Hero Twins Basket by Lorraine Black (#270)



Lorraine Black loves to talk about the myth and legend of the Navajo people. What is interesting about Lorraine is that she tells those stories through her woven baskets. In this case, she speaks of the birth, personal growth, and development of twin boys into Heros that saved the people from themselves. The Twins were children of the Sun and Changing Woman. Their destiny was to destroy the monsters inadvertently created by The People: creatures brought into being through negative actions who were then bent on destroying and/or devouring those that brought them into the world of humans. This Story Basket holds great meaning as told by a master artist. 

Lorraine Black

Lorraine Black - Navajo Basketweaver: Inspired by dreams, Lorraine Black's skills have literally elevated basket weaving to new dimensions. Famous for her Horned Toad story basket, a three dimensional piece that won first place in the Navajo Show at The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, as well as an award at the Gallup Ceremonials, Lorraine's work is distinctively original.

Lorraine Black's infectious laugh belies the serious magic her hands conjure up when weaving a basket. Unprecedented in her ideas, Lorraine's baskets are innovative and beautiful. Many of them make good use of texture through over-stitching and the addition of objects such as flint arrowheads.

The third daughter of Mary Holiday Black, Lorraine grew up in the family tradition of basket weaving. She began by harvesting young stalks of sumac in the springtime, from where it grows along water ways. She learned how to prepare it for weaving by splitting the willow shoots into three thin strips using teeth and fingers, removing the core, and then rubbing away the bark with buckskin. Her hands soon knew the cuts and sores created by handling the sumac, her cuts stained by the colors of the dyes.

After the intensive work of harvesting and processing is complete, then comes the challenge of beginning a basket. This requires holding together two layers of either three or five rods of unsplit willow, coiling them, and binding them together by interweaving the sumac strips. It is a challenge for the most skillful hands.

Learning to weave ceremonial baskets at about age thirteen, Lorraine continued in the art, quickly transcending traditional designs with new concepts in both design and color.

Now the mother of two young sons, Sebastian and Deon, Lorraine presently makes her home in a small town in Southeastern Utah. Still, her roots extend to Monument Valley, the place of her upbringing. Her art is influenced by her birthplace and her heritage from the Bitterwater and Folded Arm Clans.

Holding one of Lorraine's baskets, with its bright colors and intricate designs, you can almost hear her childlike laughter transcend the coils and spill into the room.

Hero Twins/Monster Slayer

Monster Slayer and Child-of-the-water are the War Gods, having been transformed from earthly beings. They are ye'i, at least in the sense that they are impersonated by masked dancers, but are perhaps in a class by themselves.

Monster Slayer

Monster Slayer (na'ye' ne'zyani) (I) represents impulsive aggression, whereas Child-of-the-water represents reserve, caution, and thoughtful preparation. Monster Slayer kills for the future benefit of mankind; Child-of-the-water collects the trophy and provides for its ritualistic utility.
In some tales of the monster conquest, The Twins go together; in others, Monster Slayer sometimes goes alone while his brother watches over the warning prayerstick at home. This prayerstick was made to glow, burn, or turn blood red when the older hero was in danger and needed help.

After Cliff Monster had been overcome and Monster Slayer returned home, his brother said to him, "I watched the prayersticks all the while you were gone. About noon the black one began to burn and I was troubled because I knew you were in danger, but after it had burned about halfway, the fire went out and I was glad, for I thought you were safe again." His brother answered, "Oh! That must have been at the time Cliff Monster carried me up and threw me on the rocks."

In the story of the War Ceremony, First Man watched the prayerstick which told him of the whereabouts of The Twins. When they had brought back the trophy of Big Monster, he gave it the power to burn when they were in danger. Monster Slayer alone overcame Cliff Monster, and the prayerstick merely moved a bit while he was gone. When he, again alone, entered the home of the Eye Killers, the prayerstick was a little scorched. After hitting Traveling Rock so that chips flew off, he stepped on a chip with his right foot. His strength suddenly failed him; he breathed heavily and trembled. Then the prayerstick at home began to burn and First Man told Child-of-the-water to go to his aid. The boy shot his zigzag lightning arrow into the air. In a moment a healing plant appeared just in front of the older brother. He chewed it and rubbed himself with it; then a cloud arose and rain cooled him. The prayerstick once more assumed its ordinary appearance, and Monster Slayer was ready to race with Traveling Rock (Matthews 1897, pp. 117, 122; Haile 1938b, pp.113, 123, 135, 137, 155; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.).

Monster Slayer had led one of the war parties to an attack on Taos for some valuable beaded scalps, the hair of two desirable virgins. During the entire journey the party had been disturbed by two very old men, who coughed and looked as though they had no sense and ought to go home. When they turned up at the last night's camp, Monster Slayer even cursed them. Eventually they said they just wanted to look on when the party attacked. After the pueblo had been taken, a search was made for the scalps and no one seemed to have them. In the second search, they fell out of the ragged clothes of the old men. The scalps stood for the girls, and there was an archery contest between the trembling old men and Monster Slayer to decide which should have them for wives. The old men hit the target exactly and the hero's arrow fell beside the mark. He did not acknowledge his failure, but merely gave the old men a mean look.
The Stricken Twins-the blind one carrying his lame brother on his back-went from one place to another, begging the gods to help them. All refused because the children had no offering. They met Monster Slayer, his brother, and Shooting God, who offered them help but did not mention a reward. The Hunchback gods had left a sheep where the Stricken Twins could shoot it (probably with the help of Shooting God) and Monster Slayer skinned it for them and cut off pieces specified by the gods.
When The Twins visited Sun the second time, he said he was willing to help them, but this time he wanted them to return the favor: "I wish you to send your mother to the west that she may make a new home for me." Whereupon Monster Slayer, believing himself equal to any task, replied, "I will do so.I will send her there." Then Child-of-the-water reminded them both: "No, Changing Woman is subject to no one; we cannot make promises for her. She must speak for herself; she is her own mistress. But I shall tell her your wishes and plead for you."

Although it is not directly so stated in Gray Eyes' tale, the duty of rewarding his father is perhaps the reason Monster Slayer tried so hard to get Changing Woman to move.
In the tale of the Eagle Chant, Monster Slayer was domestically inclined and, as an ordinary citizen, seems to have demonstrated little power, at least to help his own malady.
Monster Slayer, hero of the legend, took the two ignorant girls, Whiteshell Woman and Turquoise Woman, as wives. They helped him carry out the prescriptions of the Eagle Chant, which, before he learned it, had belonged to a wizard.
Monster Slayer, overcome by powers who controlled game, requested many singers to treat him and, despite offers to pay, all refused, giving no reason. At length his three brothers, Child-of-the-water, Reared-in-the-earth, and Changing Grandchild, who had been trailing him, forced the chanters who had denied him aid to give their medicines to Swallow, for he had agreed to sing for Monster Slayer. After he had been cured, the brothers told him to go back to his wives and keep out of trouble.

When Monster Slayer's work, including the subjection of the minor evils, had been completed, Sun sent a conveyance of dark clouds to take him to his new flint home in the sky. The house was provided with food in abundance; there was a comfortable bed with a pillow made of four white lightnings that would prevent bad dreams from coming true (Haile, 1938b, p. 167; Matthews 1897, p. 127; 1902, pp.232, 242; Newcomb 1940b, pp.53-70; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; 1939, PI. XVII-XIX; Newcomb-Reichard, PI. XVI, XVII).

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


Child-of-the-water (toba'djictcini) (P), the younger of The Twins, will be discussed here only insofar as his traits differ from those discussed for the two.

When First Man sent his messengers to spy out the newborn humans who had not yet learned to escape them, Child-of-the-water sighted the dangerous crow and Monster Slayer shot it.
Holy Man (that is, Monster Slayer) went to the home of White Weasel, who shot four arrows of turquoise, whiteshell, abalone, and redstone at him so that each pair crossed. He pulled the arrows from the side opposite that which they had entered and Holy Man escaped, losing much blood and stopping at four anthills, at each of which he sang a song. Contrary to his wont, he had not told his brother, Holy Boy (Child-of-the-water) where he was going. Nevertheless, the younger boy followed, but did not enter White Weasel's home; if he had, he too would have been shot. By the time he reached his older brother the latter was unable to proceed; the younger brother carried the older until they came to some Cactus People, who restored him so that he could walk. He was further helped by various people whom they met and the result of this journey was the meeting with the leaders of the Female Shooting Chant, with whom they exchanged some songs and knowledge.

As a young man, Child-of-the-water held a scalp in his hand, causing a black spot to appear, a spot mentioned in a song. Since that time no young man is allowed to hold a scalp Or throw ashes upon it, but an old man is selected to do these things in ceremony.

Child-of-the-water is the parent of all the waters.

Changing Woman, after the earth had been made safe for humans, talked long and earnestly with her older son and finally dispatched him to the permanent flint home she and his father had prepared for him. She sent the guards of her mountain home, Bear Man and Big-snake-man, to their destined homes, where they would guard the flint house. Then, turning and noticing Child-of-the-water as if she had forgotten him up to this time, she asked him where he wanted to go. She had really hoped that he would stay with her a little longer, even that he might choose to go with her, but he said, "I want to go where my brother went."

Perhaps from habit or to cover her own disappointment, she scolded him: "If you thought this, why did you not say so when your brother started off? Had you spoken, you could have gone with your brother and father when they left in that cloud. Then it would not have been necessary to start all over again,"
Recalling the cover of darkness, in which the children had previously been wrapped (either as infants or when hidden in Sun's house), she suggested, "Why not choose Darkness to travel in?" And as Darkness came up, even though it was daytime, she spoke to him: "Darkness, be sure and look after your grandchild." She addressed the same prayer to Moon, Dawn, and Sun. As her baby went out of sight in the darkness, though she had sent the others away quickly without indulging in regrets, Changing Woman wept.

