Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
Red-Point was so excited last evening about the Navajo boys taking pay for helping us that he did not think of anything else. Today, as Marie is stringing the new blanket over the temporary frame and as I unwind the yarn from the skein, preparatory to winding the ball, he comes in. He is in his usual mild temper, but cannot refrain from mild remonstrance: "Too bad you paid that money. You wouldn't have had to do it if I had been here." He has come to see my first blanket. As I spread it out I tell him that at Ganado they all laughed at it. Whereupon he leaps to my defense with, "Tell them to make one."
Marie strings up the second blanket exactly as we did the first. This one is something over five hands wide by somewhat over six long. She has not enough warp of one kind and uses two kinds, one heavier than the other. When she comes to twining the warp loops with the binding cords I ask her to let me do one end while she does the other. She makes no objection, but when we are finished the warp at my end is at least a hand narrower than that at her end. Patiently she sets herself to the task of pushing each warp loop over a slight distance until the warp at my end is spread over the same length of binding cord as hers. Each person has her own tension.
[paragraph continues] Mine would have been all right if I had twined both ends.
I have begun with stripes because I realize how difficult it is to finish off a blanket with a pattern close to the end. Besides I like stripes. For some reason blankets with borders do not seem to me truly Navajo. I do really know how to make stripes now. I have set my teeth against drawing in the weft and sworn a vow to get a respectable edge. The weft begins to pull in slightly as I finish the first black stripe but this time I detect it and take measures against it immediately. I have learned to lay the weft loosely in a scallop formation and I can now give the subtle twist to the comb which makes the weft fill the spaces between the warps instead of pulling it tight against them, leaving them exposed on the finished web. I know now the signs of tightness in the appearance of the warp and weft and guard against it continuously.
This blanket is much wider than the first one. The distance across the first was just about the distance which can be easily manipulated by one throw of the sheds and one insertion of the batten. If we wove all the way across the second blanket we should have to change our sitting position for every row. We never do this. Instead we work about half of the width, back and forth, forth and back, for a considerable length. Each time we weave to the left we take up one warp less than we used before. When we come back to the right the weft makes a loop over this strand. So the portion of weaving at the right becomes constantly narrower.
When I have woven about half a hand length, I move over to the left side. At the right I now take up one more warp strand as I advance, thus fitting my weaving into the exact space left over from the previous weaving. This joining involves
no real locking of stitches. When the blanket is taken down, even if it is well woven, a diagonal line will be discernible wherever the weaving has been done this way. It will be made by tiny holes, the result of the meeting of two weft strands looped over two adjoining strands.
It is pleasant to see the loops settle into their places. There is a slight diversion in the monotony of stripes and it is a step I must understand in weaving designs.
Early in the afternoon the concerted barking of the dogs heralds a newcomer. A woman rides up; a baby-board is hung on her saddle. For the rest of the day I am left strangely alone.
It is a rare occasion, and I profit accordingly. There is so much to do that requires concentration, for which there is practically no opportunity. As I work, I reflect how peaceful this family is. Intimate acquaintance with it should, it seems, disclose some inner discord. But there is no evidence of this. The two pairs of young people seem to be really in love with each other; one can see it by the glance in their eyes. The sons-in-law respect the orders of the old man and work steadily at branding, farming, irrigating as he dictates. One or the other hauls water whenever the water barrel becomes empty. True, if worse comes to worst, as sometimes happens, we women eke out the water supply by taking the water kegs and bottles to the well in the car. Once in a while Tom or Curley's-Son hauls in a wagonload of large juniper branches or trunks to replenish the old woman's woodpile. In the short intervals between the main supplies she has no trouble finding wood in the immediate vicinity of the house. Not quite so good perhaps, but quite good enough. Family affairs are well
regulated and orderly although there is evidence of none but the roughest sort of daily schedule.
Marie comes later than usual the next morning and she brings sad news:
Yikadezba's-Mother came home unexpectedly yesterday. This is our youngest sister whom I do not know. Hers is the uninhabited hogan of our settlement. She and her husband, Ben Wilson, spend their summer at the top of the mountain where they care for a part of the family's extensive flock. We have a large portion of it at our place, but each year Ben and his wife move to the mountain with the rest. There the grass is long and plentiful even in the driest part of the season. They have their camp in the midst of tall yellow pines, the noblest of all the Southwest trees which grow only at an altitude above seven thousand feet.
