Bear


The bear was the next chief to be called. He was given a name but he was not satisfied. He became so angry that First Man used the word "shash" to quiet him. The bear repeated it four times, and he said that it had a strange sound, and when one said it aloud one had and awesome feeling. So he went off well content that "shash" should be his name. Pg. 34

When they were living there there were some people among them who quarreled. And over at the foot of Red Mountain, at a place called Dzil lechee, there was a village, and the people there were very strong. The village was so well fortified that the people who marched against it were killed. So the people who made war against this village said: "These people who have just come from their Grandmother have for their pet a bear. Now our only chance is to borrow this pet. Some of us will go over to see what they will say." Then some of them went over to the Dine' and asked for the loan of the bear. They told the Dine' how each time they had been defeated when they marched against this village. We will set out 3 days from now." They camped near this village. The bear pulled up two little spruce trees, crossed them, and sat on them. Then he chanted. And the first chant he used was this:

 

 

Ponder well what you think of me.
I am he who killed monsters.
There are 6 sections of this chant, and 10 sections of the following:
Ponder well what you say of me.
Etc.........

They were told that the enemy had strongly fortified houses and that their spies were out at all times. So the bear chanted and told how he wished it would be when he went against the enemy. He was not to be seen. He was the mirage. He was the heat waves over the desert. He sang about 20 sections of the chant here. In the last two verses the Bear named only himself. He said that he would take the scalps, that he would carry the scalps. Then the Bear went forth and there settled a great cloud on the earth. The enemy could not see the Dine' and the others. The bear ran four times around the village, and he killed many enemies. Long ago when the Big Hail fell there were only three villages saved, and this village was one of them. And now the bear destroyed it. The sign or symbol of the knife is called A'cha whee tso. The people crossed. They had 75 chants 17 by the time they returned. When they neared their home the bear made a mark. This was the bear's mark, and they stepped over it. The bear was behind them. When the Dine' returned from fighting the enemy the bear seemed never to have finished fighting. Whenever he saw an object in the distance he went after it, determined to kill. Chief Ba'nee' said: "My pet, you can never be peaceful again I see. You came from the mountain call Black Mountain. You will join your people there." he spread out a buckskin, the hide of a deer not killed by any weapon. It is called do'gi gi. Then he spoke to the bear. "My pet, now sit on this." The bear sat on the buckskin. Ba'nee' tied five white beads in each of six different strings. He tied five beads on a string across the chest one way, and the same the other way. Then Ba'nn' took a turquoise, and giving it to the bear told him to put it in his mouth. The bear put the turquoise in his mouth and then laid it on the buckskin. This is called shash biza nas'tan. Then Ba'nee' gave the bear a white bead and told him to put it in his mouth. The bear put the bead in his mouth, and taking it out, placed it with the turquoise. Then he sprinkled corn pollen all over the bear, and Ba'nee' told him to shake the pollen off. The bear did this. The medicine from the bear, or other animals, is gotten in this way. Now men were to use this medicine against all sorts of diseases. It was to be for their protection. Here is the chant:

De yana he'a now it starts out He starts out on the straight pollen trail.
De yana he'a, He starts out for the top of the pollen foot prints.
De yana he'a, He starts out for the top of the pollen seed prints.
A Big Black Bear starts out. He is like the Most High Power Whose Ways
Now he starts out with the black pollen for his moccasins. Are Beautiful.
Now he starts out with the black pollen for his moccasins. With beauty before him,
Now he starts out with the black pollen for his leggings. With beauty behind him,
Now he starts out with the black pollen for his garment. With beauty above him,
Now he starts out with the black pollen for his headdress. With beauty below him,
He starts out for the Black Mountain plains. All around him is beautiful.
He starts out for the doorway of the two crossed spruce trees. His spirit is beautiful.

There are three sections of this chant: "Now he goes...." "Now he is gone...." Only one knowing all the chants can possess a bear fetish, among the Navajo people. Now after the first chant was sung the bear's hair lay down and was smooth. And after the chants were sung he went peacefully on his way.
17- Informant's note : These were the Bear Chants. The informant knew them. These chants are used today in the Navajo country in cases of "coughs" or similar illness. They are used against anything that bothers the people, whether enemies or disease. And it is told that every time the Bear chanted he gave the chant to the chief, and it became his. Pgs. 173,174,175

10. The Bear's Song (From the Shoe Game)
A foot,
A foot with toes,
A foot with toes came.
He came with a foot with toes.
Aging as he came with a foot with toes.
Another Bear's Song
He is one who has to do with the grass seeds.
He is one who has to do with the grass seeds.
Now put the ball in the moccasin.
Now put the ball in the moccasin.

Pg. 67

Now when the owl dropped the ball all the birds and animals chose whatever designs and colors they wished to wear in the future the crow and the bear had been asleep. When the crow heard what was happening, in a great hurry he dipped himself in charcoal and went off to his home. They slapped the bear and said: "Wake up. It is day." The bear jumped up and reached for his moccasins, and he made off just as fast as he could go to the mountains. But he had put his left moccasin on his right foot, and his right moccasin on his left foot, and that is why he has strangely shaped feet. Also, as he reached the mountain the first rays of the sun hit his fur, and that is why some of his descendants are brownish. Pg. 70

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

Black Mountain: Actual mountain on the Navajo Reservation where bears are said to still inhabit the forests. This was their ancestral home, the place they were banished after giving The People coughing sickness. Pg. 190

