Dancing Gods, by Erna Fergusson, , at sacred-texts.com
Ceremonial life is intricate and elaborate, and the medicine-man is its center and moving spirit. He is doctor as well as priest, and usually he is a dignified, honorable, and truly spiritual person. Here, as in all professions, a few misfits occur, a few crooks, a few fakes. It requires a long and arduous training to become a fully qualified medicine-man; sometimes a man serves an apprenticeship of twenty years before he is able to lead one of the great nine-day sings. If a boy shows an aptitude for the calling, such as a good singing voice, an unusual memory, or a spiritual quality, he begins training as assistant to a skilled medicine-man, often his maternal uncle.
They may be called to a home where the administration of a brew of herbs, with a few suitable motions and prayers, are indicated. They may be called to exorcise a devil, to cure a fever, to stanch a bleeding wound, to set a bone--an art at which the Navajo medicine-man commands the respect of white surgeons. Sometimes they fail, as all doctors sometimes fail. Often they succeed. Their methods would seem reasonable to a psychoanalyst in that they interpret dreams; to a hypnotist because they use suggestion
freely; to an allopath when they turn herbs into medicines; to a yogi because they make passes of the hands accompanied by mystic words.
Often a highly respected medicine-man is called upon to render judgment or to settle disputes. Sometimes his psychic skill locates lost articles. In curing, the pupil does much of the work. He gathers herbs, learning their uses, as doctors once learned their trade in the apothecary's shop. He brings colored sand for the paintings and prepares it, and gradually he learns to make the great free-hand mosaics, dribbling sand through the fingers to draw pictures of such religious importance that there must be no single error. He learns hundreds of songs, in which he must be perfect to the smallest inflection. He learns the legends and traditions of his people. He develops whatever skill he may have in trance or in hypnotism.
A medicine-man is supposed never to refuse to answer a call, and never to stipulate a price. Like white doctors, he sometimes decides to be business-like. Ordinarily, if a person is ill and a sweat bath does not cure him, his family sends for the nearest shaman. The diagnosis may result from an interpretation of the dreams of the patient or his relatives, or the shaman may have a revealing dream. A very picturesque method is that in which the medicine-man sits, cross-legged, holding his fetish and chanting until he goes into a trance. Then someone mentions a long list of diseases, or of cures, and when the right word is uttered, the medicine-man shakes all over, and the diagnosis is made. Then the family decides upon what practitioner to call in to make the cure. Medicine-men are specialists in
such arts as the cure of head diseases, of wounds, of certain kinds of bad magic.
The man chosen may come from a distant part of the reservation and he may, and often does, call upon several local shamans to assist him. No doubt the chant prescribed depends upon the wealth of the patient. It may be a matter of one night; it may be one of the lengthy eight-day ceremonies. Poor people, however, are treated; medicine-men often treat for no pay at all. Payment always includes the baskets used ceremonially in the chant, the ceremonial deerskin, if one is used, fifty dollars in cash, out of which the assistants are paid, and sometimes additional fees of sheep, goats, blankets, or cloth.
The ceremonies have marvelous unity, considering how large the reservation is and how sparsely populated. This and the astonishing coherence of the whole tribe are no doubt due to the medicine-men. They travel widely to assist each other's sings, to observe and criticize each other's magic; and they hold every new medicine-man strictly to the ancient conventions. So these wise old men try to hold together an ancient faith, in the midst of an alien and dominant civilization. They are certainly sagacious old men, experienced in the vagaries of weather and of human life. Looking at them anywhere, it is easy to believe that they are also wise with some deep occult knowledge of the hidden meaning and movements of life.
The Squaw-dance is the only affair at which couples dance. Navajos say that "Squaw-dance" is a white man's name for it; it is really a war-dance. It is also a curing ceremony, the disease figuring as the enemy to be defeated.
The whole affair lasts three days, starting at the home of the patient and moving each day a day's journey for a horse. The trek is made slowly in wagons or on horseback, and every day the crowd increases. On the second night a few men, daubed with mud, dance a wild shouting turn, as a prayer for rain. Only on the last night do women dance.
A summer ceremony, the Squaw-dance may occur at any time from the beginning of the rains in July until the peaches in Canyon de Chelly have ripened and been gathered, and the first frost opens the season of the great winter sings. One may be told any day on the reservation: "There's a Squaw-dance over by Lone Cedar," or "They're dancing tonight by Lukuchukai." Even as close to civilization as where a transcontinental train rushes by in streaks of orange light, and an air-line beacon swings a pencil of light across the plain, they dance.
Nearing the place, one sees the fire-glow in the sky long before the ear is struck by the rhythmic pulsations of the chanting. Dropping over a hill, one comes suddenly upon hundreds of people, gathered in an open space among the trees. Picketed horses snort as the car throws light on them. Babies are bedded under blankets in wagons. A few battered
cars. Men stand in a circle of saddles thrown on the ground, and in that enclosure is the dancing.
A few girls, making their first appearance, may be shy and must be encouraged by their mothers; but, watching, one understands fully the independent, not to say dominant, position of the Navajo matron, who is truly a matriarch.
The woman approaches the man, standing resistant among his friends, links her right arm into his so that they face in opposite directions, and pulls him into the circle. Then they dance, up and down and back and forth, to the short staccato beat of the chanting voices. That is all; but it is quite enough to define the position of the lady. Sternly, firmly, relentlessly she holds him. Where she goes, he goes. She may seem to pay no attention to her particular quarry; facing away from him gives her a fine impersonal air. She goes forward while he goes back; when she backs up, he goes forward; but always when she goes, he follows. There is no escape. It is lady's night, and no mistake.
The only way out is pay. They say that in the good old days it was suitable for a buck to present a squaw with a white child brought back from his last war, thus neatly squaring the account with Mexicans who captured Navajos as presents for their brides. Then jewelry, skins, or horses. Now it is usually money, and the lady is not to be put off with a few cents. If he does not offer enough at first, they go on dancing, kicking up the dust as her skirts fly and his tall head bobs meekly along above hers.
Giggles, chuckles, and chortles run round the circle of watchers, and afterwards one often hears amusing bits of
gossip, but the dancing is as solemn as a Quaker meeting. The business is dancing, and collecting. So they dance, and collect.
The Mountain Chant is given only in winter, the season of hibernation: "after the thunder sleeps," which means the end of the thunder-storms; and before the spring winds begin. Navajos believe that if the ceremony were given, or even if the songs were sung and the legends told, at any other season, death from lightning or snake-bite would result. If during the ceremony an animal which should be hibernating is found out, they bring him in to the ceremony; so they say.
This chant is very important to medicine-men, as each shaman is given a chance to display his magic and to observe that of his rivals. Often several medicine-men from various parts of the reservation attend. There are said to be four ceremonies, all founded on the same legend, but differing greatly in detail of presentation and in the wording of the songs. When I asked one medicine-man how they decided which one to give, he said: "If the bear medicine ran against you, you would give the Bear Mountain Chant."
