Star-Bulletin Features

Turquoise may be trendy now, but for some Native Americans, the stones carry an ancient legacy. Marlene Badwarrior shows hand-crafted Native American turquoise jewelry, including Navajo cluster bracelets available at Native Winds Gift Gallery and Craft Supply. The bracelets sell for $165 to $245 depending on size.

Stone love
Pins of inlaid silver, spiny oyster, lapis, abalone and turquoise.
The butterfly sells for $295 at Native Winds.

Turquoise's cultural value
lasts beyond the fickle spotlight
of the fashion scene

By Nadine Kam

Turquoise is back on the fashion merry-go-round of ever recycling trends that are hot one minute, and destined for the thrift shop the next.

It never takes long for word to get out, with boutiques like Valentino at Ala Moana Center stocking shoes and handbags embellished with the stones, and tiny craft stores bringing in turquoise beads for do-it-yourselfers.

At Native Winds Gift Gallery and Craft Supply in Kaimuki, there's been a run on turquoise since the stone was hailed as spring's major must-have. "Every time I call to restock, the wholesale price doubles," said store owner Wendy Schofield-Ching, who's hosting a "Tea and Turquoise" show and sale on Saturday.

The free event will feature samplings of tea produced by Native American Herbal Tea, Inc. The six blends were created based on Native American legends and stories.

Strands of turquoise nuggets at Native Winds sell for $12.25 to $49.95. Most of the inexpensive turquoise available in America today is imported from China.

But the highlight will be the shop's collection of contemporary and traditional turquoise jewelry designed by notable American Indian artists including Ray Tracey (Navajo), Andy Lee Kirk and his daughter, Melanie Kirk Lente (Isleta Pueblo/Navajo), as well as artisans from Hawaii.

Aside from the familiar blue-green turquoise -- resulting from the presence of copper (blue turquoise) or iron (green) -- there will be pieces featuring rare White Buffalo turquoise, which is creamy-white with black or purple veins.

For Native Americans, turquoise is one of four stones representing creation and the history of humankind, its value inherent long after today's fashionista pronounces the trend over and out.

"I'd like people to know that turquoise is something special to Native Americans. It helps us to define ourselves," said Marlene Badwarrior, who will be among the models at "Tea and Turquoise."

Turquoise in the Navajo culture represents man's journey through four worlds, each represented by a particular mineral, she said. The first was a black world represented by obsidian or jet. The second was the blue world, represented by turquoise in memory of a great flood.

"In the second world the creatures messed up and it made the gods angry, so they flooded the world," Badwarrior said. "From there they moved into the next world which was yellow (represented by the white shell), and the glittering world, which is what we're living in now, represented by the abalone shell, because it has so many colors.

"The turquoise is something we value because of our history; it's something that's sacred."

The Navajo, or Dine, people have carried turquoise as a talisman of good fortune, to ensure successful hunts or warriors' victory.

To this day, "A lot of us (Navajo) carry something called corn pollen to bless ourselves, and inside our pouches we carry turquoise. It's believed to be part of our protection, along with our powder," said Badwarrior, whose surname is from her Sioux, or Lakota husband. The name dates to the Civil War era, when English speakers could not pronounce the name Zuyasica, which translated to "most feared warrior."

Sarayl Yellowhorse wears a silver neck cuff and a silver and turquoise bear fetish pendant handcrafted by Navajo artist Ray Tracey. The cuff sells for $60 and the pendant is $210 at Native Winds Gift Gallery and Craft Supply in Kaimuki.

Turquoise jewelry at Native Winds start at $6 for stud earrings to about $500 for a yei (holy person) pin of silver, lapis lazuli and turquoise.

In addition, Native Winds carries strands of turquoise beads and irregular nuggets ranging from about $12.25 to $49.95 per unfinished 16-inch strand, for those who want to create their own necklaces or bracelets.

Much of the turquoise being used today is imported from China due to the depletion of American mines. While some Southwestern turquoise is still available, the price makes it prohibitive for use by Native Americans, whose prices are deemed high in comparison to imported imitations, which is a source of frustration to the Native American artists.

Sarayl Yellowhorse, a Navajo, said that while she appreciates the sudden popularity of turquoise -- now being worn by entertainers such as Destiny's Child and Blu Cantrell, she wishes Native American artists could get as much recognition as The Gap for bringing turquoise into the public eye.

For the artists living on reservations, the handmade jewelry is their primary source of income. "They have to compete with wholesale factories that make it look real when it's not real," Yellowhorse said.

Anticipating turquoise's eventual rotation in the fashion cycle, Badwarrior pleads, "Don't throw it away. This is not something that just follows a trend."

"It's not something we wear only because we think it looks cool," Yellowhorse said. "When I wear my jewelry it represents where I came from. The pieces I wear have been passed down from generation to generation and tells a story. It shows strength and pride in being a Navajo."

'Tea and Turquoise'

Where: Native Winds Gift Gallery and Craft Supply, 1152 Koko Head Ave. Suite 202
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday
Admission: Free
Call: 734-8018

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --