Kinaalda – Celebrating maturity of girls among the Navajo

The Navajo Puberty Ceremony  celebrating maturity of girls among the Navajo is held generally on the fourth night after the first evidence of the maiden’s entrance into womanhood. On the first morning following the moment of this change in life the girl bathes and dresses in her finest clothes.

Kinaalda - Celebrating maturity of girls among the Navajo

Kinaalda – Maturity ceremony for Navajo Girls

Later she stretches herself face downward on a blanket just outside the hogán, with her head toward the door. A sister, aunt, or other female relation, if any happen to be close at hand, or if not, a male relative other than her father, then proceeds symbolically to remould her.

Her arms and legs are straightened, her joints smoothed, and muscles pressed to make her truly shapely. After that the most industrious and energetic of the comely women in the immediate neighborhood is called in to dress the girl’s hair in a particular form of knot and wrap it with deerskin strings, called tsklólh.

Should there be any babies or little tots about the home, the girl goes to them, and, placing a hand under each ear, successively lifts them by the neck, to make them grow faster. Then she darts off toward the east, running out for about a quarter of a mile and back. This she does each morning until after the public ceremony. By so doing she is assured of continuing strong, lithe, and active throughout womanhood.

Grinding Corn at Kinaalda, Navajo Puberty Ceremony

Grinding Corn at Kinaalda, Navajo Puberty Ceremony

The four days preceding the night of the ceremony are days of abstinence; only such foods as mush and bread made from  may be eaten, nor may they contain any salt. To indulge in viands of a richer nature would be to invite laziness and an ugly form at a comparatively early age. The girl must also refrain from scratching her head or body, for marks made by her nails during this period would surely become ill-looking scars.

All the women folk in the hogán begin grinding corn on the first day and continue at irregular intervals until the night of the third, when the meal is mixed into batter for a large corn-cake, which the mother bakes in a sort of bean-hole outside the hogán.

Navajo Girl Molding at Kinaalda

Molding at Kinaalda

Molding – Photo courtesy of Gary Witherspoon

The ceremony proper consists of little more than songs. A medicine-man is called upon to take charge, being compensated for his services with blankets, robes, grain, or other articles of value. Friends and neighbors having been notified, they assemble at the girl’s hogán fairly early in the evening.

Navajo Girl Running at Kinaalda

Navajo Girl Running

Navajo Girl Running at Kinaalda – Photo courtesy of Gary Witherspoon

When dusk has settled, the medicine-man begins his songs, singing first the twelve “hogán songs” of the Bahózhonchi. After he has finished, anyone present who so desires may sing songs taken from the ritual of the same order. This motley singing and hilarity continue until well toward sunrise, when the mother brings in a bowl of yucca suds and washes the girl’s hair.

Her head and hair are dried with corn-meal, after which the girl takes her last run toward the east, this time followed by many young children, symbolically attesting that she will be a kind mother, whom her children will always follow.

Pouring Corn Batter for the ceremony cake (alkaan) Kinaaldá, the Navajo Puberty Ceremony

Pouring Corn Batter for the ceremony cake (alkaan) – Kinaaldá, the Navajo Puberty Ceremony

The hatál, or medicine singer, during her absence sings eight songs, generally termed the Racing songs. On her return the great corn-cake is brought in, cut, and divided among the assemblage, when all disperse, and the girl may once more loosen her hair and partake of any food she pleases.


Day Ritual Activities

First Day
Grind Corn
Put pot of wheat near outdoor cooking fire (after the molding).

Second Day
Grind Corn
Spread wheat in the sun to dry (after digging the pit).
Soak cornhusks (while working on the batter).
Third Day
Grind Corn
Dig pit; build fire
Make mush
Put batter in pit; bless it
Cover pit
Gather soapweed root and white clay for morning (during the singing).
Fourth Day
Run to east while four songs are sung.
One Twelve Word song, unless the ceremony is the first Kinaalda,
when this song is omitted.
Make offering to Mother Earth.
Prepare white-clay basket (during the Racing Songs).
Lift children (after the molding).
Girl goes back into hogan (after returning goods).
Retie girl’s hair.

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