Behavior


If anyone stays out for over four nights it is concluded that he "must not have done anything good." Pg. 47

 

Navajo Chantway Myths, 1957; Katherine Spencer

In the Navajo Way, one who wins too often must find a way to give others a better chance.

Moderation in all things might be the motto of the traditional Navajo culture.

.... the Navajo Way places on harmony/contentment/peace. The Navajo word for this concept is hozho, usually translated as "beauty". But it means far more than beauty, even in the broadest meaning of that word. attaining hozho, regaining it when it is lost, perfecting it, is the ultimate goal of Navajo ceremonialism and the center of Navajo philosophy. Pg. 14

Likewise, a Navajo may not believe that wearing a ring on the thumb or forefinger made him a witch, but he wouldn't be caught dead doing it all the same. Why draw unnecessary negative attention from peers? Pg. 42

It is encouraging that today many people are rediscovering these truths, and in America, the Indians have been the major preservers of this sometimes more sensitive way of life with its emphasis on concern for the feelings of others and the rights of the animals and environment of the natural world. Of course, in this day and age, many Navajos have long since abandoned this aspect of traditional life as pure superstition, much to their loss. Pg. 43

Navajo Taboos; 1991, Ernie Bulow.

Riches, like food, are to be shared with a man's family and, by extension, his clan and related clans. A Navajo leader once said: "You can't get riches if you treat your relatives right. You can't get rich without cheating people. Cheating people is the wrong way. That way gets you into trouble. Men should be honest to get along." Pg. 32

The Book of the Navajo; 1976, Raymond Friday Locke.

Witherspoon called movement "the basis of life," saying that "life is exemplified by movement," Young and Morgan translate the verb stem, naal, as "a stem which has to do with movement, life, and duration." Clearly, these concepts are closely related in the Navajo view of the world. This conception of the universe as a place of motion and process means that no state of being is permanently fixed. Thus, beauty, balance, and orderliness are conditions that must be continuously recreated. As we will see, this emphasis on dynamic order and regeneration means that sacredness with regard to space, such as the physical boundaries of sacred space within and around a consecrated hogan, and sacredness with regard to ceremonial objects, such as the chanter's jish (medicine bundle) and Nightway masks, must also be continually renewed. While outer, ritual actions can renew harmonious, balanced conditions, the individual can also bring about these desired qualities by thinking about them. Thought is creative and attractive in the sense that people create their world through their thoughts. Through hozho ntsekees, right thinking, people draw desirable experiences to them. The quality of one's thoughts determines the quality of one's life. Because life is an ongoing process, one must continue to practice hozho ntsekees in order to live a life characterized by balance and harmony. The Navajo recognize that thought is a vital aspect of any creative act. The Holy People spent time thinking about and planning the Creation before they took action. (Wyman 1970a: 113-14). . . . . . Navajos accept nature and adapt themselves to her demands as best they can, but they are not utterly passive, not completely the pawns of nature. They do a great many things that are designed to control nature physically and to repair damage caused by the elements. But they do not even hope to master nature. For the most part, the People try to influence her with songs and rituals, but they feel that the forces of nature, rather than anything that man does, determine success or failure . . . . . . . . Many white people have the opposite view; namely, that nature is a malignant force with useful aspects that must be harnessed, and useless, harmful ones that must be shorn of their power . . . . . Their premise is that nature will destroy them unless they prevent it; the Navajos' is that nature will take care of them if they behave as they should and do as she directs. Kluckhohn and Leighton (1962:308) Pgs. 25-27
"The Holy People are never described as being perfect because we aren't perfect either. They teach us to strive for perfection but to be compassionate and patient with ourselves if we fall short." Pg. 31

Earth is my Mother, Sky is my Father, Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting; 1992, Trudy Griffen-Pierce.

A Navaho's life cycle is called "a walk through time." Living in the present and doing so in harmony with the universe is of utmost importance. Pg. 377

Kinaalda', A Study of the Navaho Girl's Puberty Ceremony; 1993, Charlotte Johnson Frisbie.

To the Navaho, religion means ritual. The song, the myth, the material properties, the ritualistic acts, the rites that make up the ceremonies are held together by an elaborate system of symbolism, a sum total of numerous associations . . . . Good then in Navaho dogma is control. Evil is that which is ritually not under control . . . . . One who knows how to keep things in order has the key to life's problems . . . . . One purpose of ritual is to extend the personality so as to bring it into harmonious relation with the powers of the universe.

Reichard, Navaho Religion, I, 3-4, 5, 14, 35.

