Hunger Monster Basket by Elsie Holiday (#462) Bill and Jean Cousins Special Award, Gallup Ceremonial 2019

38" x 40"


In the myth and legend of the Navajo, the Hero Twins were born of Changing Woman and the Bearer of the Sun. It was the destiny of the Twins to cleanse the earth of the monsters that were devouring The People. With powerful weapons provided by their father and the supernatural protection of their mother, the boys went about destroying the Naaye'e' neizgha'ni'. When they were nearly done, the boys came upon several monsters they did not understand: Old Age Woman, Cold Woman, Poverty Creatures, and Hunger People. Each of these monsters convinced the Hero Twins that they were necessary to the world to maintain harmony and balance, so they were allowed to live. When Elsie Holiday wove this massive and unprecedented basket, she said that because of her outstanding weaving abilities, she has been able to fend off most of these monsters. Because Elsie and her family have never had to suffer for sustenance, she wove this special basket to share her culture and her success through focus and effort.

Elsie Holiday

Elsie Stone Holiday - Basketweaver: Considered one of the best of the best Navajo basket weavers, Elsie Stone Holiday married into the famed Douglas Mesa family of weavers. Weaving baskets has become almost an addiction for her. "When I go two or three days without weaving I get anxious to get started again," she says. She weaves 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. "Sometimes I think, 'How long can this last?'", she wistfully states, but for now she is content with her art, finding immense satisfaction in creating premier quality baskets.

Learning the art of basket weaving from the family that is famous for the Navajo basket renaissance is certainly an advantage for Elsie Stone Holiday, and she has added talent and dedication to that advantage, with remarkable results.

Elsie knew how to weave rugs before she married, so weaving baskets was fairly easy for her to master. She learned from such renowned artists as Sally and Lorraine Black, Rose Esplain, and her mother-in-law, Betty White Holiday. Then she simply made the art her own by using her natural intuitive creativity.

The mother of six children, Elsie has only been weaving for about eleven years, since her children became old enough to allow her the time. Now they watch her, and sometimes help with the non-weaving tasks connected to the work, learning as they do so.

Elsie gathers the sumac strips used for her weaving along waterways in Hanksville or Moab, Utah, and Farmington, New Mexico. She says the reeds grow well along irrigation ditches, and are most pliable in the spring and fall months. She gathers about a six-month supply and then takes them home and readies them for weaving by stripping off the bark and splitting the reeds. Then Elsie does something few other weavers care to do- she takes the split reed and pulls it through a hole in a can, to strip away any excess, making the strips uniform size. It is this, and her propensity for a uniform, tight weave, that makes Elsie's baskets premium quality. If she notices any irregularities, Elsie picks out her weaving and begins again. She truly cares about making her baskets as perfect as possible.

Elsie's technique is not her only fine point, she also has a wonderful imagination for new design ideas. Elsie is modest when praised for her work and eager for any suggestions. She has an enthusiastic desire to please those who buy her baskets.

Elsie's father is a practicing medicine man, but it is her mother-in-law who has helped her with her weaving by performing ceremonies for her. A crystal gazer, Betty knows much about traditional Navajo medicine. She sprinkled corn pollen on a spider web and placed it on Elsie's head, all the while saying a prayer. The spider web represents the weaving done by spider woman, an important personage in Navajo mythology. Elsie confirms the validity of the ceremony by proclaiming how much it has helped her in her weaving.


Big Centipede (UP) is mentioned by Matthews in his subsidiary list of monsters that arose from the blood lost at the birth of the first monsters. Wheelwright describes the creatures as having the form of huge centipedes which, by humping themselves up in the middle, could leap a great distance to bite their victims. The name she gives seems to refer to the praying mantis. The largest could not penetrate the flint armor of Monster Slayer, who killed it and all the smaller ones except two which he bade never to harm anyone. He took the scalp of the largest for a trophy (Matthews 1897, p. 224, n. 71; Wheelwright 1942, p. 95).