The Legend of the Mountain Chant
(following Washington Matthews)
Six Navajos, father, mother, two sons, and two daughters, wandered from place to place. As they went, they developed spring water, discovered the uses of various seeds and berries, built a hogan and a sweat-house, and
the two young men, coached by their father, learned the best ways of hunting and killing deer. They also learned much magic.
In hunting, the young men were warned by their father never to go south of their home, though they might hunt in any other direction. In time the elder brother, Dsilyi Neyani, showed himself akin to all the heroes of all the tales by deciding to take a look in the forbidden direction. Utes captured him and threatened his life. Assisted by a mysterious old woman, by a man in the mask of an owl, and finally by one of the gods (the Yei), he made a miraculous escape, carrying treasure with him. This was only the beginning of a long flight, during which Dsilyi Neyani was saved in one way or another by a mountain sheep, by a bush-rat, and by a whirlwind. When the dangers which beset him became particularly threatening, there was always a friendly Yei at hand to help him. Yei made bridges of ice or cloud or rainbow, lighted his way with lightning, gave him protective medicine, taught him magic words.
In time he came to a hogan where lay four bears the colors of the four directions. They taught him to make sacrificial sticks. Later he visited weasels, the Great Serpent, the lightning. Everywhere he learned magic or ceremonial acts.
One of the most interesting of the young hero's adventures was his visit to the House of the Butterfly, a beautiful place filled with butterflies and rainbows. There he was bathed and shampooed in a basin made of a white shell; and painted and dressed as are the couriers who announce the Mountain Chant even today. By this time Dsilyi Neyani
was well up on the mountain. He visited many places, in each of which he met young men, four or eight, who taught him more rites in the great ceremony which he was to take back to mankind. By this time the hero himself had been molded by the Butterfly Woman into the shining likeness of the gods, and the places which he visited were roofed with light, upheld by white spruce-trees, lighted by rainbows, floored with sacred corn-pollen.
He learned all the sand paintings which are used in the chant, how to make feathers dance, how to swallow swords, how to make a weasel appear and do magic, how to play with fire unharmed, and the mystical "hu-hu-hu-hu," which is the cry of the dance.
Then Dsilyi Neyani returned to his people, who had apparently grown in his absence from a family into a tribe. He was met by a medicine-man, purified as is customary when one returns from foreign places, and then permitted to tell the tale of his wanderings. It took him four days and four nights, but he was so convincing an expositor of the new rites that at once runners were selected, adorned according to the new specifications, and sent out to invite guests to the ceremony. Among the guests were to be friendly Utes, distant bands of Navajos, and several tribes of Apaches. That is why the Mountain Chant is still a ceremony to which visitors are especially welcome.
The young men selected as runners were known as lazy and worthless youths; yet they went farther and quicker than was common and brought back objects to prove that they had done in one day what was planned for four. The rest of the time was spent by all the Navajos in gambling,
and then the visitors began to arrive. Matthews, quoting the tale as he heard it, says: "After the guests began to arrive the young men set to work to cut trees for the corral, and when the sun had set the building of the dark circle of branches began. While the young men were making the circle, the old men were making speeches to the multitude, 'for the old men always love to talk while the young men are hard at work.' It was the greatest corral that has ever been built in the Navajo country. It was as broad as from Canyon Bonito to the Haystacks (about six miles); yet the visiting tribes were so numerous that they filled the circle full."
During the night there were many different shows and tricks, performed both by Navajos and by visitors. Some of the visitors proposed a race such as the young couriers had made. The course was to be round Mount Taylor, and the visitors were allowed to choose which runner they would back. They chose the one who had run to the north, and the Navajos got the southern runner. Then bets were laid: strings of coral, shell, and turquoise, shell vessels as large as the largest Zuñi bowls, tanned buckskin garments, dresses embroidered with porcupine quills, suits of armor made of several layers of buckskin.
When the race began, the fastest runners of both Navajos and strangers followed, but they could not even keep in sight of the contestants, those strange young men who had always been considered so lazy and worthless. The Navajos won, naturally, so they had all the wagered wealth of their visitors--a most suitable ending.
The strangers were dissatisfied and demanded another
race, this time on a longer course. So plans were made to race all round the foot-hills of Mount Taylor. This time the Navajos wagered only half their winnings. The strangers won, so they were satisfied, and the Navajos still had more than any of the other people, which is the reason they are still more wealthy than their neighbors.
After this, Dsilyi Neyani moved his family several times. Finally they settled in the Black Mountains, from which they could see Mount Taylor. Dsilyi Neyani knew that the Yei would come there for him, so he prepared his family for his translation. He said to his younger brother: "You will never see me again, but when the showers pass and the thunder peals, 'There,' you will say, 'is the voice of my elder brother,' And when the harvest comes, of the beautiful birds and grasshoppers, you will say: 'There is the ordering of my elder brother.'"
So was established the Mountain Chant, which celebrates these events.
Going to the Mountain Chant
On our way to the Mountain Chant we stopped at a trading-post. A sunny winter morning. Patches of snow among the scrub cedars and piñon on the hill-sides. Within, a large glowing stove standing in a sand-box. Navajos leaning against the shoulder-high counter, trading. One large flat-faced man, who had just completed a trade for pelts, began the spending of his twenty dollars. With a few guttural phrases and many gestures he made his selections: two sacks of flour, three buckets of lard, two packages of Arbuckle's coffee, three tins of baking-powder. As each
article was added to a pile in the corner, the trader made a calculation on a brown paper sack, deducting the amount of the sale, and telling the Indian what his balance then was. The grin on the broad face grew constantly more expansive as the pile of groceries grew, and especially as the white women admired his jewelry. He wore a magnificent turquoise necklace, which the trader assessed as worth fifteen hundred dollars, and a heavy silver hatband on a very dirty hat. The company watched with beady black eyes. Trading went on to shirts: white silk striped in colors, one for the big man, one for each of three or four attendant young men. Business progressing so favorably, the plutocrat indulged himself in a large cigar and in a bag of candy, which was passed to the young men. By this time his ideas seemed to be running out, and he moved more slowly the length of the counter, looking at the shelves and followed by the trader with his sack and his pencil. Well aware of Navajo psychology, the trader offered no suggestions; he just cannily waited. During a very long pause he handsomely presented a boy with a second bag of candy, which went the rounds. Another can of baking-powder was finally decided upon, a thin silk handkerchief, maybe for the woman in the hogan, another sack of candy, and finally, to wipe the slate clean, one sack of Bull Durham tobacco.
Meanwhile, in the course of an hour's trading, the big man had taken out of pawn a necklace, very inferior to the one he wore. He wore it for a few minutes, and just before the end of negotiations he repawned it to the trader, who put a new ticket on it and hung it in his case again. The whole transaction took place on the back of the brown paper
sack, and no money changed hands. Everybody beamed with joy, seeing such important and wealthy matters going forward. A woman, her full skirts sweeping the floor, and her hair straggling from its cords, accepted a bit of candy. She munched a piece, fed some to the baby cuddled in her warm store blanket, and stood impassive, only her bright black eyes moving. Young men lounged, their lithe bodies balanced in high-heeled cowboy boots and supported against the counter. One sat in the broad windowsill, crouching like an animal. He knew a little English.