This scene depicts clearly the subordinate place of Child-of-the-water in the universal scheme and his primary place in his mother's heart, a position symbolic of his function as a god and as the baby of the family. And just as in a few telling strokes the passage characterizes the son, it summarizes the mother as woman and mother.
At the risk of anticlimax I cannot resist pointing out that the behavior of Child-of-the-water in remaining silent while Sun waited and the Skies assembled is delightfully and typically Navaho. Had a white person in a situation as heavily charged with emotion asked, "Why didn't you say so?" a Navaho would have answered, "You didn't ask me."
When Secondborn arrived at the new flint home, his brother wept for joy at his coming. When they had done weeping, the older said, "From now on don't go wherever you please [that is, without consideration], but let me do the thinking and let us go together." This sentence, I feel, is the epitome of the character and purpose not only of The Twins but of all pairs in Navaho myth, ceremony, and actuality. One does the thinking, the other goes along; one leads, the other follows, serves, and protects (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Haile 1938b, p. 317, 55n; Stevenson, p. 280).

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

Elder Brother

Elder Brother: First child of the union of Changing Woman and Sun Father. His earthly identity or mortal presence may also be "elder brother." Pg. 192

The Gift of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman.

Holy Boy

With the help of the gods they search for Holy Boy. After missing the rendezvous with Holy Man on their hunting expedition, Holy Boy had wandered in search of him and stopped to visit various people, snakes, and ants. In the center of an expanding and receding pool he sees a cornstalk with two eagle feathers. While reaching for the feathers he falls in and is swallowed by a huge fish which takes him through four habitations of water people. Holy Boy uses a flint point to cut his way out of the fish and them heals the cut. Meanwhile, the search party has found only his footprints at the edge of the pool. The Holy People of the waters at first object to the presence of an earth person, but on learning from big fly who he is, they give him Sandpaintings and other ritual knowledge. He is sent back to earth and welcomed with a ceremony of thanks for his return. Pg.121, Male Shooting Way

Younger Brother

Younger Brother: Second child of the union of Changing Woman and Sun Father. His earthly identity or mortal presence may also be "younger brother." Pg. 200

The Gift of the Gila Monster, Navajo Ceremonial Tales; 1993, Gerald Hausman.

The Youngest Brother (I) is the hero of the Endurance Chant, the humble one become great. He is called nake'ctca'i, 'Disgusting Eyes' or 'He-has-matter-in-his-eyes,' a name Matthews says is general for the youngest boy of a family. He says also that the youngest brother is the choice for a chanter since the Navaho believe his mind and memory are best, a remark not corroborated by mythical ideal or practice. The Youngest Brother is also called 'acki'tcil, 'Dwarf Boy,' a name that contrasts his unfavorable appearance with the greatness of his final achievement.

He was left in a hole in the ground to spy on his sister, Changing-bear-maiden, and Coyote. He learned their lore and witchcraft secrets, which they exchanged while indulging in sexual excess. After Coyote had been killed and the sister finally discovered the little boy, she insisted on delousing him as a mark of affection. As she was doing this, Dwarf Boy, by watching her shadow, discovered that she was rapidly becoming a bear. By means of her knowledge, acquired while he was hidden, he eventually overcame her.

The text of the Flint Chant says that Changing-bear-maiden's Youngest Brother was Monster Slayer; the recorder says it cannot be. And in a note, Reared-in-the-earth is said to be her youngest brother. These are doubtless merely different names for the same person-The Youngest Brother is a manifestation of Monster Slayer (Reichard, Endurance Chant ms.; Matthews 1902, pp.170, 312; Haile 1943a, pp. 127, 295, 98n; 310, 108n).

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

Changing Grandchild

Changing Grandchild (tsoi na'dlehe') (P), counterpart of Child-of-the-water, calmed angry gods.
When at an assembly of the gods the dancers who made the corn grow by magic in the Night Chant took their places to sing, not a sound issued from their throats. Coyote, driven out at the beginning of the ceremony by the gods, had deprived them of their voices. Monster Slayer sent Talking God out to reason quietly with Coyote. When Coyote refused three times to come in, Monster Slayer became angry: "Bring him in if you have to use force. When we did not want him in the hogan, he came; now we want him in the Dark-circle-of-branches, he won't come!"
Changing Grandchild spoke up: "It is no use to be angry with him; angry words and shouting will not influence him. Offer him some gift and perhaps he will come in and help you."
Monster Slayer replied, "You are right. We will do as you say. Let us make him the god of darkness, daylight, male rain, corn and all vegetation, of thunder, and of rainbow." As soon as Coyote heard about the gifts, he consented to enter and restore the dancers' voices (cp. Ch. 1, 16; Child-of-the-water, Monster Slayer, Reared-in-the-earth, The Twins; Matthews 1902, p. 203).

