Native American culture has a rich history of using beads for both ceremonial and decorative purposes. Seed beads, in particular, have been an integral part of Native American culture for centuries. In this article, you will read about a variety of beads and their use by Native American crafters.
Varieties of Beads Used by Native American Crafters
Seed beads were first introduced to Native Americans by European explorers in the late 15th century. These small, brightly colored beads quickly caught the attention of Native Americans, who saw the potential for incorporating them into their traditional crafts.
Initially, seed beads were used primarily as trade items, but their popularity soon grew, and they became a staple of Native American beadwork. Over time, the use of seed beads in Native American beadwork evolved, with tribes developing unique styles and techniques for using the tiny beads. Czech seed beads are high-quality glass beads that arrived in North America in the mid-19th century. They are prized for their exceptional uniformity in size, shape, and color, which makes them an ideal choice for intricate beadwork designs.
The first Wampum beads made from white and purple (quahog) shell were simple disks with holes in the center. Eventually, skilled artisans carved the shells into round beads, hairpipes and tubes. Wampum Tube beads are small, cylindrical beads . These Wampum beads have cultural and spiritual significance for several Native American tribes. Among other uses, they use them to make wampum belts. Historically wampum belts conveyed important messages and agreements between tribes.
Bone beads come from animal bones, such as buffalo bones. Crafters commonly use them for necklaces, chokers and other crafts and jewelry.
Crow beads are much larger than seed beads. Crafters use them to make necklaces, breastplates and other adornments.
Contemporary crafters add them to Dreamcatchers, bag handles and decorative drops on accessories. Crow beads come in a wide range of colors, making them a popular choice for both traditional and contemporary craftwork.
Glass Tile Beads are ideal for making necklaces and chokers. Their straight sides complement the Bone Hairpipe on chokers. Tile beads are available in a wide range of colors. Crafters find them easy to work with because the holes are large enough to accommodate thin deerskin lacing.
Native Americans originally made beads from copper that they mined. When Europeans brought brass, nickel and silver beads to the Americas, Native crafters added them to their bandoleers, breastplates and chokers.
Larger glass and ceramic beads from Europe are referred to as Trade Beads. These include Venetian Millefiori beads (meaning thousand flowers) which are multi-layered wound mosaic glass beads which were produced in Venice beginning in the early 1800s. Padre Beads are similar in size to Crow Beads. They get their name from the Spanish priests (called “padres” meaning “father” in the Spanish language) who wore strands of these beads. Other Trade Beads include multi layered Chevron beads, spotted Skunk beads, transparent bi-conal Vaseline beads and Blue Russian beads.
Significance of Beads in Native American Culture
Seed beads and other types of beads hold significant cultural meaning for many Native American tribes. Crafters used them to tell stories, convey cultural values, and represent important concepts, such as the four cardinal directions or the balance between the physical and spiritual worlds.
Beads have a long and rich history in Native American culture, serving both decorative and spiritual purposes. The use of these beads in Native American beadwork has evolved over time, with each tribe developing its unique style and techniques. Because of this evolution, beads remain an integral part of Native American culture and continue to be used by contemporary Native American artists today.