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The Importance of Lizards in Southwest Native American Culture
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The Importance of Lizards in Southwest Native American Culture

Lizards are extremely common figures in Native American art, especially from tribes in the southwest.  You can find lizards on Native American earrings and other jewelry, as well as pottery and plenty of other art pieces.

What does the lizard mean and symbolize?  It can have several interpretations.

The Lizard as a Symbol of Prosperity and Survival

The deserts of the American southwest are harsh and unforgiving.  Death comes easily, and it’s difficult to thrive.  Yet lizards are some of the most prolific of the desert residents, able to easily hide during the day, and find ways to survive during the night.

So, perhaps it’s no surprise that Native tribes would look to the lizard for inspiration.  To see a lizard out and about is considered lucky in many tribes.  Some even take this further, such as Great Plains tribes tying newborns’ umbilical cords into lizard shapes in hopes of improving their chances of success.

The Lizard as Healer

Another remarkable and notable aspect of lizards is their advanced ability to heal.  Many lizards can lose and regrow their tails, or other parts of their body, sometimes even multiple times throughout their lives.  Shedding their skin to grow can also be seen as a form of healing and renewal.

So, tribes such as the Navajo directly tie the lizard to ideas of healing, health, and even resurrection.  Stories circulate of lizards helping people and spirits survive in the desert, even using magical healing powers to undo damage.

Some tribes even take this further.

The Lizard as a Spiritual Link

Numerous tribes – including the Hopi, Navajo, and Pomo – all see the lizard as a spiritual creature.  According to the Pomo, for example, Lizard and Coyote once wrestled to determine who would be able to decide how humans would look.  Ultimately Lizard won, and that’s why humans have five-fingered hands rather than paws.

The Hopi have a figure called Monongya Katsina, a lizard spirit that can be called upon during ceremonies.  Monongya Katsina acts as both a guide to Hopi behavior but also chastises those who behave poorly.  By looking to the lizard for guidance, they reinforce their own culture.

Palms Trading Company

Since the 1960s, Palms Trading Company has been known for its partnership with local Native American tribes.  Our authentic Native American art is created by genuine tribal members and can be excellent additions to any collection.