Southwest - Din!e (Navajo) Study Guide

The materials on this page are intended for use by students enrolled in ANTH 329 North American Indians.  This page and its references are periodically up-dated.

Navajo Couple

Reading Assignments

Gill 1982: 22-25, 50-55, 62-66 and 92-97

Oswalt and Neely 1999:329-363

Suggested Video

Seasons of the Navajo, PBS Video.


The primary focus of this section will be on the Navajo, an Athabaskan people of Arizona and New Mexico, and the Southwest culture area. Additional references will also be made to the Papago peoples. The word, "Navajo," is likely derived from the Pueblo peoples, meaning "enemies of the cultivated fields." It is in reference to the hostilities that generally characterize the relationship between the two peoples. However, the term used to refer to themselves is "Dine" (Dine'e), meaning "earth surface people." The term "Dine" is best understood when paired with "Yei" (Ye'ii), meaning the "Holy People" (masked Holy People), the deities of the Dine who live in a world beneath the earth's surface.

The Navajo are a semi-nomadic, transhumance people, following a seasonal round associated with primarily with sheep raising and maize cultivation. Their traditional housing structure is the hogan. They conduct elaborate healing rituals, such as the Blessing Way, involving the construction of sandpaintings. A central religious concept is encompassed in the word, hozho and the phrase, saah naghai bikeh hozho, words spoken in key ceremonials, such as the Blessing Way. Difficult to translate, the phrase roughly means, "continuing re-occurring long life in an environment of beauty and harmony," while the word, hozho, means "beauty and harmony." Hozho is best understood in contrast to hocho, meaning "disorder." The Navajo are known for their fine silver and turquoise jewelry and rug weaving. Navajo culture can be described as very "adaptive," its ever-changing history characterized by its borrowing and integration of material and cultural traits from among many of its neighbors, such as the Pueblo, Spanish and Anglo peoples.

Key Concepts and Terms:

  1. Emergence Story and the Seven Worlds
  2. Din!e – "Earth Surface Peoples" or Navajo – "Enemies of the Cultivated Fields" (Pueblo word)
  3. Yei – "Holy Ones," also translated as "immune."  Central among the Yei are Changing Woman and her two sons, Monster Slayer and Child of the Water. It was Changing Woman who the other Yei conducted the first Kinaald!a – "Walking into Beauty" ceremony (girl’s puberty ritual), and it is Changing Women who created the Human Peoples, the Din’e.
  4. Bii-gi-isti – "an animating being lies within" or "inner forms," and as expressed for Humans, "in-standing wind soul"
  5. Sa#ah Nah!gi Bik#eh H!ozh!o – "continual reoccurring long-life in an environment of beauty and harmony" Hozho – beauty and harmony, is contrasted with Hocho – disorder and ugliness
  6. Ceremonialism and the Hataali – "singer" (medicine man), and the "hand-tremblers" and "star gazers"
  7. World View – 1. progressive movement, 2. lawful interrelatedness of the universe (hozho), 3. knowledge is power, and 4. disorder is illness (hocho)

Self-Study Guide Questions

  1. Contrast the Navajo "cultural adaptability" with the Hopi "cultural persistence." What are the various factors and considerations that account for one tribe "embracing change" while another "tenaciously clings to continuity?"  What examples from their history can be offered to illustrate Navajo adaptability? What is the relationship of cultural adaptability to the oral traditions and creation account of the Navajo?  Identifying the societies from which borrowed traits came, as well as listing the major items, traits and cultural ideas adapted into Navajo society.
  2. Compare Navajo and Hopi subsistence orientations. What are the implications of those orientations on the nature of Navajo and Hopi family organizations and seasonal rounds?
  3. Discuss the role, symbolism and function of Navajo ceremonialism, considering prayer performance and ritual sandpainting, and placing it within the larger context of Navajo religious ideology. What is the meaning of hozho and its significance within Navajo culture and ceremonialism?
  4. Discuss the structure and purposes of the Apache Sunrise Dance and the Navajo kinaaldá ceremony, and consider the role Changing Women plays in them.  Who is Changing Woman and what is her role in Navajo culture?
  5. Compare and contrast the Navajo and Hopi Origin Stories.
  6. What were the effects on Navajo society of the federal policy of "livestock reduction?"
  7. What led up to and what is the significance of the "Long Walk" in Navajo history?
  8. What were the precipitating factors the lead up to the Hopi-Navajo land dispute, comparing the problem from both a Hopi and Navajo perspective? How has it been "resolved?"

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