Dine'

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The Navajos are the Arabs of the American desert. In some respects they resemble the nomad tribes of the Kurdistan Mountains in Asia Minor. Racially, however, the Navajos are of different origin. They are classified as belonging to the red race, unlike the Arabs and Kurds, who are white. It is remarkable to see such distinctly different people in such widely remote parts of the world carrying on a similar type of life, dictated by environment. For it is the scarcity of water and forage that makes the Navajo a nomad. He is constantly forced to locate another spring or water hole or a new area in which to graze his sheep. However, during the last thirty-five years he has been building permanent homes, and his arable corn land and forage areas have been increased by means of flood irrigation. No one knows exactly how the Navajos, as well as the rest of their kin, appeared on the American continent. The first mention of the Navajos was made in a Spanish memoir in 1630. The general consensus of opinion is that their ancestors came over ten thousand years ago from Central Asia by way of the Bering Sea. There has always been a question as to how this could have been accomplished without connecting land or perpetual ice in the sea. Father Hubbard, who spent a year on King Island a small rocky piece of land almost halfway between the two continents, found that a walrus-skin boat, for centuries in common use among the cliff dwellers of the island, is suitable for long-distance trips. This is merely an additional proof of the ease with which Indians could have landed in America. the distance between the two continents is not great - only forty miles from Siberia to King Island and ninety miles from there to Nome, Alaska. John Wetherill contends that the theory of the Bering Sea origin of the Navajos is wrong, as the the Navajos know southern plants and animals while they do not know those of the north. Had they come from the north, the reverse would be true.

The Navajos have their own ideas as to their origin. According to one of the legends, their ancestors traveled through eleven lower worlds before settling on this earth. They think of these worlds as chambers, one on top of the other. They have climbed from one to another to reach the Here and Now. The first four were dark worlds, and the people were like animals in that they had no language. The second four were red worlds, and it was during this sojourn that they learned to speak. The last three were blue worlds. During this period they learned to make pottery. The present world, the twelfth, is referred to as the white or yellow world. Once here, Dinneh, the People, as they call themselves, did not become stationary. First they lived on a piece of land in the east. Later they came to the present locale after crossing water. This latter meager reference coincides well with our idea of their migration from Asia via the Bering Sea. The Navajos are of the Athapascan language group, related to the Apaches and other Athapascan Indians of Northwest Canada. They have no written language. They send their messages by word of mouth and the word travels very fast. In 1908 when a few white men were killed on the reservation, word of the incident was carried two hundred miles from hogan to hogan in two days. Occasionally they use hieroglyphs, a few specimens of which I saw on the sandstone walls of their canyons. Usually these are crude pictures of horses, goats, or sheep, through which they are trying to convey an idea. A dragon with its arms up means "flying." A dot with a circle around it means "migration." A dot with several parallel circles means "steps in migration as one proceeds from the original point." This usually refers to the steps in the Navajo tribe's migration. And yet despite the lack of written language, the Navajo expressions are picturesque. When they want to indicate that something happened in the spring, they often say; when a flock of ducks headed north...: If they wish to indicate that it took place in the fall, they tell of ducks headed south. Even words for naming a single object are picturesque. A cat is "Feet-make-no-noise"; a violin is "humming-wood"; a duck, "floating-by-its-own-power"; scissors, "iron-that-flashes-together."

Though it would seem impossible without a written language, the Navajos nevertheless have beautiful poetry which is handed down by word of mouth. Most of it deals with the origin of the Navajo tribe, the canniness of the coyote, the goodness of Navajo deities, the treachery of evil spirits, and related narratives and mythology. Navajo poetry is symbolic and full of sentiment. However, because of the Navajo's taciturnity it has received very little attention. Some of the traders and workers who have lived for years among the Navajos have gradually acquired some inkling and knowledge of their poetry, but few have attempted to write it. Pgs. 157-159

 

