Elsie Stone Holiday - Basketweaver: Considered one of the best of the best Navajo basket weavers, Elsie Stone Holiday married into the famed Douglas Mesa family of weavers. Weaving baskets has become almost an addiction for her. "When I go two or three days without weaving I get anxious to get started again," she says. She weaves 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. "Sometimes I think, 'How long can this last?'", she wistfully states, but for now she is content with her art, finding immense satisfaction in creating premier quality baskets.
Learning the art of basket weaving from the family that is famous for the Navajo basket renaissance is certainly an advantage for Elsie Stone Holiday, and she has added talent and dedication to that advantage, with remarkable results.
Elsie knew how to weave rugs before she married, so weaving baskets was fairly easy for her to master. She learned from such renowned artists as Sally and Lorraine Black, Rose Esplain, and her mother-in-law, Betty White Holiday. Then she simply made the art her own by using her natural intuitive creativity.
The mother of six children, Elsie has only been weaving for about eleven years, since her children became old enough to allow her the time. Now they watch her, and sometimes help with the non-weaving tasks connected to the work, learning as they do so.
Elsie gathers the sumac strips used for her weaving along waterways in Hanksville or Moab, Utah, and Farmington, New Mexico. She says the reeds grow well along irrigation ditches, and are most pliable in the spring and fall months. She gathers about a six-month supply and then takes them home and readies them for weaving by stripping off the bark and splitting the reeds. Then Elsie does something few other weavers care to do- she takes the split reed and pulls it through a hole in a can, to strip away any excess, making the strips uniform size. It is this, and her propensity for a uniform, tight weave, that makes Elsie's baskets premium quality. If she notices any irregularities, Elsie picks out her weaving and begins again. She truly cares about making her baskets as perfect as possible.
Elsie's technique is not her only fine point, she also has a wonderful imagination for new design ideas. Elsie is modest when praised for her work and eager for any suggestions. She has an enthusiastic desire to please those who buy her baskets.
Elsie's father is a practicing medicine man, but it is her mother-in-law who has helped her with her weaving by performing ceremonies for her. A crystal gazer, Betty knows much about traditional Navajo medicine. She sprinkled corn pollen on a spider web and placed it on Elsie's head, all the while saying a prayer. The spider web represents the weaving done by spider woman, an important personage in Navajo mythology. Elsie confirms the validity of the ceremony by proclaiming how much it has helped her in her weaving.
Butterfly: Due to the natural beauty of its wings, Butterfly is often considered vain. Yet, in Navajo mythology, Butterfly brings the sacred flint to the hooves of the horse. In the legend of the diety, Butterfly Boy was cured of his vanity by being lightning struck with the axe of Rain Boy. After that, his head opened up and out of it came the butterflies of the world. The perishable dust of Butterfly's wings is sometimes thought to prove that such beauty is usually not durable. Pg. 191
Caterpillar: In Navajo belief, Caterpillar is sacred because of his ability to transform into Butterfly, the gatherer of the sacred flint. However, while Butterfly may not always be trusted because of his vanity, Caterpillar is a simple, many-footed walker through life. Like Worm, he may give advice to his "betters." Pg. 191
Rain Boy and Butterfly Boy: There is a great arch of colored stone in Navajo Country, and it is called Rainbow Bridge. In order to reach it you must ride horseback for days through desert and bare rock land and through great red rock canyons. Not many people go there. In ancient times it was the home of Rain Boy, a powerful god, whose weapon was lightning and who traveled as fast as the wind on his rainbow.
One day long ago he had to go on a journey. He left his wife and daughter at home at Rainbow Bridge and told them that no matter what happened they were not to go out into the sunlight.
"We will obey you, Rain Boy," said the two women, and when he had gone they sat by the open door and took up their weaving. They were both fine weavers. When they needed a new design they would look out of the door until they saw something beautiful. One day, it was the design of a leaf; another day, a bird feather suited their needs. But today they could not see anything that pleased them.
As it happened, White Butterfly Boy had flown into their part of the country from his home in Chaco Canyon, where the ruins of the dead people lie. Butterfly Boy looked just like a Navajo except that he had wings. He possessed one other great power. He could change himself at will into a white butterfly. Today when he came to Rainbow Bridge he saw the beautiful wife and daughter of Rain Boy looking out of the door of their hogan.
