The history of the Navajo people is one of struggle and endurance. After being pushed from their native lands by the United States, and then eventually being given back a portion of their lands to live on, the Navajo people have had to endure terrible treatment. Despite decades of this however, the Navajo people endured, still supporting their rich culture. From traditional ceremonies to belief systems to mythology, the Navajo people remain a culture gem in the United States.
There are many symbols that people think of when they imagine the Navajo. From head dresses to buffalo, some of these symbols can be more accurate then others. One symbol in particular that people often associate with Native Americans is the Tomahawk. Let’s take a look at what the Tomahawk is, as well as how it evolved throughout Navajo culture, the role it played within that culture, and the modern uses of Tomahawks in our society. Though the following guide is expansive, it is not all encompassing. If you are interested in Tomahawks or the greater Navajo culture, then don’t stop here. Keep reading and learning.
What is a Tomahawk?
A Tomahawk is a specific kind of ax. Sometimes referred to as a hatchet, the Tomahawk has a straight shaft with axe head on the end. It is small in size, and can be used with a single hand. It has multiple applications, from wood cutting to self-defense. It came into the English language in the 17th century as an adaptation of another word.
How Did Tomahawks Evolve Into What We Use Today?
The origin of the Tomahawk goes well back into the earliest days of the Navajo people. The earliest Tomahawk was thought to be nothing more then a stick and rock. The rock would be sharpened and stuck onto the end of a stick. Bands of material would hold the two together. The head of the Tomahawk would have to be frequently replaced. Other Tomahawk heads include sharpened dear antlers. Finally, some of the earliest Tomahawk simply used rounded stones instead of sharp stones.
This design changed as the Navajo people began metal crafting with the coming of Europeans. The use of iron as an axe head meant a more powerful tool, as well as a stronger and more durable tool. In addition, the use of iron meant that the tool could be smaller, easier to carry around, and light weight. Because of these features, the Tomahawk took off as a personal tool and weapon throughout the Navajo people.
What are the General Dimensions of a Tomahawk?
A Tomahawk measures roughly two feet, or sixty one centimeters in length. The wooden handle is traditionally made of only a few kinds of wood, including maple, ash, and hickory. The heads almost always are of iron, and weight less then a kilogram. In addition, the edge of the blade gets as large as four inches in length. The other end of the Tomahawk is normally empty. However, there are versions of the Tomahawk that include hammers or counter balances to the axe head. Though rare, the Tomahawk sometimes has a metal instead of wooden handle.
What Role Did Tomahawks Play in Navajo Culture?
Tomahawks were a necessary tool for Navajo people in their daily life. From cutting wood and lengths of rope, to being used as a source of protection, the Tomahawk evolved to fit the needs of the Navajo. In addition, there are several instances of Tomahawks being exchanged as peace gifts between different groups, as well as being included in the dowry prior to a wedding. Finally, several ceremonial Tomahawk have been created and designed to serve no other purpose but through ritual.
Modern Uses for Tomahawks
Tomahawk have recently surged in popularity in the United States, after dropping off since the last major craze in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Tomahawk throwing has been at the popularity of this resurgence, along with a martial art called Okichitwa, which uses fighting techniques seen during the colonial era. Tomahawk throwing competitions are a part of many “mountain men” sports competitions, leading to innovate Tomahawk designs using newer materials and better understanding of the underlying physics behind the Tomahawk.
In addition, Tomahawks have seen use in modern conflicts. Some US soldiers fighting in Vietnam were given Tomahawks, leading to them being called Vietnam Tomahawks. The most recent war in Afghanistan saw brigades across multiple countries using Tomahawks.
Tomahawk are also frequently used as a training weapon. Because of their small size, usability and low cost in replacing, Tomahawks have become one of the first weapons that people train to use. In addition, all this resurgence of Tomahawks in popular culture has led to movies and videos games to include Tomahawks as well, spreading their use throughout American culture.