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


Reared-in-the-earth (le'ya' ne'yani) (P), another name for Monster Slayer, originated from the afterbirth of the stronger Twin, which was buried in the ground and grew to be a man.
Armored in serrated flint (pink), he helped to convince Changing Woman to move to the new home in the west.
In the story of the Eagle Chant, various singers refused to sing for Monster Slayer after he had been overcome by the Game People. Reared-in-the-earth was in the group that violently protested against the refusal of the singers to give their special medicines to Swallow, who finally consented to sing for Monster Slayer (Changing Woman, The Youngest Brother; Newcomb-Reichard, p. 34, PI. XVI, XVII; Reichard 1939, PI. XVII-XIX; Newcomb 1940b, p. 69).

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


One-who-customarily-sees-the-fish (lo' neine'l'i'i, lo' nayine'l'i'i) (P) was the name given to the hero's father-in-law in my version of the Big Star Chant. RM says that the hero is Monster Slayer and that the name refers to the incident of the hero being swallowed by Fish. According to the Shooting Chant, Holy Boy (Child-of-the-water) was drawn into the water by Fish. RM may be thinking of some other version of the tale, of an entirely different tale, or he may associate Holy Boy, Child-of-the-water, and One-who-customarily-sees-the-fish.
A few references seem to point to an association between One-who-customarily-sees-the-fish and the incestuous sorcerer, Deer Owner, of the Eagle and Feather chants. It may even be only a name for him or a similar character, but if there is a name, there is probably a description in some tale or other (Newcomb-Reichard, p. 39, Fig. 3; Reichard 1934, facing p. 194; 1939, Fig. 3).

The Stricken Twins (I) are heroes of the Night Chant, sons of Talking God and an Earth Maiden. They represent The Twins in a form the opposite of that in the myth of creation and of the Shooting Chant. Instead of being helped by merely appealing to the gods, they were refused help again and again. Originally poor, they were made helpless; one became lame, the other, blind. They had no powers at all, but they had perseverance. Their struggles and persistence eventually gave Earth People the Night Chant (Matthews 1902, pp.212-68).

The Twins (I), children of Sun, were born that men might live. They may be put into any category of supernatural personages except the evil ones. The attributes that appear most often and characterize them best show them as intermediaries between god and man; yet they are major deities appearing with Talking God and xactc'e'oyan, and indeed, in some respects more powerful than Sun, for they challenge his pet creations and he 'bows his head before them.' Although they possess tremendous power-that of their respected mother, Changing Woman, that of their dynamic father, and the combined powers of all Earth and Sky creatures, deific and humble, even the power of the subdued evils-they walk with men and are sometimes called 'Earth People.' They belong, therefore, in every realm; they are the personification of all conceivable power of the universe.
There is disagreement concerning their parentage, strange as it may seem, on their mother's side, for the Navaho seem not to doubt that these wonderful boys were fathered by Sun. The various stories agree that Monster Slayer, at least, was the 'real' child of Changing Woman and in many tales they are Twins. Others make Child-of-the-water the son of Changing Woman's sister, Whiteshell Woman, or perhaps another. Kinship terms of the divine genealogies do not settle the question, since both boys, even in the myths that make them twin sons of Changing Woman, call her 'mother' or 'maternal grandmother.' If the weaker twin was not the direct, he was the collateral son of Changing Woman, and he looks to her for her powers as if she were his' real 'mother. The mother's sister feels that her sister's child is as close as her own and addresses it by the same kin-terms; of primary interest is the close clanship.
The Twins have many names, among them Reared-in-the-earth and Changing Grandchild; these, as well as other names, indicate manifestations of Monster Slayer and Child-of-the-water somewhat different from the usual ones. For example, Monster Slayer is expected to be warlike; Reared-in-the-earth is his threatening manifestation, a bully; Holy Man and Holy Boy are nearer Earth People than are The Twins.
I had come to the conclusion that the theory of multiple selves, although not quite proved, was justified, when I found in RP's story, dictated to Sam Day in 1924, the statements:
"Holy Man is the same as Monster Slayer; Holy Boy is the same as Child-of-the-water" and "Changing Woman was the mother of Holy Man, Holy Woman, Holy Boy, Holy Girl, and Monster Slayer was her son in an earlier existence." Firstborn and Secondborn, Gray Eyes' first names for the boys, are called Holy Man and Holy Boy by RP. In a long discussion tla'h said, "Changing Woman and Whiteshell Woman are two names for the same person. Monster Slayer, Reared-in-the-earth, and Came-down-on-a-sunbeam (bil najno'ltliji) are three names for the same person. The younger boy was called Child-of-the-water, Changing Grandchild (tsoi nadle'he *)(*There is disagreement about the translation of this word and I have accepted the one most commonly used, since the authority for it is as good as any.), and One-cuts-around-it (neidigici). The afterbirths of the two children were buried in the ground. They did not die, but grew supernaturally. Since the afterbirth of Firstborn was a part of him, how could it be anyone else? He was called Reared-in-the-earth because he grew underground. The second afterbirth became Changing Grandchild" (Ch. 4).
Other names are obvious or explained by mythological events. Dress and characterization, as well as name, denote the manifestation. Compare, for instance, Monster Slayer in Sun's House, The Twins in Armor, and Holy Man and Holy Boy.