"Belicana ladies in chitti," he announced, as a rattling Ford drew up outside. It was labelled: "Jesus saves. Ask me. I love to tell the story." Two prim tight-lipped women came in, bought soap and calico, murmured patronizing words to a few Navajos, who did not answer, and left again.
The time came for us to move out to the medicine hogan, where the Mountain Chant was going on. The large purchaser, his money all happily spent, was engaged in loading his goods on to a truck, where his family already sat on piles of blankets. A fine old grandmother, with the face of a sibyl, held a baby strapped to a board. Two young women, glorious in amber and rose velvet shirts, squatted among their billowing skirts, their chignons topped with celluloid combs set with rhinestones, their bosoms and arms heavy with native jewelry. Children of assorted sizes, most of them in velvet shirts and jewels. A tall youth cranked the motor, and they snorted out of the enclosure and off up the rocky piny canyon toward the ceremonial ground.
It was a high lonesome place on a hill-side, where piñon and cedar were beginning to yield to a stand of yellow pine
and spruce. A wash dropped off sharply at one side, a long lane had been grubbed clear for the races, and many shelters of piñon boughs had been built against the wind. Within their shelter sat women butchering sheep, tending babies, poking small sticks under bubbling pots, gossiping. The young men were racing, great piles of bets lying on the ground in blankets, cries of delight rising from the crowd as the tiny ponies dashed from one end of the runway to the other.
The medicine hogan, facing east as always, was of the most formal type, with an extension for the entrance and a banging blanket for a door. Smoke curled from the smoke hole, and men went in and out, raising the blanket and letting it fall behind their long legs. The ceremony had been going on for seven days, during which all the tale of Dsilyi Neyani's wanderings had been rehearsed in chants and in sand paintings. There are even short dramatic episodes described by Dr. Matthews, who has published a detailed account of every rite.
Most important is the making of sand paintings, an art most highly developed by the Navajos. A large space is covered with fine sand, which is smoothed with the batten used in weaving. Then the workers begin. Sometimes as many as twelve men crouch around the space, allowing colored sand to dribble through their fingers to make the pattern. Four colors are used: red, blue (which is really gray), yellow, and white. The chief medicine-man does nothing, but as he sits quietly watching, he is alert to catch
any false move or incorrect line and to direct its change. Any error would nullify the effect of the whole ceremony.
We arrived, one year, during the afternoon of the eighth day and were met by Jeanette, our sponsor. Jeanette speaks very good English, and, as the daughter of the headman, she had influence. She had promised to get us into the hogan to see the curing and the destruction of the last sand painting. When we arrived, she was in the cook-shelter, a huge pavilion of boughs where the patient's family was providing food for all comers. Jeanette came out to meet us, wiping her hands on a purple shirt bound with orange. She wore a red plush blouse, her hair was smooth, and she was splendid with jewelry.
"I'm so busy!" she said cordially; "I've got to run this whole damned show."
Then she led the way toward the hogan. A few old men looked on us sardonically, their haughty scorn rather affecting our composure. Clinging to Jeanette, we murmured:
"You're coming with us?"
"Oh. no," said Jeanette, "ladies don't go in there. You go in. Ladies don't go."
So, our last bit of assurance completely washed out in true Navajo disdain, we meekly bent our heads under the blanket and entered. Inside was that dull gray light of a winter interior, only a square patch of sunlight wavering under the smoke hole as shreds of blue smoke drifted out. A sheet of iron hid the fire, which was placed at one side to make room for the painting. The chief medicine-man sat facing us, his fine old head bent, brown sensitive bands lying inert on thin legs in striped trousers, which ended in
brown moccasins folded under his knees. His velvet blouse was purple, purple shadows lay about him on the dirt floor, his turquoise and silver hung loosely from his bent breast; his quiet was positively eloquent. Nobody spoke to us, but several men moved a little to make room for our blankets on the dirt floor. We sat. Nothing happened. Men simply sat, and the light shifted lazily round the drifting smoke and touched the sand painting.
This one represented the House of the Dew-drops, which was well up on the mountain that Dsilyi Neyani climbed. Four great figures lay parallel, probably to accommodate them to the space, for their coloration showed that they represented the directions. The whole was surrounded by a rainbow.
Finally the blanket over the entrance was raised and the patient came in. She was a large woman, looking well fed and not in the least ill. One thought of the splendor of the affair, the social distinction which must accrue from the spending of so much money; and one thought also of wealthy white women undergoing operations. The patient removed her blanket and sat down, south of the painting. Again nothing happened. Then the medicine-man began to chant, not moving or in any way announcing that he was about to begin. His voice was high-pitched and very true, the syllables he uttered were musical, with interesting harsh inflections and wailing minor notes. The song seemed interminable, as Indian chanting is apt to do. Finally he ended it, rose, and with a feather dipped in water he sprinkled the woman and the sand painting. Something was placed in the woman's hands and she sat on the painting.
Then the serious treatment began. The shaman touched parts of the painting with sacred meal, and parts of the woman, applying it first to her outstretched feet, then her knees, her hands, her abdomen, her shoulders, her back, her mouth, in which he placed a bit of meal, and finally her head. Touching her firmly with long, accurate hands, he kept his chant going and occasionally he whistled to blow away the evil. Others in the hogan watched intently. Incense was scattered over the fire, and the patient stooped to inhale the fumes as they rose. She also chanted, following the medicine-man line by line. Sand was taken from various parts of the picture and applied to parts of her body. At this point several spectators also took sand and touched their own bodies, undoubtedly getting their share of the mystic cure. Finally the woman moved away from the painting, which was then completely destroyed and the sand carried away.
Weary from the long sitting, half-hypnotized by the soft blue light, the chanting, the mysterious solemn movements, we followed the men out into the evening light. By this time many Navajos had gathered and snapping cedar fires were burning all around and sending long blue banners of fragrant smoke toward the west.
The Ninth Day
All day visitors arrived on horseback and in creaking wagons, rattling Fords, a few large cars. Women sat like queens among their voluminous skirts, carrying babies. They dismounted unaided, built fires, cooked, cared for children; but always with that fine impersonal scorn
of drudgery with which the Navajo woman asserts her supremacy. One feels that she does what she does because she wishes to, or that she accepts the task without stooping to it. Men worked too, chopping and dragging in an incredible amount of wood, picketing and feeding horses, clearing the ground of stumps for the great corral in which the dancing was to take place.
During the afternoon the lodge was filled with dancers, preparing the paraphernalia for the night. We were admitted, and we saw much work with small sticks, little circles of willow withes, feathers, down, paint. Just what they were doing we could not see in the dull light, but we learned from reading the report of the all-knowing Mr. Matthews.
Rings of a pithy wood were fitted on slim wands of aromatic sumac and decorated with fluffy eagle-down. Two rings for each wand. Arrows made of hard cliff-rosewood were made to run into false arrows of hollow wood. Spruce limbs were whittled down to slender bending sticks, such as the Zuñi sword-swallowers use, and painted red. We were gently excused before the actors began to rehearse the use of these and other properties.