Big-gray-monster (ye' 'i'tsoh Ibahi) (UP) was overcome by Coyote in the Endurance Chant. There is some reason to believe that a reference to 'gray gods' or 'gray monsters ' is to evils in general, gray being the color symbol for lack of control and the color feared by evils (Ch. 12, Gray).
At a place called Earth-upper-mountain-ridge lived those who devoured the chiefs of the Earth People. Today you can see burnt earth appearing among the rocks where the gray gods used to roast their victims.

In the War Ceremony myth, Monster Slayer encountered Big Gray gods and slew all with his club. Their faces were striped in all colors; they looked fearsome, like yellowjackets, gray bees, bumblebees, and spider ants (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Haile 1938b, p. 131; cp. Wheelwright 1942, p.99).

Big Monster (ye' 'i'tsoh) (UP), the prototype of all monsters, the most feared of all, came 'first' in all myths. He was in charge of all man-destroying monsters. Sun, who fathered him, wept when requested to kill him, for he loved the monster as an oldest son, though some say Big Monster's father was a rock. He was also called Big-monster-who-travels-alone (ye'i'tsoh la'i na'yai), and possibly Big Gray Monster is the same (Haile 1938b, pp.55, 79, 85, 106, 110-1; Matthews 1897, pp. 115-6, 231; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Endurance Chant ms.; cp. Wheelwright 1942, p.70).
The most consistently emphasized fact about this god is his huge size. He lived at a place called Hot Springs near Mt. Taylor. When The Twins saw him, his face was striped, he had a perfect agate disk on his head, a perfect turquoise around his neck, a perfect whiteshell over his shoulder, and he was armored in flint; the precious stones were later taken by Sun as a reward for helping to overcome the monster. Big Monster had a quiver like a burden basket. He stooped four times to drink from the lake and by the time he was finished it was nearly empty. The Twins were motionless with astonishment at the sight of him, but as he took the last drink, they advanced and he saw their reflection in the water. He raised his head and taunted them as he shot at them. However, they were standing on a rainbow which they could bend and, warned by Wind, they bent it in a direction opposite to that toward which the arrows were aimed so that they escaped four times. Just as the monster was about to draw his fifth bolt, he was hit on the head by lightning, the first shot fired by Sun. The Twins then took their turn and, at the fourth shot, he fell to the ground, unable to get up. The lightning arrows shattered his armor, which later became flint deposits useful to people (Matthews 1897, pp.115-6; cp. Haile 1938b, pp.110-1; Wheelwright 1942, pp.85-6).
In one version The Twins threw Big Monster's head to the east, where it became Cabezon Peak; in another, the lava from the coagulated blood is said to be a spur that runs out from Cabezon Peak [The Spanish often named places by translating Indian names (cabezon, Spanish 'head').

Coyote was Big Monster's messenger and seeker of Earth People. After Coyote's report of the existence of The Twins, Big Monster visited Changing Woman in her home. She laid her poker in the ashes when he asked her the first time where the boys were; the second time she picked it up and stirred the ashes with it; the third time she laid it by her side. The fourth time she hit him in the shins with the poker and scolded him, whereupon he bowed his head and wept, signifying that he was to be overcome. Then she chased him out.
This scene is exceedingly interesting in view of the fact that Changing Woman did not have power to look upon the trophies of the conquered monsters or listen to talk about them.
In the Endurance Chant myth, Coyote was required by Changing-bear-maiden to kill Big Monster (called Gray God in Matthews' version). Coyote pretended to have power to make the monster a fast runner, but betrayed him. Only half as tall as the tallest pine tree, he was not as formidable as the creature killed by Monster Slayer. Changing-bear-maiden, to whom Coyote brought the scalp, could not fail to recognize it because it, like all the gods at that time, had long yellow hair (Matthews 1897, pp. 91-3, 234; Haile 1938b, pp.111, 253, 38n; Newcomb-Reichard, p. 26).

Bony Bear (cac di'ts'ini) (UP) seems to be distinct from Tracking Bear and not merely a place name for what was left of the latter. It was a mountain in the form of a reclining bear with yawning jaws which devoured anyone who come near; Wind blew people into its mouth. When Monster Slayer felt Wind dragging him toward it, he forced his flint club between its jaws. An echo was heard, indicating that Bony Bear had been conquered (Haile 1938b, p. 127).