The Navajo squaws tend to be fat and short in stature compared with their men. The average Navajo is above five feet eight. They all have fine teeth and intelligent looking eyes. the men have narrow shoulders and hips, and their carriage is erect. They all have grim and severe countenances, but after you have won their confidence, they become friendly, joke and laugh, sometimes with a hysterical giggle. The traders who live among them report that the Navajos never fight among themselves. Ben Wetherill, who has grown up among them, once told me that he has seen them fight only twice. Of course, prior to the supervision of the Indians by the American Government, the Navajos warred upon neighboring Indian tribes, and they were considered the most ferocious fighters of their time. Although wars seldom break out among them these days, the Navajos still have natural antipathies for other tribes. Being nomadic, they are scorned by the so-called sedentary or pastoral Hopis, who make pottery, live in pueblos, and cultivate crops. The Navajos consider themselves superior to the Utes and Piutes, although the latter, too, are nomadic. Their contempt for these tribes finds expression in some of their legends. Sometimes,however, avoid the evils of inbreeding, Navajos take Piute wives. They firmly believe that the Cliff Dwellers became extinct because of close intermarriage among themselves.

White people are tempted to shed their clothes in the heat of the desert, but the Navajos are always well protected against the sun. the Navajo man wears one or even two brightly colored shirts, well buttoned at the neck and wrist; one or two pairs of jeans; and factory-made shoes or rust-colored moccasins made preferably of deerskin. His trousers are often covered by cowpunchers' chaps. He affects a wide-brimmed hat, but you can see his long hair done in a peculiar T-shaped loop at the nape of his neck with a band of cloth or strands of colored wool. Sometimes the men, especially the young ones, wear a colored handkerchief band around their foreheads instead of a hat. The men also wear jewelry:bead necklaces of varied patterns, and rings, bracelets, and earrings of silver and turquoise. Often their hat bands and leather belts are covered with silver pieces or multicolor beads strung into Indian designs. Most of the men appear clean shaven. What little hair grows on their faces they generally pull out by the roots. I can bear witness to this. One night I slept near a Navajo in one of our over-night camps. We had been very quietly lying on our horse blankets spread out on the sand when I noticed that my neighbor was a little jerky. So I began watching him carefully. He was placing his large hunting knife against a hair on his face and extracting it with a jerk. For some half-hour he proceeded systematically - first on one side of his face, then on the other.

The Navajo woman also protects herself against the sun and heat by wearing plenty of clothes. Her waist or jacket is made of bright well-lined velveteen, usually of a deep green color. Under each arm it has ventilation holes which look like tears to one unfamiliar with the Navajo design. It is made of one piece of cloth, plus the sleeves. A hole for the head is cut in the center of the material. Hence when the squaw is wearing one of these velvety shirts, you find that the nap in the front and the back runs in opposite directions. She wears several voluminous calico skirts, one on top of the other. The newest skirt is the topmost for a celebration, while the oldest comes to the surface when she is working in the field or doing housework. Thus her wardrobe is always with her. As a matter of fact she has no other place to keep it, for her house consists of but one room without cabinets or closets. The color of her tremendous pleated skirt is generally brown, but is is decorated at intervals with a few colored ribbons encircling its entire lower third. You may wonder how she makes all the pleats fall in place. That was the question I once asked a squaw who had made a Navajo skirt for my wife. Since it was brand new and had never been ironed, the pleats stuck out like a blown-up balloon. In answer to my query, the squaw moistened the skirt in a pool of rain water, wrung it out, and let it dry in the sun on a piece of sandstone. When it had thoroughly dried, its million pleats were all in place. The hard twisting she had given the skirt when she was wringing the water from it had done the trick. The Navajo woman wears rust-colored deerskin moccasins. Her legs from ankle to knee are wrapped in unbleached muslin. Her hair is done up like the man's, but more loosely and without headgear. However, if she has a blanket around her shoulders, she will usually pull it over her head. Though her ears are pierced, she does not always wear earrings. She has silver necklace, turquoise bracelets, rings and belts galore. Even her buttons are made of silver or American coins pounded into varied designs. As you approach her, she hangs her head in apparent modesty. Her eyes are usually large and brown and her teeth shiny. As a rule she will not talk to you unless she knows you very well.