Estsa-assun, the First Woman, did not want Estsan-ah-tlehay to go to the west, but the gods said: "It must be so, and she must start in the morning." When morning came, they had the Ceremonial-Before-Traveling. First, Estsan-ah-tlehay made some white shell ceremonial mush, and Estsa-assun made red shell mush. Estsan-ah-tlehay made the mush in a big black pot, and as they stirred the coals under it they said a prayer, and while they stirred it with a pudding stick, they prayed again, raising the stick towards the sky. Then the gods and the twelve people who were going to the west sat down on one side of the hogahn, while those who were opposed to their going sat on the other side. Then the people with Estsan-ah-tlehay ate, rubbing themselves and blessing their food, and praying to be strong and not tired during the journey. Estsa-assun, who made the red shell mush, and the people with her grabbed the food, eating it carelessly, and drinking hot water. They represent the careless people who are angry against the gods, and those who eat in this way bring sickness. The gods who ate the white shell mush ate slowly, praying and behaving properly, which is the ceremony of eating. Estsa-assun told the people that when they increased very much, there would be earthquakes and war between them. Etsay-Hasteen, her husband, said nothing because he could not speak against his wife, but he felt very badly. Pg. 109

Navajo Creation Myth, The Story of the Emergence; 1942, Mary C. Wheelwright.

Her uncle, who was a Hail Chant medicine man, had accompanied the women and chanted prayers over Ahson Tsosie and the new baby. As soon as the child was breathing evenly, he was given a sponge bath with a herb infusion and then was thoroughly greased with melted goat tallow. No clothing had been prepared before his birth, for that would have brought bad luck, but hte aunt had a square of soft buckskin which she used for a blanket. The baby was placed on the pallet beside his mother with the top of his head toward the central fire. If it had been a warm, sunny day, the top of his head would have been put in the sunshine, since heat was thought to be necessary for a baby to grow tall and strong like the corn or the sunflower.
Ahson tsosie and the baby stayed in the shelter four days and four nights, being cared for by the aunt and uncle, before Hoskay Nol-yae was notified that he had a son and the birth was announced to the rest of the family. If during this time the baby had died, it would have been quietly buried and never have been counted as being alive. On the fifth day the father came to see it, bringing soft awaytsal cotton for its bed and two well-tanned kid pelts for the covers. As the weeks passed, the baby was occasionally fed a little mare's milk to build strong bones and teeth; to insure a strong heart, it was given broth from stewed goat's hearts.
No name was given at this time, only "Away Eskay," meaning "Baby Boy," which is the name of all Navajo boy babies before they exhibit some characteristic or some unusual mark is discovered on their bodies to suggest a name. The latter is only a nickname, however, for, after their naming rites, they are given a ceremonial name, which is considered their personal property and seldom known to anyone outside their immeditate family. Pgs. 76-77

Hosteen Klah, Navajo Medicine Man and Sand Painter; 1964, Franc Johnson Newcomb.

Whether in the city or in the wilderness, one can always make friends. A little kindness and consideration are all it takes. Often we judge others exclusively by their outward appearance and shun them. And yet it took only a few words and gesticulations to establish a warm relationship between this old Navajo gentleman and myself.
Here was a man who in his teens had fought for his tribe. He had served a term as prisoner for a cause in which he believed. He had contributed to the propagation of his race. and now near the end of the trail his wife was ill and the accumulations of his lifetime were being dissipated in order to forestall his companion's death. When the medicine men danced to dispel the evil spirits, hundreds of people came to join him in celebrating his wife's assured recovery. Hosteen Nidle Kloy, though he had spent his whole life in very simple surroundings, had been beset with tribulations and sorrow, intermingled with happiness even as you and I.

Among the child visitors was a shepherd fourteen years old who visited our camp in the company of his uncle. The boy never said a word for almost an hour. Not even when I teased him by saying he had no tongue, though the idea sent him into hysterical laughter. It was not until after his uncle had given him permission that he began talking to us. I learned for the first time that Navajo children will not speak in the presence of adults until they are given permission to do so.

Navajos, Gods, Tom-toms; By S.H. Babington, 1950.

A good Navajo is, therefore, an individual who can and may make his own decisions, but he is most stable if he has social corroboration. To this end he must develop fortitude, particularly to endure the often exorbitant demands of his physical environment, a major requirement of the economic life and the religious dogma. Ideally, the `good' individual should be industrious, dependable, tractable, skillful, good-humored. He should be able to live with others without friction, for social relations are a part of the universal scheme with demands harmony for right living. If he has certain of these qualities he may be expected to obtain wealth, which will help to make him respected. If, however, his skill and management make him wealthy too quickly, particularly if he gains property through stinginess or refuses to help his kin, he may be accused of chicanery, or worse, of practicing sorcery, especially if one of his skills is chanting.