Outside we found a great welter of activity. Eighty miles from the railroad, more than a thousand people had gathered to meet and talk, to be entertained, to win or lose money, to hear speeches, to trade, to be healed, or to acquire protection from future danger of fire or lightning. The great cook-house where Jeanette presided was filled with hungry ones; smaller fires everywhere were surrounded by family groups. A few young men, inveterate gamblers, were still following the sticks and stones of their
favorite game in the failing light. Huge piles of seasoned wood were ready for the great central bonfire, and the sacred wood for making the mystic "dark circle of branches" lay ready in a rough ring near the medicine hogan.
About sunset the chief medicine-man came out of the hogan, allowing the blanket to drop behind his tall figure, and standing quietly until all were aware of his presence. Then he began to chant the mysterious words by whose power the evergreens rose, as though by magic, and formed themselves into a circular corral. Eight or ten feet tall, the trees completely hid the men who handled them; and the work was done so quickly and so smoothly that they seemed to rise of themselves behind the stately figure moving to the wailing chant. When erect and laced, the trees made a circular fence which inclosed a space about a hundred feet in diameter, quite regular, and with only one opening, that to the east. As soon as it was finished, the ground within was sacred and any intruding dog was chased out with yells and missiles. In the center they erected the cone of tall poles for the great fire which would be lighted later on.
People began at once to crowd in, always turning south from the east gate to make the correct ceremonial circuit, a convention rigidly observed by all the Navajos and by any whites who were quick enough to catch it. Soon the circle of branches was lined with an inner circle of small household fires, lighting swarthy cheek-bones and flashing red on silver. Piles of blankets concealed babies, watermelons, and boxes of food. Smells of roasting meat and corn mingled with the pungent smoke. It was a cold evening,
frosty and still, and the ground was icy. Gradually the fires made small warm islands, very comforting in spite of stinging smoke which gentle winds spun round and into the eyes. The imperturbability of the Indian is never better exemplified than as Navajos settle themselves for a long winter night's ceremony. Women and children of all ages dispose themselves among blankets, with a blackened coffee-pot at hand, a pot of beans and meat stewing in the embers, a water-bag hanging in the sacred branches, a watermelon ready to be opened about midnight. Then they rest uncomplaining. Children are waited on as need be, fed from the pot or from the mother's breast, held while their bright black eyes shine like beads into the firelight, allowed to droop gently asleep, and packed away in blankets for a nap. Men crowd into the entrance, allowing only a narrow neck of space through which the performers have to force their way. Nobody stands against the outside of the corral wall, for that space is reserved for the spirits of the ancestral animal gods: bears and wolves, weasels, bush-rats, and others who might wish to attend. White visitors, not understanding this, are occasionally warned away, but without explanations.
The Last Night
When a certain star rose, the night's ceremony began, with the entrance of a group of men bearing musical instruments. They settled on the west side of the corral, and as their rattling and scraping began, the huge fire was lighted. Well-seasoned wood, standing twelve or fourteen feet high, roared into a terrific blaze which sent flares of
flame and smoke a hundred feet into the air, while showers of sparks fell back into the corral and caused a general patting of blankets. The scene was magnificent: an operatic glow on dark faces, striped blankets, silver and turquoise, gaudy velvets--all set against the dark mystery of the circle of branches.
Suddenly dancers came dashing into the circle; bare bodies whitened with clay until they looked like animated clay models. They leaped wildly, gyrating with arms and legs and yelling like lost souls. Cavorting in an irregular circle, they rounded the fire as prescribed, south, west, north, and south again. Twice they made the circuit, keeping a gingerly distance from the menacing waves of heat, posturing gracefully, but with dramatic pantomime of its horrors. The heat is indeed so terrifying that, sitting back against the wall of boughs, one often turned away or raised a blanket against the face. That those dancers could bear it was incredible except on the assumption that white clay is an excellent non-conductor. At last one man, yelling as in despair, nerved himself to approach the fire closer, holding toward it one of the sumac wands we had seen made in the afternoon. In the firelight it was a mysteriously beautiful thing, slim and white and tipped with delicate white down. Throwing himself flat and shielding his face with a bent arm, the dancer thrust his wand into the glowing coals; then he whooped madly and rose to dash about and to show that the ball of down was burned away. Others followed him until all were running round with downless wands. Then, yelling in wickedly false triumph, they shot out the little ring with its new ball, apparently renewing the fluff.
[paragraph continues] Everybody understood the trick, everybody was delighted to see it well done, and the dancers left, still whooping.
The second act was one which is said never to be omitted: the dance of the great plumed arrows. For this act, as for them all, the chorus entered first in a long line, headed by a medicine-man. They shuffled sideways, making a queer serpentining effect as their bodies turned obliquely, never looking in the direction in which they went, and always intoning their queer complaining chant. It was as though they approached the gods in a wily manner, refusing to look them squarely in the eye, making not so much a prayer or a song of praise as a querulous fussing. In nothing is the Navajo's essential strangeness more evident than in the tone he uses toward his gods. No white man could do it: no white man's god could understand it. Glancing aside, complaining, bitterly and solemnly complaining, they rounded the fire several times, taking no note whatever of the heat so devastating to spectators and to the former dancers. Finally they took their places on the west and the dancers entered.
This time there were only two, young men dressed as were the couriers, only without the beaver collars or the pouches of sacred meal. They danced leaping, carrying high the plumed arrows which are the most sacred of the healing devices, though everyone knows them to be faked. Finally they stopped before the singers, where the patient waited for them, sitting on a blanket, with outstretched legs. Each dancer stood before her and with cries of distress held his arrow up, marking with his thumb a point near the feathered tip. Then he threw back his head, placed the arrow
point on his lips, and thrust the weapon down his throat. Excellent acting made the spectators gag in sympathy as the dancer swayed and pranced, forcing the awful thing down his gullet. Yet everyone knew, and he knew that everyone knew, that he was merely holding the arrow-point between his teeth and running the hard shaft into the hollow tip. The curing was done by touching the patient with the arrows in the manner prescribed, which chased the evil from the body. Then the dancers left. The chorus always leaves too.
By this time a couple of hours had passed, and the fire had been replenished several times. A battered old moon was up, and long rags of cloud drifted across it, trying to work up a snow-storm. It was cold, but very still. The whole world seemed to center in this dark circle of branches from which a great red globe of light reached into the blackness, as though through it this human stir of prancing and yelling might convey its meaning to whatever gods there are. The great fire made a pulsation as the hours passed: roaring and snapping angrily when it was built up, then settling down into a steady consumption of dry wood until it comforted itself into a beautiful glow of flower forms among the leafy ashes; then being rudely broken up with more tinder wood and forced into activity. All the time the acts and the waits followed the heat of the fire: sometimes it was all vigorous howling and stamping; sometimes it was a still, cold night with a thousand or more people huddled around a circle of little fires in the middle of a desert, not sleeping, fighting discomfort all night long in answer to come hidden and incalculable urge for betterment.
