Naja (pronounced na-ha) – also najahe and názhah in the Navajo language means “crescent shape” or “curve”.
According to Arthur Woodward in “Navajo Silver, A brief history of Navajo Silversmithing”:
“This emblem was old when Columbus crossed the ocean to the new world. It was wide spread from Africa to Serbia. In short, it was an Old World amulet fastened to horse trappings, preferably the bridle, to ward off the evil eye from the animal. These crescent shaped amulets were made of two boars tusks joined together or fashioned out of brass, iron, silver, gold, or bronze. The Romans had them, so did the Moors. The bridle trappings of the conquistadors no doubt carried these same traditional ornaments.”
The Naja, a talisman used on the browband of Moorish Horses, is thought to have been handed down from the Spanish Moors to Spanish caballeros in Mexico. It is unclear whether the Navajo adopted the crescent directly from the Spanish or from the Plains Indians where the symbol first appeared in North America.
All-silver najas and necklaces were fashionable in the 1870s among the early Navajo silversmiths who created pieces for their own joy (per Dubin ). This was the beginning of the so-called Classic Period.
Early pieces were hammered or cast.
After 1880 (per Paula Baxter “Encyclopedia of Native American Jewelry”) the setting of stones began.
There are many variations of the naja including inlay, petit point, needle point, the addition of hands, a completely closed crescent and more. Although the Navajo are most closely connected to the use of the naja, Hopi and Zuni artists used the symbol as well.
The naja is the central portion of squash blossom necklaces.