American Indian Tomahawk

Want to know the history of Indian tomahawks? Read on to discover how the Indian tomahawk is a weapon and a symbol of peace…

The Indian tomahawk is one of the iconic symbols which identify Native Indian origins. It serves multiple purposes in terms of its utility and has an interesting history.
The word tomahawk is derived from the term tamahak from the Algonquian language. In the 15th century it was utilized to describe any tool or weapon crafted with a stone head. Later on it evolved to encompass any weapon or tool used as a striker. It was then commonly used to identify a hatchet like tool or weapon owned by Natives in America.

Modern Day Tomahawk

Today the Tomahawk is used to classify a light tool or hatchet made with a metal striking head fitted on a wooden handle. The handles were created out of strong wood which was locally available.

It is often easy to spot an original tomahawk because even though it is engineered with precision, you can see the rough finish of the hand strokes on any handle of a handmade tomahawk. They are manufactured profusely in Europe and America but the Native Indians continue to make their original pieces to date.

The basic tomahawk is simple and of high utility but there are some elaborately designed ones too. These are generally carved and embellished to be presented as ceremonial or commemorative items.

Laden with pewter or silver, the fancy tomahawk was often presented to tribal chiefs as a friendly gesture on signing a treaty or sealing alliances. Those created for personal use by an artisan were decorated with items of the owner’s choice.

Embellishments and Décor of the Tomahawk

Different eras have seen a change in use of materials in creating the tomahawk. Some of them were polished to a smooth finish, still others were carved or scalloped with precision to make handling easier and the haft looked decorative.

Copper and brass wire was often wound around the base to give it a personalized touch. Apart from this, pieces of leather, cloth and hide were suspended from it. It would further be painted with pigments if the artisan desired.

The metals used were mainly iron and brass with steel cutting edges. But when this was replaced by solid brass the tomahawk could no longer be utilized to chop wood. The other side of the hammer, opposite to the cutting edge had different purposes. There could be a spike, a pipe bowl or ever a hammer poll at the other end.
Of course, the most special tomahawk was the one with a pipe bowl at the end. The handle was hollow in order to serve this function making it a very coveted tomahawk.

Trade Influx of Native Indian Goods

When European Americans saw the utility of the tomahawk, they began crafting it with fine metals and traded it against fur with the Iroquoian Indians.

When treaties and alliances were forged with the Natives, they were often gifted with an elaborately carved or gilded tomahawk as a sign of honor. This weapon was both a life saving tool and of high economic utility also and later on translated into a symbol of peace.

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