Dancing Gods, by Erna Fergusson, , at sacred-texts.com
A nurse, new to the Navajo reservation, was traveling to her station, almost two hundred miles from the railroad. Sitting beside the mail-man in his Ford, she watched the broken country unfold. First they passed through a patch of pines on a high upland. Then for miles came the weird pale colors of the Painted Desert; then miles of strange tortured rock shapes where even scrub cedar could not grow. They halted at a trading-post and she saw her first Navajos.
Two men sat on the steps of the store, chatting. One wore a dirty red sweater, a Stetson hat, and brown moccasins. The other had no hat; his long hair was held under a red silk handkerchief, and a blanket fell from his shoulders. A slim pretty girl passed, her very full skirts almost touching the ground in front and bobbing high behind. Beside her trotted a tiny child, also in a long, full skirt and a dirty velvet jacket; her hair, like that of the women, was tied with cotton string into a heavy chignon.
They delivered mail at two such posts before they stopped for lunch at Red Lake, where a flat pond lay in a hollow of the desert. The store, which is one of the oldest
on the reservation, was obviously built for protection as well as for business. An octagonal stone building with high windows, it would still make a very worthy fort. In the one living-room upstairs two New England women in fresh gingham served lunch and gossiped about their neighbors fifty miles away as easily as though they lived in the next house.
They drove on between the great stone "Elephant's Feet" and off over miles of stony roads along the brink of canyons where no water ran. They saw a few irregular fields of stunted corn. Once they passed an empty hogan. It was the typical Navajo home, built of logs laid lengthwise and rising gradually into a low dome. The one door faced east, as rigid convention prescribes, and the only other opening was the hole at the top to let out the smoke from the fire in the middle of the floor. Near by was a brush shelter, which the mail-man said was the Navajo summer home.
The road bumped and scraped and struggled along. Once they stopped to speak to a small girl herding a bunch of sheep, but she spun her long skirts out into a fan and ran for cover like a wild thing. Once two men crossed the road on ponies, their slim shanks riding close as though a part of their horses. They accepted cigarettes, but had no English. Once a wagon pulled elaborately out of the road to let the car pass. The driver beamed, the woman seated on the bed of the wagon smiled demurely over her striped blanket, children stared with amazed black eyes. These were the only people they saw on that long drive.
The nurse was silent. Then she said:
"This is magnificent country, and there seems to be more than enough of it. But why do they need a nurse? Where are the people?"
Yet on that reservation there are more than forty-two thousand Navajos, supporting themselves by marketing their sheep, their blankets, and their silverware. They come into the trading-posts to exchange these things for what they need, and disappear again into their mysterious desert. One sees them in numbers only when they meet for their great "sings." Then often more than a thousand will gather in response to that strange underground summons which travels faster than the white man's telegraph.
Navajos are marked by mystery, by arrogance, by a strange sardonic humor which no white man has ever analyzed or even much noted. In appearance they are very different from the other southwestern Indians. One would say, offhand, that Navajos are a tall people, slim-waisted, both men and women, with high cheek-bones, narrow hands and feet. Yet on closer acquaintance they are seen to represent every human type. They are short and fat as well as long and lean; high aquiline noses and narrow faces are varied by flat faces and almost Negroid features. Probably Jewish traders could contribute little to the Navajo's gift as a hard and close dealer, but Jewish features are not infrequent. A stunning sheik of the desert may have gray eyes; they are probably due to the fact that the American Army passed that way. Whatever his physical appearance, the Navajo's outstanding characteristic is his hauteur. He is dignified to the point of superciliousness; and he looks
upon the white man as upon a strange interloper whom he tolerates because it is his own high pleasure to do so, and not because he has to.
