1. The Navajo
wedding basket also reflects many values of traditional life and so often contains
all six sacred mountains, including Huerfano and Gobernador Knob, though the size
of the basket may determine the numher of mountains in the design. The center
spot in the basket represents the beginning of this world, where the Navajo people
emerged from a reed. This is where the spirit of the basket lives. The white part
around the center is the earth, the black symbolizing the sacred mountains upon
which are found water bowls. Above them are clouds of different colors. The white
and black ones represent the making of rain. A red section next to the mountains
stands for the sun's rays that make things grow. (Sacred Land Sacred View, Robert
2. A word
might be said regarding the symbolism attached to the design of Navajo wedding
trays, for it is one of the few southwestern basketry decorations which probably
has meaning. One very simple interpretation is that the inner black steps represent
the underworld; the red band is the earth and life; and the outer black steps
stand for the upper world. Fishler recites the following interpretation which
he obtained from one of his Navajo informants. The center spot (often a tiny
opening) in the basket "represents the beginning of this earth as the Navajo
merged from the cane"; the white around this is the earth. Stepped black
designs represent the mountains, boundaries of Navajo lands; water bags and
rainbows are draped on the mountains, clouds also rise from thm. All the white
in the basket represents dawn, all red the sun's rays, and all black the clouds,
said the informant. Fishler adds much symbolism relative to numbers of coils;
he then tells how Navajo legend relates that this wedding basket design was
given to this tribe by White Shell Woman, and Thunder taught them to weave the
water jar and carrying basket. The braided rim is explained by the Navajo in
terms of this legend: A Navajo woman was weaving under a juniper tree, trying
to think of finishing the rim in some manner different from that of the regular
stitch. A god tore a small sprig from the tree and tossed it into her basket.
Immediately she thought of the braided rim. (Indian Baskets of the Southwest
Clara Lee Tanner (1983)).
mountains had been given their positions by First Man when he invited the various
Peoples to contribute to the completion and beauty of the earth. Accordingly,
the various animals planted the seeds of trees, shrubs, plants and grasses,
which they had brought with them from the lower worlds. Thereupon, First Man
breathed upon them so that they, too, might see and live. The clouds, winds
and thunder were placed on the sky (yaidilqil) so that moisture might be supplied
and vegetation secured. Pg. 353
Dictionary of the Navajo Language; 1910, The Franciscan Fathers.
the mountains-to-be White Shell was placed for Mountain Woman, and Water Woman
was represented by River Clay. West of that there were four flints placed with
a black one for Sand Hill Crane, Bittern and Curlew, a yellow one for the Ducks
and Mud Hen, and White Flint for Egret and Snipe. On the Sky Medicine Bundle
were placed Kingbird, Chickadee, Snowbird and Owl, which are the winter birds.
People use Kingbird's tongue, which is notched, for divination. On the Earth
Bundle they placed flints representing the Woodpecker and Yellow Bird, and the
Sapsucker was added to the Winter Medicine Bundle, because he is spotted as
if with snow; all these birds are used in the medicine pouch. Coyote observed
everything, while First Man sang one hundred and two songs, alternating with
the Woman, who sang one hundred and two Mountain Songs. First Man would sing
a Sun Song and then call upon Mountain Woman to sing a Mountain Song, and all
these songs were part of the Blessing Way, which must conclude all ceremonies.
Now, on the Earth side of Creation, First Man placed eight winds and on the
Sky side eight thunders, dark mist and "he-and-she rains. Near Mountain
Woman on the Earth side he placed Dark Mountain with beads of Jet for Dark Mountain,
Abalone for Yellow Mountain, and White Shell for White Mountain. Then on the
Dark Mountain he placed bands of Jet for the White Headed Eagle, on Blue Mountain
another Eagle, on Abalone Mountain a Hawk, and on White Mountain the White Eagle
and the Hawk. Next to Water Woman were two kinds of waves, and these became
Spruce Hill and Huerfano Mountain. Then First Man covered the Creation with
Dawn, Twilight, Sky Blue and Dark Sky from the four directions, and breathed
four times on it; then he removed the coverings, and everything in the Earth
and Sky began to move. Then he covered them again and breathed on them again,
and they increased in size; but life had not yet come into them. Four times
he repeated this process until they were big enough; then he took up the nine
winds from the earth side and breathed with them on the prayer sticks and the
mountains, and all the things that lie on the earth and sky and all the people
and all the things breathed and stood up.
Then they decorated the mountains with the Holy Jewels, Mountain Woman with
vegetation, and Water Woman with foam; Spruce Hill was covered with stuffs,
and Huerfano Mountain with jewels. Pg. 44
Myth, According to Hanelthnayhe Rite; 1949, Mary C. Wheelwright
It is also
said that soon after the Kiis'aani moved away Altse' hastiin the First Man and
Altse' asdzaa' the First Woman decided to embellish this new world. So together
with Bits'iis lizhin the Black Body, and with Bits'iis dootl'izh the Blue Body,
they first set out to build the seven mountains sacred to the Navajo people
to this very day. They built those mountains out of things they had brought
with them: things they had taken from similar mountains in the fourth world
below. In the east they made Sisnaajini', or Sierra Blanca Peak as Bilagaana
now calls it. In the south they made Tsoodzil', or Mount Taylor. In the west
they made Dook'o'oosliid, or San Francisco Peak as it is now called. And in
the north they fashioned Dibe'nitsaa, or Big Mountain Sheep.
Those four mountains they built at the four cardinal points. They placed them
where the water flowing from the fourth world gathered after it seeped up through
the holes Altse' hastiin had made when he threw four stones in the four directions.
Also they made three mountains in the middle of the land. They made Dzilna'oodilii,
or the mountain that Bilagaana would call Travelers Circle. They made Ch'o'ol'i'i
or the mountain that some would now call Giant Spruce while others claim that
the meaning is obscure. And they made Ak'idah nast'ani, or the mountain that
the White Man calls Butte Piled on a Butte in his language.
Through Sisnaajini in the east they ran a bolt of lightning to fasten it to
the firmament. Then they decorated it with white shells. They decorated it with
white lightning. They decorated it with white corn. They decorated it with the
dark clouds that produce the harsh and sudden male rain.
On the summit of Sisnaajini in the east they placed a bowl of shells. In that
bowl they placed two eggs belonging to Hasbidi the Gray Dove', for they wanted
feathers on the mountain. They then covered those eggs with a sacred buckskin
so that they would hatch. Which explains why there are so many wild pigeons
on that mountain to this day.
All that they had placed on Sisnaajini in the east they now covered with a sheet
of daylight. And from small stone images which they had carried with them from
the world below they fashioned Tse'ghadi'nidinii ashkii the Rock Crystal Boy
and Tse'ghadi'nidinii at'e'e'd the Rock Crystal Girl. These two they stationed
there to dwell forever as the male god and as the female god of Sisnaajini,
or Sierra Blanca Peak as it would be called today in the language that Bilagaana
the White Man speaks.
From top to bottom through Tsoodzil in the south they ran a great stone knife
to fasten it to the firmament. Then they adorned it with turquoise. They adorned
it with dark mist. They adorned it with many different animals. They adorned
it with the heavy mist that brings the slow, gentle female rain.
On the peak of Tsoodzil in the south they placed a large bowl of turquoise.
In that bowl they put two eggs of the Dolii the Bluebird, for they also wanted
feathers on that mountain. They next covered those eggs with a sacred buckskin
to make them hatch. Which explains why so many bluebirds dwell there to this
All that they had placed on Tsoodzil in the south they now covered with blue
sky. And from a portion of substance which they had brought with them from the
world below they fashioned Dootl'izhii nayoo'ali ashkii, the Boy Who Is Bringing
Back Turquoise. And they fashioned Naada'a'la'i nayoo'ali at'e'e'd', the Girl
Who Is Bringing Back Many Ears of Corn. These two they stationed there to dwell
forever as the male god and as the female god of Tsoodzil, or Mount Taylor as
it is called in the language that Bilagaana speaks.
They used a sunbeam to fasten Dook'o'oosliid in the west to the firmament. Then
they decorated it with haliotis shell. They decorated it with a variety of animals.
It too they decorated it with the black clouds that produce the harsh, sudden
On the top of Dook'o'oosliid in the west they placed a large bowl of haliotis
shell. Into that bowl they placed two eggs of Tsidiiltsooi the Yellow Warbler,
for they also wanted plenty of feathers on this mountain. Then they covered
those eggs with a sacred buckskin to be sure that they would hatch. Which explains
why so many yellow warblers live on that mountain to this day.
All that they had placed on Dook'o'oosliid in the west they covered with a yellow
cloud. And from material which they had obtained before they left the world
below they fashioned Naadalgah ashkii the White Corn Boy and Naada'ltsoii at'e'e'd
the Yellow Corn Girl. These two they stationed to dwell there forever as the
male god and as the female god of Dook'o'oosliid, or San Francisco Peak as it
would now be called in the language that the White Man speaks.
They fastened Dibe'nitsaa in the north to the firmament with a rainbow. Then
they adorned that mountain with black beads.
They adorned it with many different kinds of plants. They adorned it with many
different animals. And it too they adorned with the gray mist that brings the
slow, gentle female rain.