The program may vary, depending upon what medicine-men are present. In 1929, near Two Gray Hills, we saw these acts. Singers entered, whining that nasal falsetto cry of the Yei, who, being gods, must never speak the words of man, but convey their messages in meaningless syllables. The leader was an old man buttoned tightly into a white man's coat, his long, gray hair gathered into a knot behind, his long, crooked legs ending in trim moccasins. Then another old man, with the mien of a priest, solemnly twirling the childish whizzer, which the Navajos call "the groaning stick," and which makes the noise of thunder. Then the Yei, in flat blue mask and raising in his hands the slim dead body of a mink as he gave his characteristic yodel: "Hu-hu-hu-hu." Then eight wand-bearers, dressed like the couriers. Circling the fire many times, they silhouetted their black forms against the glow; then they turned to show their faces; again they made dark shadows; and all the time their chant wailed above the thunderous whizzer. Finally they grouped themselves on the dancing-space and swung into figures like the quadrilles that used to be done on ball-room floors. Beautiful foot-work in this, slim quick feet pounding tracks in the earth, beads rattling, long-waisted bodies turning with angular grace, never missing, never faltering, and wet with sweat in spite of the cold which kept the audience muffled to the eyes in blankets.
Then the Yebetchai. Often this dance is introduced by a visiting team, and it is always done in full regalia and accurately and well. Most unforgettable is that terrific wailing chant, that insistent urgent note which will not let the
gods rest, which must rise to the very top of that red globe of light, pulsing into the darkness and into the infinite.
Long waits between. The sky was well covered with a spreading of clouds, which a couple of hours ago had seemed so inadequate. Then the sun show. Many dancers, probably two dozen, some in costume, some in store clothes, all wearing moccasins, and all moving with the steady exalted solemnity of dancers before the gods. One man in kilts of bright red silk and pendant fox-skin, wore on his back a feather-bordered disk, which is the sun symbol. His mate, in similar costume, wore the sign of the moon, smaller and not so gaily colored. Every dancer carried a large reed frame, like the skeleton of a kite, put together with a cat's-cradle of strings and decorated with floating eagle-down. They all chanted as they moved round the fire, making obeisance as they bent their heads and dipped their symbols toward it. The act ended with a quick spirited dance: rapid rhythmic movements, with the beautiful floating plumes tinted pink and rosy red in the firelight.
This dance was repeated several times, as were the others, many teams competing. During one appearance of the feathered kites, snow began to fall; quiet fluffy flakes looking like the down on the reeds, hissing gently in the fire, and misting across the dark branches. A few white people got themselves fussily into cars, which were heard straining on the distributors and finally crashing into gear and roaring off into the silence. Navajos huddled closer into blankets, mothers patted coverings closer about sleeping children. Otherwise they paid no attention to the storm, which, after all, did not last long. It was as though some god had
drifted over, dropping a few feathers from his costume to assure his people that the message was getting through.
Several acts of magic came along after midnight. First the dance of the arcs. A chorus came in followed by eight men bearing the arcs: slender wands arching from one hand to the other, which held bunches of piñon needles. They danced round the fire, dipping the arcs toward it, went through a stately dance, and finally produced their magic. The dancers knelt in two facing rows; each dancer held his head very steady while his vis-à-vis placed the arc over it, where it stood without touching, except as the bunches of piñon came close to the ears. All the time they called: "Thohay, thohay (Stay, stay)," the magic word which held the arcs. The string which rested on the man's head was quite invisible in the firelight. Then they rose and, holding backs and necks in frozen erectness, they danced slowly out of the circle. This act was well done and it brought approving murmurs from all our Navajo neighbors. It was done again and again, several times by the first group, once by another group, and always without a mishap.
Then came the yucca trick. As the group made their queer twisting entrance, we saw that the leader carried the root of a yucca plant, with its spiny leaves, which stay green all winter. The dance around the fire was short, but the chanting seemed more than usually insistent in its repetitions. Finally the group gathered, kneeling around the leader in such a way as to hide him and the plant completely. That this was to be a good trick was evident from the way the Navajos crowded around the actors, especially
young men. The insistent chanting was continuous; the suggestive word "Thohay" was repeated over and over. At last the group parted, leaving a lane through which we could see that the yucca plant had miraculously grown a tall bud in the center of the leaves. Again the group closed, and when it opened for the second time, we saw the great creamy blossom of the yucca, beautiful as when it blooms naturally in July or August. There could be no doubt about it: there stood the blossoming plant, complete. Loud murmurs of approval, and increasing tensity as the men again hid the leader and the plant. Again the circle opened and we saw the fruit, fully matured. This time the audience chortled with delight. The actors rose and shuffled out, whining, serpentining, taking no credit apparently for the completed growth which they left behind them that any doubter might go and assure himself of its reality.
Next came a large group carrying many properties. The whizzer and the rattler led. Then a man in a fur cap carrying a flat ceremonial basket. Then a man with a short flat board, painted, and decorated with feathers. When they had completed the ceremonial circle, saluting the fire, the performers arranged themselves in a crouching group and chanted hard, as the young men pressed them close. Finally they sat back and showed the board standing upright in the basket, which was filled with spruce twigs. The chanting then began in earnest, a steady vibration, gaining constantly in power and intensity. For a long time nothing happened. Then, wabbly but unmistakably, the sun symbol began to rear its curving edge above the twigs in the basket. Very slowly, very uncertainly it rose, the chanting voices
creating its power, demanding its success. Slowly, with great difficulty, but without any doubt, it climbed the stick. Once or twice it almost fell, and everyone gasped, even imperturbable Navajos nervous in the face of possible failure. But it made it; unquestionably that little feathered symbol of the sun climbed, without human aid except the voices, to the top of the stick, rested there a moment, and then more easily, but jerkily, climbed down again. This one drew thunders of applause.
More appearances of the Yebetchai dancers, more repetitions of other acts seen before, and then the dancing feather. This time the dancers were accompanied by a small boy, probably not more than ten or twelve years old. He was stripped and painted, he wore feathers on his cropped hair, moccasins on his feet, and around his middle a kirtle of red silk. His little body was lithe and beautiful as he solemnly circled the fire with the men, one of whom carried a flat basket and a long feather. The group clustered to hide their arrangements and then opened out into an ellipse, at one end of which the boy stood above the basket on the ground. Across the basket lay the long eagle-quill. The men began to chant and the boy to dance, his slim feet in perfect time to the singing, his body erect and graceful. Suddenly, without warning, the eagle-feather rose in its basket and stood on the tip of its quill, straight and true for a moment. Then it began to dance. It danced in perfect time with the boy, up and down, turning to the right and to the left, never losing a beat, never showing uncertainty; like a living thing it danced. The crowd drew close; breath was held as everyone watched the astonishing
accuracy with which the feather followed that little dancing figure.
Then an outrage occurred. Suddenly a beam of hard white light cut across the fire-lit gloom and showed clearly the several strings which led from the feather to the men in the kneeling group. It was only a moment; it was met with scornful groans, and it was, most unhappily, a flashlight in the hand of a young Navajo. The performers made no sign of distress. Without a flicker of annoyance they kept up the chant, the boy danced, the feather gyrated, the act finished as though no vandalism had occurred.
