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Symbolism in Tribal Jewelry

A Symbol is a thing that represents (stands for) something else. The thing that is the symbol can be an object, a phrase, a gesture, an image, or any other culturally agreed upon form.
The "something" that is being symbolized is generally an aggregate (conglomeration) of cultural ideas, values, and traditions that have been identified as being especially meaningful to the community. For example, a flag as a symbol for a country repesents more than just a geographical land mass; it also represents the beliefs, customs, heritage and most cherished principles of the people who live under that flag. A symbol, therefore is a form of cultural alchemy, where intangible ideas and processes are distilled into a single observable golden-nugget of meaning.
Recognizing a symbol with all its connotations allows an observer to experience him/herself as being both particle and wave at the same time...that is, he or she connects to the group both as an individual and as a collective member who is aligned with all other members. While crowds witnessing their symbol may give way to a fervor of astounding intensity, a lone individual may be just as profoundly transported to a similar level of extreme allegiance when seeing the symbol, even in isolation. Such is the power of a symbol. It emanates an intentional filed of communal connection, meaning, and transcendence for those acknowledging it as their own.
Similar to other Tribal Art forms, Tribal Jewelry is a rich source of diverse cultural symbols. When investigating Symbolism in Tribal Jewelry, it is important to be wary of universal interpretations, however. There are rarely absolute explanations. Even where symbols look alike, they are culturally defined entities, often with meanings and import that are quite different from one group to the next, despite a similar appearance.
The following pages explore various symbolic forms found in Tribal Jewelry. The topic is so vast that no one could possibly create an all-inclusive compendium covering every one of them for every culture. What follows, therefore, is a portion of the millions of symbols used in Tribal Jewelry that have gone before, and continue to evolve.
...This section on Symbolism is a work in progress that will be regularly updated with new information. Please check back often for more symbols.