That the Navajos consider themselves the aristocrats of the southwest they tactily admit by calling themselves "Dinne," the People. They are of Athapascan stock, and ethnologists are generally agreed that they came from the north, drifting into the area they now occupy less than a thousand years ago. In earliest historical times they were found wandering over what is now western New Mexico, eastern Arizona, and southern Utah and Colorado. Their present reservation, while much smaller than their original range, is in the same region. Navajo legends in general bear out the supposition that they came from the north, except one very picturesque one which tells that the People came from the south, bringing their four sacred plants: tobacco, corn, squash, and beans. They occupied all the country, but, finding the Pueblo people better fitted for agriculture, they generously gave them the valley lands and kept the high grassy uplands for themselves. This legend has the great advantage of justifying the Navajo habit of appropriating the crops raised by the Pueblo people.
The Navajo also appropriated women when it suited him to do so, with the result that his race is probably a compound of all the southwestern Indian stocks, with accretions of Spanish blood, whatever racial amalgam the Spaniards had acquired in Mexico, and later additions from the American Army and American traders. What was most vigorous, most alluring, most enduring of all races the Navajo has apparently taken and made his own.
The name "Navajo" was first "Apaches de Navaju," a designation first used by Alonzo de Benavides in 1630 to distinguish these people from other related bands of Apaches. "Navajo" is a Tewa word meaning "broad cultivated fields." Not that the Navajos condescended to cultivate the fields, but that they were found living near and preying upon those who did.
The Navajos whom the Spanish explorers knew were a nomadic fighting race, clever, acquisitive, keen to take whatever appealed to them. They wandered in small bands, probably related groups; they dressed in skins, and their legends mention garments woven of cedar fiber. They probably made shelters of brush or logs as they do today; they fought, hunted, sang, and danced. They made baskets, often very fine ones, but as time went on, they learned the Piutes could make as good or better baskets, so the aristocratic Navajo let the Piute do it. They made woven water-bottles covered with pitch, and a crude pottery for cooking. As soon as they found a weaker people from whom they could acquire pottery, however, they abandoned that craft also.
The Spanish never conquered the Navajos, and they remained a constant menace to the little settlements widely scattered over the province of Nuevo Mexico. But the Spaniards probably saved the Pueblo people from complete extinction at the hands of the Navajos. The Navajos claim that they conquered the people who lived in the Canyon de
[paragraph continues] Chelly, and in Chaco Canyon; and there is sufficient record of how their encroachments caused the abandonment, within historical times, of the Piros villages in the Manzano Mountains, of Pecos, of villages near Socorro.
Though the Spaniards never conquered the Navajos, they gave them, perforce, certain arts and other gifts. Captured horses multiplied rapidly until a horse was almost a part of every Navajo. Every man's wealth was estimated by the number of horses he owned; he bought his wives with horses; children rode as soon as they could walk. With the horse went the sheep, and with the sheep went the art of weaving. Before the Spanish conquest all the Pueblos wove cotton. They learned wool-weaving rapidly, and probably passed it on almost as rapidly to the Navajos, who knew how to make good use of their captives. Navajo women now became sheepherders, owning their own flocks and bringing the wool through all the processes to the final blanket. They had the natural white and black, which combined to make gray; bayeta, which is the red raveled from Spanish uniforms; certain yellows made from vegetable dyes; cochineal, which they got from the Yaquis; indigo from Mexico. Many of these old blankets, treasures for collectors, have marvelous fineness of texture and beauty of soft faded color and definite, balanced design. Blankets must have made a great difference in Navajo life. Every man, still in fringed leggings and no shirt, now wrapped himself nobly in the comforting folds of a blanket; every woman now wore, instead of a skin tunic, which must be chilling to the body, a woven squaw dress, such as Pueblo women still wear on feast-days.
By the end of the eighteenth century Spain's glory was past, and the distant province of Nuevo Mexico was left to the mercy of its enemies. Navajos, Apaches, and Comanches grew ever more aggressive. There are records of bands of Navajos advancing to within twenty miles of Santa Fe, pillaging little ranches, taking what they wanted, including the likely women, locking the rest of the family into the house, and setting fire to it before they rode away.
The Mexican Republic proved even weaker than Spain, and it is no wonder that whites and Pueblo Indians were equally glad to welcome the American Army when it came promising protection.