Burrowing Monster, Horned Monster (de'lye'd) (UP) originated as offspring of a daughter of an early chief who abused herself with a fuzzy elk antler. He was thrown into a gully and raised by the winds. Although the round misshapen monster lacked a head, he had four destructive horns with which he dug up the earth. In one version he is described as an enormous gopher. He watched all directions and was such a fast runner that no one could escape him.
Monster Slayer killed him with the aid of Gopher, who was rewarded with bits of the monster's hide. Other rodents were similarly rewarded; their skins were transformed into those they have today, and they in turn contributed properties for future ceremonial aid.
Monster Slayer took the heart for a trophy of the Male Shooting Chant, the horns for the War Ceremony. In both, the paunch full of blood became helpful in conquering Cliff Monster.
In the Wheelwright version, Burrowing Monster was guarded by twelve fierce antelope, which had to be overcome before Monster Slayer could get at the monster itself. The antelope were decoyed by burning torches and finally reduced to a state useful to mankind. The rodents helped just as in the other versions. The trophies taken by the hero were the scalp, neck and leg sinews, horns, and paunch filled with blood. Gopher is said to be a small imitation of Burrowing Monster (Haile 1938b, pp.77, 113, 116-8; Matthews 1897, pp.80, 117-8; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Wheelwright 1942, pp.70, 80, 89).

Cliff Monster, Throwing Monster (tse' nenaxa'li') (UP), conceived by the self-abuse of a chief's daughter with a feather quill, was thrown after birth into an alkali bed. He became the monster He-throws-against-the-rocks, named from his habit of catching people in his long sharp claws and throwing them to his children lower down among the rocks. He had a long beak and large eyes; something like feathers grew on his shoulders. The male caught his prey, carried it to the highest ledge of a rock like Shiprock, and threw it down to his wife, who wore beautiful earstrings. The children waited for their food below the mother.
Monster Slayer carried the paunch filled with Burrowing Monster's blood as bait for Cliff Monster. The male, seeing Monster Slayer traveling with it slung over his shoulder, swooped down and carried him high, then let him fall to the nest at the very top of the cliff. Monster Slayer was saved by a life feather given him by Spider Woman, and the blood flowing from the broken paunch made the monster think the boy had been killed. Monster Slayer found himself among the young, from whom he learned the parents' names. Monster Slayer killed the mother and father monsters, tossing them down to the children to eat, just as many Earth People had been treated.
The subjection of this monster as recounted in the myth of the Shooting Chant differs in that Monster Slayer did not use the blood bait, for he killed Kicking Monster before Cliff Monster. His helpers were Bear and Snake, and there are ritualistic differences.
The father monster was transformed into Shiprock, which is thought to look like a poised eagle. The young were transformed into the eagles and owls that today furnish many forms of ceremonial property. Monster Slayer took feathers for his trophies. After all these things had happened, he found himself high on a ledge with no way to get down. Bat Woman appeared, carried him down, and was rewarded with a basket of down feathers that subsequently became birds (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Matthews 1897, pp.80, 119-21, 236, 138n; Haile 1938b, pp.117-23; Wheelwright 1942, pp. 70, 89-92).

Cold (xaka'z 'asdza') (B) lived at the top of a high mountain where there were no trees and the snow never melted. She was a spare old woman who sat on bare snow, without clothing, food, fire, or shelter. She shivered from head to foot; her teeth chattered; water streamed from her eyes. Snow buntings, her messengers to announce storms, played around her. Her argument for life was: "If you kill me, the weather will always be hot; the land will dry up; the springs will cease to flow; the people will perish. It will be better for your people if you let me live" (Matthews 1897, p. 130; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.).

