Kenneth White made a whopper this time. Large pottery pieces such as this are incredibly difficult to coil, shape, and fire, much less decorate. But Kenneth is at the top of his game which means he has the strength and endurance to complete such a masterwork. With images of the Holy People, basket patterns, sacred corn, protective arrowheads, rainbows, and textile patterns the question is not what’s on that vase, but what is not. Kenneth is a master potter who creates handmade vases packed with Navajo culture and tradition.
Then it was that they moved upward, leaving the dark world behind. They climbed on top of the Four Mountains, which grew upward with them, and they all moved up onto a lighter world. The Wind People brought seeds into the new world, and they planted them:
To the east, at White Mountain
To the south, at Blue Mountain
To the west, at Yellow Mountain
To the north, at Black Mountain
It was known about then that First Man was the spirit of White Corn. First Woman was the spirit of Yellow Corn. Their children also had spirit life within them and their names were Boy Blue Corn and Girl Many-Colored Corn. Together, these four decided how the earth should be divided. Pg. 73
Alice Williams, Silas Claw, Stella Claw, Datso Bitsi, and the Tso family are active Navajo potters. They use their pottery for cooking, ceremonies, pipes, and drums, and do not consider it an art form. Public acceptance is not a motivation; in fact, the Navajo makes every effort to maintain privacy and anonymity. However, the Navajo are a large group and that leaves ample opportunity for exception to this social custom. Pg. 182
Unlike most of the neighboring Indian tribes, the Navaho are not conspicuous as potters and make a very rude and inartistic kind of pottery, which in every respect is vastly inferior to that of the Pueblo. Their traditions, however, point to a time in which pottery is said to have been in nowise inferior to that of the Pueblo with whom they lived. With the exception of cooking pots other fabrics, such as waterpots, waterbags or bottles, bowls and earthen spoons or dippers, were all beautifully decorated with figures of birds, rainbows, deer, antelope, rabbits, ducks, cloud effect (kos ishchin), or any figure not tabooed, as snakes, lightning, bear, badger, hawks, and the divinities.
As in the decoration of the basket, so also the decorative line encircling the body of the pot was left open for the reason that the potter, like the basket weaver, supposedly encircled herself with this decoration and, lest she trifle with her life, must not close this circle about her, but leave an exit for herself. The early waterpots were shaped much like the wicker bottle, with two loops or eyelets on the sides, and were similarly carried on the back. One side of the rounded body of the pot was made flat so that in carrying it might rest better. These waterpots have now entirely disappeared, though the legends speak of the white, blue, yellow and dark waterpots for conveying the sacred waters of the cardinal points.
The water bottle was provided with a loop, or finger handle, near the neck, so that it might be conveniently grasped in pouring out its contents. They were shaped much like an ordinary pitcher, omitting the spout and handle, and with a narrower neck than that of the waterpot. Later they were entirely abandoned and displaced by bottles purchased from the Hopi and other tribes whose fabrics, though slightly differing from the Navaho ware, were found just as serviceable. Of these many were provided with an additional loop near the bottom of the bottle so that it might easily be suspended from a cord and carried in traveling. Some maintain that the Navaho never made water bottles but always purchased them from the Pueblo. Early history and tradition, however, discredit this strongly, though at present Navaho made water bottles are very scarce.
Earthen spoons or dippers were in shape like the gourd ladle, and were, like it, used for the purpose of dipping out liquids. The bowl would seem to have been a substitute for the basket at the home. Its name, letsa', earthen basket, indicates both its shape and purpose. While all of these were ornamented with beautiful figures, the asa', pot, was completely devoid of ornamentation since it was used for cooking purposes, and in the preparation and boiling of dyes or medicines. No particular care was taken to form them shapely, and though made in different sizes, all were made after the same pattern with rounded bottoms, a hardly perceptible neck, and a slightly flaring rim. A serpentine line, or a few scallops along the outside rim, in addition to depressions made into the body of the pot with the finger or a stick, were the only decorative features about these pots, which in substance remain unchanged to this day.