Kearny, before he passed on to California, appointed Colonel Doniphan to give the Navajos a sharp lesson, which he promptly did. The chiefs readily entered into a treaty with the United States, but they could see no reason why they should not go on fighting Mexicans as usual. The fact that the United States, having fought Mexicans itself, now claimed and protected them did not seem reasonable to the Indian mind. So Colonel Doniphan's treaty was the first of many. The Navajo continued his ancient policy of maintaining a friendship with the Mexicans and the Pueblos during the growing-season and of inaugurating a war when crops were ripe. Over and over governors of the province, which was now called New Mexico, appealed for aid against the "blood-thirsty Navajos."
Mexicans, for their part, soberly advocated a state of continuous war with Navajos, who, they pointed out, had many sheep and horses and many children. Mexican gallants liked the sport of capturing Navajos for slaves, and the ease of having them. It was estimated in the sixties that from two to four thousand slaves were held in New Mexico. Even one governor was said to own them, though ownership was legally vested in his wife. Prices varied, but a promising girl of eight sold for as much as four hundred dollars.
So whites were probably quite as much to blame as Indians for the constant fighting. It was the period in which "the only good Indian was a dead Indian," an assumption which would hardly make for friendly feeling. Kit Carson, the little, wizened, almost illiterate mountain-man who finally conquered the Navajos, understood this very well. He said once:
"I think, as a general thing, the difficulties arise from aggressions on the part of the whites. From what I have heard, the whites are always cursing the Indians, and are not willing to do them justice."
He also said: "I believe if Colonel Bent and myself were authorized, we could make a solid and lasting peace with those Indians."
A distant and warlike government, however, could not be expected to listen to such moderate words, nor to turn the conduct of its affairs over to a simple mountaineer and an Indian trader. So the wars went merrily on, and they proved to be a tedious business. For eighteen years an army of over three thousand men was constantly in the
field; every general who later came to fame served an apprenticeship fighting Navajos or Apaches; the expense became appalling. Treaties multiplied, until in 1863 Brigadier-General James H. Carleton, in command of New Mexico, put an end to that farce. After a skirmish he made the unexpected move of refusing to make a treaty with a deputation of Navajo chiefs. He told them that they could have peace at once and without the bother of a treaty by simply ceasing to molest the Mexicans. He said that they had always been more apt at promise than at performance, and that he was giving them a chance to perform. The bewildered Navajo statesmen retired, promising to do their best, but cannily reminding the General that their young men were hot-blooded and hard to hold.
Depredations began again within a few months. Carleton was ready for this. He sent word that he had no desire to fight friendly Navajos, and that any of them could show their friendly feeling by reporting at once at Fort Wingate. He agreed to move them to the Bosque Redondo, where they would be given land, including six thousand arable acres on the Pecos River. The Navajos, always invincible, could not believe that they had at last met their match, and practically none responded. The Navajos have a tradition that a removal east of the Rio Grande would ruin them. If as wise a man as General Carleton had known and respected this ancient belief, might he not have been more successful?
Carson, known to the Navajos as "the Man Who Talked One Way," met the chiefs in council and told them what they were up against. He explained that the American
[paragraph continues] Army was invincible; that however clumsily and helplessly they lurched about over the desert with heavy equipment and unseeing eyes, white men would never stop coming, because they were inexhaustible. But the chiefs would not listen.
A venerable Navajo told his white friend one day how his band eluded the great Carson. There was a faint gleam in his watery old eye as he recalled the trick they played. Then he stopped and meditated. "If we had listened to Carson," he said, "we'd have been all right. As it was, do-so, do paizh; it was just too bad."
It was, indeed. Carson was a soldier, and, both sides having refused his excellent advice, he had no choice but to go out and get them. Knowing the country and with an uncanny ability to get about over it in a short time, Carson was not long in penning most of the tribe in the Canyon de Chelly, which the Navajos considered sacred ground. But that thirty miles of twisted sandy canyon, with thousand-foot walls of colored sandstone, proved to be not a haven for them, but a trap.
Carson reported: "In the main Canyon de Chelly they had some two thousand peach trees which were mostly destroyed by my troops.
