Lost History USA History Mythical Sand Painting of the Navajo Indians & Ceremonial of Hasjelti Dailjis

Mythical Sand Painting of the Navajo Indians & Ceremonial of Hasjelti Dailjis

Mythical Sand Painting of the Navajo Indians & Ceremonial of Hasjelti Dailjis
Catalog # SKU3090
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name James Stevenson
ISBN 10: 1610334825
ISBN 13: 9781610334822


Mythical Sand Painting
of the
Navajo Indians
Ceremonial of
Hasjelti Dailjis


James Stevenson

During my visit to the Southwest, in the summer of 1885, it was my good fortune to arrive at the Navajo Reservation a few days before the commencement of a Navajo healing ceremonial. Learning of the preparation for this, I decided to remain and observe the ceremony, which was to continue nine days and nights. The occasion drew to the place some 1,200 Navajos. The scene of the assemblage was an extensive plateau near the margin of Keam's Canyon, Arizona.

A variety of singular and interesting occurrences attended this great event mythologic rites, gambling, horse and foot racing, general merriment, and curing the sick, the latter being the prime cause of the gathering. A man of distinction in the tribe was threatened with loss of vision from inflammation of the eyes, having looked upon certain masks with an irreligious heart. He was rich and had many wealthy relations, hence the elaborateness of the ceremony of healing. A celebrated theurgist was solicited to officiate, but much anxiety was felt when it was learned that his wife was pregnant. A superstition prevails among the Navajo that a man must not look upon a sand painting when his wife is in a state of gestation, as it would result in the loss of the life of the child. This medicine man, however, came, feeling that he possessed ample power within himself to avert such calamity by administering to the child immediately after its birth a mixture in water of all the sands used in the painting. As I have given but little time to the study of Navajo mythology, I can but briefly mention such events as I witnessed, and record the myths only so far as I was able to collect them hastily. I will first describe the ceremony of Yebitchai and give then the myths (some complete and others incomplete) explanatory of the gods and genii figuring in the Hasjelti Dailjis (dance of Hasjelti) and in the nine days' ceremonial, and then others independent of these.


The ceremony is familiarly called among the tribe, "Yebitchai," the word meaning the giant's uncle. The name was originally given to the ceremonial to awe the children who, on the eighth day of the ceremony, are initiated into some of its mysteries and then for the first time are informed that the characters appearing in the ceremony are not real gods, but only their representatives. There is good reason for believing that their ideas in regard to the sand paintings were obtained from the Pueblo tribes, who in the past had elaborated sand paintings and whose work at present in connection with most of their medicine ceremonies is of no mean order.

The Mission Indians of southern California also regard sand paintings as among the important features in their medicine practices. While the figures of the mythical beings represented by the Navajo are no doubt of their own conception, yet I discovered that all their medicine tubes and offerings were similar to those in use by the Zuñ i. Their presence among the Navajo can be readily explained by the well known fact that it was the custom among Indians of different tribes to barter and exchange medicine songs, ceremonies, and the paraphernalia accompanying them. The Zuñ i and Tusayan claim that the Navajo obtained the secrets of the Pueblo medicine by intruding upon their ceremonials or capturing a pueblo, and that they appropriated whatever suited their fancy.

My explanation of the ceremonial described is by authority of the priest doctor who managed the whole affair and who remained with me five days after the ceremonial for this special purpose. Much persuasion was required to induce him to stay, though he was most anxious that we should make no mistake. He said: My wife may suffer and I should be near her; a father's eyes should be the first to look upon his child; it is like sunshine in the father's heart; the father also watches his little one to see the first signs of understanding, and observes the first steps of his child, that too is a bright light in the father's heart, but when the little one falls, it strikes the father's heart hard.

The features of this ceremonial which most surprise the white spectator are its great elaborateness, the number of its participants and its prolongation through many days for the purpose of restoring health to a single member of the tribe.

140 pages - 7 x 8½ softcover
ISBN-10: 1610334825
ISBN-13: 9781610334822

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