Navajo Child Craft

by Jeremiah Blanchard

The Navajo people, also referred to as "Dineh" meaning "the people," are the largest federally recognized tribe of the United States. The Navajo reside predominantly in the Navajo Nation situated in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. The Navajo are noted for their crafts, particularly rugs and silversmith work. Navajo children learn these crafts from their parents.

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Overview

Navajo women and men both make crafts. Navajo children learn craft skills from their parents according to gender. The man teaches the son specific crafts, typically jewelry making and ceremonial weapon making. The woman typically teaches the daughter the arts of pottery and rug making. The children observe their parents at work when young and become assistants as they become older and gain more knowledge and skill.

Knapping

Knapping, otherwise referred to as flint-knapping, is the art of shaping stone into arrowheads or cutting tools. This is generally the first skill that a young Navajo male will learn. Learning how to craft stone into usable tools is a tradition and an art in Navajo history. As of 2011, most Navajo stone tools and arrowheads are made entirely for sale as pieces of artwork. Some are still made for ceremonial purposes.

Rug Making

Navajo rugs are popular items among tourists who travel through the Navajo Nation. These rugs are made on a loom by the women of the tribe. Navajo girls learn the art of weaving rugs on a loom at a very young age. This includes how to procure the material, dye it, separate it and work the loom. Navajo rugs are generally sold for artwork, while some are reserved as special gifts within the tribe or for ceremonial purposes.

Sand Painting

Navajo sand paintings are done by both male and female artisans. The sand painter teaches the child how to create the image and the purpose behind the image. Sand paintings are deeply religious expressions in Navajo culture. Some paintings denote protection, strength, health, fertility or hope. Most sand paintings are represented by a Navajo deity or spirit animal. Sand paintings are made by brushing glue on a flat stone surface and then sprinkling colored sand over the glue, then carefully brushing excess sand away. Typically the sand is dyed to make specific colors. Gathering and dying the sand is usually a chore performed by a child until he is old enough to make the sand painting on his own.

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