Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Length: 100.000 cm
Room 26: North America
Navajo, 2nd half of the 19th
From North America
The belt has eight domed conchas (literally 'shells'), made from a silver coins decorated with punched and stamped designs round the edges, cut-out diamond centres for the strap, and a silver buckle.
This type of belt was originally worn by Navajo men, but today by men and women, both Native and non-Native.
The Navajo learnt silver working from Mexican silversmiths while imprisoned by the U.S. Army at Bosque Redondo, on the eastern plains of New Mexico. Thousands of Navajo people had been starved into submission and forced to march to Bosque Redondo in the winter of 1864, a distance of over 350 miles from their lands in the north-western New Mexico Territory.
Despite the Indians' labour at planting crops, digging irrigation ditches and building housing, nothing seemed to work. Drought, hail, and alkaline river water created severe living conditions for the nearly 9,000 captives. Wood was scarce; Comanche raided the livestock, and food was in short supply. In 1868, the army finally admitted the failure of the Bosque Redondo, and the Navajo negotiated a treaty with the government acknowledging their sovereignty over their homelands.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)