As I have noted in preceding chapters, it is hard to get snapshots of these picturesque people. They will turn their backs just as the camera clicks. the younger women cover their faces or even run away. If a Navajo mother sees a white man with a camera, she will immediately run to hide her children. If she has a baby in the cradle, she will turn it around so that its face will not be visible. The Navajos fear any graphic representation of their persons. It splits one's personality. It duplicates him. If the duplicate (the picture) is lost or destroyed, the original (the person) will come to pretty much the same end:a curse of misfortune may fall upon him, or he may be haunted by a ghost that will enter his body. This fear is gradually disappearing. A few of them, when they feel a bond of friendship between themselves and a white man, will gracefully submit to the ordeal, even though they may have to take a treatment later to keep their children safe from the evil consequences. Still others are willing to take chances and be kodaked for a price. Pgs. 162-165

 

The Navajo fecundity is tremendous. The tribe has enlarged despite the white man's animosity and harshness of Nature. One reason is that the vast expanse of their country and their Nomadic way of life have prevented the overcrowding which is lethal to primitive people in the event of epidemics. Most other Indian tribes have decreased in size, some to the point of extinction, because they have no immunity to the white man's diseases, or because they could not withstand the encroachment of his civilization, with its "fire water" and its restrictions. In some places the Indians have been shoved off the more fertile land, where they were assured of water and game, into arid rocky regions where they were assured of water and game, into arid rocky regions where mere existence is too hard a problem for even the white man with his modern equipment to solve.

Although by nature nomadic, the Navajo has been adaptable to the extent of carrying on a limited agriculture, especially in the valley of the interesting San Juan River. He has learned to adjust his planting to the little rain his country receives. When there is no irrigating water, he plants his corn seeds eighteen inches deep and several feet apart in order to utilize every drop of rain that may fall. The Navajo does little hunting, since there is now almost no game in the country. He used to hunt deer, elk and antelope, but these animals are now practically extinct on the reservation. Occasionally he catches a rabbit or a prairie dog. bows and arrows, which in centuries past were commonly used both in hunting and in warfare, are rarely seen nowadays. Only once did I ever see a Navajo using the boomerang, known as rabbit-stick, although this implement is of common use among the Hopis. He chased the rabbit on horseback and threw the stick, breaking the animals legs. It is impossible that this weapon was introduced to our continent by the wandering Polynesians from other lands or vice versa. Pgs. 166-167

 

The Navajos still adhere a great deal to their old barter system, although with the introduction of American coin they have gradually learned the value of money, although with the introduction of American coin they have gradually learned the value of money, preferring silver to other types of exchange. When they need money, they frequently pawn their jewelry at the trading posts. Begging is unknown among them. They help the needy and ignore the idlers. The Navajo is not a very good business man, though he is shrewd. If he opens a store, he is sure to go broke within eight months. Having devoted most of his time for centuries to ceremonies in which he offers sacrifices to propriate his gods, the Navajo has developed the spirit of giving and sacrificing for his fellow tribesmen also. He will not turn away a relative. He will spend hundreds of his sheep on medicine dances to cure a friend or relative, if necessary. If he thinks you need something, he will give it to you. He is more devoted to his family and clan members than to his earthly goods.

The Navajo is very tenacious and, when he encounters difficulty, most ingenious. He must be steadfast and unremitting to reap a harvest from his arid environment. In this respect the Navajo is something like the Hollander. The Hollander has developed tenacity of character because of the overabundance of water which presents constant hardships, while the Navajo must constantly overcome the grievances and setbacks created by the lack of water. The Navajo will never just sit down and say nothing can be done; he will always seek some new solution. Though he may look surly or morose, he can always see the humorous side of things. The Navajo can laugh even at himself. Since he has many gods, each of whom is endowed with different powers and abilities, the Navajo is lenient with his friends who, after all, are mere mortals and can therefore easily err or fail to come up to his expectations. The Navajo is perhaps the only member of the human family who will not ridicule others. It is only since white people have educated him in Government schools that he has learned to ridicule the white man and make nasty remarks in the presence of others.