"When I first captured the Navajos, I first destroyed their crops, and harassed them until the snow fell very deep in their canyons, taking some prisoners occasionally.
"I took twelve hundred sheep from them at one time, and smaller lots at different times."
One does not like to think of what months of such warfare meant to women and children. Strange, wild, hunted
creatures they must have been, facing starvation or the even worse horrors of surrender to an unknown and relentless power. In the end, trusting the word of "the Man Who Talked One Way," about two hundred men, women, and children surrendered in the canyon. Other bands came in so rapidly that by February of 1864 several thousand had been moved to the Bosque Redondo. They could not know that the man who promised them food and protection and fair treatment was not powerful enough at Washington to make a great civilized government talk one way also.
At the end of February 1864 general Carleton reported the surrender of over three thousand Navajos, more than half the tribe. He demanded food and clothing for them all, and while waiting for Washington to act, he put his troops on half rations and ordered that no grain be fed to cavalry horses until the Navajos were fed. In appeal after appeal he pointed out that it was cheaper to feed Navajos than to fight them, and that the lands captured from them were worth more than any cost the captives could be.
"For pity's sake," he urged in one report, "if not moved by any other consideration, let us, as a great nation, for once treat the Indian as he deserves. Otherwise," he prophesied, "this interesting and intelligent race will diminish and disappear." The People had friends, even at court.
The whole tribe was never captured: a few old men still
boast that their bands never surrendered. Still, enough of them were exiled to the Bosque Redondo to make an effective object-lesson. Many died on their way there. The first winter, when food came slowly and there was a shortage of firewood, killed many more. Many contracted diseases, especially children. Near-by tribes of unconquered Indians attacked them, and the government gave inadequate protection. Agents paid government money for good flour and fresh meat, accepted wormy flour and tainted meat, split the difference with the traders--and did not increase Navajo respect for government.
Worst of all, the Navajo could not farm. He had, during the Spanish era, made the dizzy leap from wild marauding savages to a pastoral people. He could not compress an equal development into three years and become, on demand, a farmer. When the Navajos first reached the Bosque Redondo, they had no idea what to do with the spades and hoes issued to them. They knew nothing of irrigation. Naturally, their crops failed.
So it became apparent, even in Washington, that the noble experiment of the Bosque Redondo was a failure, a commission was appointed, and in 1867 a new treaty was signed with the Navajos.
This treaty persisted in the determination to make the Navajos skip a few centuries of normal development and become at once peaceable Christian farmers.
[paragraph continues] To this end every man was to be given land, seeds, agricultural implements, flocks and cattle, and even a hundred dollars with which to get started. A school was to be established for every thirty children, and attendance made compulsory.
Most of the terms of the treaty were never carried out, the government, like the Indian, being more apt at promise than at performance. The Navajo returned to his gorgeous deserts, resumed his pastoral and nomadic life, and hid his children as well as he could from government agents who came to take them to distant schools. His next advance into a sedentary group was going to take at least another century, and he could not be hurried. The Navajo had learned that the United States was stronger; whether it was smarter, time would tell.
With their usual quick adaptability, the People had made good use of their captivity. Women, deprived of their sheep, got Germantown wool from the traders and learned to make a new blanket, smoother than the old. Owing to lack of wool and the influence of white women, they gave up their short wool dresses and went into calico bodices and skirts fifteen yards round, as the mode prescribed. Men went into calico too: shirts, and straight drawers slit up the sides. Velvet did not take its important place in the Navajo wardrobe until Mormon traders introduced it, years later. Silver not being available, smiths made jewelry and horse-trappings out of sheet copper which the government gave them.
The original reservation was twelve thousand square miles, roughly between the San Juan River in New Mexico and the Little Colorado River in Arizona. It offered scanty grazing for flocks, and almost no water for agriculture; yet the adaptable Navajo has increased his flocks and developed herds fast enough to keep up with his own amazing increase. More land has been granted from time to time by executive order, and slowly the government is developing water for irrigation. The lordly Navajo is working with pick and shovel, helping government engineers to make dams and ditches and reservoirs; he is even bending his proud back to force a plow through his deserts. They say he is a natural mechanic and can do anything, once he is satisfied that he wants to. Through it all he manages to maintain his dignified aloofness. He is not yet a white man's Indian.
