Native Village Youth and Education News
October, 2009


Tribute to the ancestors
By Marley Shebala
Condensed by Native Village

If Darryl Dean Begay's great-grandfather, Deschiinii Sani, had not returned from Hwééldi (Place of Suffering), his descendent wouldn't be here.

And so could not have won the top prize at the 88th Annual Santa Fe Indian Market.

A silver concho belt created by Darryl and his wife Rebecca became the first piece of jewelry in years to win the "Best in Show" award.

It was Darryl's great grandfather who gave them the theme for their entry, "Return From the Long Walk."  The belt is a story of Deschiinii and other Navajos who managed to survive the Navajo long march and  4-years internment at Fort Sumner, N.M., before returning home.

Altogether, "Return From the Long Walk" has 15 conchos, each 3 inches high, and the buckle. Twelve conchos are human figures, each with a piece of turquoise set in the face. The single set of turquoise is Begay's artistic signature.

"And like my grandpa use to say, you're suppose to have a piece of turquoise with you so the Holy Ones recognize you," said Darryl, who is Yé'ii dine'é Táchii'nii (Giant People division of the Red Running into Water Clan), born for Ta'neeszahnii (Tangle Clan).

Together the conchos tell the story of the Navajos' return from Hwééldi. The buckle shows a Navajo man walking west and leading a young girl. Her mother, grandmother, and two children are riding a horse. The grandmother carries a baby in a cradleboard on her back.

In the background is the sacred mountain, Tsoodzil, which marks the southernmost point of Dinétah, the land given to the Navajos by the Holy Ones. There is also a Rainbow Yé'ii (Holy One), and petroglyphs on the ground where the people are walking. The rock art represents prayers, Begay said.

The extensive detail, textured surfaces and dense symbolism are characteristic of Begay's jewelry, which is carried at galleries throughout the Southwest.

Each intricately detailed concho was created from a cast carved in tufa stone, which is made of compressed volcanic ash. The technique ensures one-of-a-kind creations, because the stone is destroyed as the silver casting is freed.

Darryl, who is from Round Rock, Ariz., learned the art of tufa casting from his uncle, Bobby Begay, and the influences of  Raymond C. Yazzie and Myron Panteah.

Three years ago, his wife Rebecca joined in, and now both are creating art full-time from their studio in Gallup.

Together they have taken tufa casting, one of the oldest jewelry techniques used by the Navajos, to new heights of artistic expression.

The Begays have won a number of prestigious awards. Last year a sterling silver seed pot by Rebecca won best of jewelry and best miniature awards at the Santa Fe Indian Market. Their work also appears in serious books on Native art.


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