The Navajo does not take offense easily. This is partly due to his religion and partly to his nomadic way of life. In emergencies he has to depend solely on a few neighbors who are most likely to live many miles away. Transportation is by foot, mule, or horseback, over treacherous trails and through deep canyons. For these reasons he has learned to value his neighbor highly. He knows how to give as well as receive. When he meets a stranger, he will not smile; but if he knows a white man, a handshake is a "must." This particular custom he had borrowed wholeheartedly from the white man. I have often seen Navajos shaking hands among themselves. They are especially eager to shake the hand of a medicine man or an important person of their own tribe. Apparently they feel that it imparts something spiritual, just as the touch of a priest is considered a blessing among certain white people. On one occasion I saw a group who had come to witness a sand-painting ardently shake the hand of a medicine man's married daughter. Her father had been unable to attend, but they obviously believed that his daughter's handclasp possessed great efficacy. On the other hand, I have seen good friends who, when they encountered each other, gave no sign of recognition or greeting. At first this seemed very strange to me. Later, as I saw it happen again and again, I gave a great deal of thought to it. I sensed that this was a form of greeting in which one shows respect for the other by a moment of silence - a tribute we white people pay only after a person is dead. We publicly stand and bow our heads in silence for a man for whom we may not have had a single word of praise when he was living and would have appreciated our encouragement. Navajos honor and respect their living friends, but run away from the dead, leaving them to the care of a medicine man.

On my first visit to Rainbow Bridge I was riding in the company of two Navajos. We met two other Navajos coming toward us. When we were practically face to face, all four brought their horses to a sudden standstill, each pair motionless, staring into the far distance over the other couple's shoulders. They appeared stern. This lasted a minute. I was in a quandary and wondered if something were wrong. Then all of a sudden they began conversing in a friendly manner, to the point of hilarity. What a fine way of meeting your friend, showing respect by silence, instead of shouting and disturbing each other with meaningless words. In the wide open spaces, with the painted picturesque mesas as a background, the Navajo feels humble. The Navajo has contempt for anyone who loses his temper. He considers it disgraceful. When there is an argument, the council settles it. If he is treated as an equal by the white man, he is the most friendly person, but as John Wetherill used to say: "If you treat the Navajo with contempt, you will get it in the neck." Pgs. 171-173

 

Navajo society is matriarchal in contrast to our European system. The wife is supreme in the family, and the most important deities in the Navajo religion are females. Members of the family are known by her name, not her husbands. All property (except horses and saddles, which the husband usually owns) belongs to her. She supervises and directs family affairs. When she sells a sheep from the flock or a rug which she has woven, she uses the money so obtained in any way she pleases. In the days when the Navajo men went to war on other tribes, their women folk stayed with the children and whatever property they had. Although the men no longer go to that kind of war, they are very busy making war on disease and evil by means of their ceremonials; so they still leave a large part of the minor work and property with the women. Pg. 176

 

A maiden becomes a wife after a very simple ceremony. The young brave sends a close relative, usually an uncle, as intermediary to the girl's parents with an offer of gifts consisting usually of horses. If acceptable, toward evening of a set date the bridegroom appears at the girl's home, where many guests have gathered to participate in the feast. During the day, his parents have brought the horses and other gifts to the girl's home. Meanwhile the girl's parents have been busily engaged in the preparation of dinner for the wedding party. At the appointed hour the bridegroom enters the hogan first. Then follows the bride led by her father. Bride and groom sit on a blanket at the northwest side of the building. the bride's father sits or crouches nearby to wait on them. Before them is a basketful of plain corn gruel and a small jar of water with a gourd ladle. The relatives and friends file in next and sit on each side. When everyone is inside, the bride's father makes a cross over the top of the gruel by dropping white corn pollen from east to west and from south to north. Then he makes a circle around the whole from the east.

