Spanish Colonial Period

Squash Blossom Necklace Squash Blossom Necklace Squash Blossom Necklace
Navajo, c.1890
Silver, Turquoise
IAF.S488
Photograph by Addison Doty
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research

Notice the crescent-shaped naja pendant.
“Naja” Pendant“Naja” PendantNavajo, c.1887
Silver
IAF.S9
Photograph by Jennifer Day
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research

Detail of another naja pendent seen on squash blossom necklaces.
 
Squash Blossom Necklace “Naja” Pendant 

On February 23, 1540, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado left Compostela, Mexico on an expedition towards present-day New Mexico. The arrival of Spanish Franciscan missionaries and explorers forever affected the lives of the dozens of tribes inhabiting the desired territory. A new form of cross-cultural trade was introduced through Spanish occupation in ways both detrimental and beneficial to Native communities.

New trade items such as glass beads from Italy and Russia, glass dishes, knives, ribbons, cotton clothing, and religious items including rosaries and crosses were brought from Europe via Spanish colonial conquest. New images and design motifs were also incorporated into local adornment. For example, the Navajo borrowed the Spanish naja (na-ha), a crescent-shaped ornament found on horse bridles, as a pendant in the popular squash blossom necklace design. It is also worth noting that the naja was previously adopted by Spaniards from Muslim Iberian “Moors” during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula from the eighth through fifteenth centuries.

Dragon Fly Cross PendantDragon Fly Cross PendantNavajo, date unknown
Silver
IAF.S586
Photograph by Jennifer Day
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research
Dragon Fly Cross PendantNavajo, date unknown
Silver
IAF.S586
Photograph by Jennifer Day
Courtesy of the School for Advanced Research

Rosaries were often given as gifts by Franciscan friars to mitigate what they perceived to be conflict among Native groups. The cross design became widespread amongst Spanish and Native groups alike. Some Native people converted to Christianity and wore the religious paraphernalia as a symbol of this conversion. Many others incorporated the Catholic cross into their designs without regard to its Christian underpinnings. Some scholars assert that the cross shaped dragonfly motif found in many Southwest communities was borrowed from the Christian Cross. Others maintain that the dragonfly was a popular design prior to Spanish contact.

By 1598, with the arrival of Don Juan De Oñate, the first permanent Spanish settlement was established near the present-day Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh (oh-kay o-wing-gay), formerly known as San Juan Pueblo. The Tewa name of the community means “place of the strong people” but Spaniards promptly changed it to San Juan de los Caballeros. Other communities, or so-called “Pueblos,” were also renamed according to Spanish preferences. Ohkay Owingeh reverted back to its indigenous name in 2005.

Pueblo Feast Days

During his travels in 1776 to visit the missions of present-day New Mexico, Fray Francisco Antanasio Domínguez kept detailed written observations of the Pueblos he encountered. He described his oberservation of a Corn Dance as follows:

Both women and men go barefoot, let their hair hang loose. The men tie a small handful of macaw feathers on their heads, and the women put on some little painted boards trimmed with a few feathers and latticed with agave fiber ... They put on good blankets and hang about their necks as many rosaries, crosses, or medals as they can, and all hanging from ribbons.

Such accounts exemplify a cross-cultural exchange of not only material goods but also ideas and beliefs. The celebration of feast days in Pueblo communities demonstrates an adaptation of indigenous beliefs with the Catholic practice of patron saint reverence. Today, many Pueblo communities allow non-community members to visit and observe feast day dances. These festivities teach not only community members about their history but also serve to educate the broader public about their vibrant and dynamic cultures. Visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center to learn more.

While the tragedy of disease, violence, and colonization among the Native groups of the Southwest cannot be minimized, the innovation, adaptation, and perseverance of artistic and religious expression continue to play an important role for Native artists today.

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