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El Centro College's
History Department
Presents

Outline of Class Discussion: The Navajo (Dine')

A Presentation for El Centro's Capstone Program

To Capstone Program Main Page - Links

  1. Time of arrival to Southwest, how got there, or why - largely unknown although believed originated from Northwest due to Athabascan language - Both Navajo and Apache are Athabascans. See Plains Page for information relating to the Apache.
  2. NAVAJO:

    (A.) At one time, probably with Apache; history obscure to late 1600s
    (B.) Northern New Mexico/Arizona, heart of region Dinetka "Home of the People" in Four Corners region

    1. Heavily influenced by Pueblos; learned to farm and weave; influenced religion, eremonies
    2. Spanish brought livestock
    3. Learned silverwork from Mexicans

    (C.) Today live on almost 16 million acre reservation
    (D.) Nuclear family basic unit, matrilineal, high status for women; high birth rate
    (E.) Live in hogans generally near wife's mother
    (F.) Matrilineal clans named after localities or tribe of ancestry; society based on bonds of kinship
    (G.) Incest repulsive, mother-in-law rules
    (H.) Mythology:

    (1) Universe contains mortals called Earth Surface People and supernatural Beings, the Holy People (Changing Woman or Turquoise Woman gave Earth People Maize, her husband the Sun; Other Holy People included Thunder People, Wind People, Coyotes, Snakes) who possess good and bad powers;
    (2) rituals to maintain/restore balance;
    (3) no organized priesthood, societies like Pueblos; shaman known as chanters; ceremonies precise to preserve harmonious wholeness of cosmos; ritual dramas for purification lasted days; curing ceremonies popular among non-Navajo;
    (4)this life oriented, not preparation for afterworld, Ghost Dance of late 19th century not popular, last thing they wanted was ghosts believed to be malevolent; universe is a dangerous place; fear of ghosts, witches, even "Holy People";
    (5) emergence story important -ascended from 12 subterranean worlds as result of great flood
    (6) Chants - important to ceremonies - preserve harmonious wholeness in the cosmos and for restoring health to the individual; numerous types
    (7) No concept of glorious immortality; this life not preparation for afterlife; this life is what counts
    (8) Afterworld shadowly place to the north, somewhat like this earth except underground; uninviting realm
    (9) All ghosts malevolent; potential threats; seek revenge for offense or neglect; also witches menacing
    (10) Universe a dangerous place; contains good and evil
    (11) Sickness and disease due to supernatural causes
    (12) Restore proper balance - rites, proper chant
    (13) Unlike Pueblos, place great stress upon the welfare of the individual
    (14) Religion not distinct and separate from daily life; supernatural pwers ever present and ever threatening

    (I.) Although at one time nomadic, agriculture basis of economy; heavily influenced by Pueblos
    (J.) Hogan - dome structure covered with earth, earlier "forked-stick" type dwelling; also usual a ramada for shade
    (K.) Homes of dead abandoned, will not touch corpse
    (L.) Clothing similar to Great Basin - men breechclouts; women skirts and sandals, cloaks & blankets of rabbit skin
    (M.) Pueblos introduced to weaving - Navajo women became some of the finest weavers in world - mythology that learned from Spider Woman
    (N.) Weaving second only to silver and turquoise working in importance
    (O.) Arts/crafts - emphasis on avoidance of excess, modesty; never completely finished - would work to detriment of artist
    (P.) Sandpainting, songs also important
    (Q.) Informal government
    (R.) Also known for language, so complicated used as secret code in World War II (about 3,500 served)
    (S.) Europeans never understood the autonomous nature of the Navajo bands
    (T.) 1863 Colonel Kit Carson was ordered to subdue the Navajo and Mescalero Apache and to resettle the at Bosque Redondo along the Pecos River; "scorched earth" policy against the Navajo; eventually 8000 Navajo made the "Long Walk" of 300 miles from Ft. Defiance to Ft. Sumner at Bosque Redondo; held in captivity for 4 years along with 400 Mescaleros
    (U.) 1868 Treaty signed established a reservation
    (V.) Navjo are sociable, fond of jokes, native games, horse races, folktales and myths; medicine "sings," trips to the trading post
    (W.) Children greatly desired; few "don'ts"
    (X.) Girls impressive puberty rite ("Kinalda") - a four night ceremony
    (Y.) Both boys and girls between ages of 7 and 13 are initiated into participation in the ceremonial life of the adults on the last night of a Night Way chant
    (Z.) Marriage very important; divorce is not difficult; Navajo saying "She (the wife) does not always have to obey her husband, but she ought sometimes to get along."
    (AA.) Some polygny
    (BB.) Death and everything connected with it is frightening; fear of ghosts; did not participate in Ghost Dance revival of late 19th century - last thing they wanted

Resources:
The Native Americans, Robert F. Spencer, et. al.

Navajo Links: