Like all Native American artwork and symbols, any particular tribal design means something different, depending on the tribe that has used it. However, it is possible to group the designs into categories that have the same basic meanings:
Natural Forces and Objects. Many tribal designs are based on naturally-occurring forces or events that may or may not have a spiritual meaning. Clouds, stars, and the sun fit into this classification. Every tribe has a unique way of representing these forces; and each one may contribute a unique spiritual force to these natural objects. Sometimes a group will also have a symbol that means change or choice; and this symbol may signify choosing paths that lead to harmony within life and with nature. Spirits. Many tribal designs can fit into this category, as much of Indian tribal art if focused around mans relationship with the spiritual realm. There are common symbols such as Kokopelli, which usually signifies fertility. The Kokopelli is usually depicted as an old man playing his flute and is found in many variations among various tribes. Other spiritual symbols may stand for spiritual protection, or mans influence over the natural world. Animals. Because animals are such an integral component of Native Americans relationship with the surrounding world, many of the tribal designs are depictions of native animals. It is important to remember that all of these animal symbols have a meaning that exceeds a literal representation. For example, a bear often stands for protection and leadership; which is why a bear symbol is placed on a leaders warrior shield or other personal belongings. Patterns. Even the patterns that make up borders and edges of tribal designs may have a spiritual meaning. Spirals may mean cycles, or water; a blocked pattern could signify change and direction. It would not be far-reaching to say that every imprint sewn a blanket or weaved into a basket has a meaning that the artist worked intentionally to convey.
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