The crucibles now in use by the silversmiths of the tribe are in effect cooking pots in miniature, and are provided with one to three spouts at the rim for pouring the molten silver into the matrix. The ceremonial pipes are conical in shape, and stemless, as the smoke is drawn through a small hole provided in the bottom of the pipe. This comparatively small variety of pottery made by the Navaho, and their apparent indifference to the art, finds a ready explanation in the great facility with which more shapely and serviceable pottery could be obtained from the neighboring Pueblo Indians. More recently, too, brass, tin and enameled wares promptly found favor with them as far superior to, and less difficult to acquire, than the native or extra-tribal pottery, so that comparatively little earthenware is used at present.
Pottery making is a woman's industry, and to-day the Navaho potter may still be found among the older women of the tribe. As the molding and drying process require a large amount of attention and care some unoccupied hogan, or other secluded place, is selected, where the potter might be undisturbed. As a material for most earthenware, a very sticky mud and white clay are used, which may be found almost everywhere, while for the pots a bluish clay, which in certain localities may easily be dug out, is preferred, and from its use in making pots is known as pot material. Small pieces of broken pottery, with which the Navaho country is in places fairly strewn, are crushed and ground to a fine sand, and added to the clay. The whole is then mixed with water and thoroughly stirred until a stiff mud of equal consistency throughout is obtained. A lump of this mud is then taken between the hands and rolled out into long, slender pieces, or ropes; this done, a flat, round cake of the desired circumference is made of a lump of the mud, and serves as the bottom of the pot around which one of the rolls of mud is wound and made fast by pressing and gently kneading with the fingers. A vessel containing water is kept near by into which the fingers are occasionally dipped to prevent the mud from clinging to them, as also to prevent the finished work from drying too rapidly. Another roll is added and fastened in the same way, by which process the potter is enabled to give the pot the desired shape and size.
The molding completed, the whole is then thoroughly smoothened by rubbing the exterior with a corncob, while the back of a gourd dipper is used in smoothening the interior surface of the pot. When still moist small indentations are made in the body of the pot with the thumb or a small stick, and such scallops made around the rim as strike the fancy of the potter, who at times substitutes a narrow serpentine line made of thin strips of mud. No other decoration is added. The whole is then covered with a coating of gum to further its density, after which the pot is placed over a slow fire, made of sheep or cow dung, and allowed to remain there for several hours until thoroughly baked, after which it is ready for use.
After baking, the pottery (excepting cooking utensils) was decorated with colored figures, the color being applied with a brush of yucca fiber, and prepared from black, red, yellow and white clays or earths, mixed with water. This, however, has long since been discontinued as too tedious. The cooking pot is still largely in use, both for domestic and ceremonial purposes. In the well known war dance the pot is quickly converted into a drum by stretching a piece of goat-, sheep- or buckskin across the mouth of the pot and securing it just below the flaring rim. This is tapped with a small round stick producing a dull sound which is kept up incessantly during the entire dance The earthen pot is also required in the preparation of medicines productive of emesis in the course of some ceremonies. Pgs. 285-289
The underlying explanation is that the harmful sounds of the slain monsters were beaten into the earth and the War Ceremony compensates the earth for the evils left over from prehistoric times. To make it successful, the enemy is sung and beaten into the earth. Beating the pot drum is beating the face of the enemy. With each beat of the stick on the pot drum the minds of enemy ghosts are drawn down toward the earth.
When the pot drum was prepared for the War Ceremony, the jewels stood for the 'floor of the drum's home,' into which the sounds were pounded.
entices a man to new acquaintance and often to mating. She is attractive; she
has magic power from which only the gods can save the hero. Such women were
Changing-bear-maiden, Winter Thunder's wife, the daughter and wife of Deer Owner,
the pueblo Corn Maiden seducers of Monster Slayer (Reichard, Endurance Chant
ms.; 1944d, pp. 5ff.; Haile 1943a, p. 56; Matthews 1897, pp. 174ff.; Newcomb
1940b, pp. 55ff.).
