Tribal Designs

In Native American culture different symbols or tribal designs have different meaning. The designs were used for different things; some of which included being placed on their original artwork and even painted on war horses. While the symbols and meaning varied by tribe, there were some with universal meanings.

The animal symbols often took the meaning of how and animal behaved or how it was used by the tribes. Some meanings even derived from the time of year you would see that particular animal.

  • Frog: The symbol of the frog stood for renewal, Spring, and fertility
  • Bear: The bear symbol stands for strength and leadership.
  • Deer: The deer, being an animal they hunted, was a symbol that stood for sacrifice.
  • Turtle: The symbol of the turtle stood for long life.
  • Coyote: The coyote often symbolized that something bad may happen.
  • Snake: The snake symbolized wisdom.

Objects and shapes used in tribal design also had meaning. In a time of war these symbols were painted on their horses. However, the Native American's themselves often painted symbols regularly on their body. These symbols had meaning to them and some often symbolized their ranking within the tribe.

  • Circle: A circle around the horse's eye and nostrils was said to bring alert vision and a keen sense of smell.
  • Thunder Stripes: In the shape of lightening these were drawn to please the Gods of war.
  • Right and Left Handprint: These prints meant that a horse and his rider had survived an ambush.

Patterns and shapes play a huge role in not only Native American artwork, but in religious ceremonies as well. Some shapes had different meanings to different tribes, but there are some tribal designs that had a universal meaning. The shape of a maze was used by many tribes and stood for the Mother Earth and her children. The Hopi world symbol, shows a large circle divided in four sections. Within each section there is a smaller symbol. This design stands for balance throughout the world. As the tribes points of views differed, so did the meaning of different designs. Although, the meanings differed they were passed down from generation to generation, the elders teaching the young.





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