The cradle board is constructed by the father of the infant, who selects cottonwood or pine for the back board. The right back board represents Nahasdzáán (Mother Earth), the left represents Yá’diłhił (Father Sky). These two back boards are laced together with buckskin; the upper end of the two back boards is cut and made into a V-shape. There are two small holes near the V-shape that represents Jeeyi’ (Ears).
A piece of oak, shaved thin so that it could be bent into a bow, is attached near the top. It represents Náátsi’íílid (Rainbow), and provides protection for the infants head.
Loops are placed along the sides of the cradle board made from buckskins, representing Atsiniltł’ish (Lighting). On the right side a long buck skin is used to lace the loops and tie the baby. This represents shábitł’óół (Sun Beam).
At the bottom, a piece of wood is added as a foot rest which represents Nááts’íílid Agodii (small Rainbow).
A baby is placed on a blanket in the carrier. With the arms placed down at the baby’s sides, the blanket is then folded snugly around the baby. The buckskin lace is then drawn through the side loops, criss-crossing over the baby, fastening it securely into the carrier. A buckskin or cloth can then be laid over the top to shield the baby from the sun and to protect it from insects.
Babies love the security offered by the cradle board. Often, a fussy baby can be calmed quite quickly by placing him or her in a cradle board. Cradle boards have the added benefit of keeping baby safe while Mom is doing other tasks. A cradle board can be leaned against a wall or a tree. If it accidently falls over, the curved head piece will protect the baby’s head and the snug blanket will cushion his body. It can be carried. It can be laid flat.
It is said that when an infant spends time in a cradle board, its body will grow straight and tall. When a child is laced into a cradle board it is said to be “under the rainbow”.
When the baby out grows the cradle board it is set aside and if another baby is born the cradle board can be used again. But after it is used, the cradle board gets taken apart and is washed with the yucca (Két’ááz). The buckskins are also washed and when it’s dried, red pollen (ch’íí) is added and a prayer is given so the new infant won’t have nightmares.
Office of Miss Navajo Nation
Navajo Tourism Dept.