Native American Indian beading was traditionally performed by women as acts of extreme respect and reverence to the natural world.
Using Native American Indian beads was considered sacred to these people, and the act of stringing the beads was itself a form of prayer and reflection. The finished product was not considered to be as valued as the process of creation itself, but was viewed as a beautiful by product of this custom.
Uses of Native American Indian Beads
Native American Indian beads decorated the clothing of their people, and particularly those of younger women. Excessive displays of these beads were common, particularly after white settlement when new techniques for stringing where invented.
A higher status was represented by the intricate necklace and pendant arrangements that are instantly recognizable today as having these early origins.
Groups within Native American society where categorized by totems, signified by the jewelry of the wearer. Native American Indian beads where used to display their totems, and show how that connected them to their family, clan or group.
Trade between tribes is proved by the abundance of shell-based Native American Indian beads that would otherwise have not been found inland. The similarity of pendant patterns that have been later found in remnants of tribal grounds across America also proves this link to trade and sharing.
As a form of currency, it appears that Native American Indian beads were used to trade between tribes. In addition they were used to consolidate treaties, agreements and as a part of reciprocal gift giving ceremonies.
Ceremonial dances performed by the Native American people used decorative beads about their body to increase the formality of each occasion.
Rites of passage where also given further weight by the use of special Native American Indian beads that anchored the wearer to the natural world in a special and divine way.
Funerals used pendants and amulets made of precious beads to ease the passing of the deceased back into the earth.
The natural affinity that the Native American people feel towards the land also explains the value they give to beads that are made from natural materials. Native American Indian beads that use shells are reminders of water and the ocean, while precious stones from the ground and bones from the animals they killed where sentimental reminders of the natural world around them.
Animal sinew was used to string beads to the animal hides that became their clothing in these early Native American Indian bead stringing practices.
Seed beads where introduced to the Native American people by European settlers, and since then these people have invented loom techniques and a form of appliqué embroidery that had not been done before. Today these art forms are still thriving in Native American culture, and sold around the world.
One of the more common types of Native American Indian bead are the hand carved animal pendants that were made from turquoise or shell. Animals and the natural world are an important part of Native American beliefs, making these beaded pendants highly prized and valued in their social structures for their raw materials, as well as what they represent.
Loomwork and off-loom work creates chains of seed beads strung into tight row and column formations that create very distinct designs and patterns. Peyote stitch comes from this tradition, making Native American Indian bead practices influential the world over.
Applique bead embroidery had combined the Native American's earlier adornment of their clothing with the influx of European embroidery techniques to create a completely new art form. This is still widely used today.
It is alleged that Dutch settlers bought the island of Manhattan from the Native American people for a handful of European beads. More likely it would have been assumed that these beads were gifts, not seen as a form of land transaction, but it is intriguing to see the pivotal role that beads have played across the rich history of Native American people.
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