Crushing Rocks, Crushing Mountains (tse' 'axe' tsa, dzil na'kigoh 'axe' 'ndilgoh) (D) were said by Matthews' informant to be real people who could think like men, but were enemies of the pre-Navaho. They were innocent-looking rocks or mountains which, as soon as someone tried to walk between, clapped together and crushed the intruder.
The Twins fooled them by pretending to enter the passage between, then withdrawing four times. Eventually, by means of a ceremonial arrangement of their weapons-clubs, bows, and arrows-The Twins kept the rocks apart long enough to get through. In Matthews version, they got through with a formula Spider Woman had given them. In the Wheelwright version of creation, Monster Slayer wedged the horns of Burrowing Monster between the rocks, then built a fire under the rocks and, when they were hot, struck them with his club so that the pieces flew in all directions. The burning rock changed to all colors; eventually it became the rock now used in sandpainting (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Matthews 1897, p.109; Haile 1938b, pp.97, 125; Wheelwright 1942, pp. 95-6).

Cutting Reeds (loka', loka' digij) (D) grew in a large patch on the way to Sun's house. They had large leaves as sharp as knives that would attack with a sizzling sound anyone who tried to pass through them. Black God once helped The Twins by burning the reeds. The few that survived became materials for prayersticks. In some versions The Twins were able to pass them by reciting Spider Woman's formula or with her gift of life feathers (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Wheelwright 1942, p. 96; Matthews 1897, p. 110; Haile 1938b, p. 99).

Eye Killers (bina' ye' ayani, bina' ye' 'ayani) (UP) were the result of the self-abuse of a chief's daughter with a sour cactus; when born, they were cast away instead of being properly raised by a family. Winds brought them up. They were later found at the place where they were born. The first Eye Killers were twins. Roundish and tapered at one end, they had no limbs or heads, but were provided with depressions somewhat like eyes. They could, however, kill by staring at their victims without winking. As they did so, their rudimentary eyes grew into the eyes of those they were killing. They lived in a conical hogan at the foot of Mt. Taylor. Monster Slayer found them as an old couple with many children. Lightning flashed from their eye sockets. People would try to light a fire to save themselves, but were destroyed before they succeeded. Monster Slayer made a fire with his fire drill and threw into it salt given him by Salt Woman. An explosion threw sparks and salt in every direction, and the monsters were obliged to shut their eyes. The hero was then able to hit them with his flint club and killed all except two, one of which became an elf owl that warns of an approaching enemy, and one a screechowl which makes things beautiful on earth.
According to the Shooting Chant myth, the parents became cacti. Monster Slayer cut off all tips wherever he found them (even though the creatures had no tips!) and made passes with them in all directions, and they became antelope (Haile
1938b, pp. 77, 123; Matthews 1897, pp. 81, 123, 236, 146n: Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; 1942, p. 94).

Hunger (ditcin) (B): people so called were found by Monster Slayer when he was looking for evils. Their leader was a big, fat man, though he had nothing more than the little brown cactus to eat. When Monster Slayer threatened him, he said, "If we die, people will not relish their food. They will never know the pleasure of cooking and eating nice things, and they will not enjoy hunting" (Matthews 1897, p.131; Sapir-Hoijer, p.129; Wheelwright 1942, p.99).

Kicking Monster (tse' daxodzi'ltali') (UP) lived where two bluffs stood one above the other. At the rim of a narrow passage he sat with his legs doubled up. At the entrance of the passage leading to this place there was fruit of three kinds of cactus to entice people into it. The monster lay on his back, innocently pulling out his whiskers, but as soon as anyone came near, he stretched out his huge leg and kicked the stranger down for his children far below to devour. When Monster Slayer pretended to come, the monster said, "Oh! I was just stretching to get the cramp out of my leg." After Monster Slayer had pretended to pass four times, he struck the monster between the eyes again and again but, although he seemed to be dead, the body did not fall down because the hair had grown fast between the rocks. As soon as the hair was cut, the body of the old male monster fell and was fought over by his children, who waited below to consume it.

Kicking Monster had a wife and children, who, when subdued, became owls. In one version Monster Slayer pursued the smallest, who was very fast, and found him a disgusting dirty boy. Monster Slayer decreed that the boy should be the ancestor of the Paiutes, who would henceforth live a despicable and precarious life. In still another version, one child became a water animal, perhaps Water Horse, and the other became Box Turtle.
The old man's hair became a trophy. In the myth of the War Ceremony, Monster Slayer did not take a trophy, but broadcast seeds of various plants so they would grow in the vicinity where Kicking Monster had been overcome (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Matthews 1897, pp. 122-3; Haile 1938b, p. 125; Wheelwright 1942, pp. 92-3).

Louse (ya') (B) was one of the minor evils threatened by Monster Slayer. He begged off, saying, "If you kill me, people will be lonesome. They will have no one to keep them company." Louse was allowed to live (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Sapir-Hoijer, pp. 17, 129; Wheelwright 1942, p. 99).

Old Age (sa, sacdijo'l) (B) was an old woman who walked slowly with the aid of a cane; her back was bent, her hair white, her face deeply wrinkled. According to Sapir, Old-age-lying-in-a-heap was a man, so old he could not move out of his place. He was lying like an animal, curled up, seemingly helpless. However, he was holding his stone ax, which, like Frog's, would destroy anyone who took hold of it. When approached, he begged for life, saying, "If you kill me, everything will stand still. There will be no births; young men will not grow older; worthless old people will not die. It is right that people should grow old and die to make place for the young" (Matthews 1897, p.130; Sapir-Hoijer, pp. 128-31; cp. Wheelwright 1942, p. 99).

Poverty (te'e'i, te'e'i) (B) was represented by an old man and an old woman, clad in filthy, ragged garments and having no possessions. They argued with Monster Slayer, saying, "If we did not exist, people would always have to wear the same clothes and would never get anything new. If we live, things will wear out and people will make beautiful new garments; they will have possessions and look nice. Let us live to pull their old clothes to pieces for them."
Poverty will spit and throw dirt on a late riser (Matthews 1897, p. 131; Sapir-Hoijer, p. 131; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Wheelwright 1942, p.99; Hill 1938, p. 19).

Rock Swallows (UP): their destruction is one of Monster Slayer's lesser exploits. The Rock Swallows were so swift in attack that even the hero's lightning arrow could not touch them. At first his flint armor protected him. Meanwhile, the warning prayerstick, guarded at home by Child-of-the-water, began to burn. The younger Twin, accompanied by Cyclone, Hail, and Thunder, hastened to his brother on a white cloud. As the birds swarmed after Monster Slayer like giant bees, all except two were killed by the storm; the survivors became useful to man (Wheelwright 1942, p.97; cp. Matthews 1897, p.237, 153n).

Sleep (bil) (B) was found by Monster Slayer living with Hunger, Craving-for-meat, Poverty, Desire, and Want in the most sordid circumstances. To Monster Slayer's unmitigated shame, Sleep overcame him with a peaceful weapon, his finger (Ch. 5; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Wheelwright 1942, p.99).

Slipping Sands, Seething Sands (saita'd) (D) were great sand dunes which looked like a range of mountains. Just as a person climbing was about to reach the top, the sand would slide and bury him. Wind himself, according to the Shooting Chant myth, carried The Twins safely across this hazard. In Matthews' version, the sands rose, whirled, and boiled like water in a pot. The Twins passed them by reciting their names and a formula given them by Spider Woman. In the War Ceremony story, The Twins were protected by life feathers, gifts of Spider Woman (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Matthews 1897, p. 110; Haile 1938b, pp. 97-9; cp. Oakes-Campbell, p. 38, PI. II).

Spreading Stream (totsozi, tseko'*) (*This word, the name given by Father Berard and Miss Wheelwright, refers to the bottom of the arroyo, hence, its contents or stream.) (D) was 'as narrow as the string with which the trader ties up sugar,' but whenever anyone tried to cross it, it spread so wide that the person was destroyed.

The Twins, arriving at Spreading Stream, found their rainbow too short to span it. Measuring Worm carried them across on his long rainbow; they rewarded him with a song (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; cp. Haile 1938b, p. 97; Wheelwright 1942, p. 96).

Stalking Antelope (UP) were among the monsters to be overcome, two females who killed women, two males who killed men. Monster Slayer found Coyote trying to subdue them with a torch made of yucca strips tied to his tail. Having lighted it, he drove the antelope toward Monster Slayer, who shot them with his lightning arrow. He plucked a hair from each tail, one from the region of the heart, one from the tip of the ear, and one from each nose. Monster Slayer threw the hairs to the ground, transforming them to deer-a buck, a doe, and two fawns (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Wheelwright 1942, pp. 70, 88).