"They are beautiful. I should like to talk to them," he said to himself, but he had heard that Rain Boy wouldn't let them talk to strangers and forbade them to leave the hogan when he was away. So Butterfly Boy planned a trick; he changed himself into a white butterfly and flew down onto the door sill.
"Oh, what a beautiful creature," cried the mother. "What a splendid design he will make for our weaving."
"Let us catch him," said the daughter.
But when they reached out with their hands, White Butterfly Boy spread his wings and flew to a milkweed blossom some distance from the hogan. The women forgot their promise to Rain Boy and ran out of the house into the sunlight where they chased the sparkling white butterfly; each time they got near enough to catch him, away he flew, farther from the hogan. Four times he flew, and the fourth time he lit on a tassel of corn silk in Rain Boy's garden. Great yellow pumpkins coiled their arms between the corn stalks, and when the women ran into the garden the pumpkins caught them, so they could not take another step. Then Butterfly Boy turned himself into a man with wings.
"There," he said. "I have you. Now you will come live with me in Chaco Canyon."
He took them far off over the desert and canyon until they came to the land of deserted hogans. Here, long ago, people had lived, but now nothing but the dead remained, and they were buried deep under the blown sands.
Now, Rain Boy returned from his journey, and finding the hogan empty, he searched outside for tracks. In the sands by the hogan he saw footprints of his wife and daughter, which led into the garden and among the pumpkin vines where they disappeared. It was here that White Butterfly Boy had turned into a man with wings, and with Rain Boy's wife on one arm and the daughter on the other, he had flown back to his home in Chaco Canyon. After looking carefully among the corn stalks, Rain Boy sent out a streak of lightning to point the direction they had taken. The lightning struck near Chaco Canyon. Rain Boy mounted his rainbow and rode over the sky to the home of White Butterfly Boy. There he found his wife and daughter, who were prisoners in the hogans of the ancient people. Rain Boy was very angry with them for disobeying him, but he was even more
angry with White Butterfly Boy for his treachery.
When White Butterfly Boy came flying home at night, Rain Boy said, "I challenge you to a race. If you win, you may keep my wife and daughter. If you lose, you die."
"I agree," said White Butterfly Boy.
"We shall race to Mount Taylor," said Rain Boy. "Get ready. When I send out my lightning we shall start."
Now Butterfly Boy had nothing in the world to race upon but his own wings, so he spread them out proudly and waited with his only weapon which was a magic axe
that could kill whoever held it, at a puff of breath.
Rain Boy took off on his bolt of lightning and was gone instantly. Butterfly Boy beat his wings as fast as he could, but it was going to take him a long time to reach Mount Taylor. On the way, he saw Humming Bird poised in the air before a flower.
There is nothing in the world that Butterfly Boy liked more than to have fun. About his throat hung a tiny silver bell. He wanted to hear how the bell would sound on the throat of Humming Bird as he darted from blossom to blossom, so he took the bell from his own throat and threw it into the air. It dropped with a tinkle onto Humming Bird's neck; this is the noise you hear today when Humming Bird rushes in upon a flower.
Soon after his delay with Humming Bird, Butterfly Boy reached Mount Taylor. There sat Rain Boy on the end of a streak of lightning.
"I win," cried Rain Boy. "Now we will race back again."
"All right," said Butterfly Boy tiredly. By now he was already exhausted, but he was cheerful and did not give up. Again he spread his beautiful wings.
"Ready?" shouted Rain Boy, and this time he rode up over the sky on a great rainbow. Butterfly Boy strained himself to fly, but it was a long time before he reached his home in Chaco Canyon. There sat Rain Boy on the end of the rainbow, and his wife and daughter were waiting beside him.
"I win again," Rain Boy said, and raising his head he proclaimed: "now you will die!"
"Wait," said Butterfly Boy. "Won't you please kill me with my own axe? It would make me happy to die by the blade I have carried on my journeys."
But Rain Boy knew that Butterfly Boy's axe was a magic axe. At a puff of breath from its master it would fly back and kill the man who held it.
"No," he said, "I will kill you with my own axe." And again he raised it above his head. But Butterfly Boy begged four times, and the fourth time Rain Boy stuck his own axe in his belt and took the magic axe in his hand. But he was not to be tricked. He had a scheme in mind.
"Now," said clever Rain Boy, "close your eyes."
As soon as Butterfly Boy had shut his lids Rain Boy changed axes, and grasping his own trusty weapon he hit Butterfly Boy a deadly blow on the head. The skull cracked, Butterfly Boy was killed at one stroke, and out of the crack in the skull came a net of butterflies, all bright-winged and lovely. Away they flew to scatter over the sky; and that is how the beautiful butterflies of this world came to be born. Pgs. 65-69
Butterfly (ka'logi') (U) and various moths are symbols of temptation and foolishness, so despicable that their behavior, acting like a 'moth,' has come to stand for insanity, the punishment for breaking taboos.
The hero of the Mountain Chant acquired the power of the meal sprinklers from the Butterfly People.
Butterfly was a decoy for two girls of the Excess Chant (cp. Ch. 1; Restriction, Con. B; Matthews 1887, p. 406; Kluckhohn 1944, p.104).
Weaving has been carried to a high degree of perfection by the Navaho. The art as it exists among them today is not an invention of their own, as nothing similar is found among any other tribe of the Athapascan stock. It is pretty safe to say that the Navaho learned the art of weaving from the Pueblos. Their own legends, however, account for it in their own way. The hanelnaeheke hani', or moving upward chant legend, records that the art of weaving was taught by the Spider Man and Spider Woman in the following manner. "The Spider Man drew some cotton (ndaka') from his side and instructed the Navaho to make a loom. The cotton-warp was made of spider-web (nashjei bitlol). The upper cross-pole was called yabitlol (sky or upper cord), the lower cross-pole ni'bitlol (earth or lower cord). The warp-sticks were made of shabitlol (sun rays), the upper strings, fastening the warp to the pole, of atsinltlish (lightning), the lower strings of shabitlajilchi (sun halo), the heald was a tsaghadindini isenil (rock crystal heald), the cord-heald stick was made of atsolaghal (sheet lightning), and was secured to the warp strands by means of nltsatlol billdestlo' (rain ray cords)." "The batten-stick was also made of shabitlajilchi (sun halo), while the beidzoi (comb) was of yolgai (white shell). Four spindles or distaffs were added to this, the disks of which were of cannel-coal, turquoise, abalone and white bead, respectively, and the spindle-sticks of atsinltlish (zigzag lightning), hajilgish (flash lightning), atsolaghal (sheet lightning), and nltsatlol (rain ray), respectively." "The dark, blue, yellow and white winds quickened the spindles (beedizi) according to their color, and enabled them to travel around the world."
Presumably, this legend accounts for the now vanishing tradition that weaving should be done with proper moderation. Overdone weaving (akeitlo) is ameliorated by a sacrifice offered to the spindle (beedizi). Its prayerstick (bik'et'an) consists of yucca, precious stones, bird and turkey feathers, tassels of grass (tlo'zol) and pollen, and forms part of the blessing rite (hozhoji). The hach'eyatqei, or ch'aeyatqei (prayer to the gods), is recited with the sacrifice. The custom withholding maidens from weaving before marriage, which was formerly observed, is also explained by the fear of overdoing weaving. Little or no attention, however, is paid to this tradition today. Pgs. 221, 223
For references to steps in weaving, coloring and dyeing of wool, setting up of loom, weaving, Implements, use of loom, designs and knitting refer to below Pgs. 223-256
Take, for instance, the famous art of Navajo weaving. If you ask a member of the tribe today when weaving was learned, she - for Navajo weavers are women - will tell you that they were taught by Spider Woman, "in the beginning." Yet the Navajo weaving technique, point for point, exactly duplicates that of the Pueblos, who have been weaving since A.D. 600. It is a complicated art, and Navajo girls today need years to learn it from a female relative, practicing every day. It is difficult to believe that the Navajos had worked out the loom, the spindle, and all the other equipment before this era of "learning by marriage." A blanket got in trade, a loom glimpsed on a visit to some pueblo would never have given them enough information. Then there is the problem of sex etiquette, for most Pueblo weavers today are men. Indian proprieties would surely forbid a Navajo woman to receive daily instruction from a strange man. But if she married him! It is possible to imagine the skilled weaver working in a Navajo home, trying to teach his sons who were still wedded to the life of hunting and fighting and, finally, imparting the art to his daughters. That this did not happen too early in Navajo history can be gathered from the fact that all known specimens of Navajo weaving are in wool. Therefore they were made after the Spaniards had come and after the Navajos had sheep. And sheep did not come to the Navajos in any quantity until after the Pueblo revolt. Pgs. 46-47
Even such everyday tasks as weaving must be done only in moderation. Many women will not weave more than about two hours at a stretch; in the old days unmarried girls were not allowed to weave for fear they would overdo, and there is a folk rite for curing the results of excess in this activity. Closely related is the fear of completely finishing anything: as a "spirit outlet," the weaver leaves a small slit between the threads. Pgs. 225-226
The Navajos believe in the Greek maxim "Nothing to excess " believing that overdoing a thing brings bad luck as an offense to the spirits. For the same reason nothing must be too perfect. A rug or basket design with a solid border must have a break in it or flaw to let the spirit of the maker, who has spent so much time and energy, escape. It is natural that things which bring one a livelihood should also have some restrictions. Many commercially minded weavers and other craftsmen have begun to ignore the taboos of their trades as being too restrictive. The large number of taboos relating to pottery making have been given credit for the decline of that craft, and none are listed here.
