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Navajo Culture: Primary Modes of Subsistence
The Navajo currently stand as the largest federally recognized tribe of the United States of America. The Navajo Nation manages the Four Corners Reservation in the Southwestern United States. They continue to speak their native Navajo language. Modern Navajo Society resembles other American communities in many ways. It derives its present income sources through taxation of its people, casinos, banking, and other sectors. This research will focus on traditional and ancient forms of subsistence in society on the Navajo reservation at Four Corners.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities
It is difficult to determine subsistence in ancient times as few records exist. During the reservation period, which began in 1868 and ended in 1960, farming and animal husbandry were the primary forms of economic activity. The Navajo also produced several goods for traders (Alessi, 1980). As the fabric of American society grew, opportunities for economic expansion of these endeavors increased. The advent of roads and better transportation lea to more visitors to their area. This increased awareness and knowledge of the goods that they had to offer.
The Navajo, like many other Native American cultures, grew corn as a primary part of their diet. They raised sheep and goats to provide them with meat and milk, as well as hides for clothing and other necessities. Sheep provided them with wool and lambs that could be traded for manufactured goods (Alessi, 1980). The Navajo women wove wool and sold pinion nuts. The Navajo have always found ways to profit from "white" society. In the early 1900s several Navajo were employed for wages by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Several also worked for off reservation ranches and in nearby towns. Wage work was not a key source of income until World War II. By contrast, wage work has been a contributing source of income for about 75% of Navajo residents (Alessi, 1980). Farming and livestock are still being maintained on the reservation. The Navajo also engage in tourism, mining of natural resources, the timber industry, and several others (Alessi, 1980). They take advantage of the rich resources that are available on the reservation.
Pottery making is likely the oldest surviving Navajo craft, but only a few still engage in this once important industry. Navajo pottery is unique and differs from those of even their closest neighbors. Navajo rugs are heavy and durable, as well as beautiful and decorative. In the late 19th century, the sale of rugs was one of the most important income producing industries. Pottery and rug weaving have become more of a hobby than a main source of income in modern times. Silver and turquoise jewelry were also a unique artisan product of the Navajo. Silversmiths still produce some jewelry, but it too has mainly slipped into the realm of hobby. Other craft products, such as baskets and cotton sashes are still made for ceremonial purposes, but no longer form a major portion of Navajo subsistence.
Since prehistoric times, trade has been established by the Navajo. First, trade was established with neighboring villages that were close by. The Navajo still continue trade as a key source of income and goods. Trade, both traditionally and modern has been funneled through a local trading post. Currently, the trading post resembles a general store. The Navajo people could both buy and sell their wares, animals, and purchase what they need for themselves (Alessi, 1980).
In Navajo society, division of labor was a rigid, except when necessity dictated a loosening of these roles. Males took care of horses and farming. The females were in charge of weaving, household tasks, and care of the children. In modern times, women take part in farming activities and both men and women are involved in work for wages. Farming land is considered individual property, as long as the family is actively farming it. When land is left uncultured for two years, another family may take possession of it as long as they immediately begin farming production. The Navajo understand that land is a precious resource and they must make certain that it is used for the greater good. However, grazing land is considered community property and is unfenced. Anyone can use community grazing land who needs it (Alessi, 1980). The Navajo allow for individual possessions, but always with concern for the greater good and larger society at the forefront.
Beliefs and Values
Respect for individual rights is an important part of Navajo Society. However, the wishes and desires of the individual cannot override responsibility to society. One example of this is drinking on the reservation. Alcohol abuse has been problematic since white society first stepped foot on their lands. The Navajo have significant problems associated with drinking and alcohol abuse. Statistics support the scale of this problem. For instance, mortality related to alcohol abuse demonstrates a higher instance on the Navajo reservation than in the rest of American Society. In addition, alcohol demonstrates co-morbidity with associated disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and heart problems (Quintero, 2000).
Patterns of drinking indicate significant social, physical, and psychological problems among men on the reservation (Quintero, 2000). In a 2000 study, patterns of drinking among the aging population of Navajo men found several themes are emerging. The study used interviews with former problem drinkers. It was found that drinking is becoming less of a problem as the Navajo population ages. One of the reasons behind this included health concerns, a greater involvement in religious activities, a return to the traditional Navajo way of life, and life changes associated with responsibilities of parenthood. As result of these factors, the author concluded that Navajo beliefs and values about drinking are changing and that many former alcoholics are engaged in alcohol cessation programs. It appears that drinking problems are becoming associated with the younger men and that as men age they eventually take responsibility for their family and their health. Results of this study indicate a positive change in the beliefs and values of Navajo men.
Childbearing is a natural course in life. In Navajo society, childbearing and childrearing assured that the Navajo continue to exist. Childbearing and childrearing have traditionally been considered one of the most important activities of Navajo women. In the past, childbearing and childbearing beliefs were homogeneous and dictated by strict social roles. However, a more recent ethnographic study found that cultural diversity is an integral part of the childbearing and childrearing role of Navajo women (Dempsey & Gesse, 1995). Childbearing is still considered an important social obligation, but women have more choices in how the choose to care for their baby, both while they are pregnant and after it is born. Dempsey and Gesse surmised that this was primarily due to a greater wealth of information available through communication sources. In the past, women were rather isolated from the rest of society and tribal women were the only source of information about this important task. The information age has had a significant impact on the traditional role of childbearing in childrearing among Navajo women.
In an interview by Denetdale (n.d.), traditional Navajo beliefs and values were discussed. The interviewee stated that traditional Navajo values began with the creation stories and the stories of tribal origins. The Navajo believe that several different worlds have existed prior to the current version. Traditional values are found in those creation stories that are passed on by oral tradition. The interview we still considered oral tradition to be an essential part of Navajo culture.
Navajo beliefs and values began to change with the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1500s. However, the Navajo were shielded from these changes longer than other tribes due to their geographic location in the United States. The Spaniards had to cross an entire continent before they would have an influence and Navajo culture and society. The interview stated that once the Spaniards arrived, Navajo beliefs and values began to change out of necessity. The Spaniards wished to obtain the land for themselves and expand their territory, but the Navajo were not willing to move from their traditional lands and mounted war against them. War was not something that the Navajo valued in their society. They considered themselves to be a peaceful people and wished to remain that way. However, they had to adopt a more war-like stance for their own preservation (Denetdale, n.d.). In this way the arrival of the Spaniards changed traditional Navajo beliefs and values.
The Navajo are a people rich in culture and tradition. History has forced them to change their beliefs and values over time. The modern Navajo have integrated into white society, but still struggle to maintain their traditional value system and way of life. There is a struggle that continues to worsen as the Navajo wish to continue with their traditional values and the "old ways." Yet, they still must do what they have to survive in a changing society. The Navajo struggle to maintain their traditions and to not let them disappear. If their traditions and…[continue]
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