First the bride dips the ladle and pours water over the groom's hands; then the groom does the same thing for the bride. After they have washed their hands, the man dips his finger in the gruel where the line of pollen touches the circle at the east and eats a pinch of the gruel. The bride follows his example. Taking turns, both bride and groom continue eating pinches from different places - to the south, west, and north - where the pollen touches the circle. The wedding ceremony over, all present join in the feasting. The parents and other elders give advice for a happy married life. If a couple has been married for some time and things have not been going well and the wife wishes to divorce her husband, all she has to do, figuratively speaking, is to place his saddle outside the hogan. When he returns and sees it there, all he can do is to take it and walk away. He knows he is no longer wanted. But if the man wants a divorce all he can do is to leave home, as the children and practically all property belong to the wife.

However, the liberty and authority with which the Navajo woman is endowed bring her heavy responsibilities. She is busy before sunrise and her hard work does not end at sundown. She cannot phone for groceries to be delivered at he door every day. Every morning she bakes fresh bread of cornmeal or white flour which she has to get from the trading post. That usually means a long horseback ride there and back. She occasionally prepares her dough from yucca pods which have been chewed into a soft mass by the entire family the night before. she throws a chunk of dough from one hand to the other until the flaps are about two palm's width in size. then she fries her bread in grease of bakes it directly over live coals. the bread made from meal or flour is delicious, as I well know from experience.

The Navajo woman rears a large number of babies without benefit of our modern paraphernalia - bassinet, bathinet, dropside crib, bottle sterilizer, electric milk warmer, baby buggy, Taylor tot, and so forth. She builds an awetsal (baby bed) of wooden boards to which she straps her infant with leather laces. This she carries on her back or across her lap when she is in the saddle. When she leaves her papoose alone, she knows he is firmly tied in the cradle and that there is no fear of his being smothered or strangled by bedding. If she wishes, she can stand her cradle against a wall or tree while she attends to family chores. She can even hang it from a tree if she finds it more convenient. She has no diaper problem, for she dresses her baby in pair of pants which consists of two legs connected only with a string, belt, or band a the waistline and without any crotch or seat. Of course, tying the baby's head to a board makes it flat on the back - brachycephalic. The Navajo woman assigns the care of the sheep - which belong to her personally - to her children when they are very young. I met boys and girls of five or six years of age in complete charge of large flocks. They would never answer my questions. But soon I discovered that, like our own children, they also have a sweet tooth, relishing with evident gusto the pieces of candy offered them.

While the Navajo children tend the sheep and goats and the women run the affairs of the hogan, the men are busy - as busy as deliberate, thoughtful persons can be - planning, rehearsing, or practicing the frequent and elaborate ceremonies carried on for the propitiation of their ancient gods. In theses ceremonies the man has the complete co-operation of the woman, without whose help he could not feel carefree to feast on such occasions. However, despite her high standing in the family, the Navajo woman is only a silent partner when it comes to ceremonies. She has no part in them. She does not dance or sing. The unmarried girls do participate in the Squaw Dance, but it is the only one and it is of recent origin. All ceremonies are largely of medico-religious significance. They are complicated and consume nearly all the thought and time of the men of the tribe. That is why a large part of the work is left to the women and children. However, the men do look after the cattle and horses and perform the most difficult tasks. And - they have no interference form their mother-in-laws, called do-yo-ini or she-may-not-be-seen. according to Navajo tradition, if a mother-in-law speaks directly to her son-in-law, she will become blind. she must convey her messages or desires to him through a third party. If it becomes absolutely necessary for her to speak to him, they will have to sit back to back, far apart, with a third person who stands midway between the two and relays the messages back and forth. She may, however, visit he daughter occasionally when her son-in-law is absent from home.

The family usually eats quietly, sitting in a circle on the sand around a pail of stew. There is no talking. Everyone reaches into the vessel and picks out what he or she likes best. It is a very happy sight to watch. Their food consists mainly of corn and lamb They will eat horse or mule meat only when they have no other food. The Navajos are smokers, and all of them like coffee - an acquired taste. As a matter of fact, they usually begin drinking coffee at the age of two years, or as soon as they are weaned. At that early age they are also given watermelon and beans. Only the fittest among the children survive, but the boys who do reach their maturity usually become good-looking men.