Government is administered by the agent, who appoints Indian judges and policemen to assist him. If he is wise, he chooses medicine-men or clan or district headmen, and he gives them as much latitude as possible. The Indian judge holds a court somewhat like a justice court; he gets at the facts in his own way, and he hands down judgments often as penetrating as Solomon's.
Within the last fifteen years oil has been scented, and some has been discovered, on the Navajo reservation. Oil-companies leased land from the Indians, and a couple of new problems appeared. Old men were afraid that drilling might offend the gods. Fortunately, several of the early structures produced water instead of oil, so the shamans were assured of divine favor, and advised their people to
lease lands to strangers who, whatever their purpose, produced ever-useful water. How to use the prospective oil-money without corrupting the Indian was the other problem.
About this time, providentially, there came into the government service a man who understood the Navajos, and who met them as one gentleman may meet another to discuss their problems. As United States Commissioner to the Navajos, Herbert J. Hagerman called a council of twelve men, with twelve alternates. They met in 1923--a very significant meeting, for it was the first elective group among the Navajos, the first time that the tribe had acted as a unit. The United States was represented by Mr. Hagerman, the presiding officer was Henry Chee Dodge, a gray-eyed Navajo headman, and hundreds of Navajos attended as intelligent and attentive listeners.
The council has now become an annual affair. The Navajos amaze visitors by showing themselves straight and able thinkers, well aware of their rights under the treaty, quick to distinguish between the valuable and the meretricious, and wise in their insistence that the oil-money be used for the benefit of the whole tribe. They have consistently opposed individual allotments. They realize that the greatest need of the tribe is for more land, and they are working toward that end.
In 1928 a new president of the council was elected: Dashne-Chis-Chiligi, who is a school graduate and speaks English well. He is about thirty-five years old--young enough to understand changing times--but he is
conservative in his attitude toward the old ways; so he is pleasing to the old men.
In spite of all these changes the Navajo with few exceptions is born in the hogan; his mother is assisted by a tribal midwife, and a medicine-man chants suitable prayers. The baby nurses a long time, sometimes a couple of years, and is weaned on beans and coffee, or whatever the family has. Infant mortality is high and children beyond the nursing age often look undernourished. Yet the Navajo child who survives has the boon of a serene and happy home, with much less nagging and fussing than the ordinary white child is subjected to. Navajo parents are accused of over-indulgence, but their children greet visitors politely, proudly sing their little songs when asked, and speak only when spoken to. They belong to the mother's clan and she is the dominant parent, but the bond with both parents is very close. As a consequence old people are tenderly cared for and family feeling is strong.
As they grow, Navajo children share in the family work. Both boys and girls herd sheep, going out first with older children; but even when as young as ten, they are responsible for good-sized flocks. Life is largely conditioned by the needs of the sheep. The family drifts with them from water-hole to water-hole; in summer they follow good grazing into the high mountain pastures, in winter they seek sheltered spots in the lowlands. It is a nomadic life, but the
ordinary family probably moves in an area of not more than ten miles.
Wherever they are, the woman is the head of the family. She owns her sheep as well as her home and her children, and if she tires of her husband he must go. No woman in the world occupies a more dignified position, and probably no woman in the world works harder. She is a wonderful shepherd; she shelters orphaned lambs under her wide skirts and even suckles them at her own breast. Her husband assists with dipping and marketing the sheep, but she handles the wool from shearing to the final blanket, and she is never far from her loom, hung in the hogan or between two cedar-trees.
The man may make silver, squatting on a sheepskin before his low charcoal fire, and chanting softly as he hammers Mexican dollars into adornment for all the tribes, including the tribe of westward-minded whites. His tools are simple, but as a craftsman and designer he can hardly be surpassed. He works without haste, as an artist must work, and he has the artist's quiet assurance of the value of his own work. There is much other business for the Navajo man. He buys, sells, trades, and races horses, in spite of the fact that the rapid increase in the herds has made them a liability instead of an asset. He, rather than the woman, is meeting changing conditions. He must make the necessary great adjustment to the modern world, and, in his own good time, he is taking over what suits him from the mechanical civilization of the whites.
