklaces, most of them in the
Navajo tradition.

Also, both the Hopis and Zunis have substituted other types of design for the squash blossom
so that distinct tribal styles have evolved.

As the Zuni Indians learned silversmithing from the Navajo and as a Zuni taught a Hopi, both
of these Pueblo tribes practiced a Navajo style of silvercrafting. As a result of the earlier
influences, their squash blossoms were of Navajo style.
Navajo wearing a squash blossom necklace, 1885
Photo of a Navajo Indian wearing a "squash
blossom" necklace was taken in 1885.
Navajo wearing a "squash
blossom" necklace, 1910.