The Navajos are clean in spite of the sand and dust that covers everything. Though they spit anywhere and everywhere, the act is not considered unsanitary or obnoxious, for they believe that saliva has a curative value. They wash their hair frequently despite the lack of water. they take steam or sweat baths, though these are partially religious rites and are taken primarily for the sake of health. They must be taken according to a set of rules, accompanies by a chant, in sweat houses, which are half domed structures built of rough-hewn beams and covered with mud. The only opening is the small entrance that always faces east. These bathhouses are so small that I could not stand up in any one of them. A few rocks or stones are heated over a fire outside and are then carried into the sweat house with the aid of two sticks of wood which are used as tongs. the entrance is closed by hanging a blanket over it. Water, sometimes mixed with herbs, is poured over the hot rocks, giving off a fragrant steam. After certain prescribed acts and considerable sweating, the naked bather emerges to be dashed with cold water or, if the house is in the vicinity of a creek, to run from the hot vapor bath into the cold water. In the winter he is rubbed with snow. This not only keeps him clean and physically fit, but also rids his body of evil spirits.

Gradually I learned that there are no villages or towns on the reservation. The only time you find Navajos together in large groups is during one of their ceremonies. Families travel many days to participate in these. In addition to his aversion for community dwelling, the Navajo settles in one spot for no more than six months, if that long. He moves his family, his cattle, and his other belongings up and down the mesa land. This is especially true of the Indians in the western section of the reservation. The Navajo spends the summer season on the lowlands, living in the chahao, a temporary shelter loosely built of shrubbery. In winter he lives on the highlands in a permanent hogan solidly built of juniper logs and covered with sand-mud. Since the entrances always face east, Navajo dwellings serve as compasses, and one need never worry about getting lost when a hogan is in sight. These one-room windowless houses, with a smoke hole through which the family hopes the smoke will escape, give protection against snow and cold, not uncommon in this desert country at altitudes of six to nine thousand feet.

In the evening the family gathers around the open fire in the center of the hogan. The fire produces little light and much smoke, and since there is no other illumination, the Navajo cannot occupy himself with anything that requires good lighting. It is impossible to read by the firelight, and , of course, unless he has been educated in the American schools, the Navajo cannot read. So he entertains himself and his family with stories, legends, and myths. They are told quietly, with naive gestures and picture-words; and the narratives are colored with his belief in gods, spirits and chindi (ghosts). The Navajos have no Shakespeare, Virgil, or Homer, but much of their poetry is truly beautiful. They have no Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart, but they chant single verses with fiery zeal and poetic expression. They have no Crusaders, Knights of the Round Table, or Daniel Boone, but they have god heroes who have slain fantastic monsters and giants and who even today protect the Navajo against evil spirits and the evil eye, and help him when he is in difficulty.

If anyone is about to die, the family moves out of the hogan, leaving the patient to the medicine men. The Navajo believes that the hogan becomes haunted when a human being dies in it. Therefore the family or the medicine men try to get the dying patient out of the building before it is too late to save the home for future use. I have seen a number of abandoned hogans, their doorways blocked with stones and special holes knocked out in the north sides through which the corpses were carried out by medicine men for burial. Sometimes instead of just abandoning the hogan, they burn and level it. This indirectly serves as a prophylactic measure. Other traditional practices are even more effective barriers to epidemics. For instance, they break all the earthenware and cut up the household blankets so they may never be used again. Near the grave of the dead man they kill his best riding animal, after decorating him with his saddle and all of his trappings. Practically everything that may have come in contact with the sick person is destroyed to keep his chindi, or in our language the infecting bacteria, from harming others.

When a Navajo gets sick, his family and friends literally run away, leaving him to the ministrations of the medicine men. In the event that the sick person has a contagious disease, this custom provides a pretty thorough quarantine. the medicine men, by the way, are supposed to possess the power of keeping chindi away from themselves while they are freeing the patient from them.... The Navajos have no undertakers and no coffins.