Decoys are stereotyped in Navaho myth and ritual. Gods entice heroes from their normal surroundings to teach them holy things. The conflict of a hero with Deer Owner, the arch-sorcerer, includes several decoys.
Game caught by a decoy, whether set by an evil or a helpful being, eventually redounds to the profit of future Navaho, since the episode results in ritual control: The eagle decoy set the myths of the Bead and Big Star chants in action. Changing-bear-maiden exploited an older sister's love for her little brother-the privilege of combing his hair-to his undoing, but he, with the supernatural decoy of a shadow, thwarted her effort.
Sound is a common decoy (Ch. 15; Goddard, p. 162; Matthews 1897, pp. 174ff., 195; Haile 1938b, p. 171; Newcomb 1940b, pp. 57ff., 65; Wheelwright 1942, p.98; Reichard 1939, pp. 26ff.; 1944d, pp. 5-7; Big Star Chant ms.; Endurance Chant ms.).
Horns are an evidence of power. Sun may be depicted as a disk with a face, feathers, lightning, and rain, but he is considered more powerful if he has horns; the same is true of Moon, Dark Wind and Yellow Wind, Water Monster, Water Horse, Sky, and Earth. Snakes of the Wind chants are horned; those of the Shooting Chant are not. Possibly horns represent shine, glint, or control of lightning (Newcomb-Reichard, pp. 57-8, Fig. 5, Pl. XXVIII, XXIX, XXXII, XXXIII; Reichard 1939, pp. 43, 48, 63; Wheelwright 1942, pp. 63, 65, 66).
Names are full of power, ritualistic items of tremendous value. A few examples are cited. The different names for the same person should be noted--all names belong to the specialized ceremonial language (Ch. 16; Reichard 1928, pp. 96-107; Haile 1938b, pp. 55-6; 1943a, p. 34-5).
is to be avoided in all activities. The happy medium is to be sought, so that
even in ritual there are curbs. One often gets the impression that it is impossible
for the Navaho to have enough rain, yet moderation is required even in the performance
of the Rain Ceremony. The prayerstick should be deposited on a pile of drift
rubbish at least four fingerwidths but never more than eighteen inches high.
The size of the drift pile regulates the amount of rain to be expected; too
much would be courting bad luck.
In the Night Chant, Water Sprinkler throws rain up so that it will help the people, but rainmaking is done outside the chant-that is, in the Rain Ceremony-because the chanters do not want it to rain all the time during the Night Chant performance (Restriction, Withholding; Haile 1938b, pp. 78-81; 1943a, pp. 44, 223, 247; Reichard 1934, pp. 79-93; 1944d, p. 27; Hill 1938, p. 88; Matthews 1902, pp. 180, 312, 41n; Franciscan Fathers 1910, p. 294).
has been stressed as an indispensable part of ritual. In some acts or rites
power is concentrated in the behavior of the chanter, assistants, and patient;
in others, everyone present must participate-in the sweat-emetic, ashes blowing,
prayer with pollen, holding sacred objects during prayer, and application of
yucca suds in the Rain Ceremony (if there is no patient). Proper audience participation
helps the patient and the entire tribe; even attendance at a ceremony is a part
of the sustaining effort (Introduction; Hill 1938, p. 81).
Passes, feints, are a large part of the chanter's stock-in-trade; some are made with the hands only, some with properties-for instance, arm-waving, arm-spreading, and hand-pointing to the cardinal directions. Brushing and the ceremonial lighting of prayersticks with a crystal are examples of passes made with sacred objects. The marking of the bull-roarer with the chant lotion is a pass. Some thrusts attract good, others are exorcistic; usually they may be understood in connection with the ritualistic context, but perhaps even then only if mythical details are known (Haile 1943a, p. 223; Goddard, p. 177).