Bowed head means, for one thing, acknowledgment of superior power.
When The Twins asked Sun for power to overcome Big Monster, he bowed his head, holding it in his hands, and remained speechless for some time. When he raised his head, there were tears in his eyes.

Sun's behavior signified his resignation, acceding to the request for aid to man, for until then he had worked primarily on the side of evil.
The tales imply that all creatures and powers bowed before Changing Woman.
When Changing Woman came into the assembly of the gods, each one bowed his head.
The sacred mountains bowed to the people returning from a visit, presumably to acknowledge the power of 'their mother,' Changing Woman.

Many powers bowed to acknowledge The Twins' power, and also to indicate fear, an emotion not a part of the respect paid to Changing Woman.
The gods assembled for the Hail Chant house blessing, and, as Talking God and xactc'e'oyan stood ready to sing, the audience was told to bow their heads and place their hands, palms up, on their knees as The Twins entered and blessed the hogan; the people were thus to receive the gods' power.
Talking God was overcome by Monster Slayer when he gave the symbol called 'acme 'i' and its explanation to the War Ceremony. Talking God, his head bowed low, moved off toward the east.
Frog bowed his head after he had accepted the offering for Rainboy's restoration.
There seems to be a slight variation of head bowing in the case of sorcerers, who, when defeated, hung their heads between their knees in surrender.
The bowed head is also a sign of relative humility or respect, a meaning differing not in kind but in degree, according to the status of the two persons meeting. A girl confronted by a strange man, for instance, bowed her head and rubbed her feet together; the behavior indicated that the girl had been properly reared.
Novices bowed their heads before the gods; the Stricken Twin who could see was so overcome by the beauty of Talking God and the Holy People that he lowered his head.
Rainboy hung his head, apparently in doubt, as he hesitated to accept the power of Spotted Thunder (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; 1944d, pp. 13, 23, 31, 53, 147; Haile 1938b, pp.107, 163; Wheelwright 1942, pp. 118-9; Matthews 1897, p.187; 1902, pp. 213, 217, 218).

Hand clapping is mentioned several times in the myths in such a way that it seems to be ritualistic; I have never seen it.
The song leader of the War Ceremony claps his hands as an accompaniment of four songs.
When The Twins, being trained by Talking God and xactc'e'oyan, beat the gods in a race, the latter showed their pleasure by laughing and clapping their hands.
Talking God clapped his hands as he laughed with glee when the hero of the Mountain Chant tried to get into a hole too small for him. At another time he bade his companions go ahead of him as they approached his house. They refused and, after the fourth time, he clapped his hands, uttered his call, and led them in.

In the Flint Chant, Talking God clapped his hands as a sign of hope (Haile 1938b, p. 243; 1943a, p. 59; Matthews 1887, pp. 399, 410; 1897, p. 106).

Inexhaustible food, water, tobacco supply is frequently referred to in myth. A supernatural being offers a tiny receptacle, often a yellow food bowl, or a tiny water cup. The recipient takes all he can, never succeeds in emptying it. The owner, with one mouthful or one sweep of the fingers, exhausts the contents and returns the utensils to his pouch. The mush-eating rite demonstrates the inexhaustible theme; one should eat a lot so that one will always have plenty (cp. Corn, Mush; Matthews 1897, pp. 165, 199; 1902, pp. 168, 186, 204, 216, 243; Haile 1938b, pp. 105, 133).

Navajo Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950

I share the Navajo belief that knowledge is alive and that it needs to be shared, to be kept alive and passed on. Knowledge is a living force to be used to enrich the lives of others. I also share the Navajo belief that while it is good to pass on knowledge, it is equally important to know which portions of one's knowledge are appropriate to withhold. The most sacred personal knowledge one must retain, passing it on only at the end of one's life. The implication is that by sharing all that one knows, by giving it all away, one completes one's life.

I believe that it is also true, as a Navajo friend told me, that by sharing everything one is stripped bare, degraded. This is one key to the natural dignity of the Navajo. In contrast to many Anglos who strive for immediate intimacy as they bare their souls with revelations, Navajos, even those whom one knows well, have a natural reserve in at least some areas in their lives.

Earth is my Mother, Sky is my Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting;
1992, Trudy Griffen-Pierce.