Navajo Clans

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When the Diné were ready to journey back to the East, they did not want to leave Changing Woman. She told them that she could not go with them, but she would give them what they needed. She created the four clans and gave them prayers & songs. She taught them that the rainbow symbolized protection. She gave each of the clans a sacred stone of white shell, turquoise, abalone shell, or jet. And she gave them a sacred cane (gish) to use as a guide in their travels. She gave them food & water to help them grow & prosper, corn for food, corn pollen for offerings, water for ceremonies & to sustain life, dried meat, & yucca fruit. She told them to journey to their new homeland within the four sacred mountains where their grandfather, Talking God, awaited them.

Hashtl'ishnii - Mud People Clan
To the Hashtl'ishnii, Changing Woman gave a cane (gish) made of black jet, which became the Sacred Black Jet Gish. Through this gift, people of the Hashtl'ishnii Clan became skilled, naturally gifted, & creative people. Today these people are still rug weavers, craft people , & farmers. Changing Woman gave them the porcupine (dahsaní) as their symbol of protection. "Saní" means old; therefore, the Mud People are considered wise & skillful at outsmarting their enemies. The hair & quills of the porcupine are used in healing ceremonies. Bundles of quills are tied to an infants cradleboard to ensure good health, the ash of burned quills is applied to infected sores, & the smoke is inhaled to clear congestion. During the journey when the clan needed water, the gish was driven into the ground, but the water that sprang forth was muddy. This is how the clan gained their name, the Mud People Clan.

Kin Yaa'áanii - Towering House Clan
To the Kin Yaa'áanii, Changing Woman gave a cane (gish) made of white shell, which became the Sacred White Shell Gish. Through this gift, people of the Kin Yaa'áanii Clan became respected leaders, guides, & teachers. Changing woman gave them bear (shash) as their symbol of protection. It is a strong symbol, & the claws & skin are seen in sand paintings for the Mountain & Bear Chants. The bear is called dzil yaah naagháhí, meaning "one that walks on the mountains." Some clans tell the story that the keeper of the White Shell gish became frustrated when he dug for water & found none. He threw the gish against a canyon wall. When the people saw him standing there, they mistook the canyon wall for a house. This is how the clan became known as the Towering House Clan.

Honághááhnii - One Walks Around You Clan
T0 the Honághááhnii, Changing Woman gave a cane (gish) made of turquoise, which became the Sacred Turquoise Gish. With songs & prayers, this gift helped people of the Honághááhnii Clan become medicine men & women. Turquoise stones were to be worn for protection when traveling & to give speakers fortitude & the right to speak about the traditions of the Diné. Changing woman gave them mountain lion (náshdóítsoh) as their symbol of protection & healing. Ceremonies & songs tell of the mountain lion's medicinal powers. Its eyes are able to see evil in the darkness. The Honághááhnii name may have been given to them by the Apache, meaning "One Walks Around You Clan." Or it may have originated from the custom of leaving a warrior to walk around while others slept at night.

Tó dích'íinii - Bitter Water Clan
T0 the Tó dích'íinii, Changing Woman gave a cane (gish) made of abalone shell, which became the Sacred Abalone Shell Gish. Through this gift, people of the Tó dích'íinii Clan became philosophers & educators, sharing their knowledge with others. Changing Woman gave them a protector. Some clans say that they were given the bullsnake (diyóósh). Others say the wolf (ma' iitsoh) is their protector. The howl of a wolf is a signal to turn back from a battle, raid, or hunting trip. Although most snakes are considered evil, the bullsnake is respected & considered harmless. Sometimes the snake represents lightning. When it moves about, the Diné say it will soon rain. As a sign of respect for the sacred snake, & in thanks for the rain, Diné children are taught to sit still during thunderstorms. The name Bitter Water Clan is said to have originated when bitter water spouted from a hole dug by a spiritual man.

From San Juan School District Curriculum Center

Din? Clans
When a Navajo baby is born, he or she belongs to the clan of the mother. The clan name passes on through her to her children. When a young man marries, it must be to someone completely outside of his clan. Even though people in his clan are not all blood-related, it is considered in-appropriate to marry within one's own clan. This rule is strictly observed. Should it occur, it would be considered as "incest" to the Navajo people.

An important Navajo custom is to introduce one's maternal and paternal clans on both sides of his family when meeting another Navajo or introducing yourself to the Navajo public for the first time. In the Navajo way, this is how Navajos know where you came from. Navajo children are "born to" the mother's clan and take her clan name, and are "born for" the father's clan. Therefore, Navajos precisely know who they are through identification by their mother's, father's, maternal grandfather's and paternal grandfather's clans. For example, Harrison Lapahie Jr.'s Navajo lineage is "Bit'ahnii Tachii'nii", with the mother's clan listed first. B?t'ahnii (Folded Arms People) from his mother's (Lillie Todychini) side, born for the Tachii'nii (Red Running into the Water Clan) from his father's (Harrison Lapahie) side. The Tod?ch'?i'nii (Bitter Water Clan) are his maternal grandfather, and the Ta'n??zahnii (The Badlands People) are his paternal grandfather's clan from their moms.

In the Navajo way, two Navajos of the same clan, meeting for the first time, will refer to each other as "brother" or "sister". Navajos that are cousins to each other in the American sense, think of each other as "brother" or "sister" in the Navajo sense. Father's and mother's cousins in the American way are thought of as aunts and uncles in the Navajo way. Grandparent's brothers and sisters in the American way are thought of as grandma's and grandpa's in the Navajo way. Harrison Lapahie Jr. has many brothers, sisters, Aunts, Uncles, Grandmas, and Grandpas, in the Navajo way, that are his Cousins, his father's and mother's cousins, and his grandparent's brothers and sisters in the American way.

When a Navajo is in strange surroundings, it is not uncommon for his relatives (in the Navajo way) or his clan members, to have the responsibility for his housing, food, and welfare, while this individual is in the immediate area.

A Navajo through his own clan (his mom's clan) and the clan groups to which his father as well as his spouse belong, has a great potential for personal contacts. This complex network of inter-relationships served in the past to fuse the scattered bands of Navajos and other American Indians together as a Navajo Tribe.

Origin of the Clans
First Man (Alts? Hastiin) and First Woman (Alts? Asdzaa) found a baby girl at Gobernador Knob (Ch'oolii) whom they namedChanging Woman (Asdz?? N?dleeh?). Changing Woman was then raised at Huerfano Mesa (Dzil Na'oodilii) to give birth to twins, Naay??' Neezgh?n? (Monster Slayer) and T? B?j?sh Ch?n? (Child Born of Water), who killed the monsters on the earth. The Sun (J?h?naa'??) then wanted her to come and live with him. He promised to build a beautiful home in the Western Ocean for her. In order that Changing Woman would not be lonely, some of the people (animals) decided to go with her to her new home. Changing Woman then traveled to the Western Ocean to be with her husband, the Sun (J?h?naa'??).

These people (animals) lived with her in the west for some time, but later they became lonely as they heard of people like themselves who still lived in their old homeland (Din?tah). Finally, they decided to return. Changing Woman though that there should be more people, so she created more of them (humans) by rubbing the skin from her breast, from her back, and from under both arms. In this way, she created the first four clans. Changing Woman rubbed the skin from her breast and formed people who became the Kinyaa'aanii13 (Towering House Clan). From the skin rubbed from her back, the Honaghaahnii (One-Walk-Around Clan10) was formed. From the skin under her right arm, the Todich'ii'nii (Bitter Water Clan) was created, and from the skin under her left arm, the Hashtl'ishnii (Mud Clan) was made.

As the years pasted, most of the people of Din?tah started moving around from place to place, and other American Indian tribal bands were adopted into the Navajo tribe. The Beiy?odz?ne'34 (Paiutes) from Naatsis'??n (Navajo Mountain) were adopted but were left there because of differences over religious matters. The people (Din?) then moved down toward the south, where they left the Ch?sh? (Chiricahua Apache), and adopted the Mexicans (Naakaii). Then they went to the east, where the Naashgal? Dine'? (Mescalero Apaches) decided to stay. The Mescaleros now live from Albuquerque all the way down to the home of the Naakaii (Mexicans). From there, the Din? again moved to the vicinity of Dib? Nitsaa (La Plata Mountains), where the Beehai (Jicarilla Apaches) eventually settled. The People remained there for seven winters. They were happy, but there was one problem. The summers were too short. Because there was not time for the squash and corn to ripen, the main group moved to Ts? Naajiin (Cabezon Peak).

The names of more than half of the Navajo Clans suggest that they derived from the places in which the Clans originated, such as Kinyaa'aanii, a Pueblo ruin in the Crownpoint area of New Mexico, or Deeschii'nii, a canyon in the Cibecue area of the Western Apache country. The remainder, something less than half, claim origin from other American Indians including the Mexicans, Apaches, Utes, Commanches, and Puebloans (Zuni, Jemez, Zia, Santa Ana, and Hopi).

Now the Navajo Tribe has grown to it present system of about 70 or 80 different Navajo Clans. As of now, no official clans are represented for Anglos (Bilagana), Blacks (Zhini), or Asians, although Navajos who have one parent that is non-Navajo are still "born to" or "born for" Anglo-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc.. These clans are divided into nine major clan groupings, although a few smaller groupings are also recognized.

From the Discover Navajo website -

There lived a woman who had magical powers. She moved away from her homeland to a new place. She soon became lonely and decided to move back home. She needed more friends to travel with, so she made four new friends. The people she made were given the very first four clans.

She rubbed different parts of her body to make her new friends.
First, she rubbed her chest to make the Kiyaa'aanii person.
Next, she rubbed her back to make the Hona'gha'ahnii person.
Then she rubbed her right underarm to make the to'di'chi'iinii person.
Last, she rubbed her left underarm to make the Hashtli'shnii person.

Each person was given a protector; the Kiyaa'aani person was given a bear. The Hona'gha'ahnii person was given a mountain lion. The To'di'ch'ii'nii person was given a bull snake. And the Hastl'ishnii was given a porcupine.

The special woman returned home safely with her friends and their protectors.

From the Discover Navajo website -

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This site was last updated on September 27, 2020.

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