Life in the hogan is as simple as a coffee-pot, a pile of blankets, a loom, and an anvil. Yet the Navajo child must
from his earliest years be aware of great natural forces moving in color and rhythm across his desert, and caught now and then in the movement and cadence of the dance. Both boys and girls learn the tribal legends and are taken to the great religious ceremonies where songs are sung and prayers are danced to bring close whatever gods there are.
This life is interrupted by the business of schooling. At the age of six, children are taken from the hogans to the great barracks-like structures which are the government schools. There they are deloused, scrubbed, cropped, issued blue calico and blue jeans, and held sternly to an education designed primarily for white children. True to his aristocratic heritage, the Navajo child has not let this training affect him very deeply, even yet. He is secretive and aloof, he leaves the school as soon as possible, and he reverts with amazing suddenness to the life of the hogan and the clan.
The tribe is divided into about fifty clans, related groups which are loosely organized under a headman. Marriage within the clan is prohibited, so the young man, back from school, roves widely, looking at the girls. They meet at the great ceremonies and arrange their own affair, though marriage formalities are conducted by the families. The wedding is a ceremony. It takes place in the girl's hogan, a medicine-man presides, and the principal rite is eating corn-meal mush from a wedding-basket. Gifts are exchanged, everybody feasts, and the young couple move into a new hogan which has been built for them.
Wherever Navajos meet, for work or religion or play,
there is sport. Young men gamble, race, afoot or a-horseback, dance, or sing. Always they sing, sing for hours, sing all night. They rehearse all the regular chants, being careful not to commit a profanity by singing winter ceremonial chants out of season; they sing love-songs, running-songs, and songs learned from other tribes. Sometimes a quick white ear will catch, in the midst of resounding Navajo phrases: "Hello, John! Hello, John!" This is a song to celebrate the big potatoes which the white man brought to replace the little wild ones.
Such a song brings laughter, and there are many others which cause the Navajos to rock with mirth, and which they refuse to translate. No doubt they would not pass any board of censorship. Neither would much of the burlesque which crops up impromptu. Their humor is caustic and keen, and it finds endless inspiration in the white people who cross the reservation. Names given to white people nearly always hit with cruel aptness upon some physical or mental peculiarity. "Old Parrot-feathers" was a woman who tried to feather her way into favor. "Big Mouth" is a man who talks too much.
Altogether, the Navajo is amused rather than respectful in his attitude toward white people. After he leaves school, he knows them mostly as traders, doctors, and missionaries. He does business with the trader, and he usually finds him and his family the sort of friends who are willing to help without undertaking radical alterations in one's ways.
Doctors and nurses try, sometimes cleverly, sometimes clumsily, to supplement the work of the medicine-man and to teach better ways of healing. A clever doctor was once
called by a trader's wife to attend a pitifully undernourished baby. Medicine-men, who had been singing over the child for days, were naturally resentful. The doctor quietly waited on the conference, and the trader's wife, with quick understanding, made the convincing speech.
Said she: "You have been working hard here, calling upon the powers to help. So you have saved this baby. It is living, the doctor says it will live. Now it needs only good food, and its mother cannot nurse it. May we not take it to the doctor's hospital, where it will have good food, so your work will not be in vain?"
That was satisfactory, and the child was saved.
Among missionaries, too, there are many kinds. The government policy is to welcome any Christian missionary, coming to bring light to the heathen. Indians are usually persuaded to give them land, and then they are let alone to convert whom they can.
Once a Navajo headman came into a trading-post filled with anger. He thundered, his arms working like flails, his eyes flashing. He was a stormy man of wrath calling upon the gods of vengeance. He spoke in Navajo, but the trader afterwards gave me the burden of his oration.