Soon after they were born the gods made cradles for The Twins similar to the one in which their mother had been found.
As The Twins grew miraculously, Talking God made them bows and arrows; when very young they became acquainted with the methods of the monsters' spies. Events led to adventures which included escaping dangers on their way to Sun's house, passing tests given them by Sun, and proof that they were indeed his children. Assured of Sun's aid, they systematically conquered one monster after another. They made a second visit to Sun-this is the theme of an unrecorded chant myth, perhaps that of the Wind Chant-and, as a result, overcame numerous minor evils. When this work was done, The Twins did all they could to persuade Changing Woman to move to the west and finally succeeded. They eventually went to live at Where-the-rivers-flow-together (to'oxe'dli'ni'), whither people used to go to offer prayers to them.

Even a summary of the scenes in the life of The Twins would be unduly long, for the narration covers many pages in the literature. Each episode has some function in the ceremonies; many illustrations have been given throughout this work (Reichard 1939, pp.15, 38, PI. X, XVIII, XIX, XXIV; Huckel ms.; Haile 1943a, p.34; Matthews 1897, pp. 105, 112, 134; PI. IV, VII; Goddard, p. 156; Newcomb-Reichard, p.46, PI. XIV-XXVII, XXXIV).

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

Navajo Basketry

Basketry is a woman's industry, which is also pursued by the nadle (he changes), hermaphrodites, or men skilled in the arts and industries of both men and women. Basketry, however, is not classified with textile fabrics (yistl'o), but with sewing (nalkhad). It is of interest also that, while the basket is in progress, the sewer is untouched and avoided by the members of her family. The material, too, of which the basket is made is placed beyond the immediate reach of the household. Finally the sewing is accomplished with the utmost expediency, and is undertaken by skilled sewers only. Should an unskilled person tamper with this occupation, it is believed that sickness and rheumatic stiffness affects the wrists and joints. This is remedied by the singer who, in the course of a ceremony, clothes both arms of the patient with the skin of a fawn (bi'yazh), whereupon a hole is broken into the south side of the hogan through which the patient extends her hand and wrist. As soon as the wrist appears on the outside, her younger sister takes it between her teeth, pressing them lightly into the skin, which supposedly removes the stiffness (nasdo'). At present this rite is rarely necessary, but suggests a reason for the taboo (bahadzid) placed upon anything connected with basketry and for the readiness with which the Navaho decline to pursue the industry.



The dimensions of a basket often exceed twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, and are usually a fraction more than three inches in depth. As a material, the twigs of sumac (ki, or chilchin) are used. A triple incision is made into the butt end of the twig, one part of which is held between the teeth while the other two are torn off with the fingers. Each part is then scraped clean of its bark with a knife of piece of tin, and the twigs to be dyed are laid aside in a heap, while the natural color of the twig furnishes the lighter shades of the designs. The dyes used are identical with those used for coloring wool, though, obviously, the mordant of boiled sumac leaves (ki) becomes superfluous. Cedar ashes supposedly add luster to the color and contribute to its adhesive quality. Black was obtained from surface coal (lejin), added to boiling sumac leaves (ki), or from a sulfurous rock (tsekho), slightly roasted (ilt'es) with pine gum or rosin (je'). When ready this was added to the boiling twigs giving them a lustrous black color similar to charcoal (t'esh nahalin). The root of juniper (gad behetl'ol) and mountain mahogany (tseesdasi behetlol) are boiled together, after which the ground bark of alder (kish yikago) is added to obtain a pale red, into which the twigs are immersed. At times the joint fir (tlo' azehi, Ephedra trifurcata) is substituted for alder bark, while cedar ashes add luster to the color.

Blue was frequently obtained with indigo, though a native blue is also prepared from a bluish clay or ocher called adishtl'ish, which is pulverized and mixed with water. Various shades of yellow are obtained with plants like Bigelovia (kiltsoi), the sneeze weed (naeeshja ilkhei, Helenium hoopesii), or the sorrel (jat'ini), the flowers of which are crumpled and boiled, with cedar ashes thrown in.