Once or twice during the summer Ben and his wife may come back to White-Sands, but there is always some reason for their coming and they come in a wagon with all the household necessities, Ben blithely singing as he drives the heavy, well-fed draft horses. The arrival of Yikadezba's-Mother is unprecedented. Her very appearance alone on horseback presages trouble. The women, the only members of the family who are home, greet her quietly, and without question set mutton stew, coffee, and bread before her after a short period of preparation. Yikadezba's-Mother has not eaten since sunrise, she has ridden twenty-six miles in a much disturbed state of mind, having paused only once long enough to nurse her baby. Nevertheless she daintily picks the morsels of meat from the bone, sips her coffee, deliberately breaks small pieces from the tortilla. Her meal, though eventually a substantial
one, is as leisurely and unconcerned as if she had finished a banquet only an hour before.
At last, after small talk and long intervals of silence, the question all have eagerly in mind, but which none would ask, is answered. This morning Ben doubled a rope and beat his wife with it. Marie implies that Yikadezba's-Mother has a bad temper, for, she says, she mistreats her children. "She throws Yikadezba about like a puppy. She beats her too, that is the reason my father and mother keep her here."
Yikadezba is the miniature Navajo who follows the women about, hardly more than able to walk. There is nothing which does not arouse her interest. She wears a modified replica of her mother's dress, a yoke—instead of a blouse—of Irish green velvet to which is attached a much-gathered skirt of large pink and green plaid, ruffled at the bottom. She has tiny red moccasins like her grandfather's with dimes for buttons, but she seldom chooses to wear them. I cannot take a step off my bed without picking up a cactus thorn; Yikadezba runs barefoot all day long and only rarely gets even a sliver in her foot.
Her mischief is the mischief of curiosity. There is so much to investigate, so much to learn. My things are quite different from her mother's or her grandmother's; they must be looked into. But her elders do not think this necessary, and they constantly say, "Leave it alone, get away from there." She does not always listen; then they harden their voices and give a firm catch at the end of the second syllable of the Navajo word which means, "Now I mean it." One day she insists on playing with the lock of my trunk, heedless of the warning no matter how emphatically it is said. Then Marie speaks very quietly but at greater length than usual. Whereupon Yikadezba
with a start dashes up the high step which forms my threshold as fast as she can go. As she passes the door she catches her skirt on a nail, loosens it, and slaps the door. Marie looks at me with an amused twinkle. "What did you say to her?" I ask. "I told her she was sitting on an ant."
This is the child her mother beats. No one of her mother's family approves of such behavior. Children should not be punished. I get the idea the sympathy is with the husband. But, on the other hand, what are parents for if they cannot protect their daughters? The fact of marriage does not give a husband exclusive rights over his wife. Indeed, it is more likely to put him under obligations to his father-in-law. Therefore Ben has offended not only his wife but her entire family.
In the afternoon Yikadezba's-Mother brings her baby in to visit me. She is handsome, but the open good will so striking on the faces of her relatives I know, is wanting in hers. Her smile, though beautiful and shy, is rare; her more common expression indicates a sober sullenness.
I have expected that Red-Point, perhaps in family conclave, will settle the matter of Yikadezba's-Mother. But I reckon without my hosts. About a week later Marie announces that all the young people and Red-Point are going to Ganado. There is to be the monthly Council Meeting and Ben Wilson's case will be considered and settled.
The United States Government, in its capacity of guardian of the Indians, sees fit to exploit the old Indian custom of "talking it over." But now, instead of "talking it over" with family and clan representatives in a more private way, all subjects, even to the most personal, are aired in a Council
which meets as an institution monthly. A judge—at Ganado a Navajo who speaks English—presides. The Navajo of the community attend these meetings well, for they like gatherings and news. There is a particularly large turnout for this one because of two cases, one of interest because of its subject, an accidental killing; the other because of the importance of Red-Point's family.
