Night Chant


The night chant, and some of the mountain chants, occasionally close with a public exhibition by masked personators, which, however, is not essential to the chant but optional with the patient. When the night chant is to be closed privately, or like any ordinary chant, the masked personators perform inside the hogan, and the mountain chant is limited, in a similar event, to five nights, with the exclusion of drum and dancers. In public, the personators perform in a corral, and for the mountain chant, around a huge fire built in the center of this corral, which accounts for the popular names of the corral and fire dances for these two chants. These corrals or enclosures are made of brushwork, set up after sunset, which, in the mountain chant, is done under the direction of the masked personator of Speaking God, who gives his directions by gestures and his usual call only. The corral is of the same shape for every public exhibition, and has but one opening in the east, though at dawn the enclosure is broken at the other cardinal points also.

The personators for the night chant disrobe to the breechclout and moccasins, paint their bodies with white clay, and adorn themselves with a silver belt, and the skin of a kit fox dangling in their rear. Each dons one of the masks, after which they are not allowed to speak, and enter the corral in single file, in which position they dance to the beat of a drum. They leave the corral after some time and make way for another set of dancers to whom they give their masks and regalia. This is continued until dawn is announced, after which the corral is opened. In the mountain chant the personators, such as the two performing the feat of swallowing the arrows, and the fire dancers, are not masked, but disrobe, and paint their bodies for protection from the excessive heat. A variety of legerdemain was in vogue at this dance, such as the growing of yucca, the dancing porcupine quill, and other performances, which took up the intervals. Originally, custom required the messengers, or meal sprinklers, to invite foreign tribes to contribute with their magic for the occasion. Later these invitations extended only to the shamans of the tribe whose insignia, when they had such, were borne to the place of celebration by the messenger. Eventually, much of this formality was dropped, as performances of magic are exposed to the ridicule of the younger generation, so that invitations to the various lodges of medicine men are extended merely as a matter of courtesy. The various performances, however, are responsible for such designations of the mountain chant as the fire dance, growing hashkan, or hashkan dance, etc., just as the night chant is sometimes designated as the Yeibichai dance from the leading personator.

Ordinarily, a ceremony is performed over a single patient. It is permissible, however, to conduct a ceremony for two patients of the same sex, so that, for instance, a ceremony may not be held over man and wife simultaneously. A singer may conduct a ceremony over his own wife, but not for his own benefit, for which he must call on the services of another singer. In the event of two patients there are two meal or pollen sprinklers at the public exhibition in place of the customary single one. Other changes take place in the various songs, and especially in the distribution of the prayersticks. The night chant is performed over persons as well as over the masks themselves. An instance of this kind has been mentioned in the dedication of a new set of masks. Another instance is the purification of a set of masks defiled by the death of its owner, or that of the patient for whom the chant is conducted. In this event the masks may not be used again unless the night chant, specifically the vigil, has been performed over them. It is customary that guests attending the close of a ceremony partake of a repast at the hogan where it takes place. At public exhibitions, where the multitude of visiting guests is unusually large, this has been abolished, and is now limited to the meals which the patient must provide for the singer and his assistants. At the smaller ceremonies of one and five nights' duration meals are served to the guests about midnight. Accordingly, the meal served there is sometimes referred to as the close of a ceremony. Pgs. 376-378

An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navaho Language; 1910, The Franciscan Fathers.