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

Esdza' shash nadle is the woman who subsequently changes into a bear. At'ed diyini, the holy girl previously referred to, and described as the mother of the bearers of the sun and the moon, is again introduced as jikhae naazili, the tingling maiden, or the maiden who makes noise. Her brothers, twelve in number, are great hunters. Eventually she marries the coyote, who in turn is slain by some of the neighbors. The coyote had taught her how she might change her form into that of a bear, and in this disguise she slays her brothers with the exception of the youngest who, at the inspiration of esdzanadle, slays her. The members of her body, which he scatters in the four directions, are changed into bears of various kinds. Pg. 360

The bear is assigned to the mountains. The origin of the various species is attributed to creation out of the several organs of mythical monsters, like shash nalkhai, the tracking bear, and esdza shash nadlehe, the woman transformed into a bear. Presumably this belief accounts for the reverence shown the bear, insomuch as the bear is ordinarily avoided. The regulations governing the meal of venison or bear are recorded elsewhere. Pg. 139

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

Black and brown bears wee numerous among the mountain cliffs, where they wintered in deep caves and wandered the slopes in summer to live on berries, fat tree grubs, acorns, and pinon nuts. The Navajos regarded them with almost as much respect as they gave their human neighbors, killing them only when necessary to save a life or to protect their flocks. Under no conditions would a Navajo eat a bite of bear meat. On young Navajo remarked, "I wouldn't eat bear meat. I might be chewing on the spirit of one of my ancestors." The bear is a totemic animal often mentioned in myth and legend; many chants and sand paintings are given in his honor.

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

Bear (cac) (U) and Big-snake-man are a pair often found together, belief about them being very mixed. In all versions of the visit of The Twins to Sun, Bear, Big Snake, Thunder, and Wind were the guardians of Sun's house; they are stereotyped for houses of other supernaturals as well. Bear and Big Snake, doubtless sent by Sun, were guardians of Changing Woman's first sordid home on the earth. In sandpaintings they seem to be animals, yet at Changing Woman's home act like persons, feeding the children sacred food. The bear and snake were also pets given the people by Changing Woman for protection on their travels (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Goddard, pp.168, 171, 175-8; Matthews 1897, pp.149, 151, 153, 155).
The Navaho have what amounts almost to a phobia about bears, so that, despite the mythological references as elements of good, they are to be reckoned with primarily as evils.
Bear is a major power of the Mountain Chant, which includes much bear lore because bears live in the mountains. Many chants have a shock or trance rite. The bear is a being that may bring on the shock and, in the Shooting Chant, the patient is restored on a painting that includes bear tracks and Big Snake. An impersonator of Bear may be the restoring force (Haile 1938b, pp. 157, 175; Reichard 1939, p.66, PI. XXI; cp. Haile 1943a, p. 15).
When Secondborn was lost, Bear, who was familiar with all places in the mountains, was chosen to search for him.
After doing much good by protecting people from their enemies, Bear started to cause coughs, fever, and bad luck. The leader of the Navaho performed a ceremony over him and Bear allied himself with evil. He, with his relatives, was assigned to walk at Black Mountain, where there have since been many bears (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Goddard, p. 178).
The details given above seem to refer largely to bears and snakes as a class. They may be personified, however, and Bear Man and Big-snake-man form a pair that appears now and then.

When Monster Slayer was conducting his war party against Taos, two very old men, trembling with weakness and choking with coughing, came into the party's camp. The leader urged them to leave because they represented 'nothing useful,' but they kept coming back. On the last night they said they did not intend to participate in the fight but would like to watch it. After the raid was over, the warriors looked for the scalps of the most desirable victims but could not find them. Upon the second examination, they were found in the ragged bundles of the two old men. Later Monster Slayer, the rest of the warriors, and the old men had an archery contest with the captives, two Taos maidens, as stakes. The old men took their places, trembling and uncertain, but at each try they scored a bull's-eye. Monster Slayer merely looked at them, and did not give them the girls. The two old men turned out to be Bear Man and Big-snake-man.
When the warriors and other people were occupied with ceremony, the two nieces of Corn Man, on whose behalf the raid had been conducted, wound in and out among the dancers, circling around them. When the girls had finished their dance, they moved away from the crowd and went to the water. As they were going back to the dance they were attracted by an arresting sound, a sweet smell, and a light. On a little ridge not far from the dance place they found a campfire in a brush shelter. There lay two handsome men, back to back. Bear was dressed in velvet with pile as thick as plush, Big-snake-man in an embroidered fabric. The girls slept with the strangers, who gave them ceremonial properties as payment. Bear Man gave his girl a life feather; Big Snake's gift was the pulp of the iris.
When the girls woke in the morning, the men were still asleep. The first snored with his mouth wide open. His projecting teeth were old and overlapping, and phlegm was strung like spider webs in his mouth. The man on the other side was also disgusting. His nose was drawn back and mucus bubbled from the corners of his mouth. Both men had reached extreme old age. As the girls ran off, Bear growled and Big Snake rattled.
At sunrise the people stopped dancing and bethought themselves of the girls, whom at
first they could not find. Then the leader (presumably Monster Slayer) told the men to cut willow twigs and whip the girls to death. The two old men watched from the top of the hill. When the scourge hit the first girl, it gave out a futile sound as if mush were being slapped (tcog) and, when the second girl was hit, there was a sound like mud slopping (tlic). The victims were standing on the life feather and iris pulp the old men had given them, and the blows were lost in clouds and water. The girls disappeared into the sky, whither they were tracked by Bear and Big Snake. The Mountain Chant originated in the trail taken by Bear, the Beauty Chant in the trail taken by Big-snake-man (Haile 1938b, pp.157, 175).

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