Another act was rather funny, and we noticed women shaking sleepy children awake to look at it. A basket again, filled with spruce and piñon. As the chanting went on, a tiny animal, probably a weasel, poked his stuffed head out of the greenery, looked from side to side, and ducked in again. This brought delighted squeals from children, who immediately forgot that they had been sleepy.
Two men danced, brilliantly, the Feather-dance. It is a spirited rapid leaping, feet scarcely touching the ground, and snapping away from it almost to the man's buttocks. Face to face they danced, feathers moving up and down in their hands, the chorus chanting sparkling, snapping syllables. Every now and then the dancers flew past each other to exchange positions and dance face to face again. It is a great test of agility, of skill, of endurance; and a good team is known and respected all over the reservation.
The dull terrifying cold of just before dawn. Wind ferreting in through the circle of branches and sneaking
down one's neck in spite of all wrappings. The ground colder than ever and more than ever full of unnecessary bumps and hollows. Many small fires burned down to glowing chunks of wood smothered in ashes, and everyone seemed to forget to build them up again. At last many young men came in, dragging great trees for the central fire, which was harried out of its glowing peace into fierce flaring, crackling, roaring heat again. When it was at its hottest, and one suffered under attacks of cold from one side and heat from the other, suddenly the loud burring call of the fire-dancers filled the air.
Their cry is a trilling made with the tongue against the lips, like the fluttering of a quickly burning fire. Heard outside, it was exciting, thrilling, wild. Then into the circle of light dashed the dancers, about fourteen of them, all naked and all painted white, heads as well as bodies. Each man carried a large bundle of shredded cedar bark almost as long as himself. One man brought several. They circled the fire too, but with leaping dash instead of the querulous whining crawl of the other groups. There was no chorus, but the dancers never ceased their trumpeting inhuman call. For a long time they fought the idea of the fire, circling toward it until the terrific heat drove them off, then yelling, turning, and daring each other to approach it again. Finally the leader threw himself flat and poked his faggot along the ground until it ignited from coals at the base of the fire. Then he rose and, sounding a great call, threw the bundle over the fence to the east. Taking other bundles from the man who followed him, he threw one in each direction. Before the last brand started on its whirling arc, he lighted all the others from it, the naked shivering
figures gathering close around him and waiting until their brands were flaming well.
Then began the real dance. The men, racing in a circle round the fire, close to the unbearable heat, whooped like demons and beat their own bodies and each other's with the flaming brands. One man beat the bare back in front of him until it slipped away. Then he flared his brand over his own back, showering sparks, he straddled it as he ran, he turned and threw its flames over the man who followed him. They washed each other's backs with flame. They leaped so close to the fire that their bare feet seemed to be treading on live coals. The figures, following each his own devices, together made a painting such as Doré might have done for Dante's Inferno: pale inhuman figures, capering in the firelight, bathed in the red glow and the showers of orange sparks, always calling that queer suggestion of flickering flame. It seemed to last a long time; actually until the cedar brands were well burned out. Then each man dropped his smoldering bark and, still trilling loudly, ran out of the corral. Intense, brilliant, savage.
As the dancers left, spectators swarmed in to pick up bits of the burned cedar, sure protection against danger of fire for the year to come.
By this time the east was showing white, that comfortless early morning light which makes everyone ghastly. Even brown Navajo faces looked gray. White people appeared as at the end of a long illness or a terrific debauch.
[paragraph continues] The fire was burning low again, but nobody built it up. Then the chief medicine-man came in. He had not been seen all night, his task having been to sit in the hogan, chanting. Now he entered, accompanied by his assistants, and chanted while they scattered water on the fire at the four ceremonial points. Then young men tore gaps in the circle of branches, one opening toward each direction. As the medicine-man went back to the hogan, they demolished the whole corral, leaving the branches on the ground.
Day was full by that time, and the circle of prostrate branches was like a stage with all the scenery removed and the curtains rolled up. The only important matter seemed breakfast, especially coffee.
THE Night Chant is said to have come from the people of the "Red Rocks": that is, those who lived in the Canyon de Chelly. It is probably the most sacred ceremony, for the gods themselves appear; also goddesses, for Navajos have no more use for celibacy on Olympus than on the reservation. The ceremony is sometimes called the Yebetchai after the principal figure, the maternal grandfather of the gods.
Like the Mountain Chant, it is a nine-day sing, and the days are filled with all the elaborate, intricate, exacting detail of preparing properties, making sand paintings, and chanting prayers over the patient. The care required in all the minutiae of handling the simple things used is amazing,
as reported by Dr. Washington Matthews, who spent eight years among the Navajos studying their ceremonies. He learned such things as the order in which yucca withes must be picked up, what feathers precede in the making of prayer-plumes, and why there are just so many thongs of buckskin on a moccasin.
A few items of this mass of information are interesting, even to the casual observer. All the buckskin used ceremonially must be got without the shedding of blood. The deer is tracked, run into a blind, thrown, and smothered with sacred meal stuffed into its nostrils. The skinning must be begun with a stone knife, though nowadays the job is finished with steel. Pollen and meal are used interchangeably in prayer to symbolize life, though pollen is probably considered more sacred. Sometimes it is sanctified by dropping into it a small bird or animal, which is allowed to struggle there, but never to die, as that would make the meal dead too.
Masks are made of the sacred buckskin in lodges specially built for the purpose. They are the property of the medicine-man, who carries them round in a bag. Only the paint needs renewing each time.
The accompaniment is provided by beating on a ceremonial basket with a drumstick made of yucca. At the end they turn up the basket carefully so that the evil, which has come out of the patient and collected under it, may escape without doing harm to anyone.
One year we arrived just as the candidates for initiation were gathering in a sheltered arroyo. It was a sunny November day, but the air was sharp. Not many spectators were present--just a few interested elders, as at a school function. Probably fifty children sat in a semicircle, boys on one side, girls on the other, with fathers and mothers standing behind them. All the youngsters crouched under blankets, which were hooded over their heads to hide their faces.
Then came Yebetchai, who is also called Hastse-yalti, and his mate, Hastse-baad. They moved with a quick jogging step and they hooted queerly, the goddess in falsetto. Both parts are taken by men. Hastse-yalti's mask was a bag-like hood of soft buckskin, with a fringe of red horsehair from ear to ear, a coronet of eagle-feathers, and a spruce collar. A fine white buckskin hung from his shoulders over ordinary dress; but they told us that in the old days his whole costume was white buckskin. He delighted our eyes, however, with great chunks of turquoise in bracelets, necklaces, and rings. His lady was smaller, and her mask, very stiff and square at the top, was merely tied over her face, leaving her long hair flowing down her back. She wore kirtle, knitted stockings, brown moccasins, and jewelry, and her slim masculine body was covered with white paint.
As the divinities cantered up, we saw that the little boys were being stripped behind blankets held to screen them.
[paragraph continues] When all were ready, each little shivering figure stepped out and looked bravely at the strange creatures who approached, frisking, making unearthly sounds, to administer sacred meal and the strokes of a yucca whip. First the goddess applied the meal, then the god applied the rod, on legs, bodies front and back, and arms. Each boy stood bravely while the strokes fell, not too heavily, and then sat down again and muffled his head in his blanket.
