The Dogs are Hungry – Navajo Language Lesson

The Dogs are Hungry - Navajo Language Lesson

The dogs are hungry, too.
They crowd in the hogan.
The black one is not sleeping now.
He lies with his head t on his paws and looks at nothing.
The yellow one whimpers.
He has worked hard, but there is no food.

Source : “Little Herder in the Winter” by Ann Clark 1940

Illustrated by:
Hoke Denetsosie

Linguistics by:
John P. Harrington
Robert W. Young

The Four Navajo Sacred Mountains

Mount Blanca (Tsisnaasjini’ – Dawn or White Shell Mountain – East
Mount Taylor (Tsoodzil – Blue Bead or Turquoise Mountain) – South
San Francisco Peaks (Doko’oosliid – Abalone Shell Mountain) – West
Mount Hesperus Dibé Nitsaa (Big Mountain Sheep) – Obsidian Mountain – North

Navajo People Website Links:

Navajo Culture – Navajo History – Navajo Art – Navajo Clothing Navajo Pictures – Navajo Rugs – Navajo Language– Navajo Jewelry – Navajo Code Talker – Navajo Pottery – Navajo Legends – Hogan’s – Sand Painting – Navajo Food – Navajo News – Navajo Nation

Navajo Medicine Men Treating Patient

Navajo Medicine Men Treating PatientSummary: Native American (Navajo) men pose near an earthen hogan treating sick Navajo man.
Some of the men wear bead necklaces with naja pendants.
One man wears a metal bead bandolier, another wears a concho belt.
Date: between 1880 and 1910
Copyright: Estern History/Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library.

Navajo People Website Links:
Navajo CultureNavajo HistoryNavajo ArtNavajo Clothing Navajo PicturesNavajo RugsNavajo LanguageNavajo JewelryNavajo Code TalkerNavajo PotteryNavajo LegendsHogan’sSand PaintingNavajo Food Navajo NewsNavajo Nation

Navajo Family by Wood Stick Hogan

Navajo Family by Wood Stick Hogan Description – Navajo family with wikiup hogan in the background
Publisher – Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico
Date Original – ca. 1920-1940

Navajo People Website Links:
Navajo NewsNavajo PicturesNavajo ArtNavajo RugsNavajo NationNavajo LanguageNavajo JewelryNavajo HistoryNavajo Code TalkerNavajo PotteryNavajo CultureNavajo LegendsHogan’sSand PaintingNavajo Food Navajo Clothing 

The evolution of the Navajo Hogan (Photo)

The evolution of the Navajo Hogan

The evolution of the Navajo The evolution of the Hogan Hogan, Left to right. The very old hogan. A later style, a few of which are still in use. The hogan of today, with log walls and dirt roof. Many Navajos live in modern log and stone houses, similar to the one pictured above. Southern Navajo Agency, 1933

Author Unknown or not provided
Record creator Department of the Interior. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Portland Area Office. Salt Lake City Extension and Credit Office. (ca. 1931 – ca. 1946)
Date ca. 1930 – ca. 1938

The hogan is a sacred home for the Diné (Navajo) people who practice traditional religion. Every family even if they live most of the time in a newer home — must have the traditional hogan for ceremonies, and to keep themselves in balance.

More Infornation on Navajo Homes – Hogans

Navajo Medicine Man & Family at his Hogan

Navajo Medicine man sits in front of hogan with his family

Navajo Medicine man sits in front of hogan with his family


 Image of a Navajo hogan. Medicine man sits in front of hogan with his family.

Publisher: Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico
Date Original ca. 1920-1940

Baby and Navajo woman interior of summer hogan

Baby and Navajo woman interior of summer hogan.Baby and Navajo woman interior of summer hogan.

Rights Restrictions applying to use or reproduction of this image available from the Western History/Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library

Native American (Navajo) woman and child sit inside a brush-covered summer hogan.

The woman holds a large piece of cloth; the child looks at a sheepskin. Sheepskins, a blanket, and other fur pelts lie on the floor.

Others hang from a wooden pole placed horizontally along the wooden pole and brush-covered walls of the hogan.

A pair of dark pants, possibly a dark shirt, and a leather ammunition belt hang from one of the horizontal poles. Date: 1908.

Navajo People Website Links:
Navajo CultureNavajo HistoryNavajo ArtNavajo Clothing Navajo PicturesNavajo RugsNavajo LanguageNavajo JewelryNavajo Code TalkerNavajo PotteryNavajo LegendsHogan’sSand PaintingNavajo Food Navajo NewsNavajo Nation

Navajo Home – Hogans or Hohrahn

EIGHT kinds of houses are built by the Navajos, not counting the circles of boughs which in summer often serve the purpose. All except the adopted houses of the white men are well ventilated by a smoke-hole in the roof and a blanket-covered door, facing the east. They have dirt roofs and dirt floors, easily swept, with sheepskins along the walls for seats or sleeping, and a fire in the middle for cooking.

Navajo Woman and Child by Hogan

Navajo Woman and Child by Hogan

It takes only one day to erect a hohrahn, for the neighbors all come to help; and the logs from which it is built are generally found close at hand. Almost without exception it is made of piñon logs, boughs, and cedar bark, with a liberal roofing of damp earth and all the cracks chinked with mud. So it might be said that the new house costs nothing but the labor of assembling the material and the expense of feeding the helpers, a sum of forty or fifty dollars at the most.

Navajo Home - Hogan inside with woman weaving child watching

Navajo Home – Hogan inside with woman weaving child watching

In his paper on “Navaho Houses”, published in 1895-96, Cosmos Mindeleff describes the country as it was some ten years before, much of the material being gathered by A. M. Stephen. While all the types of houses which he observed still exist, the past forty-five years have seen many changes, wrought mostly by sharp axes and saws. On the Reservation to-day there are many fine big hohrahns, fully twice the sizes he recorded. And with a fireplace instead of a smokehole — and the addition of a board floor — they make a very comfortable dwelling for a white man.

But for the Indians, still living in their primitive way, a dirt floor often swept is much more sanitary than the filth of  dusty boards. The smoke-hole and blanket-door give the needed ventilation, while the fire in the center purifies the air and keeps the hohrahn warm. The stone and lumber houses often seen have been built for the most part by educated Indians, who have learned white men’s ways at school. But for the average Navajo, living thewandering life of a shepherd, the old hohrahn is probably best.

The evolution of the Navajo Hogan

The evolution of the Navajo Hogan, Left to right. The very old hogan. A later style, a few of which are still in use. The hogan of today, with log walls and dirt roof. Many Navajos live in modern log and stone houses, similar to the one pictured above. Southern Navajo Agency, 1933.  (NARA – 298586)

The different types of houses are as follows:
1, SQUARE-CORNERED HOHRAHN (Yah-dah Ahz-kah’ni Hohrahn’)

The first Hohrahn, which is mentioned in the House Songs, was first built in the Underworld. It is a square roof, covered with bark and earth and supported by four corner posts -the same shelter often seen in Arizona and New Mexico and called by the Mexicans a temporal. In its original form it is a temporary shade, but poles are often leaned against the roof, making walls, and a smoke-hole is left in the roof. The door, as in all houses, faces the east, where the gods assemble at dawn. When the hohrahn is built, a white shell is put in the bottom of the southeast post-hole, a turquoise in the southwest, an abalone shell in the northwest, and cannel-coal in the northeast hole, to bring good luck.

2. SWEAT-HOHRAHN (Tah’tsay)

The first sweat-house was built at the Place of Emergence, when the Dineh’ came up from the Underworld. It was used then, as now, not only for a sweat-bath, but to purify the body after a journey. It is made of three sticks with forked ends, which are fastened together in a tripod. Two straight sticks are leaned against the apex from the east to make the sides of the door. Then other sticks and boughs are thrown against the low framework and the whole is covered over with cedar bark and earth until it is practically airtight.