The dyeing done, the twigs, both colored and uncolored, are placed in water to render them moist and pliable. The butt ends of the first twigs are wound around a small stick known as the bottom of the basket, and secured there with yucca. An awl, made of deer-bone (bi' bikhetsin), is now used in sewing the basket for which an iron awl is found impractible. The sewing is always done sunrise, or from left to right, giving the basket the shape of a helical coil when finished. Much deftness and constant application are required to obtain a close weave which will hold water after a few minutes moistening, while baskets of inferior quality require moistening much longer. The designs are, of course, woven with the colored twigs. Yellow and blue, however, are now rarely used, and the usual pattern is a band three to six inches wide, woven with zigzag edges in black with a line of red running through the center, and set, as it were, on a light background made of the natural color of the twig. Or, this band is sometimes displaced by a set of four or more square figures woven at intervals, with a colored circle entwining the lower part of each square. The colors in this and the first pattern might be increased to two or more according to taste. Both patterns are designated as tsa', basket, without reference to their designs. Of the two extinct patterns, the tsa' netse', or coiled basket, presented a design of vari-colored coils following each other, while the tsa' hokhani, or basket of enclosures, presented a set of four triangles whose apices rested on the center or bottom of the basket. From the base of each of these triangles three squares, increasing in width, extended to the rim of the basket, giving the whole design a shape similar to the Maltese Cross. While no special rules were laid down with regard to the blending of colors, or the number of figures and circles in a design, it was essential that every design be broken or intersected by a line of uncolored twigs. In baskets with circular designs this was comparatively easy, but in the tsa' hokhani, or basket of enclosures, it was found necessary to intersect one set of squares in order to make this line quite apparent. It was therefore called qaatqin (qatqin), the way out, or chohot'i, the line leading out, and was prescribed lest the sewer, in bending all her energies and applications upon her work, enclose herself and thus lose her sight and mind. A parallel is found in overdoing weaving, singing, in amassing fortune, or in the opening left in the figure of the queue and bow. This intersection always runs in a radial line with the close of the seam on the imbricated rim of each basket, which in turn serves as a guide in the directional assignment, as the close always faces eastward. Hence the singer always looks or feels for the closed rim, designated as bida' astl'o, where the rim is woven (instead of sewed). The details involved in mending this rim, as well as the taboo placed upon the wearing of a basket as a headgear, the legends of the origin of the basket, and relative subjects, are beyond the scope of the present work. Suffice to say, that the basket is made exclusively for ceremonial use, and is an integral part of every rite, as none is holy (diyin) without it.

The strength and elasticity of the Navaho basket renders it serviceable as a drum, in other words, it is turned down and beaten with the drumstick. Should it be turned up again before the close of the ceremony, it indicates that the singer has suspended the continuation of the ceremony. The basket is also used as a receptacle for the rattles, prayersticks, stones, herbs, medicines, and like ceremonial paraphernalia. The ceremonial bath is administered in the basket. The mask of the Fringed Mouth (zahodolzhai) is supported on a basket from which the bottom has been cut out. At the marriage ceremony a new basket is required in which to serve the porridge. As it is frequently impossible for the couple to consume its contents, the basket is passed around to the visiting guests. Whosoever consumes the final portion of the porridge also takes possession of the basket, wherefore baskets thus obtained are designated as tsa' na'obani, or the basket which was won. It is otherwise referred to as danakhan bi'odani, the basket from which they eat the porridge. The so-called wedding basket is therefore unknown. In the early days baskets were woven of yucca braid. The pith of the yucca leaf was extracted and dyed in the same manner as sumac twigs today. It was also permissible to use the designs of the basket in the decoration of the uppers for moccasins made of yucca. The remnants of twigs used for baskets are employed in constructing the so called owls (naeshja). Pgs. 291-296

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

Even such everyday tasks as weaving must be done only in moderation. Many women will not weave more than about two hours at a stretch; in the old days unmarried girls were not allowed to weave for fear they would overdo, and there is a folk rite for curing the results of excess in this activity. Closely related is the fear of completely finishing anything: as a "spirit outlet," the basket maker leaves an opening in the design. Pgs. 225-226

The Navaho; 1946, Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton.

According to Washington Matthews the Navahoes have many legends with which baskets are connected. Here is a description of the first baby baskets ever made. Surely none but a poetic and imaginative people could ever have conceived so wonderful a basket. Their gods of war were born of two women, one fathered by the sun, the other by a waterfall, and when they were born they were placed in baby baskets both alike as follows: The foot-rests and the back battens were made of sunbeam, the hoods of rainbow, the side-strings of sheet lightning, and the lacing strings of zigzag lightning. One child they covered with the black cloud, and the other with the female rain.

Another form of this story says that the boy born first was wrapped in black cloud. A rainbow was used for the hood of his basket and studded with stars. The back of the frame was perihelion, with the bright spot at its bottom shining at the lowest point. Zigzag lightning was laid in each side and straight lightning down the middle in front. Niltsatlol (sunbeams shining on a distant rainstorm) formed the fringe in front where Indians now put strips of buckskin. The carry-straps were sunbeams. Pg. 23