Each Navajo is dressed in his best. Temperature makes no difference in Navajo styles. The women, no matter how high the thermometer may be, wear brilliantly patterned Pendleton blankets, soft and woolly, some with long fringes. The men, though their knees or elbows may be fringed with wear, never omit their finest four-gallon hats. The judge is wearing a fur cap. Men and women wear all the white shell, coral, and turquoise they can procure, either their own or borrowed from the stay-at-homes. Turquoise-set silver is in evidence as bracelets, rings, and necklaces.
Many of the Navajo come early. They leave horses and wagons in groups about the trading-post. Men and women spend hours in the store, dickering, trading, watching as others trade. They sit in bevies here and there on the ground, where they refresh themselves with canned tomatoes, crackers, and soda pop. The children have tumors of hard candy or chewing gum in their cheeks from the time they arrive until, no longer able to help themselves, they fall asleep. After considerable conversation with one and another the judge makes his way to the large shade where the meetings are held. Leisurely the attendants follow. They talk—the judge, the plaintiff, the defense, the jury. The complainant and the accused speak for themselves. The audience is the jury and will render its decision informally. The talk is quiet, so quiet I cannot hear
it, much less understand the Navajo. But it continues. It may take a long time to get started, but once begun it is endless. There are no whites to watch the clock and say, "We'll take an hour out for dinner now," just as they get deep into the discussion.
The meeting lasts for a day and a half this time. I do not stay long, for I do not know the cases, nor do I understand the points. Afterwards the judge tells me about the killing. The summary is as short and matter-of-fact as the argument was tedious and quiet: "Two boys were wrestling in a friendly way, and one broke the other's neck. The meeting decided that the survivor should pay the mother of the dead boy ten dollars."
I get two versions of Ben Wilson's case. The trader has listened to a part of the evidence. Ben contends that his wife has a bad temper. She is jealous of another woman. She said: "Why, that night when he came in he never even came to bed. Just lay down in the dirt inside the door like he was drunk, slept there all night. In the morning he got up dazed just like he was drunk. He must have been with a woman."
The accused, an educated domestic, a girl of sullen, disagreeable disposition, answers that she has more to do than play about with other women's husbands.
At first Yikadezba's-Mother wants a divorce, but when she finds Ben also wants one she becomes less certain. The assembled friends talk and talk and finally come to a settlement. Marie tells me briefly the next day: "They are going back to the mountain and try living together again. But the next time Ben mistreats her they will get a divorce."
The little community council is only a small local model of the Annual Council of the Navajo held at some convenient
point on the Reservation. Red-Point wants to go to this meeting, and I take a load of Navajo to Fort Wingate, where it is held this year.
Most of those attending this gathering come in cars. Very few of the Navajo live in the immediate vicinity of Fort Wingate, and many cars are already parked about the center plaza of the school as we drive up. One decrepit Model T Ford has a well-woven Navajo blanket hanging from the top just behind the front seat. I remark about it, it being the first time I have ever seen Navajo use their own blankets except for saddles. The trader, who knows the family, remarks that it is because the son-in-law drives. His mother-in-law is not self-effacing and willing to stay at home like Maria Antonia. She wants to go along. They have arranged this curtain so that neither sees the other.
The Council lasts two days. It is much more formal than the other; the Navajo tribe is represented by delegates elected from the different divisions of the Reservation who have a vote; the subjects considered are of tribal rather than personal or family interest. This is the time when the Navajo thresh out their troubles, grievances, and wants with the whites. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs and his assistants, the agents of the several jurisdictions, are there. All opinions and discussions are rendered in English as well as Navajo.
The subjects they consider are concessions for oil lands, for cutting timber, the eternal problem of land for the Navajo, schools, sheep dipping to remove disease from the flocks, water supply, conservation of pasturage, and so forth. Theoretically the delegates have talked over the questions with their respective constituencies and vote according to instructions. Actually the decisions are not quite so satisfactory. The
Council is a place where opinions may be aired and where a register of temper may be gained. It is exceedingly interesting though long-winded; the results are usually quite indirect. It affords us a trip, takes up our time, makes us glad to get home.