Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
Maria Antonia, who is never really well, is feeling even worse than usual. Her cough is bad; she feels weak and has little energy. She is sixty-three but sees no reason why at that age she should be able to do less than she did at thirty-five. Occasionally she has a little stabbing pain in her left side. Red-Point has heard that some people who live near Water-in-the-Ground are going to have a War Dance. After consultation the family agree that it would be well for Maria Antonia to join the patients. The whole family will contribute not only labor but also all their financial means.
The War Dance is held more frequently than any of the Navajo sings. It has been witnessed by more whites than any other. Whites understand none of the rites completely, but this one, because the social and secular side of it is more apparent, is even more thoroughly misunderstood and misrepresented. Man gets out of sympathy with nature, with the elements, or with the universe, and disease comes upon him. A diviner has the power to tell what the cause of the disorder is; once the cause is determined, steps in the form of one chant or another can be taken.
Causes are not, however, restricted to a man's own span of life. It may be that one of his parents has come into contact with danger in a disorderly manner during the time his mother
was carrying him. The particular dangers consist in dealing with enemies or foreigners. If a warrior has killed or injured his enemy by hitting him in the head or chest, that same fighter unless he has the War Dance held for him, may become ill with an affliction of the head or chest. His unborn child may also be later so afflicted. The Ancient People, prehistoric inhabitants of the many ruins of the Navajo country, were traditional enemies. Their power for harm has not ceased because they are dead; if anything, death enhances their danger. The sight of a bone of one of these people may have the same effects on a person or his offspring as actual contact with an enemy. Even if he has not consciously beheld such a disintegrated but still sentient relic it may be that he has passed one, perhaps even stepped on it, unknowingly. If indefinite dangers like this beset a man himself, who can account for the experiences of his parents?
Maria Antonia was born the year the Navajo were released from their captivity at Fort Sumner. Contacts there and later were almost entirely with soldiers. Since the benefit of other sings has been only temporary this one may have more permanent results. So, like Totlani's-Wife and many other of her friends and acquaintances, Maria Antonia will try this.
The War Dance will begin Thursday. On Wednesday all the cooking utensils, bedding, and odds and ends necessary for a short sojourn, as well as much goods by the yard and ceremonial paraphernalia, are loaded into the wagons and taken to Water-in-the-Ground. Ninaba and Angela, Ruby's sister, who is visiting, have been instructed to drive the sheep in the same direction today. After all are well started I take Maria Antonia and Djiba. We drive nine miles to the scene of our part of the ceremony. Here is a tremendous shade
perhaps thirty-five by twenty feet in dimensions. It is new, the posts are closely set, the roofing boughs are fresh and green.
There are few people here this early, but the chief cooks of the other family participating have established themselves with their families and pets in the northern half of the shade. Our women will use the southern half, and this will be our home for several days. Here hundreds of visitors will be fed at all hours, here all supplies are kept. Three wagons with barrels of water stand outside. In front of the shade there is a huge pile of wood; not far to the right are three large clean Spanish ovens made of adobe. This is the center of the entertainment. A War Dance consists largely of entertainment.
There are three patients besides Maria Antonia, an old woman with white hair and no teeth, but very spry; her fourteen-year-old son; and a man who is no relation to any of them. Marie knows his name but does not know the old woman. Her eyes are quick and bright and humorous. The patients remain for most of the five days of the performance in a summer hogan five hundred or six hundred yards away from the cooking shade. This hogan and the small shade in front of it are the stage for the sacred part of the sing.
The most important property of the Dance is a trophy which represents the ghost of the enemy. In the old days it was an enemy scalp or bone of the Ancient People. Today a lock of hair, or a piece of skin of some person not a Navajo may be used. It need not be taken in war but must belong to an alien. Scalps from the medicine bundle of a chanter are not unknown. It takes several hours to make the trophy stick, which is marked and tied with many things.
"Changing-Woman, who is the Earth Mother, bore two sons, First-born and Child-of-the-Water, who derived such power from their father, the Sun, that they were able to overcome the dreadful monsters which encumbered the earth and prevented people from populating it. When they were four days old—that is, old enough to think—they asked their mother, "Where does Big-Monster live?" "Sh!" she warned. "Don't mention his name." But they insisted, so she told them. They went off and not only attacked but killed the monster for all time. First-born brought home a part of the body of Big-Monster which he hung in a tree in front of his mother's house to prove his prowess. This he and his brother continued to do, until all the monsters were killed and the earth was a decent place to live in.
"Changing-Woman herself had a great deal of power, but each time she looked at one of the trophies she purified herself with pollen and a prayer."
About three o’clock on Thursday, the first counted day of the sing, the trophy stick is ready. "Our" party is ready to take it to Sunrise, about fourteen miles west, where the opposing party awaits it. By this time several hundred people have gathered. All of them want to go to Sunrise with me! I tell Marie I cannot take all who want to go, she must choose which they will be. We start with seven. Marie chooses to take her mother's co-patient and another stranger, then there are Tom, Atlnaba, and of course Dan. The man patient is in the party of horsemen, and the fourteen-year-old boy on horseback carries the trophy. Maria Antonia is the only patient who remains.
White-Haired-Woman guides us over a short cut—shorter in miles than in hours—which leads past her winter hogan to Sunrise. For miles we climb up and dip into thick-grassed slopes, and for as many miles see scarcely a sheep or a trace of one. The reason, White-Haired-Woman tells us, "No
water to drink." We get stuck in deep sand once. The car disgorges its load; all push, and we are out. Tom knows a detour. The crowd is assembled at Sunrise, where not a blade of green is visible on any side. Against jagged cliffs stands a cooking shade about half as large as ours. In it particular guests, which include our party, are fed. People walk over one another, there is scarce room to set a coffee cup. Order and organization, which are so noticeable at all affairs at Red-Point's, are conspicuously absent. Set on the sand some distance before the house are tubs of boiled mutton, wash-boilers full of coffee, and gunny sacks full of bread. The food is devoured by the hordes of guests.
The people of the opposing party offer us all possible hospitality. Marie does not even know who they are. After the feast we wait for the Girls' Dance (usually called Squaw Dance) to begin. The trophy stick stands in a basket in a hogan where for hours it is the sole occupant. Not until eleven o’clock does the trophy-bearer march out with it and thereby start the dance. She must be a virgin and must never let the trophy touch the ground from the time she first carries it until the whole dance is over. The Sunrise party have made the choice. The child is very young, does not look more than seven to me. I learn later from Marie that she is so young that there are two who take turns because one gets tired.
Her mother accompanies her as she comes from the hogan carrying the trophy and seeks a young man to dance with her. The mother tells her to grab a young man by the coat and draw him out into the center of the dancing place. A large chorus stands on one side and sings vigorously, pausing for only short intervals until sunrise.
This is the dance of which white people make all manner of fun. The girls force the young men to dance. They will not let one go until he has paid for his dance. A Navajo man can get away by paying a dime, a white man is expected to pay at least a quarter. But even if he gets off by paying his coin, any presentable young buck will be invited again and again. He may therefore save money by dancing for a long time with the same girl. He may enjoy this, may even pay a girl to dance with him and no one else the whole evening. On the other hand, his lack of a coin may make him a girl's prisoner for hours.
The step of this dance is monotonous, a kind of disinterested shuffling of one partner around the other. Often the man appears to be dragged by the girl, who holds him by the coat if she follows old ways. More intimate positions may be assumed, and those who dance together for a long time take on a look as fatuous as that I have seen on our dance floors. Many girls dance it. A girl who is not respectable is referred to as one "who had to dance for her mother," meaning that her mother forced her to dance and exacted from her the proceeds. This is what John meant when he said his relatives must pick him a woman who does not dance. It is what Marie means when she says, "My sister will never let Ninaba dance."
Each of three nights of the War Dance are passed in this manner, one here at Sunrise, the two following at Water-in-the-Ground. By dawn the next morning most of the audience is strewn here and there on the ground fast asleep. Shortly after sunrise people begin to gather before the hogan, and one by one they take gifts into it, yards of calico, boxes and boxes of crackerjack, uncounted bottles of soda pop, sacks
of candy, oranges, silk handkerchiefs, a fine Pendleton blanket.
After a goodly amount has been accumulated and the crowd is as close as it can get to the house, small objects suddenly begin to fly out of the smokehole and door. Women from our party form a semicircle in front of the door; men and boys stand behind them. Women from the Sunrise side come out and place calico around the necks of our party. They give them as much of the other things as they can carry. Some of the recipients have fifteen or more boxes of crackerjack and bottles of pop, others have scarcely any. Complaints are most emphatic from those who receive the most.
Everyone who came with me "got lots." Tom tells me a man gave him a steer. We now have the bulky encumbrances of each passenger and besides another hitcher begging me to take her. Nothing is so hard as for a Navajo to say "No." One other thing that grieves him sorely is not to be able to pack all his belongings. Both contingencies now arise. I absolutely refuse to take on this woman. Lack of space is a good excuse, but Marie finds it hard to make; the woman finds it impossible to understand such an excuse. Meanwhile Tom is planning the load. He ties here and straps there, feet must cease to exist. At that he is obliged to send one large bundle on a wagon going back to Water-in-the-Ground. He could get everything in Jonathan if our receipts were expressed in almost any terms but pop bottles. They stubbornly refuse tighter cinching and end up by riding in the laps of their owners. I don't dare inquire about the steer, we might somehow have to take that too. I drive back the longer but smoother and less sandy way; we arrive at Water-in-the-Ground with every bottle intact.