Don 't hit anyone with weaving tools - crack the tools.
They will be paralyzed in the future.
Don't spank your children with weaving tools.
They'll get sick.
Don't have a weaving comb with six points.
Your baby might have six fingers.
Don't go between the poles of the loom when a woman is weaving.
You won't grow - cause evil - won't get much for the rug.
Don't have the loom of the weaving stand too long.
It will tire and hurt you.
Don't eat or drink while you prepare the loom for the rug.
You'll get poor - won't get much for the rug.
Don't eat while you are weaving.
It will go slow - won't be any good.
Don't weave a Yei figure with one eye smaller or one leg shorter.
It will affect you that way in later life - affect your baby.
Don't leave a Yei figure in a rug unfinished.
The Yeis will get angry - bring bad luck.
This is interesting as a compromise taboo. Yeis are Holy People and as such are supposed to be represented only in the sandpaintings which are used and destroyed before sundown but never done in any permanent form. The famous hermaphroditic medicine man Hosteen Clah was one of the first to weave rug versions of the sandpaintings. In the Shiprock area Yei rugs and other pictorial tapestries became increasingly popular after WWII.
Don't be stubborn while weaving a rug.
It won't be worth much.
Don't throw weaving tools.
You 'II never finish the weaving.
Don't burn weaving tools.
The "Yeis" will get angry - bad luck.
Don't weave if you don't know a weaving song.
It won't be any good.
Don't leave tools in the loom when they are not in use.
You won't finish right away.
Don't weave when it is raining.
It will cause the loom to fall.
Don't stand by the loom when it is raining.
Lightning will strike you.
Don't pass things through the loom.
Anything you pass through will be lost -food, yarn, beads.
Don't bump into or move around a loom you are preparing for a rug.
It will be crooked - you won't be able to get it straight.
Don't leave carded wool too long.
When you start weaving it won't like it and you'll have trouble.
Don't make fun of your weaving.
It will get worse - you'll be poor.
Don't leave a loom outside.
It will collect bad things.
Don't cut off a loom once it is made.
You will have a short life.
Don't steal a rug - wool - weaving tools.
You'll never be lucky - always have bad luck.
Don't weave immoral things in a rug.
You'll be sterile.
Don't weave any taboo animal into a rug.
You will have all the bad luck associated with that animal.
Don 't hang rugs out in the sun.
The sun will take it as an insult.
Don't weave at all (boys).
It will affect the reproductive organs.
Don't weave on the north side of the hogan.
The rug won't be worth anything.
Don't drag your rugs on the ground.
Don't leave an unfinished rug outside at night.
It might be witched - you won't be able to finish it or sell it.
Don't put a rug over your horse's face.
It will go blind.
The principal occupation of the present-day Navajo is raising sheep, goats, and a few cattle. And yet four hundred years ago he had seen no sheep or horses. Under the treaty of 1886, each Navajo was given two sheep - about twelve thousand sheep altogether, since not more than sic thousand Navajos survived Bosque Redondo. Now a million sheep graze on the Navajo land. Since the introduction of sheep to this country by Coronado's men, Navajo women have been weaving rugs on crude hand looms - an art which was not entirely new to them, since they already wove with yucca and other vegetable fibers. Pg. 167
There is a saying that a rug is not good unless a weaver puts her "soul" in it. Like Changing Woman, the Holy Person whom the Navajo woman personifies, the weaver is an eternal creator who weaves both an individual product of her own mind and a more universal product from the mind of the tribe. Pgs. 10-11