Always situated near a spring or waterhole, the hogan is hectagonal in shape - almost circular, in fact. Juniper logs, graduated in length and diameter, are placed parallel on top of each other, so that, as the walls rise, the room grows smaller near the top. There is no furniture - only a sheepskin to sit on and, perhaps, a few plain cooking utensils, including the highly prized coffee pot. The hogan is the center of family life, and the Navajo spends most of is time there, even though it is such a simple structure and contains little. He is anxious that his hogan and his family be unmolested by men or evil spirits. He hopes that his wife and all of his children will have enough to eat. He prays that his hogan will not be visited by sickness or "enemy ancestors." To make sure that all his desires and hopes will be realized in his hogan, he prays and performs ceremonies before he moves into it. Unfortunately, the ceremony of hogan dedication is no longer faithfully practiced by every Navajo. The manner of building and the dedication ceremony demonstrate how friendly, deeply religious, poetic, and playfully humorous the Navajo is. All neighbors and friends voluntarily participate in the building, so that it is finished in one day and is ready for the dedication before sunset. The wife sweeps out the new hogan while her husband builds the first fire in the middle of the floor directly under the smoke hole. She goes out of the building, pours white cornmeal into a basket, and hands it to her husband, who then enters the hogan and, in a certain prescribed order, silently rubs a handful of the dry meal on the five principle timbers which form the frame. Then, with a sweeping motion from left to right, he sprinkles the meal around the outer circumference of the floor, saying in low measured tones:

May it be delightful, my house,
From my head my it be delightful,
To my feet may it be delightful,
Where I lie may it be delightful.
All above me may it be delightful,
All around me may it be delightful."

He next flings a little of the cornmeal into the burning fire, saying: "May it be delightful and well, my fire." Then he tosses a few handfuls up through the smoke hole, saying:

May it be delightful, Sun, my Mother's ancestor,
May it be delightful as I walk around my house.

He sprinkles a few more handfuls on the fire, saying in a subdued voice:

May it be delightful, my fire,
May it be delightful for my children,
may all be well,
May it be delightful with my food and theirs,
may all be well,
All my possessions, may they increase,
All my flocks, may they increase."

By this time it is dark. The womenfolk, who during the day have been cooking, and the men, who have been attending to other details, begin entering the hogan. They help to bring in the family possessions. Sheepskins are spread over the floor; a blanket is suspended over the doorway; more logs are added to the fire. The men squat around the fire; the women sit in a group a little farther away. Food is served. Everyone is tired. They say little and in very low voices. But all of them are happy. The man and wife are happy because now they are the possessors of a building where they will be raising their family. The relatives and friends are joyous because they have done a good deed.

A few days later they hold a housewarming party. The occasion has a more solemn meaning, too, since if it is not observed soon after the hogan has been competed, bad dreams will plague the dweller, toothache will torture them, evil influences from the north will descent upon them, diseases will visit them, and the hogan will be haunted. So the shaman is invited to sing ceremonial house songs when all their friends from the neighboring canyons and mesas will be present. There will be feasting, smoking, gossip, and talk by the hour. The shaman will sing in a drawling voice and the men will join in. They will sing songs to Estsanatlehi, Goddess of the West, and Yolkai Estsan, Goddess of the East, to the Sun, Dawn, and Twilight, to the Light and to the Darkness, to the six sacred mountains, and to many other deities. They will sing other songs to keep evil spirits - coughs, sorcerers, and ghosts - away. When the songs are finished at dawn, the visitors will round up their horses and go home, happy that all's well that ends well.Pgs. 177-185

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

n 1846 the United States took control of the southwestern territories, promising settlers protection from Indians, The next fifteen years were marked by military operations, Navajo raids, and unsuccessful attempts at negotiation.

A major difficulty arose from the fact that the Anglos totally misunderstood Navajo social organization. U.S. authorities claimed that the tribe blatantly disregarded treaty agreements signed by what they judged to be tribal "chiefs." In reality, these men were naat'aanii, local headmen who led only small groups of Navajos. Although Naat'aanii were respected for their wise counsel, which was usually heeded, these headmen had no coercive power to command others to follow because the Navajo placed a high value upon individualism.