After the person has entered, heated rocks are brought in and the door is closed with several blankets. Four verses of  the Sweat-Bath Song must then be sung before he can come out, to plunge into cold water or dry himself in the sand. He goes in again and sings four more, until the entire song is sung. After an invocation to the War God and his brother, the song describes the building of the first Sweat-House which is called the Son of the She-Dark — that is, a small enclosure of semi-darkness. The song is given in part on the title-page of Part II.

Forked-Together Navajo Home - Hogan

Forked-Together Navajo Home – Hogan

3. FORKED-TOGETHER HOUSE (Ahl-chin’ ah-des-ah’ Hohrahn’)

For many years this was the characteristic Navajo hohrahn, its form and structure having been laid down by Hastseyalti, the Talking God, the greatest of the Yeibitchai. After the Slayer had destroyed all the man-eating monsters, there were only a few people left on earth, and in a great ceremonial, which is described in Chapter XVIII, thirty mortals and two gods were created.

This ceremony was performed in a Square-Cornered Hohrahn, but when the time came for the Hozonji Ceremony the Talking God called all the people together and had them build a new Medicine-Hohrahn. As in the tiny SweatHouse, only on a larger scale, three logs were leaned together from the south, north, and west, and two straight poles stretched to the east to rest on the frame of the door. A smoke-hole was left between the peak and these two poles and the walls were formed by sticks leaned against the framework and covered with cedar bark and earth.

The floor of the hohrahn is dug out a foot or more, leaving a bench all around the wall to support the poles and make a place for putting things away. On the windswept plains east of the Chuska Mountains, where both fuel and building materials are scarce, these houses are often sunk deep down into the ground, and so buried in earth on the roof and sides as to make them look like mounds.

The god and goddess for whom this first Holy Hohrahn  was built were Everlasting and Peaceful, whose names are spoken last in nearly all the great ceremonial songs. They are considered by some to be the greatest of the gods, speaking a spiritual language of their own, and dwell in the west with Estsan’ Ad’le-hi, the Woman-Who-Changes.

The Holy Hohrahn was built for the Good Luck or Hozonji Songs, which were sung over them for the first time. There are 373 of these songs, all of which were sung in one night, but now perhaps four are taken from each group and the singing always ends with the dawn. In order to bring good luck to the house, the feathers of bluebirds and yellow warblers are put in the fork of the three poles, for that was the wish of the Talking God when the first Holy Hohrahn was built.
4. Two-LEGGED HOHRAHN (Bee-jahd’ nah-kith’ Hohrahn’)

This is a Summer House, or lean-to, built of two forked posts with a pole along the top and sticks leaned against it from the west in order to have the front face east. Other sticks are often leaned against the sides, making a partly closed shelter, and such houses are commonly built in the fields. The Horned Toad built the first Two-Legged Hohrahn to sit in while he watched his corn.
5. LOGS-STACKED-UP HOUSE (Tzin-yah’dee klin’ Hohrahn’)

This is a new departure in the art of house-building and the first one was built somewhat over a hundred years ago by Ah-thit’ee-kish’nih — Draws-an-Arrow-All-the-Time. As his name indicates he was a warrior and kept his arms strong by drawing the bow. He lived among the rocks on the east side of Navajo Mountain, in the extreme northwest corner of the Reservation, where he was surrounded by implacable enemies.

It was to protect himself from them that he constructed this new type of house, with the logs piled up level with the ground. At that time the Navajos had no iron axes, except a few which they had got from the Mexicans. They just broke the limbs off of fallen logs and piled the logs across each other in a circle, which was drawn in to make the roof. Then they put smaller sticks in the spaces between the logs and chinked the cracks with cedar bark and mud.