Peace meant merely absence or end of war, not an ideal for which other values should be yielded. Navaho culture is built on the premise that war is necessary, that nothing esteemed can be achieved without it. "Before this [the union of separate groups] the Navaho had been a weak and peaceable tribe," relates the myth. The saga of The Twins is a succession of warlike deeds; Changing Woman's opposition to their going to war in the Hail Chant is an unusual and notable incident; it doubtless furnishes contrast and completeness.
Peace overtures show Navaho understanding of neighboring cultures worked out according to the enemies' values. After a fight the Navaho smoked the peace pipe with the Utes, embraced, and exchanged gifts-all symbols that trust had been established.
The Navaho delegate for peace entered a Hopi village singing. If he was received, a date was set for a conference; smoke signals announced his safe arrival and the possibility of a get-together. The delegates of each party, who were peace, not war chiefs, made cigarettes 'in their own way. The Navaho filled a cornhusk wrapping with mountain tobacco to which harmless insects were added to 'make the Hopi friendly.' The insects doubtless symbolize the siege of Awatobi by the Stricken Twins with their destructive worm and grasshopper (Ch. 6; cp. Smoke, Tobacco smoking; Matthews 1897, pp. 113, 127, 145; Reichard 1944d, p. 31; Hill 1936, p. 19).
Vital parts of a person depend on his powers. If speed is protection-as it was for Rainboy, Frog, and Big Monster-the soles of the feet, the hip joint, the shoulder blades, and the occipital point are vital.
Coyote and, in imitation, Changing-bear-maiden hid their vital parts-pluck, breath, blood, and entrails-in the ground; their persons could not be harmed unless these parts were destroyed. Coyote kept his vital principle at the end of his nose and tail; his uncanny sound, preserved in the same places, is a part of his power (Reichard 1944d, pp. 14-7; Shooting Chant ms.; Endurance Chant ms.; Matthews 1897, p. 91; Haile 1943a, p. 22).
Navaho religion, dogma, ritual, and practice must be looked at as an aggregate of diverse ideas, including every possible phase of nature, deity, and supernatural power, of human perception, behavior, emotion, culture, and imagination formulated in myth.
From this congeries, which actually takes all time, space, existence, and sentience for its province, certain elements have been chosen for co-ordinating a single system or order. The selected items may be in one case material, perceptual, and emotional; in another, perceptual or natural only; but whatever they are, they comprise an integrated whole.
All things in the universe, materialistic and abstract, are viewed in terms of their effect on man. If he knows about them and can control them, they are good; if not, they are evil. Some things under only partial control are good when susceptible to that control; otherwise they are bad. Therefore, the fundamental subdivisions - good and evil - which are not; absolute, overlap.
The good in all things must be attracted; hence ceremonial control invokes good in Blessing rites or 'chants-according-to-holiness.'
The evil remaining outside ritualistic control must be driven off; hence the 'evil- chasing ceremonies' with emphasis on exorcism, but from which attraction of good is by no means absent.
Each ceremony is a complex, made up of many kinds of symbols, and is inclusive rather than exclusive, since there is no predictable limit to the items that may be selected.
Each subdivision of a ceremony, which I term 'branch' or 'phase,' is characterized by features that from out viewpoint are fortuitous and therefore not susceptible to scientific systematization.
Rites, which are further subdivisions of ceremony, may refer to a series of mythological events or dramatize a single episode.
Ritualistic acts are the ultimate elements of which the larger divisions are composed. Their significance may sometimes be ascertained, but should not be expected to be the same whenever the act is performed. Each symbol has numerous interpretations, but the more we learn about it, the clearer it becomes that differences are not so much conflicting as associational and therefore, in the Navaho view, harmonious.