The girls' ordeal was much less severe. As each girl dropped her blanket, showing a tousled black head and bright anxious eyes, the goddess marked lines of meal on the soles of the feet, the palms, the shoulders, and both sides of the head. Then Hastse-yalti approached, armed, not with a whip, but with white and yellow ears of corn, covered with sprays of spruce. He gently touched each child where the meal had been put, turning the corn as he did so.
Then the children, coached by hovering parents, hid their heads again, as though in a game, and the deities took off their masks and called upon the children to look. So the secret was revealed! The terrible supernatural creatures with whom their infant souls had been terrified were not gods at all, but merely men: probably somebody well known, like "Son of Many Mules," an uncle; or a neighbor met every day, nice old "Grandson of the Boy who Made Arrows."
A further thrill was coming. For the unmasked performers passed slowly round the circle, putting a mask on each child's head; so every boy looked upon the world through Hastse-yalti's eye-holes, and every girl gazed through the square sockets of Hastse-baad. This had to be very carefully
managed, for unless the actor sees the child's eyes very clearly through the holes in the mask, he will surely go blind. At last the row of beaming children, aware now of all the grown-up secrets, marched proudly by the masks, as they lay on a blanket, and sprinkled meal.
Often adults take part in this ceremony too, for it must be gone through four times before one may personate the gods; and in these degenerate days children are often in schools at the right time, and tribal initiation must be put off until they are grown.
All the last day everybody was busy getting ready for the big night. We knew that the medicine-man and his assistants were conducting final rehearsals in the lodge, for we heard chanting nearly all day. Outside, the crowd gathered. The patient's family was entertaining, of course, but friends helped. Many brought sheep or goats, their skinned legs sticking up stiffly in wagons. Men cleared the dance ground of trees and stumps; they built the "green-room," a roofless shelter for dressing; and all around the camp we heard the steady tattoo of their axes as they brought down the enormous quantity of wood required to keep so many fires burning all night. Another vibration was on the air too: the persistent beat of chanting, off among the trees, where teams of dancers practiced steps and songs for the night's performance. In the great central arbor women moved about the fire, broiling mutton with that terrible woolly greasy smell, and handing ribs and legs of it to
hungry callers, with chunks of bread and steaming cups of coffee.
Like all the Navajos, we sat in our spruce and piñon shelter, eating and drinking and chatting with friends as they strolled by. They gave us bits of gossip. "He Hops," the lame trader, and his wife were having trouble. Jeanette had gone to the mission hospital to have a baby, but it hadn't come yet. "Gah," which means "Rabbit," was selling liquor to the boys behind his pop-stand, and the headmen were angry and were going to do something about it. "Gah" is a usual name for white people, because they move and jump round so much; we thought it was going to prove very suitable in this case.
Just before sunset we saw a strange rite. The patient came out of the hogan, wrapped in his blanket and carrying a flat basket of sacred meal. We had not seen him before, and we were struck by his tragic suffering face, as he stood on a buffalo robe, facing the east. With uncanny calls and strangely hesitant steps four masked figures pranced jingling out of the wood. They were the gods of war, and they came brandishing knives and bows and arrows to scare the evil away from the sick man. They did this by moving round him, chanting and cavorting all the time. He stood solemnly, sprinkled them with meal, and watched them perform the same exorcism round the medicine lodge also; for it might have gathered some of the bad medicine. As he turned to go back into the hogan, we could see how very wan the patient looked, weary, no doubt, with the strain of the long ceremony and with the anxious waiting for relief.
By seven o'clock we were settled comfortably among blankets, our backs against the medicine hogan. Inside we could bear the steady muffled pound of chanting. Outside, it was cold, and our eyes smarted from the smoke. An irregular ellipse of wagons curved from the hogan to the green-room, about a hundred yards away, vague in the fire-lit dusk. The wagons were covered prairie schooners, with their white canvas tops drawn into arches, and almost every arch framed a woman holding a child. With warm vivid colors in blankets and velvet blouses, dark cheeks, shining eyes, smooth black hair, and splashes of silver, turquoise, and coral jewelry, they were like barbaric Madonnas nursing their babies there. Below the wagons was a dado of tall-hatted men, and below that more women and children squatted on the ground around low cooking-fixes.
As the audience settled, men walked out into the cleared space and made speeches. Henry Chee Dodge first. He is a heavy-set, broad-faced man, who commands respect among the whites as well as among his own people. He began quietly, and the crowd was attentive at once. Like all Navajos, Chee Dodge has a resonant, carrying voice, which boomed off into the stillness without apparent effort. He spoke, they told me, of the question of land, assuring his people that Washington would deal fairly with them if they maintained order and good faith on their part. He deprecated the use of whisky, and he called upon every Navajo to refuse to buy it. This brought murmurs
of approval from everyone, even from young men who had obviously had some. Dodge walked up and down as he talked, gesticulating.
Then a different type of man spoke: a long, slim medicine-man from a distant part of the reservation. He was buttoned tightly into a black sack-coat, and his thin legs were covered with black trousers. Nevertheless he looked thoroughly Navajo, for his moccasins were fastened with huge turquoise-studded disks, his hair was in a queue, fine bracelets gleamed when he raised his arms, and he wore a scraggy, mandarin mustache. He spoke in sonorous phrases, with harsh undertones, guttural inflections; it is a picturesque language, Navajo. I hoped he was discussing high matters; but no, they said he was advising the People to send their children to school, on the ground that they could not get out of it anyhow, and that young people must understand the ways of the whites "in these days." He said, I was glad to know, that children need not fail to be good Navajos because they learn the ways of the whites. He urged that they be taught the ways of the ancients too.
Presently government policemen and others began to push the crowd back, making sounds and gestures like policemen everywhere, and gradually clearing the dancing-ground. Then there was quiet while more wood was put on to the fires, and a settling movement ran around the circle.
Suddenly "Hu-tu-tu-tu, hu-tu-tu-tu," the eerie cry of Hastse-yalti, cut the air, and he came out of the medicine lodge, followed by four blanketed figures. They went right through to the green-room, giving the impression that they
were not interested in us, that this appearance did not count.
Soon they came back, led by the medicine-man and Hastse-yalti. The four were masked in hoods: blue to symbolize the sky, with a yellow band across the bottom for the evening glow, and black cross-lines to indicate falling rain. They had red or yellow hair like Hastse-yalti's, but instead of his. raying feathers they wore only two, rising from a fluff of owl's feathers over the right ear. Their bodies were smeared white, and they wore kirtles of the grandest things they could find. One looked like an old-fashioned lambrequin off of grandmother's mantel, one was red silk edged with a ball fringe, one had a Hopi kirtle, and the last man had adapted an American flag to his uses. Stunning belts with silver disks as big as plates, the ubiquitous dangling fox-skin, knitted blue: socks, brown moccasins, and masses of jewelry completed the gods' regalia. Hastse-yalti was duller, but probably warmer on a cold night, in a dark flannel shirt; his buckskin, however, was, soft and velvety, and his jewelry gleamed more richly under the firelight than when we saw it by day.
