Sacred Texts  Native American  Navajo  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, [1934], at

p. 205



The songs are over. The singing and drumming continue with only a few short intermissions all night. The Chanter, chorus, and patients may not even doze off, but the rest of us take a cat nap now and then. And now after breakfast, when all is still and peaceful, Marie and Ninaba come to see me. They rub their sleepy eyes, as Marie tells me: "We may not sleep as long as the sun is up. For the next four days we must get up at sunrise, and we must not sleep again until after sunset. That is because we had the Sun's-House. So when I was nearly falling off, my father said, "Go up and see Weaving-Woman, and tell her to keep you awake."

"I'll do that all right," I laugh. "I shall take no pity on you when you are getting tired of my questions, but I'll just keep on"—referring to our work in language. Marie may not work; but teaching me Navajo is not work, and I shall nag at her with my eternal curiosity.

If the patients sleep in the daytime they may have bad dreams, and that would keep the pollen ball from remaining in place.

They still wear the large bunch of feathers and the small beads on their hair. They have rubbed, perhaps not purposely, a great deal of the paint off their faces. But they may not wash or comb their hair for four days, nor may they remove

p. 206

clothes or moccasins. The necklaces and wristbands of yucca and fir are still pricking into their flesh, a minor torture. They do not stay long this time, for Red-Point once more calls them. He unties the feather bundle from each head and from it takes a down feather which he bids them carry. Then all three walk about a quarter of a mile to the west, where Red-Point selects a small piñon tree before which they stand. He ties the down feathers to the tip of the tree, after sprinkling pollen at the four quarters, around, up and down. Then he removes the yucca necklaces and secures them over the upper central branches of the tree. The wristbands he places on branches at each side. As they stand there side by side, he speaks the prayer of the young pine four times, and his daughters repeat it after him:

Dark young pine, at the center of the earth originating,
I have made your sacrifice.
Whiteshell, turquoise, abalone beautiful,
Jet beautiful, fool's gold beautiful, blue pollen beautiful, reed pollen, pollen beautiful, your sacrifice I have made.
This day your child I have become, I say.

Watch over me.
Hold your hand before me in protection.
Stand guard for me, speak in defense of me.
As I speak for you, so do ye.
As you speak for me, thus shall I do.
     May it be beautiful before me,
     May it be beautiful behind me,
     May it be beautiful below me,

p. 207

     May it be beautiful above me,
     May it be beautiful all around me.

     I am restored in beauty,
     I am restored in beauty,
     I am restored in beauty,
     I am restored in beauty.

After all sprinkle pollen once more they return home.

On subsequent visits of Marie, I learn that the kind of work they may not do has to do with fire and water. They must not go near fire or use water, although they may drink some. They have had the sacred patterns put on their bodies with care and song, and for that reason will be benefited. But they must not touch anyone who has never had the sing, nor should such ones touch their things. Only those who have had the sing may eat with them and wash the dishes they use, for the blessings of the chant are permanent. What is done now is done for all time. For four days they will observe these restrictions; for four nights more they will sleep in the hogan under Red-Point's eye. To those who have not had the sing, they might communicate power in an irregular and disorderly manner, that would bring special harm to the person encountered.

"Harriet said when her mother had the sing, she washed after two days," I tell Marie, speaking of a girl who had visited us.

Marie's scorn knows no bounds. "Yes, and she was bitten by a snake that very summer. That's what is the matter with Totlani's-Wife, too. She had this sing over at Water-in-the-Earth,

p. 208

and she started to cook the very day after the all-night sing. My father says that is the reason she is so sick."

Totlani's-Wife is dying of cancer. Some say it is because she wove too many sand-painting blankets, since before her illness she was industrious and enterprising. Red-Point is sure he could cure her, for although she has already had the Shooting Chant sung for her, he is sure it was not done properly.

"She is worse, did you know?" I tell Marie. "She got a cold much like you had, only worse, and she was spitting blood. They had a man to tell what sing she ought to have when I was there day before yesterday. He said she ought to have the Female Shooting Chant and after that the War Dance."

"It's too bad," says Marie. "You know after the first day when I had that awful headache, my father said my hands were cooler. It was the sing that made it. After that I didn't have headache any more either."

"It seems as though your father never makes a mistake. I know, of course, that he has to say the prayers just exactly right. You said them all right, too, but what does he do when someone can't keep up? If I had a sing, I am sure I'd make mistakes. Would he be able to sing so that it would not matter?"

"Yes, that's the way they do. Ninaba got off the track, too, but he can make that all right with a prayer. We don't know what to do either. They have to tell us."

Dan rides up as we talk. The men are going to brand cattle. Do we want to watch them? In no time we have a full auto. Yikadezba and Djiba as usual implore us to take them. "They can come this time," I say. "Ninaba can hold Djiba."

"No, we are not allowed to touch the children. They have

p. 209

never had the sing." The women negotiate. They agree that the children will walk to the branding with Atlnaba.

On the way Marie communicates another bit of gossip. "Mary said she was going to come up to the sing, but she couldn't get anyone to bring her. She was coming to make fun. She said she wouldn't have a sing with those dirty old medicine-men."

"I think a person doesn't have to believe it," I reply, "but I don't think she needs to make fun of it."

"She's a Christian!" bursts forth Marie indignantly. "That's the reason she has such funny babies!"

Mary has had one child born without eyes and another without a skull. Both lived for some time, a horror to Indians and whites alike. The doctor says she has chronic malconception; the Navajo say it is irreverence.

The branding is a pleasant diversion.

Another full day goes by when a party of the family, Marie and Ninaba included, go by wagon to a cañon toward the east where they carefully deposit Butte-Reaching-to-the-Sky. This is a sculptured part of the double painting made of pottery clay. Red-Point goes with them and the disposal is made ritualistically.

Before we know it, the four days are gone. At sunrise after the thirteenth night from the beginning of the chant, Marie and Ninaba untie the beads from their hair, shampoo it and wash their entire bodies in yucca suds. Each ties her bead to her hair string and from this time on will wear it always. If ever there is a storm, an epidemic, or she "gets into a tight place," she may shake the bead at the offender as she utters a prayer, and all danger will disappear.

Next: Chapter XXVI: The Kinni's-Sons