Illness

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A few statements point to the source of illness or death in the "meanness" of Supernaturals. First Man and Woman are considered mean and from them will come epidemics, coughs and colds. Pg. 42

The Worm Man emits stinging insects and claims that he is to blame if earth people get sores around the mouth, ears, face, or on the body. Pg. 42

Recognition of "meanness" has also been noted as a permanent attitude of First Man and Woman who send Diseases By contrast Changing Woman has "no meanness left" in her and sends rain and other necessities for fertility. Pg. 46

Sickness will occur if one lies down in a corn field.

Eating certain parts of deer will cause illness: head; nosebleed and head swelling, heart; bleeding, digestive; turn into a snake. Pg. 42

Frog warns of disease contracted by immersion in water.

Navajo Chantway Myths, 1957; Katherine Spencer

Franciscan Fathers (1910 p. 346 ) : Much evil, disease and bodily injury is due also to secret agents of evil, in consequence of which the belief . . . . shooting of evil (sting) is widely spread. Pg. 3

The Dine' : Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians, 1956; Aileen O'Bryan.

Medicine men point out that when a bone is broken, the inner man is "broken off" from the outer world, which is his outer self. Pg. 46

The Gift of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman.

67. However, the Navajo seldom place a red color at the east the Red Ant Chant seems to be one of the few exceptions where this color occurs there. Perhaps, their general feeling about red east is best explained by Fishler's Navajo informant who said: "In the morning, if there is a red or gold color in the east, it foretells fevers, coughs or epidemics to come." In the Beginning, p. 11.

They Sang for Horses: The Impact of the Horse on Navajo and Apache Folklore; 1966, La Verne Harrell Clark.

Sickness results from failure to observe some of the numerous restrictions, excess in any activity, ignorance of ceremonial law or transgressing it, contact with the dead, being too weak to withstand the power of a chant, or sorcery. Only through the time-honored means of appropriate ceremonialism can sickness or disease be combated. Pg. 377

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

Sickness, disease and corporal injuries are treated in the light of chastisement by the offended divinities. The source of sickness is therefore to be found not so much in any physical cause as in some magic influence, which must be removed by the power of a specific chant by making a propitiatory sacrifice to the offended holy person, or by employing the greater power of a higher divinity in removing the witchery and malevolent influence of an inferior one. Should the sickness continue after a given ceremony, such a fact can not be attributed to the impotence of that ceremony, but clearly shows that the offense has not been properly traced and must be sought elsewhere. In consequence there is often no end of singing in one form or other until death ensues or relief is obtained, as the method of dispatching a chronic patient by means of poisonous herbs or drugs is now practiced with ever decreasing frequency. Death is, of course, beyond human calculation, yet should ordinarily not interfere with an effort to obtain a prolongation of the period of life by invoking the aid of some chant. When the approach of death is certain, however, every ceremony subsides, and the officiating singer withdraws before the inevitable issue. Withal, the singer is the man of medicine, as Navaho therapeutics are effectively applied in the course of the rites only. Logically, too, the knowledge and specialty of the singer is gauged, not so much by his greater or lesser knowledge and dexterity in performing a given rite. In fact, when it is known that his medicine pouch is possessed of paraphernalia of some antiquity and difficult to acquire at present, or when others have been cured of a similar disease through his services, the demand for a given rite and singer becomes greater regardless of the disease. That the suffering of some patients, especially when rich in wealth, is unduly prolonged through the chicanery and greed of a clique of singers bent on their exploitation, is unhappily true, but scarcely avoidable in the face of an equally general credulity. And though the uninterrupted continuation of singing is usually productive of physical exhaustion and high fever, this fact can little be considered when the chant is all-important. Moreover, a glance at the list of harmless herbs and the manner of applying them in most ceremonies lends color to the opinion that medicines are of very minor and secondary importance throughout. In addition, too, medicines obtained from American physicians do not deprive the ceremony of its primary importance and inherent power, and are often taken while a ceremony is in progress, or subsequently to it, without apparent detriment to its success. Obviously, then, the subject of disease is intimately connected with that of religion and the chants through which a remedy is sought. The present chapter, however, is devoted to diseases and afflictions regardless of their religious character. A list of popular remedies frequently applied independently of a ceremony is also added, though many of these are no longer in vogue. Regarding the native recipes for poisonous snake bites, hydrophobia, or similar cases, nothing of value could be obtained, as such information is the property of a chosen few who scrupulously safeguard it even from their own tribesmen, and would divulge it with extreme reluctance. The contagiousness of some diseases is well known. Thus smallpox is much dreaded, the patient being hastily deserted in the hogan and locality infected with the disease. In recent years few cases of it have occurred. Diphtheria, too, was checked by close quarantine no other remedy being known. Modern diseases, such as pulmonary and tubercular troubles, though formerly unknown, are now very prevalent, and words have been coined to describe them. While surgery is not practiced the Navaho readily submits to the surgeon's knife when the necessity for it is explained. The singer as a rule does not act as accoucheur, but assists sometimes in supporting the laboring woman. Immediate assistance is offered by neighboring female friends of a woman in confinement, and obstetrics as a specialty is unknown. Pgs. 105-107

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

We have seen that the possible sources of fear are very numerous. But what do all these dreaded things do to The People? Although Navahos worry about property loss or damage, their fears are primarily focused upon illness and death. Either disease of an accidental injury may be due to an attack by the Holy People, brought on by taboo transgressions which are described in the following chapter. Or the symptoms may be evidence of "ghost sickness," caused by either native or foreign ghosts. When there does not seem to be sufficient background for either of these explanations as when an illness is persistent and stubbornly refuses to yield to the usual Navaho treatment, or when it is in any way mysterious from the Navaho point of view then witchcraft is apt to be assigned as the cause. Although The People distinguish between Naalniih, "disease" (mostly contagious infections like measles, small pox, diphtheria, syphilis, gonorrhea) and the more generalized tah honeesgai, "body fever" or "body ache" (often translated by English-speaking Navahos as "sick all over"), still all ailments, mental or physical, are of supernatural origin. The notion of locating the cause of a disease in physiological processes is foreign to Navaho thought. The cause of disease, of injury to the body or to one's property, of continued misfortune of any kind, must be traced back to some accidental or deliberate violation of one of the thou-shalt-nots, or to contact with a ghost, or to witch activity. It follows logically that treatment consists in dealing with these causative factors and not with the illness or injury as such. The supernaturals must be appeased. If a visible sign of attack is present, it must be removed, or the patient must be treated on the general principle that he has been attacked by supernaturals or by supernatural means and that his supernatural relationships need to be restored to normal condition again. The ultimate aim of every curing ceremonial is this restoration. As Gladys Reichard has recently written:
The Navaho wants to be natural, to be good, to be safe, well, and young . . . . but he attains this ideal quite practically. Any deviation from it represents disease which in its turn makes the body abnormal. . . . . The Navaho can take things as they come and often tightens his belt but he also values possessions. If ritual can give him a body which can enjoy wealth, it can also give him wealth to enjoy. Pgs. 132-133

The Navaho; 1946, Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton.

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