The medicine-man, sprinkling a path of meal for the gods to tread, was a fine stately figure. I knew that he could remember the Bosque Redondo, and I wondered what he thought of today's conquest. No Navajo dance is dominated by white crowds as some of the Pueblos' are, but I saw the priest's fine eyes flash toward a group of noisy white men, who had evidently been drinking. Then he stood impassive, waiting for the patient, who emerged again from the lodge,
sprinkled the deities with meal from his basket, and gave each one a sacrificial cigarette. The dancers kept up a gentle jogging during this rite, and during the long prayer which the medicine-man intoned, followed, line by line, by the patient.
The chant seemed interminable, in spite of the richness of the shaman's tone and the psychic effect of these hundreds of people gathered to bring health to their friend. Each thought is repeated four times, but, condensed from Dr. Matthews's translation, it may be given:
In the house made of the dawn,
In the house made of the evening twilight,
In the house made of the dark cloud,
Where the zigzag lightning stands high on top,
Where the he-rain stands high on top--
O, male divinity,
With your moccasins of dark cloud, come to us!
With your leggings of dark cloud, come to us!
With your shirt of dark cloud, come to us!
With your head-dress of dark cloud, come to us!
With the zigzag lightning flung over your head, come to us, soaring!
With the rainbow hanging high over your head, come to us, soaring!
With the zigzag lightning flung out on high on the ends of your wings, come to us, soaring!
With the rainbow hanging high on the ends of your wings, come to us, soaring!
I have made your sacrifice,
I have prepared a smoke for you.
My feet restore for me,
My legs restore for me,
My body restore for me,
My mind restore for me,
My voice restore for me.
Today take out your spell for me,
Today take away your spell from me.
Far off from me it is taken!
Far off, you have done it!
Happily I recover.
Happily my interior becomes cool,
Happily my eyes regain their power,
Happily my head becomes cool,
Happily my legs regain their power,
Happily I hear again!
Happily for me the spell is taken off!
Happily may I walk
In beauty, I walk!
With beauty before me, I walk
With beauty behind me, I walk
With beauty below me, I walk
With beauty above me, I walk
With beauty all around me, I walk.
It ends with the usual peroration:
In beauty it is finished.
In beauty it is finished.
In beauty it is finished.
In beauty it is finished."
Another sprinkling of meal, and the medicine-man and the patient took their places in front of the hogan, facing the line of dancers.
Hastse-yalti rushed to the east, whooped, held up his stiff little bag of skin, while the dancers whirled to the west, shook their rattles with a low sweeping motion from the ground to their heads, and beat the ground vigorously with their right feet.
"Hu-tu-tu-tu," yodeled Hastse-yalti, dashing toward the hogan with his queer quick toddle; and they all swooped and rattled the other way.
Then, to the accompaniment of their rattles, the four gods began to dance, stamping with the right foot, spacing, and suddenly bursting into the sharp ejaculatory chant of the Yebetchai, to me the most haunting of all Indian music.
many meaningless syllables, repeated the mystic four times, and four short verses. Hastse-yalti never dances; he moved rhythmically back and forth, hooting at the end of every verse to indicate that it had been correctly done. When the act ended, with a final rattle and whoop, he led his team off to the green-room. Men who have done this act well are filled with pride, for it represents hours of practice.
The next act lasted all night, repeated many times by every group and danced by many groups. Dr. Matthews says that the original plan was for four teams to dance twelve times each, with half-hour intervals. A ten-hour
show. In practice it is very irregular. Often so many teams come that there are no intermissions at all; sometimes one team dances only a couple of times. The grand total, however, is the same: ten hours of the best dancing the reservation can show. After all, if you are going to travel a hundred miles by wagon across the desert, you don't want to be put off with a meager two-hour performance. Six of the dancers were dressed like the preceding group, but with white masks instead of blue. These are the male divinities. They should be accompanied by six goddesses, but only four appeared. They are costumed like Hastse-baad, who does not come out at night. Usually these parts are taken by boys or small men, who sing in falsetto, giving a wailing overtone to the music. Sometimes women dance, costumed in old-fashioned squaw dresses.
They entered single file, in a long line, and to their haunting, oddly aspirated, raucous call, they began to dance, pounding up and down, feet and hands rising and falling in unison, torsos tightened with the strain, masks leering stupidly. The figures are simple. Dancing in a long line. Dancing in two lines. Movements like a Virginia reel, in which each god scoops up his goddess with an angular gesture, prances with her to the other end of the line, drops her, and moves back into his own line. Torsos are slim and hard, diaphragms pump like bellows to make the forced tones of the song, lean sinewy legs work like pistons under short flapping kilts, left arms hang oddly inert. Always the "Ho-ho-ho-ho, he-he-he-he" pounds until it becomes the very measure of your pulse-beat. That is all; all night
nothing else, no variation, nothing to break the hypnotic effect of constant, insistent, repetition.
The only relief is provided by Tonenili, water-sprinkler, the clown. As among the Pueblos, since rain brings joy, the Rain-maker must cause mirth and laughter. He is masked and costumed like the others, but in poorer clothes.
"Why?" I asked.
"Why should he dress well," said Andy, who sat next to me, "when he might get his clothes wet with rain?"
Tonenili amused himself all round and among the dancers, who paid no attention to him. Some of the clowns were really funny as they imitated Hastse-yalti, mixed among the dancers, forgot to go off at the right time, and then confusedly rushed away; lost, or almost lost, important parts of their clothing, dropped a fox-skin and then could not find it, though it was in plain sight.
At every interval in the dancing, chanting began in the hogan, so the air was always vibrant with prayer. Whenever a new team appeared, the patient and the medicine-man rose to greet it.
Different teams provided interesting contrasts in costume and in skill. By the small hours everyone had become an expert critic of Yebetchai dancing, if he had not gone to sleep. As the coldest hours come, dancers are likely to wear underwear instead of paint. I watched one beautiful young dancer, poised perfectly on the balls of his feet, his body slim and straight like an arrow, wild and fawnlike even under baggy O.D. trousers.
I turned to an Indian Service man sitting near me.
"Why, oh why, does he wear trousers?" I wailed. "His body is so beautiful!"
"Young lady," my friend told me sternly, "don't talk like that to me. I've spent the best years of my life trying to get these fellows into pants. . . ."
Dawn is heralded by a more terrible cold.
Why do people always stop putting wood on fires when it is the coldest?
Just before daybreak the last team went off to the green-room, whooping, prancing, rattling just as vigorously as though it were the beginning and not the end of a long winter's night. We moved eastward as the crowd turned that way, and stood watching the forlorn gray light turn everything dull. Soon muffled shapes on the horizon took form as cliffs, dark blue at first, then dull rose-gray; and finally they stood forth in their glory of color as the red-sandstone buttes we knew.
A group of men, unmasked, came out of the green-room, stood to face the point of sunrise, and as the sun broke through the mist, they sang "The Blue-bird Song," reverently reciting again the legend of creation. It is very different from the night's chanting, more melodious than most Indian music, and it floated softly on the air with the puffs of breath which came from the singers' mouths and disappeared into the blue mist of morning.