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THE HISTORY OF AN ANCIENT HUMAN SYMBOL

V ISITORS TO NEW MEXICO in the late of the Shafer Hotel in Mountainair and the
19th century would have been pleased to Swastika Hotel in Raton (now the
purchase a souvenir rug, pot or piece of International Bank).
silver jewelry decorated with a swastika. One of the oldest symbols made by
“The tourists loved the motif,” wrote Margery humans, the swastika dates back some
Bedinger in her popular 1973 book Indian 6,000 years to rock and cave paintings.
Silver: Navajo and Pueblo Jewelers. Scholars generally agree it originated in
“Between July,1905 and 1906, 60,000 India. With the emergence of the Sanskrit
swastikas in various forms, some by Indians language came the term “swastika”, a
and others not, sold to tourists in New combination of “su”, or good, and “asti”,
Mexico as genuine to be; in other
Indian articles.” words, well-being.
Today’s tourists, There’s no clear
particularly those answer on how the
from the Western figure migrated to
hemisphere, would be other parts of Asia,
appalled. Our Europe, Africa and
association of the the New World.
swastika with Early examples of
Adolf Hitler and his swastikas on pottery
National Socialist and household
Party is so objects in China
encompassing we indicate that the
would immediately swastika traveled
assume any object so with traders and with
imprinted had a direct the spread of
link with Nazism. Buddhism
Yet anyone who LOW-FIRED POTTERY BOWL FROM THE throughout Asia.
looks at art or BANSHAN CULTURE MAJIAWAN VILLAGE, CHINA According to Jim
NEOLITHIC PERIOD (2165–1965 BCE)
architecture, no LARCE CENTRAL SWASTIKA PROBABLY INTENDED TO Clarke, an ancient
matter how casually, SYMBOLIZE A SUN WHEEL. COURTESY CLARKE & CLARKE Asian art expert and
will eventually see the owner of Clarke &
symbol. The Navajos, Clarke Asian
Tibetans and Turks Antiques and Tribal
incorporated the Art in Santa Fe, early
swastika into their Christian inhabitants
rugs. Arizona’s of India and Iran
indigenous Pima and used the swastika as
Maricopa people an amulet or
wove them into their protective device.
baskets and painted “In the 17th century,
them onto their pots. India and Iran were
In Asia the emblem is exotic places to
found on everything Europeans,” Clarke
from clothing to DETAIL FROM LARGE GERMANTOWN PICTORIAL NAVAJO RUG remarks. “Things
political ballots to the
C1890 COURTESY SHERWOODS SPIRIT OF AMERICA brought back from
these countries were
thresholds of houses.
viewed as exotic. To incorporate these
Swastikas are carved into the Capitol
symbols was considered very avant.”
Building in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia
Clarke is intrigued by the notion that the
Museum of Art and many ancient Buddhist
swastika might have made its way from
and Mayan temples. At Albuquerque’s KiMo
China to the New World with Chinese traders
Theater, built in 1927 and recently restored,
lost on the seas. Remains of Chinese vessels
swastikas adorn the proscenium, entryway
have been excavated in coastal communities
and the building’s exterior. Elsewhere in New
in South America, he says, and along with
Mexico, they are evident in the architecture
THE HISTORY OF AN ANCIENT HUMAN SYMBOL
them the goods they carried. Another theory consider it a diagram of the footprints of
goes that the swastika traveled with Asians Buddha. Among the Jainas of India, the
who crossed the land bridge to Alaska and emblem is a reminder of the four possible
migrated southward to become the places of rebirth: in the animal or plant
indigenous people of North and South world, in hell, on Earth or in the spirit world.
America, bringing with them the magic In 1963, the well-respected Southwest
symbols they considered crucial to their author Frank Waters described the
health and well-being. swastika’s meaning
In his book, The to the Hopi people as
Swastika Symbol in a depiction of the
Navajo Textiles, migration routes
Dennis J. Aigner cites Hopi clans took
Thomas Wilson’s through North and
research in the 1890s South America.
that the earliest In Navajo myth
evidence of the the swastika
swastika in America represents the
was found in legend of the
excavations in whirling log. As told
Tennessee and Ohio. RENDERING OF ROCK PAINTINGS DATING TO THE by Aigner, the tale is
FOURTH MILLENNIUM BCE, FOUND AT CHIBBAR-NALA, INDIA
“That the swastika of a man, outcast
COURTESY CLARKE & CLARKE
found its way to the from his tribe, who
Western Hemisphere rolls down river in a
in prehistoric times hollowed-out log.
cannot be doubted...” With the help of
Aigner quotes sacred deities he
Wilson’s writing. One finds a place of
of the specimens friendship and
“shows its antiquity abundance. Until the
and its manufacture late 1800s, when J.