Cedar bark was also laid over the cob-house roof, after which they carried up damp earth in a blanket and pounded the surface down hard. There was a smoke-hole in the middle and the door faced the east. It was built for warmth as well as protection and had a door-blanket made of strips of stiff yucca-stalks, woven closely in and out. In the daytime the door-blanket hung free, but at night they tied the four corners to the frame so that their enemies could not push in or jerk it open. In those days they always kept a lookout on some hilltop, and at sight of enemies coming they would all run and hide in the rocks.

Shortly after Draws-an-Arrow had built his new fort, which had loopholes along the walls, two Navajos came over to look at it and they said:

‘We will make one like that.’

This, according to Long Mustache of Klag-e-toh, is the origin of the modern hohrahn. Many others came to see it and they built more just like it. This is the kind of hohrahn that the five crippled warriors occupied, in the story of the Cub Mountain Chant, to defend themselves against the Utes. A man came clear over from the San Juan country to see what the fort was like, and, since the Navajos were at war with all their neighbors, the Logs-Stacked-up Houses filled a long-felt want.

About forty years ago, when the Navajos got sharp axes and good saws, they began to make bigger houses, and especially for their Yeibitchai Ceremonies. Before this time the big Medicine-Hohrahns had been built with four posts for supports, a flat, square roof, and leaning-pole walls, all com pletely covered with earth. But these posts were in the way for the sand-paintings and dances and a new form of house was devised. In this, six to twelve big posts were set in a circle, with poles leaned against the connecting supports for a wall and a cob-house roof ascending to a high smoke-hole in the center. These Medicine-Hohrahns are often built fifty feet in diameter to make room for the great Yeibitchai sandpaintings, in one of which fifty-six dancing figures are represented.

But expert builders can make a Logs-Stacked-up House almost as large, and in appearance it is much more symmetrical. It is a curious fact that, though invented only a hundred years ago, this cob-house type hohrahn has exactly the same structure as the roofs of the temples in northern China. Looked at from the inside it seems nothing more than an inverted cone, made of logs laid one on the other; but though several white men have tried they have not been able to build one that would stand. These failures have demonstrated that if one timber is laid wrong, the whole structure will weaken and crawl.

The final development of the Logs-Laid-Down House is a six-sided structure, made of closely fitted and joined logs with a cob-house roof covered with earth. This form is often used for the big Medicine-Hohrahns, as it gives a firm support for the roof, and the walls can be built straight up and quite high. Such houses are rapidly supplanting the older forms wherever timber is plentiful, but the roofs almost invariably leak.

Modern Navajo Hogan - Sheep Springs New Mexico

Modern Navajo Hogan – Sheep Springs New Mexico

To a white man the smoke-hole is a nuisance, allowing the rain to beat in with the shiftings of the winds until no part of the floor is dry. But with the passing of that smoke-hole the old-time religion will pass, for it is through it that the evil spirits are blown away by the medicine-man when he sings his ghost-chasing chant. That is why the older Indians still  cling to it, for they have no other religion. And the sad fate of some who have adopted the white man’s houses, keeping the doors and windows tightly closed, have convinced them that the old hohrahn is best. For there is no place for the coughs and colds to be blown out by the Hatali and tuberculosis often results.


Only the richer among the Navajos can afford to build a white man’s house. Some are made of stone by young stonemasons trained in the schools, and others of boards and timbers from the Government sawmills near Fort Defiance. But as the roads are always rough and the distances often great, the transportation of this lumber adds greatly to its cost. The doors and windows are now made at the Fort and sold on part payments to the Indians, but the prices of nails and hardware, and especially of modern plumbing, would bankrupt an ordinary Navajo. Even the model houses built at the Government schools cost two or three thousand dollars, so for many years to come the Indians are destined to live in some form of hohrahn.

Modern Navajo Home - Sheep Springs New Mexico

Modern Navajo Home – Sheep Springs New Mexico


When the new house is finished, the Hosteen or male head of the family rubs a handful of white corn meal on the principal supporting timbers, beginning with the south post of the door and circling the wall to the left. He then sprinkles a circle of meal around the inside of the house and repeats the following prayer:

May my house be blessed.
From my head to my feet,
Where I lie and all above me,
All around me, may it be holy.