On the highest point of Dibe'nitsaa in the north they placed a large bowl of
black beads. Into that bowl they placed two eggs of ch'agii the Blackbird, for
they believed that there should also be feathers up there. Which explains why
so many blackbirds fly around on that mountain to this very day.
All that they had placed on Dibe'nitsaa in the north they covered with a blanket
of darkness. And from a bundle of things that they had gathered while they were
living in the world below they fashioned Ta'didiin ashkii', the Pollen Boy and
Nahachagii at'e'e'd the Grasshopper Girl. These two they stationed to dwell
there forever as the male god and as the female god of Dibe'nitsaa, or the Place
of Big Mountain Sheep as it would today be called in the language spoken by
Bilagaana the White Man.
After they had secured the mountains that marked the four cardinal points, they
built the three central mountains.
Dzilna'oodilii they fastened to the firmament with a sunbeam. They decorated
it with all kinds of things, including the dark clouds that bring the male rain.
They put nothing on the summit, for they wished to keep it empty so that warriors
might be able to fight there. But they placed Yodi neidiitsi ashkii the Boy
Who Produces Goods there, and they placed Yodi nei dii tsi at'e'e'd the Girl
Who Produces Goods there to dwell forever as gods.
Ch'o'ol'i'i they fastened to the firmament with a streak of falling rain. Then
they decorated it with pollen and with the dark mist that brings female rain.
On its summit they placed Ghoozhghaalii the Bullock Oriole, which is like those
that are plentiful there to this day. And there they also put Nitl'iz neidiitsi
ashkii the Boy Who Produces Jewels and Nitl'iz neidiitsi at'e'e'd the Girl Who
Produces Jewels to dwell forever as male god and female god.
And finally they fastened Ak'i dah nast'ani to the firmament with a sacred mirage
stone. It they decorated with many different plants', and with the black clouds
that bring the male rain. On its summit they placed Nahachagii the Grasshopper,
whose descendants are abundant there to this day. And there they also placed
Tse hadahoniye' ashkii the Mirage Stone Boy and Yoo'lichi'i at'e'e'd the Carnelian
Girl to dwell there forever as gods, it is said. Pgs. 86-90
The Navajo Creation Story; 1984, Paul G. Zolbrod
though places, are so personalized that I have classified them as deities. They
may be included in lists of Holy People mentioned in formula and prayer; they
have an 'inner form,' 'something which lies inside' (bi' yi'sti'n), and stabilizes
them, doubtless a counterpart of the Agate or Turquoise Man which makes a man
invincible. When people in the lower worlds were forced by floods to leave,
they took special care to bring tokens of the mountains with them. No Navaho
conception of the world, whether in the past or the future, is conceivable without
the contemporary arrangement of mountains. The mountain symbolism is due no
doubt to the belief that they are homes of the gods, associated with hogans.
The outstanding mountains are discussed in Chapter 2, where the difficulty,
even impossibility, of determining the precise geography is noted. Here an illustration
of conflicting evidence is cited:
The provenance of the 'eastern mountain' is much discussed by Navaho chanters,
but there is no agreement. sisnadjini', 'the-particular-one-that-is-black-belted,'
is its name. Matthews said it was Abiquin Peak or the one next to Abiquin, which
may be Pedernal Peak (*Matthews and others refer to 'Belted Mountain' as Pelado
Peak, not marked with the Spanish name on modern U.S. Geological Survey maps).
Father Berard accepts for the Navaho the mountain identified by the JicariIla
Apache as Blanca Peak in Colorado, and Sapir-Hoijer, doubtless following his
lead, also translate sisna'djini (their recording) as Blanca Peak. Father Berard's
Navaho authorities, convinced that it was the Holy Mountain of the east, collected
soil to be ritualistically employed later.
On the other hand, when in 1933 the Navaho decided to have the Rain Ceremony
performed, the Rain Singer conducted a pilgrimage to Wheeler Peak (sisnadjini'),
where they ceremonially collected waters. They explained, however, that "although
Wheeler Peak is, as we know, pretty far east, it is the right mountain."
From this and other conflicting remarks, we may well exercise caution in accepting
any one as 'the right' mountain. From the Rain Singer's qualification I infer
that' too far east 'indicates Pedernal or Pelado Peak as nearest the mythical
location; Blanca Peak seems much too far north. Evidence of men who started
out on a ritualistic quest without suggestion from whites is a bit more convincing
than that of Navaho taken on a 'scientific' field trip. I do not by these remarks
mean to imply that anyone was insincere-I mean merely to demonstrate that mythical
places may be easily rationalized as 'scientifically' correct, even though one
name be assigned to several (Ch. 2; Oakes-Campbell, PI. I, IV, V, VIII, X-XII;
Haile 1938b, pp. 66-7; Sapir-Hoijer, p. 176).
Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950