Native American jewelry is a beautiful, versatile, and meaningful art form that has long been admired by cultures around the world. The handcrafted pieces are celebrated as relics of American Indian civilization, and the evolution of mass jewelry production has included them in modern day fashion and style.
One of the most unique and traditional pieces is the Native American bone choker. Today they are produced, designed, and widely sold as commonplace accessories marketed to the general public. Authentic Native American chokers, however, held much more significance to the original wearers.
After learning about the colorful history and symbolic function of the bone choker, you might decide that you want one of these artifacts for yourself. Luckily, we have plenty of options for you to browse on our website!
How were they made?
As the name would imply, American Indians made their bone chokers from animal bones. A majority came from birds, buffalo, and deer—bird legs were especially well-suited to making chokers. The animal was not typically killed for the purpose of jewelry making, but rather the remains were used after a death from natural causes or by predator. Discovering animal bones was considered a sign of good luck.
Once the bones were cleaned and smoothed, they were boiled until softened, making them malleable enough to be shaped. Smaller bones were sometimes used as beads and colored with minerals, plants, or berry juices. This color was preserved regularly with fat. Precious stones like turquoise or shell were also sometimes used to ornament the choker, if they were available.
Today we use leather to tie the components of the necklace together and maintain an authentic look, but Native Americans used the sinew from deer or buffalo carcass. A bone awl or porcupine quill would be fashioned into a needle for threading.
How were they used?
Historically, Native American chokers functioned as a form of protection for tribal warriors—guarding the jugular and deflecting arrows from the neck in battle. Sometimes they were attached to full breastplates as well, since bone is a very strong and nearly impenetrable natural resource.
Chokers were often a sign of wealth in American Indian culture, and wearing one was an indication of high social ranking. They were also sometimes worn during certain tribal ceremonies.
What is the meaning behind them?
The Native American bone choker served not only to protect a warrior physically, but spiritually as well. Specifically, the choker was thought to protect the voice and provide great speaking abilities to the wearer. The bone choker would guide the warrior to speak the truth directly from the heart.
The spirit of the animal that made the choker was believed to be invoked when worn. In fact, some Native Americans had vision dreams about specific animals and asked the tribe’s Medicine Man to make the necklace for them. Bone chokers were usually made by the Medicine Man so that they could use their spiritual power to infuse the piece with protection and powers—giving it special and personal meaning to the individual wearer. The number of strands used to make it was sometimes believed to hold specific meaning too.
Lastly, the bone choker was considered a way to honor the life and respect the sacrifice of the animal whose remains were used to create it. Native American culture is very in tune with nature and believes every one of its elements has its own spirit that should be held sacred. For this reason, every available functional part of an animal is used after death.
Many of the Native American chokers available today are not made from bone—although a small number of handcrafted ones may still be—but that doesn’t strip them of their history or cultural significance. Celebrate American Indian culture with a choker of your own from Kachina House. Our unique and beautifully ornamented necklaces will make you feel as fierce and magnificent as the Native warriors who wore them!