Yei Bi Chei (Yébîchai) Night Chant-First Day

A description of the ritual and form of the Yébîchai ceremony,—Kléjê Hatál, or Night Chant,—covering its nine days of performance, will give a comprehensive idea of all Navaho nine-day ceremonies, which combine both religious and medical observances. The myth characters personified in this rite are termed Yébîchai, Grandfather or Paternal Gods. Similar personifications appear in other ceremonies, but they figure less prominently

Note: The use of the word “Navaho”, and , “Navajo” are used in the writings about the Diné,  their history, and culture. See  this article: Use and spelling Navaho or Navajo

Each morning during the first four days of the Navaho Yébîchai healing ceremony, or Night Chant, the patient is sweated—sometimes inside a small sweat-lodge, oftener by being placed upon a spot previously heated by a fire and covered with heavy blankets.

Yei Bi Chei Sweat Lodge- Navaho

The three figures are medicine-men, or singers, chanting. The patient lies under the blankets surrounded by a line of sacred meal in which turkey-feather prayer-sticks, kadán, are implanted.

First Day:

The ceremonial, or medicine, hogán is built some days in advance of the rite. The first day’s ceremony is brief, with few participants. Well after dark the singer, assisted by two men, makes nine little splint hoops entwined with slip-cords, and places them on the sacred meal in the meal basket.


These objects, called by the various but nearly synonymous names of Ye’b’tsai-tsa’pas, ye’ts-ida-V’lpas, ye’bapas and tsapasiazi-olia’l, are twelve in number. Each circle is made of a twig of ts’i’lts’ln or aromatic sumac two spans long.Navajo Kethawn

The ends are tied together by means of a yucca fiber exactly two spans long. The butt end of the fiber is applied to the. butt end of the twig, underneath it, and at first parallel to it, the fiber is’ then wound around the spliced extremities of the twig, so that its tip end shall approximate the tip end of the’ twig

Following this, three men remove their everyday clothing, take Yébîchai masks, and leave the hogán. These three masked figures are to represent the gods Haschéltî, Talking God, Haschbaád, Goddess, and Haschélapai, Gray God.

When they have gone and passed to the rear of the hogán, the patient comes in, disrobes at the left of the center, passes around the small fire burning near the entrance of the hogán, and takes his seat in the center, immediately after which the singing begins.

During the third song Hasché?lt? enters with his cross-sticks—Hasché?lt? balíl—and opens and places them over the patient’s body, forcing them down as far toward the ground as possible. The second time he places them not so far over the body; the third, not lower than the shoulders; the fourth time, over the head only, each time giving his peculiar call, Wu-hu-hu-hu-u!

Then Hasché?lt? takes up a shell with medicine and with it touches the patient’s feet, hands, chest, back, right shoulder, left shoulder, and top of head, this being the prescribed ceremonial order, uttering his cry at each placing of the medicine.

He next places the shell of medicine to the patient’s lips four times and goes out, after which Hasch?baád comes in, takes one of the circle k?dán, touches the patient’s body in the same ceremonial order, and finally the lips, at the same time giving the slip-cord a quick pull.

Next comes Hasché?lapai, who performs the same incantations with the k?dán. Again Hasché?lt? enters with the cross-sticks, repeating the former order, after which he gives the patient four swallows of medicine,—a potion different from that first given, the medicine-man himself drinking what remains in the shell. This closes the ceremony of the first day.

There will, perhaps, be considerable dancing outside the hogán, but that is merely practice for the public dance to be given on the ninth night. The singer and the patient sleep in the hogán each night until the nine days are passed, keeping the masks and medicine paraphernalia between them when they sleep.


The songs sung on this evening, called Aga’hoa’gis-in or Summit Songs, are 26 in number; but not all are sung on this occasion; more of them are heard later during the nine-days’ ceremony. The whole set is sung on the third night. When there is no dance of the naakhai’ to be held on the last night, only three songs of the set -are repeated.

God of Harvest, Fringe Mouth, and Talking God

The personated deities pictured in this plate appear together in acts of succor in the Night Chant in the order seen, the Talking God in the lead. From left to right they are, respectively, the God of Harvest, Fringe Mouth, and Talking God.

Sources of Information for the Article:

The Night Chant, A Navaho Ceremony. By Washington Matthews – May, 1902.
Legend Of The Night Chant- The North American Indian By Edward S. Curtis 1907
The Nightway:A History and a History of Documentation of a Navajo Ceremonial by: James C. Faris – 1990.
Earth is My Mother, Sky is my Father, by Trudy Griffin-Pierce, 1992


Use and spelling Navaho or Navajo

This is a response to many inquiries I have been receiving about word “Navaho” as used in articles on this website.

I have just came back from my trip to the Navajo Nation Museum and library doing research for my articles on this website.

I also visited Saint Michael’s Historical Museum near Window Rock, AZ where the Franciscan Fathers wrote ” An ethnologic dictionary of the Navaho language (1910).

Navajo Museum 1

Navajo Nation Museum – Photo by Harold Carey Jr.

Saint Michael’s Historical Museum

Saint Michael’s Historical Museum – Photo by Harold Carey Jr.

From Research on literature of the Southwest I have come up with the following:

Its origin is described in the “Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navaho Language”.

“The word Navaho, or originally, Navajo, is first mentioned and applied to this tribe of Indians by Fray Alonzo Benavides O. F. M., in his “Memorial to the King of Spain” written in 1630. After describing the Gila Apaches, Benavides says that more than fifty leagues north of these “one encounters the Province of the Apaches of Navajo.

