When Thanksgiving comes around, people begin to celebrate the day that the pilgrims and Native Americans put aside their differences for a meal … or at least that appears to be the general consensus among those who are not celebrating the family purchasing a turkey. The media has devoted a lot of time and effort to showing us what early European and early American life was like at that time, but how much do you really know about Native American culture? Many are not aware of the different facets to Native American arts and crafts beyond the popularly bought pipe bags, beaded purses, and quilled bags, but there’s more to the culture than beads and buffalo skulls. Here are three major tropes in Native American crafts:
1. Totem Pole
The totem pole is perhaps one of the most iconic examples of Native American art. What’s really interesting about them is how unique each one can be. Totem poles are made for multiple reasons: some are made to recount one or more legends from a tribe; some are made to recount history, whether it’s an event or a period of time; some are made to record a family’s lineage; some are made as a sort of memorial to honor a person’s life; and some are made to ridicule people as well. Clearly these totem poles are as varied as the cultures surrounding the individual tribes.
2. Musical Instruments
A lot of Native American art has a great deal of utility. Outside of carrying cases like the pouches and bags, Native Americans are also renowned for crafting beautiful musical instruments like such as flutes and drums using wood, beads, and different kinds of animal skins. Animal parts are used in a lot of Native American art, in actuality. The buffalo skull is a great example of this. Buffalo skulls are often used as a canvas for different Native American artwork due to the animal’s sacred position in the culture. Oftentimes animals can be chosen for use in Native American weapons and art for its significance in their culture.
The Navajo tribe specifically is very adept at weaving intricate, colorful, high-quality blankets. Traditionally the tribe crafts these blankets by hand, which is more impressive if you consider the beautiful patterns that are frequently featured on the cloths. The patterns that appear on these blankets follow the style scene in much other Native American art; the patterns range from simple to intricate but all follow a geometric, tribal design. Try to recall how nuanced Native American culture is when next you see them being generalized in a Thanksgiving advertisement. What do you think is the most interesting Native American craft?
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