The Navajo society is a culture rich in tradition. They value the close knit relationship with their family and have a great appreciation for the land. They fought to preserve their way of life, resulting in high values in; kinship, lifestyle, religious beliefs, and their rites of passage.
Diné or Navajo Nation borders Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. There are four mountains that act as landmarks are Tsisnaasjini' (Mount Blanca), Tsoodzil (Mount Taylor), Doko'oosliid (San Francisco Peaks), Dibé Nitsaa (Mount Hesperus). Navajo Nation is the largest Native American Reservation in the United States, occupying 17 million acres.
The kinship system of the Navajo people is one filled with respect and co-operation which resides throughout their lives. Each member of the family plays an important role, allowing them to join together in harmony.
The nuclear family is a unit which consists of a man, a woman, and their children which is smallest residence group in the Navajo society. The members all take part of daily tasks and live in the same Hogan. Navajo families are generally attached to their extended family which is in most cases from the bride’s side. The extended family typically consists of three generations and at least two nuclear families. The nuclear families each live in their own Hogan within shouting distance from each other and together, all contribute to the work at hand. This group is based on co-residence and cooperation.
The relationships in Navajo society are very strong. Their system is organized in roles and expected role behavior which is shared by their whole society. Every role open to man is also open to women leaving little possibility for economic domination of one partner over the other.
The husbands and wives play the main roles in this society. They lack romance but have a relationship filled with cooperation and companionship. They also take pride in each others achievements and have consideration as well as gentleness for each other. The husband and wife each own their own sheep and horses. The man is considered the head of the household and is expected to make the decisions but only after consulting with the wife and family. The husband and wives work tasks are shared quite equally. Like any other society the Navajo couples have their rough moments. Excessive drinking is a common source of strain between the husband and wife.
The mother is the main nurturer and authority figure towards the children in the family. The children spend the first years of their lives mainly with their mother. When the children are older they have a great deal of respect for their mother. Duties for their families take priority over salary jobs. If the children move away for employment reasons they generally send money to their families. The mothers are generally the ones that give the children gifts such as sheep or colts. Mothers and daughters share a very strong bond; they enjoy each others company during work and free time.
The fathers in the Navajo society also play a large role in their children’s lives. They aid the mothers with the responsibility of raising the children and focus on teaching manners, punishing, teaching the legends and chants, as well as teaching male skills. With the younger children, the Navajo father is considered to be affectionate and playful while being companionable with the older sons. The children have a strong desire to be considered a good son or daughter, especially from the father’s eyes. In most cases the Navajo father appears to be respected, responsible, and loved.
One of the strongest ties in the Navajo society is between siblings. They share a lifelong mutual feeling of responsibility for one and other. Sibling exchange is a frequent form of marriage among these people, making families very close knit. In most cases siblings share a very good relationship consisting of companionship and co-operation.
The people of the Navajo society have a strong family bond. They all have a great deal of respect for one and other and make co-operation a very important aspect of their lives. They all have their own role behavior that must be followed. Their extended families are also a big part of their lives.
The Navajo people seem to live their lives based around their spiritual beliefs. Every action that they do seems to be infused with a spiritual essence and because they are so connected to mother earth, living on the land seems to have a deeper meaning for them and they have a deeper appreciation for it. Starting early in the morning, they are always giving thanks to the land that is providing them with food and shelter. The Navajo women are very independent, making sure that they are able to take care of themselves and not have to depend on a man to do something for them. Because of this, they seem to be the center of the household. They are the ones that get up in the early morning and start the fire; they cook the meals, tend to the sheep, and pass traditions onto their children.
There are four main
parts of the Navajo way of life that the women would pass onto their
children (in particular, their daughters). The first most important
aspect of life is that of
religion. This is of great importance for children to learn at a young
age because it is
woven into their day- to – day lives. Second is food. This is an
important lesson for the
girls to learn as they are expected to provide meals for their families
when they are
married, but boys benefitted from learning about food as they would
eventually need this
knowledge for hunting later in their lives. The third area that needs
to be passed on is that
of the importance of water in the Navajo way of life. The importance of
water is told
through a spiritual story describing how the springs, where they get
their water, were
created by the Holy People. The fourth, and final, element that is
passed on is the
importance of plants. The Navajo people respected Mother Nature to such
a degree that
they included the importance of plants in their traditions to pass
along to their children.
Life revolved around Mother Nature, and her ability to provide them
food, because of this viewpoint, it was very important to give plants
the respect they
deserved. Corn, in particular, was of great value. It was important for
the Navajo people
to pass these elements down to their children because their entire
lives revolved around
these four basic elements. Without the correct understanding and
knowledge, there would
be no life. It was crucial for the Navajo people to pass these along,
their culture would cease to exist.
The Navajo religion is being Navajo. Religion is something that you live every day (Young, 2001, p. 233).