In many Indian ceremonies baskets play a most important part. For nine days these ceremonies last, the first day being devoted to the building and dedication of a medicine hogan and a sweat house. Around this sweat house wands of turkey feathers were placed, which were brought hither in one of these sacred baskets; and when the sweating process was over the wands were collected, placed in the basket and removed to the medicine hogan. On the fourth day two of these baskets figured prominently in the ceremonies. A medicine basket containing amole root and water was placed in front of a circle made of sand and covered with pine boughs. A second basket contained water and a quantity of pine needles sufficiently thick to form a dry surface, and on the top of these needles a number of valuable necklaces of coral, turquoise and silver were placed. A square was formed on the edge of the basket with four of the turkey wands before mentioned. The song priest with rattle led several priests in singing. The invalid sat to the northeast of the circle, a breech cloth his only apparel. During the chanting an attendant made suds by macerating the amole and beating it up and down in the water. The basket remained in position; the man stooped over it, facing north; his position allowed the sunbeams which came through the fire opening to fall upon the suds. When the basket was a mass of white froth the attendant washed the suds from his hands by pouring water from a Paiuti basket water-bottle (Fig. 20) over them, after which the song priest came forward and with corn pollen drew a cross over the suds, which stood firm like the beaten whites of eggs, the arms of the cross pointing to the cardinal points. A circle of the pollen was then made around the edge of the suds." This crossing and circling of the basket of suds with the pollen is supposed to give them additional power in restoring the invalid to health. The invalid now knelt upon the pinion boughs in the center of the same circle. "A handful of the suds was placed on his bead. The basket was now placed near to him, and he bathed his head thoroughly ; the maker of the suds afterwards assisted him in bathing the entire body with the suds, and pieces of yucca were rubbed upon the body. The chant continued through the ceremony and closed just as the remainder of the suds was emptied by the attendant over the invalid's head. The song priest collected the four wands from the second basket, and an attendant gathered the necklaces; a second attendant placed the basket before the invalid, who was now sitting in the center of the circle, and the first attendant assisted him in bathing the entire body with this mixture; the body was quite covered with the pine needles, which had become very soft from soaking. The invalid then returned to his former position at the left of the song priest, and the pine needles of the yucca,or amole, together with the sands, were carried out and deposited at the foot of a pinion tree. The body of the invalid was dried by rubbing with meal." This taking out of the sands, pine needles, etc., used in the ceremony was supposed to take away so much of the disease that had been washed from the invalid.

Later in the day at another most elaborate ceremony baskets filled with food are placed in a circle around a fire in the medicine lodge. One of the priests takes a pinch of food from each basket, and places it in another basket. This is then prayed over, smoked over and thus made a powerful medicine by the song-priest. After the priest has gone through several performances with it, the invalid dips his three first fingers into the mixture, puts them in his mouth, and loudly sucks in the air. This is repeated four times. Then all the attendants do likewise, with a prayer for rain, good crops, health and riches. This food is afterwards dried by the chief medicine man, made into a powder, and is one of his most potent medicines. On the sixth day a great sand painting is made in the medicine lodge, and the invalid, as he enters, is required to take the sacred medicine basket, which is now filled with sacred meal, and sprinkle the painting with it. The chief figures of the painting were the goddesses of the rainbow, whose favor it was desired he should gain. Again and again in the ceremonies these sacred baskets are used, and on the ninth day in the concluding dance the invalid takes it full of sacred meal and sprinkles all the dancers. The full description of this wonderful series of ceremonies is found in the Eighth Annual Report of the U. S. Bureau of Ethnology.

If the margin is worn through or torn, the basket is unfit for sacred use. The basket is one of the perquisites of the shaman when the rites are done; but he, in turn, must give it away, and must he careful never to eat out of it. Notwithstanding its sacred uses, food may be served in it by any other person than the shaman who has used it ceremonially. Fig. 29 shows the other form of Navaho sacred basket. It is also made of aromatic sumac, and is used in the rites to hold sacred meal. The crosses are said to represent clouds, heavy with rain, and would indicate that this basketry design may have had its origin in its use during ceremonies intended to bring the rain. Another important ceremony of the Navahoes in which this basket figures is that of marriage. Another interesting thing about this Navaho wedding basket it is well to notice, and that is that the finishing off of the last coil of the basketry always comes directly opposite to the Shipapu opening. This is for the purpose of enabling those who use the basket at night to determine where the Shipapu opening is, so that they may hold the basket in the proper ceremonial way, which requires that the Shipapu opening shall always be turned towards the East. This finishing off place on the rim of the basket is called by the Navahoes the a-tha-at-lo. According to Matthews, the sacred basket used in all these ceremonials has another important function to perform. It is used as a drum. He says: "In none of the ancient Navaho rites is a regular drum or tomtom employed. The inverted basket serves the purpose of one, and the way in which it is used for this simple object is rendered devious and difficult by ceremonious observances." Then over a page of description is required to tell how the shamans proceed when they "turn down the basket" to make a drum of it at the beginning of the songs, and "turn up the basket" at the close. Everything is done with elaborate ceremony. "There are songs for turning up and turning down the basket, and there are certain words in these songs at which the shaman prepares to turn up the basket by putting his hand under its eastern rim, and other words at which he does the turning. For four nights, when the basket is turned down, the eastern part is laid on the outstretched blanket first, and it is inverted toward the west. On the fifth night it is inverted in the opposite direction. When it is turned up, it is always lifted first at the eastern edge. As it is raised an imaginary something is blown toward the east, in the direction of the smoke-hole of the lodge, and when it is completely turned up hands are waved in the same direction, to drive out the evil influences which the sacred songs have collected and imprisoned under the basket."

Even in the making of this sacred basket many ceremonial requirements must be heeded. In forming the helical coil, the fabricator must always put the butt end of the twig toward the center of the basket and the tip end toward the periphery, in accordance with the ceremonial laws governing the disposition of butts and tips. Pgs. 33-37

Indian Basketry and How to Make Baskets; 1903, George Wharton James.

