Sheep

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The gods, of course, had had the animals from the beginning of time. When they arranged the world and planned the pattern of hte stars in the sky, they first laid the glittering objects out on a sheepskin. The Sun, father of the war gods, possessed a flock of sheep in four colors. The beautiful and human myth of the Shooting Chant tells how he offered these to his twin children when they had sought and found him.


Well, what did you come for, the white sheep, perhaps?
No. Not the white sheep.
The black sheep? No.
The spotted sheep? No.
The red sheep? Not the red sheep.
The sheep with the thin bladed horns?
That was the sheep he cherished above all.
Winifred Kupper, The Golden Hoof, 19-21.

It may have been a relief to the Sun that the Twin War Gods asked an even loftier boon, for obviously he had the sheep ready for the People as soon as they were created. Pgs. 38-39

The Navajos; 1956, Ruth M. Underhill.

Cows, sheep and horses were originally obtained through raids upon the neighboring Pueblos and Mexicans, and later through rations issued by the Government. At present practically every family is possessed of a flock of sheep in addition to a band of cattle and horses, making their condition one of comparative affluence. Pg. 143

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

In the last fifty years, well within the memory of man, the character of the Navajo terrain had noticeably changed. Where formerly there had been broad smooth plains covered with thick grass of which the best was grama or "buffalo" grass, the plains were now gutted by sharp gullies, some small, others large like the arroyo near which the sheepdip stood. Through them the water ran and cut away the soil whenever it rained, making the crevices always larger. The white people called this "soil erosion" and said it was due to overgrazing. They explained that the large number of sheep owned by the Navajo and the goats were even more harmful had eaten the grass so close that even the roots were destroyed. So short and sparse had they become that they no longer held the soil, and it became loose and easily washed or blown away. At first the Whites had strongly urged the Navajo to diminish their herds, and this year had required a pro-rated reduction, the number to be determined by the count taken at dipping time. Pgs. 9-10

The rangers did not like goats. They said they ruined the range, but Dezba and her people liked them because they lived on less and coarser forage than the sheep, and because they were good leaders of the herd. The Whites despised the meat, for they said it was strong and tough. The Navajo did not find it too strong and thought one felt satisfied longer after a meal of tough meat. Although it was hard to spin, Dezba liked to use mohair for weaving. It was stronger for warp, and when used for weft, gave a soft outline to the pattern which was unusually attractive. Pg. 13

Dezba: Woman of the Desert; 1939, Gladys A. Reichard.

Sheep and goats also had a major impact upon the Navajos and their way of life. The Navajo had begun to take sheep and goats during their raids on Spanish settlements in the early seventeenth century, but it was probably not until the end of this century that they began to herd these animals after intense contact with the Pueblos, who understood Spanish animal husbandry. In the late 1700s and early 1800s the Navajo population began increasing because these animals furnished such a dependable food supply. Sheep and goats and their products also provided a medium of exchange for European-produced goods. Navajos learned the art of weaving from the many Pueblos who lived among them following the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. Weaving quickly became a part of Navajo culture. By 1795, Navajo weaving had become so highly prized that one writer of that time described their weaving as "finer than that of the Spaniards."

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

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