Rainbow People

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Straight Rainbow People are pictured in a few sandpaintings of Mountainway Shooting Branch, Nightway, Big Godway, and Upward-reachingway. They do not differ from representations of People in general, except that they have red and blue bodies. Bent, curved, or Whirling Rainbow People are found in sandpaintings for Beautyway, male Shootingway, Nightway, Mountainway, and male Plumeway. This last one shows four Rainbow People with their bodies curved not quite to a right angle, something like the eight slightly curved Rainbow People of Beautyway. They hold the ends of long arcs of rainbow rope, "with which they helped the hero to lower the floating log into the water." The Rainbow People of the paintings for the other three chants, however, have very long bodies which, like those of the Windway paintings, curve so much that they partly or completely encircle the center, so that their heads appear in the next, the second next, or the third sunwise cardinal space, or even further, In the Mountainway painting the bodies of the four Rainbows completely encircle their skirts and legs. The sandpainting for Nightway with its eight Rainbow People, two at each cardinal point, is almost identical with Speech Man's painting for Navaho Windway in H Coll. In both the People curve so that their heads are in the second next cardinal space. They carry baskets and spruce branches. The center of the Windway painting is the pool at the Place-of-the-walking-flag-plants where the hero encountered the Rainbow People and was carried up to the Sky Land, riding on the rainbows they had given him. The Whirling Rainbow painting in the Dendahl collection commemorates, according to the informant, the rescue of the stolen baby from the bottom of a whirlpool by the Rainbow People. They carry fir branches and gourd rattles, and their heads are round with brown faces, and unusual feature for this supernatural. The discovery of the curved rainbow man among the wall paintings in the prehistoric kivas at Pottery Mound, near Los Lunas, New Mexico, structures dating from the fourteenth of fifteenth century, gives us a possible clue to the origin of the curved Rainbow People in Navaho art. The figure is extraordinarily like those in sandpaintings. Pgs. 304, 305


The Windways of the Navajo; 1962, Leland C. Wyman.

The rainbow is frequently represented in colored sand paintings and ceremonial paraphernalia, and on the shield. The "trails" of the divinities are usually represented as made of various kinds of rainbow. Pg. 46

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

Rainbow (na'tsi'lid) has numerous functions, all interrelated. It serves as an encircling guardian of the sandpainting: when it has only bunches of feathers at the ends it may be a garland, or it may be female instead of male (tla'h); when it has a head and feet it represents the goddess. According to Matthews, the rainbow has five colors-presumably red, yellow, green, blue, and white-each representing a goddess. Rainbows are covered with feathers, which give them their colors.
The design consisting of red and blue stripes separated by and outlined with white (sometimes incorrectly called 'sun-dog') differs from 'sunray' (cabitlo'l), which is red and blue without white. Small rainbow designs are often painted at the ankle and wrist joints of supernaturals; they symbolize lightness and ease in moving and handling things Such designs are especially important for the left side, since it is 'naturally' stiff and awkward and needs more protection than the right.
Rainbows on a metate stand for the power of the hands in grinding. Rainbows in a sandpainting are a prayer. They are protective; gods often stand on them and they may be given to a hero to keep him safe.
Some rainbows are short or stubby; the one Talking God gave The Twins to keep was only a fingerlength long. An arched or bent rainbow about eight paces long was their means of travel for long distances; it could be folded and carried in a pouch or blanket fold, but through supernatural power became long enough for any purpose.
Coyote lassoed Water Monster's children with a rainbow. The gods helping the Visionary to transport his garden produce wrapped it in clouds and bound the parcels with rainbows.
"It is unlucky to point at a rainbow with any digit except the thumb. If you point with a finger you will get a felon" (Matthews 1887, pp. 399, 446, 449; 1902, pp. 194-S, 231, 246, 309, 60n; Reichard, Endurance Chant ms.; 1939, Pl. XV-XX, XXII-XXIV; Newcomb-Reichard, Pl. IV, VII-IX, XVIII, XX, XXIV-V, XXXI-XXXIII; Goddard, p. 130; Wheelwright 1942, Set II, 6).

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

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