by the aborigines Lorenzo Hubbell and
untainted by contact J.B. Moore opened
with the whites.” their trading posts in
It’s also very Arizona and New
possible that this Mexico, Navajos
19TH CENTURY CHINESE CANDLE-SURROUND TEXTILE
simple variation of a DETAIL SHOWING BLUE SWASTIKA, WHICH BY THIS TIME portrayed the
cross – which was PROBABLY SYMBOLIZED EITHER THE FOUR WINDS
swastika solely in
OR THE WHEEL OF LIFE. COURTESY CLARKE & CLARKE
often used by early their religious
humans to represent a star – sprung up out ceremonies in the form of sand pantings. But
of the “collective unconscious” among by 1896, with prodding by Hubbell and
cultures all over the world. “Potters and Moore, the symbol proliferated on Navajo
weavers are basically the first artists,” rugs, sometimes lifted directly from the
comments Josh Baer, a Santa Fe dealer of images in sand and depicted as a central
Navajo rugs and other Native American cross with a male-female pair of standing
artifacts. “They probably didn’t influence figures (“yei” or “dreaming twins”) at the end
each other as much as resorting to patterns. of each of the four arms of the cross.
In weaving if the image is not pictorial, the Hubbell and Moore not only encouraged
alternative is to use geometric forms in such Navajo weavers to use swastikas but also
a way that they represent celestial and spread the idea among Native American
terrestrial forms.” artisans working in other genres. Beginning
The swastika’s meaning does seem to be around 1889, engraved silver spoons
similar across cultures, generally denoting became coveted souvenirs. Navajos were
abundance and prosperity and referring to best known for their silversmithing abilities
the four cardinal directions. To Hindus, it is a and thus the spoons came to be known as
symbol of the sun and its rotation. Buddhists “Navajo” though they were also crafted by
THE HISTORY OF AN ANCIENT HUMAN SYMBOL
Pueblo people. The two most popular motifs, away.” Given the difficulty of dating silver,
according to author and antique Indian Kline says, “If the viewer can look beyond
jewelry dealer Cindra Kline, were Indian Hitlerization, if you have a swastika spoon it’s
heads and swastikas. an assurance of age. You know it pre-dates
Kline, who has written a book on Navajo WW II probably by a good number of years
spoons to be published by the Museum of and it has a fascinating history.”
New Mexico Press in How Hitler came
September, 2001, to adopt the swastika
notes that the first is unclear. Various
spoon she’s located German citizens are
with both a swastika said to have
and an engraved date suggested it as a
coincides with the symbol of racial
opening of the purity. Hitler was
St. Louis Exposition in supposedly obsessed
1904, though the with numerology and
item was certainly Eastern religion and
made years earlier. may have seen the
The Charles M. image in Tibetan
manuscripts or
Robbins Co., a
paintings.
commercial spoon
Regardless, the
company, was SWASTIKA SHIELD KIMO THEATRE (1927) RESTORED 2000 swastika’s original
manufacturing so- 423 CENTRAL AVENUE NW IN DOWNTOWN ALBUQUERQUE
PHOTO BY KIRK GITTINGS meaning, which had
called Navajo spoons
endured for
as mementos of the fair. In 1906, Moore
millennia, was diametrically altered.
was the first to offer swastika spoons in its In 1940, in response to Hitler’s regime,
catalog. By the time the spoon craze died the Navajo, Papago, Apache and Hopi
out around 1915, Kline says, “you had so people signed a whirling log proclamation. It
many stamps and dyes with swastikas that read, “Because the above ornament, which
the symbol appears on bracelets, sides of has been a symbol of friendship among our
rings, ash trays, salt cellars. Any silver- forefathers for many centuries, has been
stamped item was fair game for a swastika desecrated recently by another nation of
stamp.” peoples, therefore it is resolved that
In the year 2001 in Santa Fe, swastikas henceforth from this date on and forever
can be found in myriad museums and more our tribes renounce the use of the
galleries. At the Museum of Indian Arts and emblem commonly known today as the
Culture, a ceramic rain god made at Tesuque swastika . . . on our blankets, baskets,
Pueblo circa 1900, proudly displays one. art objects, sand paintings and clothing.”
At Clarke & Clarke, swastikas adorn 19th References and suggested reading
century Thai garments and pre-historic
The Swastika Symbol in Navajo Textiles
Chinese bowls. Navajo spoons can be pur-
by Dennis J. Aigner. DAI Press, Laguna
chased at Kania Ferrin, Medicine Man and
Beach, California, 2000.
Rainbow Man galleries and Navajo rugs at Navajo Spoons by Cindra Kline. Museum
Cristof’s, Dewey, Packards and Sherwoods. of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico,
And there are many other venues displaying 2001.
Himalayan, Islamic, Asian and Native Indian Silver: Navajo and Pueblo
American art in which swastikas connote the Jewelers by Margery Bedinger. UNM Press,
natural world, good fortune or simply serve 1973.
as attractive decorative elements.
Often, however, these pieces will not be
on public view. “It’s a horrible symbol to
overcome,” Kline remarks. “But the swastika DOTTIE INDYKE LIVES IN SANTA FE AND WRITES REGULARLY
ABOUT THE ART AND CULTURE OF THIS REGION.
can be such a beautiful design. It’s a shame ©2001 WINGSPREAD GUIDES OF NEW MEXICO, INC.
to see all these beautiful pieces hidden READ MORE ON THE WEB AT www.collectorsguide.com