In 1863, under government orders, Kit Carson and his soldiers began burning Navajo crops and homes. Ute, Pueblo, and New Mexican volunteers also took revenge for Navajo raiding by taking Navajo sheep and horses, and capturing women and children for slaves. A brutal winter, combined with the destruction of their resources, brought defeat to the Navajo.

The Navajo now faces the horror of the Long Walk - an arduous trek of 300 miles - to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where they would be interned. The period from 1864 to 1868 was the most tragic of their history. They were a proud, independent people accustomed to moving freely across the great spaces of their beloved homeland and its Sacred Mountains: they were forced to become captives confined within a limited area, dependent upon the government. They had to leave behind the land with which they had a spiritual connection, land sanctified by the Holy People. In addition to the emotional and spiritual anguish of exile there was unparalled suffering and death because of insufficient food, recurring crop failure, and disease.

Navajo spiritual beliefs and practices sustained them during this period. The Navajos held specific ceremonies to help them to return home, such as the Maii Bizee naast'a [Put a Bead in Coyote's Mouth] ceremony. A Navajo leader, approached a female coyote, who was facing east in the center of a circle of Navajos. "Barboncito caught the animal and put a piece of white shell, tapered at both ends, with a hole in the center, into its mouth. As he let the coyote go free, she turned clockwise and walked...toward the west, [and] Barboncito remarked: "There it is, we will be set free." And, indeed, the Navajo were allowed to return to their homeland in 1868. Congress, realized the economic infeasibility of continued detention, decided to make a treaty with the Navajo; the terms of this treaty allowed them to go back to their native land. The Navajos' continued faith in the Holy People and their adherence to their ceremonials had brought them home.

Upon their return, they held a ceremonial chant for four days, which is "why our population has increased rapidly up to these days. If it had not been for the ceremony it wouldn't have been like this."


In the 1930s, as a response to overgrazing, the U.S. government implemented the Stock Reduction Program. The Navajos remember stock reduction with the same sadness as Fort Sumner. Once acquired, sheep had quickly become a measure of wealth and status as well as a marker of cultural identity. Now the government was trying to take away the very basis of Navajo life. The emotional connection between the Navajos and their sheep is evident in this speech made by a Navajo at the tribal council. "Give us our sheep, give us our mutton, let us have herds as our fathers and our grandfathers had. If you take away our sheep, you take away our food, and we will have nothing. What then will become of our children?...You must let us keep our sheep or we will die." Charlie Yellow, a medicine man of the Many Goats Clan from Kayenta, explained that many Navajos did die because sheep are life to the Navajo. "When they reduced the stock, many men, women, boys and girls died. They died of what we call ch'eena, which is sadness for something that will never come back. Because of Stock Reduction, many people passed away."

When stock reduction brought about the collapse of the commercialized herding industry, more of the Navajo work force turned to wage labor. However, because few jobs were available on or near the reservation, unemployment was, and still is, widespread.

For the Navajo, most aspects of the natural world are divided into male and female beings; underlying this conceptual division is the idea that only through pairing can any entity be complete. Thus, it is not surprising to find a male and a female figure represented in groupings of these mountains, with each responsible for separate realms of existence: the male figure rules all plants and wildlife while the female being is in charge of water and water creatures. The late chanter, Frank Mitchell, said that the male figure lies along the Chuska and Carrizo mountains, which are often spoken of as a single person. His legs are located at the Carrizos, his neck at Beesh Lichii'ii Bigiizh [Red Flint or Washington Pass] and his head at Chuska Peak. He is paired with a female figure who lies across the valley with her feet resting at Balakai Mesa, her body at Black Mesa, her arms in Shonto Wash, and her head at Navajo Mountain. Aghaala, a tall black rock near Kayenta, is her cane.

Many Navajos say that the four Sacred Mountains are the posts of a great hogan and that for a long time the Navajos, Hopis, Zunis, and other tribes lived together inside that hogan, fighting, trading, suffering drought, oblivious to the world that lay outside the boundaries. "A day came, however, when Spaniards from across the oceans pulled the blanket from the hogan door, and winds from the four corners of the world blew inside."

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

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