"Why," he raged, "don't these missionaries go home? Why do they come here? Why do they bother us? We have a good religion. It is a religion of good. It teaches good. It tells us not to bother anyone. It is the same religion for all the People. Now come these missionaries with seven religions. They all talk different. They divide our people. They make trouble among us. Why don't these missionaries go home?"
Missionaries, on their part, point out that the tribal religion tolerates all sorts of superstitions, even sorcery.
Several years ago a medicine-man was accused of witchcraft. His wife's son had died of tuberculosis, that mysterious white man's disease which medicine-men are loath to treat. Another young man in the neighborhood sickened. Then a third. Clearly it was a case of bad medicine, for the victims grew weak and thin, lost appetite, and finally lost blood. There was a trial for witchcraft; and it took all the quick enterprise and daring of a trader to get his friend the medicine-man away before Navajo justice took a fatal turn. That medicine-man still lives far from his own people.
Among the superstitious fears with which even educated Navajos are filled is the fear of a hogan in which anyone has died. It is considered haunted and must be burned. Consequently a dying person is moved outside if possible. After he dies, the family, for four days, sit outside the hogan, facing east and chanting prayers to help the departing soul on its way. Friends wait on them and dispose of the body. Then the family undergoes a purification, which ends, as all Navajo prayers end:
"In beauty, it is finished.
In beauty, it is finished.
In beauty, it is finished.
In beauty, it is finished."
Most Navajo ceremonies are "medicine sings or chants." These are curing ceremonies given for one
individual, but they have power to bring good to all who attend. The most important, Mountain Chant and Night Chant, occur during the winter.
There are two ceremonies which are not cures. A "prayer night" is held before grass comes in the spring. People bring seeds of corn, melons, beans, and squash to be blessed before planting. The rites take place in a hogan, with a medicine-man presiding. There are prayers for rain in dry years, which most years are. In both of these ceremonies the influence of the Pueblo people is evident. Neither includes a dance.
Other danceless "sings" are the Eagle Chant, which is a cure for sores; the Big Star Chant, which stops bad dreams or insanity; the Red Ant Chant, which used to be more important than it is now, for it is a cure for wounds received in war; the Feather Chant, for bad blood. There are special chants for child-birth and for farewell, and one called In-dah, a purification.
When I asked Clyde how In-dah was used, he said:
"Well, if my father was to suicide a Ute, they would have In-dah."
Staggered at the idea of so calmly and naturally "suiciding a Ute"--even a Ute--I failed to ask Clyde whether purification was for the crime of murder or to rid one of the contamination of the Ute. I learned afterwards that its purpose is to lay the ghost of the enemy, whose scalp used to figure in the proceedings. Now any trophy will do, whether it bears directly on the case or not.
Individual obligation in religious matters is apparently slight, though prayers indicate that everyone is expected
[paragraph continues] "to keep his heart pure," which is perhaps not so slight an obligation after all. Everyone, both man and woman, carries a personal fetish-bag, a small buckskin pouch. It contains a turquoise matrix, the blue typifying the sky, the matrix the rain and clouds. Small sticks and stones symbolize the male and the female, and fresh pollen, renewed each year, keeps the spirit alive.
Before taking part in any ceremony, at all important times in his life, or if he is ill, the Navajo takes a sweat bath. He chants while he bathes, and his heart must be pure.
Recently a Navajo came back from town drunk. He took a sweat bath, evidently too soon after the debauch, and in the close heated hut, he died. Traders who told me the story said that his neighbors were not at all concerned. They said he had not chanted properly, that his heart was not pure; altogether they showed no regret at his loss, and they refused to touch his body.
The bath is a low wattled hut, into which hot stones and wet grass or weeds are put to make steam. The patient sits inside, chanting, while someone heats more stones, brings more wet grass, and occasionally lifts the blanket over the doorway to let in air. After fifteen minutes or so the Indian, dripping dirty sweat, emerges, rubs his body briskly with sand, and returns for a shorter steaming. On the second emergence he is perfectly clean, glistening, smooth, bronze-gold. In winter he finishes with a roll in the snow. In summer the kindly friend dashes a bucket of cold water.