- Jennie Joe, Diné educator and medical anthropologist
The Navajo people believe that creation began in another world. Originally the Navajo
began as insects on the first world. Due to continuous quarrelling the leaders of the realm force
them to leave, entering into the second world. Unfortunately even in the preceding world the
insect spirits are unable to live together peacefully and each time the leaders of the realms spread
fire or flooding throughout the world until the world is destroyed, forcing the Navajo spirits to
enter a subsequent world. In the fourth world the spiritual insects are transformed into humans,
after fighting yet again the Navajo are asked to depart. During the transitions the male and
female genders were separated; however, upon the entering to the fifth world the First Man and
the First Woman emerge.
The First Man and the First Woman create the plants and the animals as well as the landscape
using objects from a sacred medicine bag. During the ceremony the 4 sacred mountains are
created, Dibé Ntsaa (Hesperus Mountain), Dook'o'oos?ííd (San Francisco Peaks), Sisnaajinii
(Blanca Peak), Tsoodzi? (Mount Taylor). Hesperus Mountain is the Northern mountain that was
fastened to the ground with a rainbow and is representative of the color black. San Francisco
Peaks is the Western mountain that was fastened to the ground with a sunbeam and is
representative of the color yellow, Blanca Peak is the Eastern mountain that was fastened to the
ground with a lightening and is representative of the white and Mount Taylor is the Southern
mountain that was fastened to the ground with a stone knife and is representative of the color
turquoise. The sacred mountains represent the four corners of the Navajo nation.
Following the ceremony to create Dinetah or the Navaho world the First Man found a baby in a
nearby mountain that matured into the Changing Woman. The Changing Woman gave birth to
twin sons, the Monster Slayer and Born for Water. The father of the Changing Woman’s twin
sons is the Sun; due to adultery committed by the Sun monsters are born. The twins slay the
monsters and become known as the Hero Twins. The First Woman creates first four pairs of
Navajo, which are the founders of the original Navajo clans. Some of the Holy people that
entered the fifth world return to lower worlds and became associated with death and witchcraft
and others remain on the fifth world in order to mentor the Navajo people.
A marriage between the Navajo is an economic transaction. Both families are much more
involved than the couple itself. A marriage ceremony is typically short; however, symbolically
important. Following a marriage ceremony the new couple reside in their Hogan which is close
to either the wife’s or husband’s family. Marriage rites and divorce are informal acts.
Navajo Rites of Passage
Kinalda’ is the name of the ceremonies for young women. It is a four-day ceremony. The majority of the ceremony is done in private so that means that most of its practices are unknown. The ceremony begins when the girl gets her menses for the first time. The girl’s hair is tied back in lion skin; she hangs the hair over her face, which she doesn’t wash. Most of the girl’s time is spent crushing corn for the cornbread that is to be made on the last night of the ceremony. Some other practices that happen during the entire ceremony are, the girls are not permitted to eat meat, sweets, or anything flavored. This is said to prevent the girls from getting ugly. The girl is only permitted to drink water through a tube. The girl is not permitted to scratch herself. Finally, the girl is not permitted to sleep often, but when she does she has to sleep on her back.
On the first day of the ceremonies the girl bathes and dresses in her best cloths. She also lies on a blanket face down where a female relative presses and molded her into a shape. This is said to be a very important part of the ceremony. Once this is completed a women, that has fully completed the ceremony, dresses the girl’s hair in a special way. Then the girl lifts all the children in the house by the neck to make them grow faster. The girl also has to run towards the east and then back, she is to do this for three days to make her supple, strong and energetic.
On the final day a man, brother or father, digs a large whole and makes a fire where the corn bread is baked. All of the relatives and neighbors gather around the fire to talk while the bread bakes. The spectators and medicine man seat around the fire while the girl washes her hair in soap and water, and groups of people sang. This part of the ceremony goes on all night and if a group member was to fall asleep or stop singing it is said that it brings bad luck and disgrace to both the individual and the girl. Almost at the end of the ceremony the medicine man paints the girls face with red paint and white clay. In the morning the songs are different they are about a changing women. When the day breaks the girl runs south and she is chased back by boys. When the children return the cornbread is uncovered and the women responsible for the baking cutes it. First, she cuts a circular piece in the center and then cuts that in four. One of the pieces is for the chief singer and another to the girl and she is to give it to a man in the crowd. The reason for this is not clear.
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Social Organization and Kinship Terminology. California:
University of California Press, 1970. pg. 66-99.
Navajo.(2007). Retrieved May 25, 2008, from World Culture Encyclopedia:
Reichard, Gladys A. Social Life of the Navajo Indians. New York, N.Y.:
AMS Press Inc, 1969. 135 - 139.
Roessel, Ruth. (1981). Women in Navajo Society. Rough Rock, AZ: Navajo Resource
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Young, W. A. (2001). The Diné (Navajo): Walking in Beauty. In Quest for
Harmony (pp. 233-283). New York, NY: Seven Bridges Press.
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