Syphilis People (tcatc'oc, tce'tc'oc dine'e') (UP) had pretty decoy women belonging to Deer Owner's family, who tempted Monster Slayer. When Monster Slayer and Deer Owner went hunting together, the deer changed to flies. Eventually, the old man turned the flies into deer. Sunbeam told Monster Slayer not to eat the meat lest he become a sorcerer. Monster Slayer accused the Syphilis People of being the vilest of venereal diseases. He was about to burn them up when they pleaded for their lives. They said that people who catch these diseases have no sense anyhow, that telling and teaching the people does no good, but for this reason, they, not the Syphilis People, should be punished. They concluded, "Therefore we shall be the last resort of painful instruction. If we become extinct, the major monsters which you have already killed will come into being again." Monster Slayer thought their reasoning good and permitted them to live (Haile 1938b, pp. 131-5).

Tearing Cactus, Needle Cactus (xoc de'tsahi') (D) was much like the Cutting Reeds. When a person tried to pass through them, they ran their needlelike points into him. The Twins got through them safely with the aid of their life feathers and the formula given them by Spider Woman (Haile 1938b, p. 97; Matthews 1897, p.110; cp. Wheelwright 1942, p. 97).

Tracking Bear (cac na'alka'hi) (UP), a monster from whom there was no escape, was born because a chief's daughter abused herself with a smooth stone and a piece of leg sinew. He lived in a cave in the mountains.
Monster Slayer, pursued by Tracking Bear, was protected by the rattle of a slim-leaved yucca fruit held in his left hand and some twigs of hard oak in his right. He shot the monster, cut off its claws and large canine teeth, and took the gall and windpipe as trophies. In one version, the nipples became pinion nuts, half of a piece of fat cut from around the tail ran off as a bear, the other half came toward him as a porcupine. In another version, Monster Slayer cut the head in three pieces: one became the broad-leaved yucca, one the narrow-leaved yucca, and one the mescal. People are now forbidden to eat bear, though they may eat porcupine.
Twelve Tracking Bears helped Deer Owner, the sorcerer. Self Teacher of the Night Chant killed them all.

The relationship between Tracking Bear and Changing-bear-maiden is not clear; they seem to be distinctive. On his way to kill Tracking Bear, Monster Slayer met the Maiden and on the way back he killed, then restored her. The transformations of the Endurance Chant have a certain similarity to those of Tracking Bear. Some results of throwing away Changing-bear-maiden's body-parts are not mentioned in Matthews' version of the tale (Haile 1938b, pp. 77, 127; Matthews 1897, pp. 124-5, 189; Wheelwright 1942, p.98; Reichard, Endurance Chant ms.).

Traveling Rock (tse na'yai) (UP) had as another name 'The-one-having-no-speed' ('adin dja'dgo). If he saw a person in the distance he would start in pursuit. If the person stood still, Traveling Rock would pass him, then return and roll over him, cutting him to death. As Monster Slayer circled this creature, planning how to attack it, Coyote came up and offered to help. He struck the monster with a heavy rock. Then Monster Slayer clubbed Traveling Rock four times. Pieces flew off it in every direction and became various kinds of rocks, now ground for sandpainting pigments. The bone became white rock; the flesh, blue pigment; the hair, black coloring matter; the mouth and blood, red pigment; the intestines, yellow ocher. All parts of the creature's body that had moisture-urine, tears, mucus, and perspiration-be-came wet spots caused by moisture oozing from rocks.
According to Matthews, Traveling Rock lived in a lake and escaped Monster Slayer three times by rolling into the water. The fourth time he appeared under the water gleaming like fire and surrendered. He promised Monster Slayer to cause rivers to flow; he became Water Monster.
Because he stepped on the chips that flew off Traveling Rock, Monster Slayer was in such great danger that the warning prayerstick left with First Man began to burn. As his strength failed and he breathed with difficulty, his twin brother caused a plant to spring up near him and rain to fall upon him, whereupon he revived (Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.; Matthews 1897, p.125; Haile 1938b, p. 138).

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