The Navajo Indians also referred to as Dine are semi-nomadic people. It is interesting to note that Navajo people are at times known as 'Holy Earth People (Iverson, 2002). This comes from their beliefs in supernatural beings as well as traditional practices of ritual songs and dance. Navajo people are found in north-eastern areas of Arizona and north-western region of New Mexico (Iverson, 2002) .the regions where the Navajo people live in arid and desert areas that have minimal rainfall. The Navajo people are highly family oriented people, and have a rich culture that is full of ceremonies and other traditions. This paper looks at the history of pastoralists of the Navajo people, their beliefs and religious practices and kinship, sickness and healing, which are important elements with the culture of Navajo people.
The traditions and practices of a society, which are to some level the outcome of the country in which that society live, at the end has a pronounced impact on their lifestyle and habitation. Arizona and New Mexico were possessed by the U.S. In 1846, and before that period, the Navajo Indians lived mainly by war and raids. The Mexican settlers who lived down the Rio Grande and the Pueblo Indians who also lived in the same area were the main victims of the Navajo Indians. The Navajo Indians stole thousands of sheep and horses from the two communities, and whatever was stolen formed the starting point of pastoral life of the Navajo Indians (Iverson, 2002). Soon, they owned huge flocks and herds, which they still have until now.
The Navajo people reservation is best suited for keeping sheep compared to anything else. The step they took to move from war activities and hunting to rearing sheep is was not a long one or a difficult one to choice. Under the hardship of necessity the Navajo Indians turned to a peaceful pastoral community, concentrating on their flocks and herds, which they combine with practicing horticulture in a very limited and cautious way. However, modern conditions are gradually changing the traditional pastoral life of Navajo people, and now some are embracing agriculture. The changes have affected other aspects of their lives such as house structure. But still, Navajo people are generally pastoral people, and they have not changed a lot.
As explained by Iverson (2002) each Navajo family posses a flock of sheep and goats, at times, they number to thousands. In addition, each family has a band of horses that can be in hundreds, occasionally, the horses may reach thousands of them. In the recent years, many families also have started to own cattle, these cattle owned by Navajo people belonged to other communities an when the Navajo people either raided them or refused to hand back when they strayed to the areas they graze. Presently, the Navajo people cannot be said to be living in hardship, but in affluence because of the many animals they own. However, their traditions and lifestyle makes them live as though suffering from poverty.
Due to the scarcity of pastures in most of the areas the Navajo people live, and the hardship of getting enough water supplies, the animals are moved from one place to another on regular basis. This aspect makes it difficult for the Navajo people to construct permanent house. However, the Navajo people cannot be said to be nomads. Indeed, the area within which a particular household moves back and forth is very much confined.
Generally, the movement particular household or family is controlled by the condition of the pastures and the water supply (Iverson, 2002). During a dry season most of the small streams dry up before we start of the summer. More so, supposing a flock stays for a long time in same place, the pasture in that place could be destroyed by close cropping, and the family will be forced to abandon that place for a period two to three years. If this happens, the place will be able to recover and have a good pasture once more.
During the summer, the normally practice of the Navajo people is take their animals upwards to the mountain or high plateaus. They camp near a stream of spring of water until the season ends and winters comes. They then move to the lower foothill or into valleys. This movement is observed each year. The heavy snow that falls in the mountains and its slow melting makes the mountains to be more fertile with lots of grass compared to the valleys. However, during this time, the grassy grows too high and may make it hard for sheep to graze. This also hinders communication among the community. Some family stay in the mountains even during the winter season, but the general rule is that people move to the low lying valleys in the winter and the Navajo people practical abandon the mountains during the winter season (Iverson, 2002).
When there is a lot of rain, seasonal pools and small lakes forms on flat country lasting for a number of weeks. Families take advantage of this season and graze their flocks on the land near their prescribed land, and build temporary structures. However, this does not last for a long period because the water soon dries and the family has to move out. Indeed, as long as Navajo people continue being pastoral, their houses will remain temporary structures. Another consequence of the pastoralist lifestyle of Navajo people is that families do not stay together. It is difficult for big communities to stay together because of large flocks of sheep each family has. However, in rare cases, small families of five to ten stay together when they found a good location (Iverson, 2002). But, such families are considered to be poor by other Navajo families because they normally have small number of animals.
Like many other Native Americans, the Navajo Indians generally believed in many gods, and this was characterized by animism and shamanism. Animism meant that they believed that the world was full of living bodies. Accordingly they believed that the sun, moon, animals, plants, rivers and other natural things were controlled by some spirit. Shamans were men or in rare cases women who had attained certain degree of power or knowledge concern the physiological as well as spiritual health, particularly its maintenance, healing and destruction (Sander, 1979). The shamans were also expected to be know how well-being of the community and prevent any dangers that can befall the community (Sander, 1979).
Kluckhohn and Leighton (1960) note that Navajo people had many gods, and other supernatural beings that they believed. Among the most important gods were found in the anthropomorphic deities group, particularly the Changing woman or Spider woman. The Navajo Indians believed that she was the consort of the sun God, and she had twin sons, who were monster slayers. In addition, they believed in other supernatural powers among specific animals, birds and reptile spirit. The wind, light, darkness, celestial bodies, monsters and the weather also held natural powers among the Navajo Indians. Among the Navajo Indians, the "Yei" were a special group of deities. They were invited by masked dancers witness major ceremonies as they were performed. Many of these deities could perform beneficial activities or harmful acts to the people; this depended on their caprice or the way they were approached by these people. According to Sander (1979) Navajo mythology is tremendously rich and poetically meaningful.
The general cosmological belief of Navajo people is that all existence in the world is divided into Holy People (supernatural) and people on the earth. They believed that the holy people had gone through a series of underworlds, which were later wiped out by a flood, until these people reached in the present world. When they reached the present world, they created the first man and first woman, who are the ancestors of the entire population of surface people. These holy people gave the people on earth surface all the practical as well as ritual knowledge required for their existence on earth and then left to live in other realms beyond the earth. Nonetheless, these holy people remain very interested in the daily happening of the people on earth, and thus there is need for continuous attention to rituals and taboos so as to create and keep peace with the holy people living beyond the earth. Accordingly, the state of hozoji, meaning being in harmony with the supernatural beings, is the most central ideal that Navajo people try to achieve (Sander, 1979).
Among the Navajo, the highly respected ritual and ceremony practitioners are known as 'singers'. In most cases these singers are men, however on rare occasions women too become singers. They are tasked by performing throughout the main Navajo ceremonies. These are not shamans; rather they are priests who have obtained their knowledge, power and skills through a long period of apprenticeship to become a singer. Singers are the most…