Beauty Chant

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This story begins with four people, Hasteen Shush, the Bear, Hasteen Klish, the Snake, Hasteen Jalth, the Frog, and Hasteen Zithtehi, the Turtle, who started out from a place called Dezh-nent-yehly near Mancos, Colorado. They were going on a journey eastward to raid some people called Alnaz-eetahtin, who lived near Tohntyel, the great ocean, and at last they came to where these people lived to spy out the land. The Bear and Snake were afraid to go into the village, so the Frog and Turtle went alone. Their object was to capture two women. They were surprised and surrounded by the people as they were taking the girls alive, so had to kill them and take their scalps. The older girl's hair was dressed with white shell, the younger's with turquoise, and the Frog and Turtle hid them under their robes and came out of the house and were surrounded by the enraged people who planned to kill them.

 

The Frog was afraid and hid under the Turtle, who curled up into his shell and when the people attacked the Turtle with a stone axe, it did no harm but slid off and broke someone's leg. Then the people planned to throw them in a fire pit, which frightened the Turtle as he knew it would kill him, but the Frog was not afraid because he was full of water, which he threw on the fire, putting it out; so when the people uncovered the fire pit the Frog and Turtle jumped out unhurt. Then they tried to drown them, but they swam under water and when they came up to the surface they held up the two scalps in triumph, and the people knew the girls were dead and were very sad.

Meanwhile, Bear and Snake were told by the wind spirit to go and meet Frog and Turtle at a certain place by the sea. They saw them coming out of the sea and they all decided to go home. When they were hungry the Bear fed them and the Turtle gave them water. Eight of their own people met them as they approached their home after traveling six days, and the people said, "Who has the scalps?" and not one of the four raiders would acknowledge that they had them. Then two of their people, who had daughters, said they would give their daughters to the two who could shoot the farthest, and they had an arrow shooting contest. The Bear and Snake were old men; the other ten men were young, and the Bear and Snake both said they were too old to shoot, but they beat all the young men who were very angry, and traveled on, leaving the Bear and Snake to follow.

There were three other contests, ending in a shinny game, and Bear and Snake won all of them, but the fathers of the girls thought Bear and Snake too old and would not give their daughters to them. They had held the contests, thinking the old men would be beaten. Then all the people went back to Dezh-nent-yehly, whence the men started on their travels, and all hurried on except Bear and Snake, who stopped near the village and made a brush corral. The rest of the people celebrated the success of the raid by the N'Dah scalp dance, and all the young people began to dance. The two girls were supposed to marry two young men there, but instead wandered about, and going out to the northern edge of the dance smelled a very pleasant smell and wondered whence it came, so they began to hunt for it.

The older girl's name was Bispah, and the younger girl's Glispah, and they circled farther to the north away from the dance trying to find the source of the delicious smell. Finally they saw a light in the Bear and Snake's corral and went over to it and saw two handsome young men sitting there; one, the Bear-man, was dressed in black, and the Snake-man in many colors, and both wore much jewelry. The oldest girl asked the Bear for some of the delicious smelling tobacco, but he said he could not give it to her as the young men would be so angry, but the Snake said, "Come inside and we will give you a smoke.." The girls had fallen in love with the men and went into the corral, and the oldest girl chose the Bear at the north, and the younger chose the Snake at the south. The Bear gave his white pipe to the oldest girl to smoke, and the Snake gave his pipe of turquoise to the younger girl, and when they had taken one puff, the girls became unconscious, it was so powerful.

The Bear and Snake gave them incense and brought them back to consciousness, and when they woke it was morning and they saw that the Bear and Snake had become old men again and the girls were terrified. The younger girl found she was tied by a blue racer snake to the sleeping Snake-man, and whenever she moved he woke up, and she could not escape. Finally, she managed to struggle as far as the door but found there snakes all around her, and the more frightened she became, the more they showed anger against her, but she managed to escape between them. Then she stopped and listened and heard her own people searching for her, and they were angry, so she fled over some rocks to the east, and looking back saw smoke from the Snake's home and knew he was pursuing her too.

She walked in the water until she came to Hahjeenay, the Emergence Place in the La Plata Mountains, then over more mountains to the east, and then circled around by the Jemez Mountains and Mt. Taylor to the San Francisco Peaks and back by Chinlee to a lake nearby where she stopped to drink. Two racer snake people came up out of the lake and asked her whence she came, and she said she was traveling and was thirsty. The snake people made the lake lift up and she saw a pleasant land with many corn fields below, and this was the home of the Snake though she did not know it. She took some corn and roasted it and ate, and afterwards came to the villages of the snakes made of mud, like a Pueblo. The Snake People said earth people were not allowed there and asked whence she came. She asked for a drink, which they gave her, and then told them her story and how she was escaping from the old Snake-man.

They said, "He doesn't come here; go inside the house and be safe," so she stayed there and they fed her pollen mush in a bowl which she never could empty. A niece of the old man came in at noon and told the girl to go out and bring in some corn and she made a fine loaf of it in the cooking pit. At sundown, when they were ready to eat, the Old Snake-man came in, but passed into another room unnoticed by the girl. Then he came out to the feast in a form of a beautiful young man, and the girl was happy to see him young again, so they ate together, laughing, and the Snake said: "Why did you run away from me? We ought to be together. I am a medicine man, and know the Hozhoni Chant completely and I want to teach it to you." So he taught her the first sandpainting, and when she knew it by heart, he taught her the other three. It was October when she first arrived at the Snake's home and she stayed that winter and the next summer, learning the ceremony; then she grew homesick and lonesome, and asked if she could not go home as she had been with him for nearly two years at his home in Canyon de Chelly where a great cliff opens like a door, which can be seen to this day.

The Snake said she might go, but asked her to come back when she had taught the ceremony to her brother, Gray Boy. She agreed to do this and started for her home. She went eastward across the mountains and one night heard someone calling her. This was the Owl, who asked her what she was doing, and didn't believe her answer that she was just traveling, but said, "You know the Hozhoni ceremony and I will give you medicine and the incense for it." She went on and came to the San Juan River and went up to her home near Mancos, and her people were glad to see her. Her mother cried over her for she had thought her dead.

She told them of her adventures and what she had learned, and they decided to have a ceremony and they sprinkled corn-meal over her in blessing as she gave the Hozhoni Chant, and she began teaching it to her brother, but he could not remember the songs. She shelled some corn and put a kernel down in four rows for each song and then went to sleep, leaving the kernels in the rows. Next morning she took the kernels and ground them and made mush, which her brother ate, and then found he knew all the songs as he had eaten them. (The mush was put in a little basket about five inches across like that used in the Mountain Chant; it was made by a captive). Then the girl taught her brother the sand paintings, one by one, then the kehtahns, and after this she sang the ceremony over him to make him a medicine man; and before beginning, all the medicine was gathered, the herbs and different kinds of trees and the sand.

For four nights they held the Wolltrahd ceremony with the untying of knots, and on these four days there is a sweating ceremony every morning, and on the fifth day of the nine day ceremony there is first, the sweating and bathing, then sand painting, and at night the Oody-klahd ceremony when the Snake man appears and frightens the patient, who is protected by the sand painting. Then there are four days of big sand paintings, and then the last night when they sing many songs all night. This ceremony the girl taught and gave to her brother and went back to the Snake's home to live with him under the lake.

Myth of Mountain Chant, told by Hasteen Klah/Beauty Chant, told by Hasteen Gahni

Bulletin #5 Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1951

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