Then a blanket is hung over the door, the Hosteen makes a poker of green wood, and his wife builds the first fire, which she feeds with a fragment of food in order to make it happy.  A feast which has been prepared outside is then served to all who have helped. This is similar to our old-fashioned housewarming and is called a salutation to the house.

But if sickness and misfortune visit the new home, some hatali whose Lucky Songs are known to be beneficent is engaged to bless the house. The more he is paid the better their luck will be, so his fee is often munificent. He sings only his best songs, which have not been used for long and so have grown in power, and after he has started their endless repetitions the men of the assembly carry them on. None of the gods are omitted, lest they take offense, and so they sing all night. Then as the dawn appears and the Yeibitchai assemble in the east, they bow to them and sing a solemn invocation to bring good luck to all.

Source: The Navajo Indians. Contributors: Dane Coolidge – author, Mary Roberts Coolidge – author.

Navajo People Website Links:
Navajo Culture – Navajo History – Navajo Art – Navajo Clothing Navajo Pictures – Navajo Rugs – Navajo Language– Navajo Jewelry – Navajo Code Talker – Navajo Pottery – Navajo Legends – Hogan’s – Sand Painting – Navajo Food – Navajo News – Navajo Nation

Navajo medicine-men (singers,hatáli­)

The medicine-men, who are termed singers,  hatáli­, are a dominant factor in the Navaho life. Like all primitive people, the Navaho are intensely religious, and the medicine-men, whose function it is to become versed in the mysteries of religion, are ever prone to cultivate in the minds of the people the belief that they are powerful not only in curing disease of mind and body but of preventing it by their incantations. Anyone who possesses the requisite ability may become a medicine-man, but owing to the elaborate ceremonies connected with their practices it requires long years of application ere one can attain sufficient knowledge to give him standing among his tribesmen.

To completely master the intricacies of any one of the many nine days’ ceremonies requires close application during the major portion of a man’s lifetime. The only way a novice has of learning is by assisting the elders in the performance of the rites, and as there is little probability that opportunity will be afforded him to participate in more than two or three ceremonies in a year, his instruction is necessarily slow.

The medicine-men recognize the fact that their ritual has been decadent for some time, and they regard it as foreordained that when all the ceremonies are forgotten the world will cease to exist.

Hástin Yázhe (Navaho)

Hástin Yázhe (Navaho)

Hástin Yázhe- Navaho

Photograph 1904 by E.S. Curtis

The most pronounced dread manifested by the Navaho is that derived from their belief respecting the spirits of the dead. It is thought that the spirit leaves the body at death and travels to a place toward the north where there is a pit whence the gods and the animals emerged from an underworld before the first Navajo were created, and which the dead now enter.

Their myths tell of the disappearance of a beautiful daughter of one of the animal chiefs on the fourth day after the gods and the animals came up into this world; diligent search was unrewarded until two of the searchers looked down through the hole and espied her sitting beside a stream in the lower world combing her hair. Four days later death came to these searchers, so that now the Navaho will go to any extreme to avoid coming into contact with spirits of the dead, chinde, which they believe travel anywhere and everywhere at will, often doing evil, but never good. The body is prepared for burial previous to death, and is never touched afterward if it can be avoided.

To the end that the spirit may begin aright its journey to the afterworld, the body is taken out of the hogan through an opening specially made in the wall on the northern side, for the doorway always faces the east. The immediate relatives of the deceased avoid looking at the corpse if possible. Friends of the family or distant relations usually take charge of the burial. A couple of men dig a grave on a hillside and carry the body there wrapped in blankets. No monument is erected to mark the spot.

Before the body is taken out, the hogan is vacated and all necessary utensils are carried away. The two men who bury the remains of the former occupant carefully obliterate with a cedar bough all footprints that the relations of the deceased may havemade in the hogan, in order to conceal from the departed spirit the direction in which they went should it return to do them harm.

