A few statements
point to the source of illness or death in the "meanness" of Supernaturals.
First Man and Woman are considered mean and from them will come epidemics, coughs
and colds. Pg. 42
The Worm Man emits stinging insects and claims that he is to blame if earth people
get sores around the mouth, ears, face, or on the body. Pg. 42
Recognition of "meanness" has also been noted as a permanent attitude
of First Man and Woman who send Diseases By contrast Changing Woman has "no
meanness left" in her and sends rain and other necessities for fertility.
Sickness will occur if one lies down in a corn field.
Eating certain parts of deer will cause illness: head; nosebleed and head swelling,
heart; bleeding, digestive; turn into a snake. Pg. 42
Frog warns of disease contracted by immersion in water.
Chantway Myths, 1957; Katherine Spencer
Fathers (1910 p. 346 ) : Much evil, disease and bodily injury is due also to
secret agents of evil, in consequence of which the belief . . . . shooting of
evil (sting) is widely spread. Pg. 3
: Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians, 1956; Aileen O'Bryan.
men point out that when a bone is broken, the inner man is "broken off"
from the outer world, which is his outer self. Pg. 46
of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman.
the Navajo seldom place a red color at the east the Red Ant Chant seems to be
one of the few exceptions where this color occurs there. Perhaps, their general
feeling about red east is best explained by Fishler's Navajo informant who said:
"In the morning, if there is a red or gold color in the east, it foretells
fevers, coughs or epidemics to come." In the Beginning, p. 11.
for Horses: The Impact of the Horse on Navajo and Apache Folklore; 1966, La
Verne Harrell Clark.
results from failure to observe some of the numerous restrictions, excess in
any activity, ignorance of ceremonial law or transgressing it, contact with
the dead, being too weak to withstand the power of a chant, or sorcery. Only
through the time-honored means of appropriate ceremonialism can sickness or
disease be combated. Pg. 377
A Study of the Navaho Girl's Puberty Ceremony; 1993, Charlotte Johnson Frisbie.
disease and corporal injuries are treated in the light of chastisement by the
offended divinities. The source of sickness is therefore to be found not so
much in any physical cause as in some magic influence, which must be removed
by the power of a specific chant by making a propitiatory sacrifice to the offended
holy person, or by employing the greater power of a higher divinity in removing
the witchery and malevolent influence of an inferior one. Should the sickness
continue after a given ceremony, such a fact can not be attributed to the impotence
of that ceremony, but clearly shows that the offense has not been properly traced
and must be sought elsewhere. In consequence there is often no end of singing
in one form or other until death ensues or relief is obtained, as the method
of dispatching a chronic patient by means of poisonous herbs or drugs is now
practiced with ever decreasing frequency. Death is, of course, beyond human
calculation, yet should ordinarily not interfere with an effort to obtain a
prolongation of the period of life by invoking the aid of some chant. When the
approach of death is certain, however, every ceremony subsides, and the officiating
singer withdraws before the inevitable issue. Withal, the singer is the man
of medicine, as Navaho therapeutics are effectively applied in the course of
the rites only. Logically, too, the knowledge and specialty of the singer is
gauged, not so much by his greater or lesser knowledge and dexterity in performing
a given rite. In fact, when it is known that his medicine pouch is possessed
of paraphernalia of some antiquity and difficult to acquire at present, or when
others have been cured of a similar disease through his services, the demand
for a given rite and singer becomes greater regardless of the disease. That
the suffering of some patients, especially when rich in wealth, is unduly prolonged
through the chicanery and greed of a clique of singers bent on their exploitation,
is unhappily true, but scarcely avoidable in the face of an equally general
credulity. And though the uninterrupted continuation of singing is usually productive
of physical exhaustion and high fever, this fact can little be considered when
the chant is all-important. Moreover, a glance at the list of harmless herbs
and the manner of applying them in most ceremonies lends color to the opinion
that medicines are of very minor and secondary importance throughout. In addition,
too, medicines obtained from American physicians do not deprive the ceremony
of its primary importance and inherent power, and are often taken while a ceremony
is in progress, or subsequently to it, without apparent detriment to its success.
Obviously, then, the subject of disease is intimately connected with that of
religion and the chants through which a remedy is sought. The present chapter,
however, is devoted to diseases and afflictions regardless of their religious
character. A list of popular remedies frequently applied independently of a
ceremony is also added, though many of these are no longer in vogue. Regarding
the native recipes for poisonous snake bites, hydrophobia, or similar cases,
nothing of value could be obtained, as such information is the property of a
chosen few who scrupulously safeguard it even from their own tribesmen, and
would divulge it with extreme reluctance. The contagiousness of some diseases
is well known. Thus smallpox is much dreaded, the patient being hastily deserted
in the hogan and locality infected with the disease. In recent years few cases
of it have occurred. Diphtheria, too, was checked by close quarantine no other
remedy being known. Modern diseases, such as pulmonary and tubercular troubles,
though formerly unknown, are now very prevalent, and words have been coined
to describe them. While surgery is not practiced the Navaho readily submits
to the surgeon's knife when the necessity for it is explained. The singer as
a rule does not act as accoucheur, but assists sometimes in supporting the laboring
woman. Immediate assistance is offered by neighboring female friends of a woman
in confinement, and obstetrics as a specialty is unknown. Pgs. 105-107
Dictionary of the Navaho Language; 1910, The Franciscan Fathers.
seen that the possible sources of fear are very numerous. But what do all these
dreaded things do to The People? Although Navahos worry about property loss
or damage, their fears are primarily focused upon illness and death. Either
disease of an accidental injury may be due to an attack by the Holy People,
brought on by taboo transgressions which are described in the following chapter.
Or the symptoms may be evidence of "ghost sickness," caused by either
native or foreign ghosts. When there does not seem to be sufficient background
for either of these explanations as when an illness is persistent and stubbornly
refuses to yield to the usual Navaho treatment, or when it is in any way mysterious
from the Navaho point of view then witchcraft is apt to be assigned as the cause.
Although The People distinguish between Naalniih, "disease" (mostly
contagious infections like measles, small pox, diphtheria, syphilis, gonorrhea)
and the more generalized tah honeesgai, "body fever" or "body
ache" (often translated by English-speaking Navahos as "sick all over"),
still all ailments, mental or physical, are of supernatural origin. The notion
of locating the cause of a disease in physiological processes is foreign to
Navaho thought. The cause of disease, of injury to the body or to one's property,
of continued misfortune of any kind, must be traced back to some accidental
or deliberate violation of one of the thou-shalt-nots, or to contact with a
ghost, or to witch activity. It follows logically that treatment consists in
dealing with these causative factors and not with the illness or injury as such.
The supernaturals must be appeased. If a visible sign of attack is present,
it must be removed, or the patient must be treated on the general principle
that he has been attacked by supernaturals or by supernatural means and that
his supernatural relationships need to be restored to normal condition again.
The ultimate aim of every curing ceremonial is this restoration. As Gladys Reichard
has recently written:
The Navaho wants to be natural, to be good, to be safe, well, and young . .
. . but he attains this ideal quite practically. Any deviation from it represents
disease which in its turn makes the body abnormal. . . . . The Navaho can take
things as they come and often tightens his belt but he also values possessions.
If ritual can give him a body which can enjoy wealth, it can also give him wealth
to enjoy. Pgs. 132-133
1946, Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton.