Navajo Bull Roarer or Groaning Stick

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The Bull Roarer - The descriptions governing the construction of the bull roarer (tsin di'ni, the groaning stick) are very minute in detail. It is elliptical in shape and made of pine wood riven by lightning (nidishchi bo'os'ni). Its front is mounted by eyes (bina') and a mouth of turquoise (dotlizhi), the rear by a piece of abalone shell (dichili), to serve as its pillow (bitsi'al). The whole is then covered with yucca pitch (tsazi bije), lightning struck pitch (bo'os'ni bije), and charcoal gathered from a tree struck by lightning (i'nitesh). A thong made of bighorn or sacred buckskin is attached through a hole in the butt end around which, too, it is wound when not in use. The bull roarer is placed in the medicine bowl and the thong is soaked with the medicine by one of the assistants. He then encircles the hogan once or twice and violently whirls the roarer, during which time all remain in silence within. Upon returning to the hogan the thong is wrapped about it, in which shape the bull roarer is then used for pressing the limbs. The front (bitqel), indicated by the eyes and mouth, is always pressed toward the limb. Finally the patient uses the bull roarer in blowing the ashes, instead of the crow feathers used by others.

As the medicines vary in number and quality for each chant, they are put up in small pouches called aze' jish, medicine pouches, and added to the za'nil, equipment. The singer conducting a ceremony is always cognizant of the requisite medicines, which he collects in due season, while the ordinary Navaho is familiar with many from hearsay. The dried leaves, or powdered herbs, are usually soaked in a bowl of water, which in turn is dedicated in one way or other by prayer and song. At times roughly chipped arrow points (bes'est'ugi), of the color corresponding with that of the cardinal points, are dropped into the bowl from the four directions. The bull roarer, too, is dipped into it, while the thong attached to it is soaked with the medicine previous to whirling it.

Objects used in pressing are the arrow points, the knife of the Slayer, the bull roarer, herbs employed for dressing (chil ae), and others.

The bull roarer and thong, and the hide rattle, is frequently rubbed with sacred tallow.


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

Various ceremonial procedures focus on the patient as the verses of song continue. The chanter goes outside in the darkness four times; each time we hear the characteristic whirring of the bull roarer in a different direction as, according to the story of the Male Shootingway, he drives off any evil influences in the surroundings of the hogan.

Earth is my Mother, Sky is my Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting;
1992, Trudy Griffen-Pierce.

1 bullroarer made form a piece of pine which has been knocked down away from the tree by lightning. Eyes and mouth are simple indentations painted black; rest unpainted. 30" piece of sacred buckskin string attached to base; end of string, looped.

Essential Equipment for the Blessingway Rite, and Miscellaneous Paraphernalia which could also be used in the Windway and the Beautyway Chants. ..... 2 Bullroarers - made from lightning-struck tree; covered with pinyon pitch and set with turquoise to mark it with features; makes roaring sound of thunder when swung; device given to Navajos by the lightning spirit.

.... bullroarers had been painted black. both had turquoise bits inset in "an eyes and mouth pattern" on one side and a piece of abalone shell (often called "the brain") inset on the other. A rawhide thong was attached to each and wrapped around the basal end.

Navajo Medicine Bundles or Jish: Acquisition, Transmission, and Disposition in the Past and Present;1987, Charlotte J. Frisbie

Bull-roarer (tsin din' i), representing different but related powers-Thunder in the Shooting, Snake in the Big Star Chant-drives off evil.
Summarizing the rites, Monster Slayer says, "The first thing they did was to carry out the bull-roarer in order to drive evil out of the house."
The act of erasing sandpainting guards or sweat-emetic fire paintings with the bull-roarer indicates that the evils are gone, the guardians no longer needed (Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. 33-4; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.).

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

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This site was last updated on September 28, 2020.

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