Although they are the same Apache nation as the foregoing, they are subject and subordinate to another Chief Captain, and have a distinct mode of living. For those of back yonder did not use to plant, but sustained themselves by the chase; today we have broken land for them and taught them to plant.

But these of Navajo are very great farmers, for that is what Navajo signifies—great planted fields.”
1. Franciscan Fathers. Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navaho Language.

The Navahos call themselves: “Dine” which means men or people and in conversing with them they will tell you that “Dine” simply means “The People”.

The list below is from a search of works published by various authors interested in Southwestern archaeology and ethnology by writers using “ho” or “jo”.

Hosteen Klah: Navaho Medicine Man and Sand Painter by Franc Johnson Newcomb (May 28, 2012)
The Enduring Navaho [Paperback]Laura Gilpin (Author) Publication Date: 1987
The Navaho by Clyde & lLighton, Dorothea Kluckhohn (1974)
Navaho Witchcraft by Clyde Kluckhohn (1995)
Navaho Indian Myths (Native American) by Aileen O’Bryan (Jun 14, 1993)
The Dine: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians (Forgotten Books) by Aileen Warner O’Bryan (May 7, 2008)
Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians by Aileen O’Bryan; BAEB 163 [1956]
Navaho Myths, Prayers, and Songs by Washington Matthews; UCPAAE 5:2 [1906]

Navajo Texts. by Pliny Earle Goddard (Jan 1, 1933)
Navajo Indians by Dane Coolidge and R. Mary (Jun 1930)
Navajo gambling songs – Matthews, Washington, 1843-1905
A study of Navajo symbolism (Volume v. 32 no. 3) – Newcomb, Franc Johnson
The Navajo and his blanket – Hollister, Uriah S., 1838-1929
The Navajo Indians; a statement of facts – Weber, Anselm, Father, 1862-1921
The making of a Navajo blanket – Pepper, George H. (George Hubbard), 1873-1924
The gentile system of the Navajo Indians – Matthews, Washington, 1843-1905

George Wharton James has an explanation for the use of NAVAHO and we quote the paragraph. “It will be observed that I follow the Americanized and rational form of spelling the name NAVAHO. Why people should consent to use the misleading and unnecessary form of the name NAVAJO, is beyond me.

Every stranger to the Spanish tongue—and there are millions who are thus strange—naturally pronounce this Na-va-joe, and cannot be blamed. Yet it does give the One-who-knows the opportunity to laugh at him, and perhaps this is the reason the Spanish form is retained.

Were the name one of Spanish origin we might be reconciled to that form of spelling, but as it is a name belonging to a tribe of Amerinds who were here and had been here for centuries when the Spaniards came, there is no reason why they should have fixed upon them forever a European method of spelling their name”.

2. James, George Wharton. “Indian Blankets and their Makers.” A. O. McClurg and Co., Chicago. 1920.

For justifying the use of Navaho in the Dictionary of the English Language and find in Funk and Wagnalls: “Navaho, an important and rapidly increasing branch of Athapascan Indians dwelling in New Mexico and Arizona; employed in herding blanket making, silver smithing, and as laborers in railroad and ether public works.
“Navajo” is the preference shown in Websters New International Dictionary.

Navajo ceremonies rites of the Mountain Chant

Most Navaho ceremonies are conducted, at least primarily, for the purpose of healing disease; and while designated medicine ceremonies, they are, in fact, ritualistic prayers. There are[pg 078] so many of these ceremonies that no student has yet determined their number, which reaches into scores, while the component ritual prayers of some number hundreds. The principal ceremonies are those that require nine days and nine nights in their performance. Of the many now known the names of nine are here given: KléjÄ• Hatál, Night Chant;4 TzÄ­lhkí̆chÄ­ Hatál, Mountain Chant; HozhónÄ­ Hatál, Happiness Chant; Natói Hatál, Shooting Chant; Toi Hatál, Water Chant; AtsósÄ­ Hatál, Feather Chant; Yoi Hatál, Bead Chant; HochónchÄ­ Hatál, Evil-Spirit Chant; Mai Hatál, Coyote Chant. Each is based on a mythic story, and each has four dry-paintings, or so-called altars. Besides these nine days’ ceremonies there are others whose performance requires four days, and many simpler ones requiring only a single day, each with its own dry-painting.

Pĭké̆hodĭklad - Navaho

Pĭké̆hodĭklad - Navaho

Photograph 1907 by E.S. Curtis

This, the first of the dry-paintings employed in the rites of the Mountain Chant—a nine days’ healing ceremony of the Navaho—as in the Night Chant, is used on the fifth night, when the purpose of the performance is to frighten the patient, and thus banish the evil within him. The name of this painting, “Frighten Him On It,” is identical with that of the one used at the corresponding moment in the Night Chant.

The whole represents the den of a hibernating bear. Inside the ceremonial hogán is thrown up a bank of earth two or three feet high, with an opening toward the doorway. Colored earths picture bear-tracks leading in; bear-tracks and sunlight—sun dogs—are represented at the four quarters, and the bear himself, streaked with sunlight, in the centre. The twigs at the entrance of the bear den represent trees, behind which bears are wont to dig their dens in the mountain side. Everything tends to make the patient think of bears. He enters midst deep silence and takes his seat upon the pictured animal. The play of his imagination has barely begun when a man, painted and garbed as a bear, rushes in, uttering hideous snarls and growls, in which all assembled join. Women patients seldom fail to faint.