By 1973 there were over 100 basket weavers on and off the reservation, and 125 potters in Chinle Agency alone. At least in part, commercialization stimulated the revival of these crafts. . . . . In the Oljeto area, basketweavers began producing baskets with yei figures woven into their designs. While such baskets could not be used in religious ceremonies, they found a ready market with non-Indians. Pg. 252

A History of the Navajos, The Reservation Years; 1986, Garrick Bailey and Roberta Glenn Bailey.

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 number 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. Pg. 19

Sacred Land, Sacred View; 1992, Robert S. McPherson.

The basket for the emetic in the first War Ceremony was of crystal.

An indispensable requirement of a chant is the basket; at least one is believed to represent whiteshell. All the precious stones are mythical basket materials. Frequently the basket is of one stone with a contrasting rim - whiteshell rimmed with turquoise or the reverse; abalone rimmed with redstone or the reverse, jet with an abalone rim or the reverse.


The fibers of baskets used to be of yucca. Baskets are not used much secularly but have a prescribed place in ceremonies.

They are often called "wedding" baskets because one holds the ceremonial mush which the bride and groom eat alternatingly. The function of the basket in curing ceremonies is perhaps greater, but not as well known. When preparations for a ceremony are made, one of the questions asked is, "How many baskets must be provided?" They become consequently an important item of trade. Their manufacture is surrounded with such a number of taboos difficult to keep that Navajo rarely make them, preferring to trade them from their neighbors, the Ute and Paiute, who have not the prescribed taboos.

Another form of purification is the yucca bath. The "one-sung-over" bathes from head to foot in the yucca suds which fill a ceremonial basket. He is careful to stand within the limits of a platform made of sand from the cornfield which has been carefully spread. On it special places are designated for the basket and for the patient's knees and hands, for he kneels to get his hair in the basket. The water which drains off of him must fall on the sand. When all is over, this may be gathered up like a blotter and the evils may be carried out and dissipated.

Dezba: Woman of the Desert; Gladys A. Reichard, 1939

An indispensable requirement of a chant is the basket; at least one is believed to represent whiteshell. All the precious stones are mythical basket materials. Frequently the basket is of one stone with a contrasting rim - whiteshell rimmed with turquoise or the reverse; abalone rimmed with redstone or the reverse, jet with an abalone rim or the reverse.

The basket for the emetic in the first War Ceremony was of crystal.

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

Basket (tsa') has already been extensively treated. There are, however, certain points that have not been stressed; one concerns the number of baskets necessary to a ceremony-the discussions often imply that there is only one (Ch. 14). A part of the agreement between chanter and sponsor is the provision of the baskets, as important as the payment to the singer. When the chant is over, some baskets are presented to the chanter or some other participant in the ceremony; borrowed baskets are returned to the owner, who may be the chanter or almost anyone who can provide them. Certain taboos, some very strict, attach to the basket. Nowadays it has become an article of trade, procurable at a trading post. Baskets so bought may be considered neutral, having no restrictions and no evil attached to them; the ceremony gives them blessing value.

Because of the 'drawing power' of the earth, sacred objects should not touch the ground; consequently, ceremonial properties-War Ceremony rattlestick, prayersticks, hoops, bundle equipment-must be placed on or in something; it is often a basket, especially for assembled bundle equipment.

I had to provide five baskets for the Shooting Chant Prayerstick branch. I paid for four and borrowed one from RP, the chanter. One was used for the layout of branch symbol prayersticks during their preparation and for the subsequent bundle equipment layout, one for the emetic, one for the drum, one for the bath, and one for the ceremonial mush. After the bath the chanter put his bundle layout in the basket that had been used for the bath. Every ceremony undoubtedly has similar requirements; some have more, some fewer.

The basket represents jewels and therefore the potentiality of wealth, with its provision for proper offerings. Baskets are often thought of as consisting of one of the precious stones, rimmed with a contrasting jewel (Ch. 12); such baskets are prescribed for the Hail Chant. In addition, one of Heat and one of Mirage (aragonite) are required. The War Ceremony emetic was prepared and the unseasoned mush was served in a rock-crystal basket. Since the mush was inexhaustible, there is a relation between the rock-crystal basket and the yellow bowl.

The Flint Chant baskets represent jewels; the plants put into them ceremonially became meat which, with other plants eaten by rare game, became gruel (Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. 44, 60; Matthews 1894b, pp. 202-8; 1897, p. 211, 5n; Haile 1938b, pp. 33, 105, 207, 243; 1943a, pp.15, 184, 190; Goddard, pp. 142, 164; Reichard 1944d, p.49; Shooting Chant ms.; Tschopik, pp. 257-62).

Basket drum was described by Matthews and Kluckhohn-Wyman (Matthews 1894b; 1902, pp.59-63, 163, 165; Kluckhohn-Wyman, p.44; Haile 1938b, pp.33, 243).

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