The premises are completely abandoned and the house often burned. Never will a Navaho occupy a hogan, and when travelling at night he will take a roundabout trail in order to avoid one. Formerly horses were killed at the grave. So recently as 1906 a horse was sacrificed within sight of a Catholic mission on the reservation, that its spirit might accompany that of a dead woman to the afterworld. This horse was the property of the woman, and her husband, fearing to retain it, yet not daring to kill it himself, called upon another to do so.

Navajo Medicine-Men

IT IS commonly agreed by Indians and traders alike that, among the Navajos, one man out of eight is a medicine-man. That is about the same as saying that, among the white people, one man out of every eight belongs to some lodge or secret society or is a communicant of some church. And, with them as with us, these men who belong are the leaders.

Navajo Medicine Man

Navajo Medicine Man

Much has been said by uninformed people about the charlatanism of Indian medicine-men. But among the Dineh all the important men belong to different lodges. They also know many lucky songs and prayers to protect them and theirs from bad luck, and as a sign to the gods they wear on their hair-braid a turquoise bead and shell for every lodge. With a Shooting Arrow bead in his hair a Navajo will laugh when the lightning strikes close. But without it he will shrink in fear — he has no medicine to ward off the bolt.

A good Navajo medicine-man is a superior being, at once a doctor, a religious leader, and a historian. In the chants which he sings and the myths which he relates there is preserved the story of his people. A Five-Rattle Hatali — one who has the five different kinds of rattles which are used in the fourteen big ceremonies — is a Ph.D., LL.D. He is an intellectual leader, respected for his learning and the power which that learning gives him.

The Navajos are ruled by medicine-men.
The fear of devils, or chindis as the Navajo call them, is the basis of the medicine-man’s power. Whether these devils are virulent germs and microbes, as many of them are, or merely bad dreams or bad luck, it is his business to drive them out.

His treatment is eclectic and inclusive. He gives the patient emetics and purges, he sweats him over aromatic herbs. He kneads his relaxed muscles like a well-trained osteopath until every bone is in place. Then he sings over him and prays, paints his body from the feet up to drive the devils out at his mouth; loads cigarettes and lights them as an offering to the gods and makes a series of sand-paintings. Then they dance and sing holy songs all night and the patient generally gets well.
No matter what was the matter with him, or if he only thought he was sick, the medicine-man has effected a cure. But there is one little formality which must be observed in advance or the medicine will not work. The doctor must be paid. And the more you pay him, the better results you will get. It is a grand system, but the charges are not high. For an ordinary all-night sing or devil-chasing ceremony, six dollars is the usual fee.
This devil-chasing is the real old Stone Age religion and is undoubtedly of Asiatic origin. From Asia, too, comes that unreasoning fear of the dead which haunts the Navajos at every turn. Even to dream of the dead calls for a purification ceremony, and the Reservation is dotted with chindi hohrahns, deserted houses in which some one has died. Whether the body is buried in the hut or not, no Navajo will ever enter its door again or use any of the property left inside. A log is torn out from the north or west wall, for the removal of the body, and it is abandoned to the ghosts of the dead.
This  superstition, however, is not without its good points, for when an epidemic of smallpox or influenza sweeps the land, the Navajos flee and escape. They are afraid of death, and the devils which bring death, and that is why they survive. But the Hopis in their old, infected pueblos are decimated by every epidemic.

The smallpox killed thousands of them before the soldiers came in and cremated the dead and cleaned up. Yet a well-intentioned official in charge of a Navajo school takes pride in the effort he is making to overcome their heathen fears. On every Memorial Day he marches the children through the cemetery to salute the graves of the dead.

Navajo People Website Links:
Navajo CultureNavajo HistoryNavajo ArtNavajo Clothing Navajo PicturesNavajo RugsNavajo LanguageNavajo JewelryNavajo Code TalkerNavajo PotteryNavajo LegendsHogan’sSand PaintingNavajo Food Navajo NewsNavajo Nation