A lot of people ask me what the significance is of the “upside down horseshoe” design in Native American Jewelry. It is a central design of the Squash Blossom Necklace made by Navajo craftsmen. It is called a Naja. The Spanish who explored the Americas brought horses whose bridles and saddles were adorned with elaborate silver work. Much of the Spanish designs were influenced by the Moors of North Africa who invaded Spain. The Naja design originated in North Africa. It was worn as a way to ward off evil or bad spirits. It has much the same meaning as the “evil eye” seen in other parts of the world like Turkey and Bali.
As the Navajos were influenced by the Spanish and began to work with silver, they incorporated the Naja. Bridles for prized Navajo horses were some of the first silver work created. The bridle cheek pieces and browband were covered with single pieces of hand-worked silver. The Naja hung from the browband where it lay in the middle of the horse’s forehead. The Naja was a talisman used to protect the horse from injury during raids on other tribes. Horses were also introduced by the Spanish into Navajo culture. The wealth of a family was determined by the size of his herd. Horses are still prized by the Navajo. They represent freedom and cooperation.
As the Navajo began to make personal adornment out of silver, they incorporated the Naja into their necklaces (late 1800s squash blossoms). Jewelry became a sign of wealth and status for a family.
The Moorish Naja looks like an omega sign and sometimes it has hands on the ends. Hands are a sign of friendship. In the Arab world the Hand of Fatima (an upward facing hand with closed fingers) is placed on doorways and worn on jewelry to ward off evil. The Navajo Naja has evolved from that design.
Today, the Naja is an integral part of traditional and contemporary Native American jewelry. It is also, in my mind, a sign of the influence of different cultures exploring each other.
In September, my report from Santa Fe Indian Market!!