Navajo Cloud People

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Although Cloud People appear in the sandpaintings of several chants, they are especially featured in those of Navaho Windway. "A cloud painting of some kind is used in every Navaho Wind Chant which lasts five or more days" (New comb). There are ten reproductions in collections. In Black Mustache's myth the hero learned a sandpainting at Earth Charcoal, the place where the Wind had burned its young ones, which as described was almost identical to the radial composition collected by Mrs. Armer at Oraibi in 1924. This latter (or copies of it) is probably the most frequently published of any single sandpainting design. Mrs. Armer published it in color in 1925, calling it the sandpainting of the Pollen Boy (who appears on the central blue square, west of the black circle in its center; the earth with the dark hole where the serpents live) . To explain it she related a variant of the episode of Stolen by Snakes, in which Pollen Boy is the kidnapped child, Dragon Fly the monitor, and the grandfather rescues the boy. The same color plate was published by Berry in 1929, but incorrectly assigned to the Mountain Chant. This reproduction has been copied by Margaret Schevill Link (this is the one in M Coll.) and silk screen reproductions of it are being sold as separate plates. Another copy of it has been published in color as recently as 1960. A black and white reproduction has even appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript. Moreover, Mrs. Armer took two photographs of the Navahos making this sandpainting and these have appeared in her original article, in Berry's paper, in the reprints of the latter in El Palacio, and in two other stories about Mrs. Armer's work, in Discovery and in Travel. All this certainly gives this sandpainting a world's record for publication! The picture is one of the most elaborate sandpaintings for Navaho Windway, with sixteen Cloud People, four at each cardinal position; a bird on top of each quadrantal plant (yellow-headed blackbird on corn, bluebird on beans, goldfinch on squash, a red bird on tobacco); and black and white Dragon Flies guarding the eastern opening.



Equally elaborate ones in M and B Colls. are similar except that each Cloud Person has a single flint arrow point on its head, there are no birds, the eastern guardians are Big Flies, and the centers are large blue squares bearing sixteen Big Flies ("the blue land where the Big Flies live"-Newcomb; Fig. 47). Four other paintings have Cloud People with single heads but are linear compositions with only four people (Fig. 46 B). One of these collected by Wyman was called Mirage sandpainting by the informant. This has five segments in the body while all the others have four.

Many Heads. The other three paintings are linear with four Cloud People in each, having five (B Coll., Wyman) or six (H Coll.) body segments, three (B Coil., Wyman) or two (H Coll.) heads on the top segment, and two heads on each of the other segments (Fig. 46 C, D). These numerous heads represent the Wind People and their children riding on clouds (Wyman), or the masked faces of Sky People, Rain, Fog, Mist, and Hail, coming through the air wrapped in clouds, the carriages of the Sky Lands, to attend the Wind Chant (Newcomb).

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This site was last updated on September 28, 2020.

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