Contact Us:

Navajo Tourism Department
P.O. Box 663
Window Rock, AZ 86515
United States of America

Phone: 928-810-8501
Fax: 928-810-8500

Navajo Culture

NAVAJO BELIEFS

BY RAY BALDWIN LEWIS

Canyon de ChellyThe Navajo people, the Diné, passed through three different worlds before emerging into this world, The Fourth World, or Glittering World. The Diné believe there are two classes of beings: the Earth People and the Holy People. The Holy People are believed to have the power to aid or harm the Earth People. Since Earth People of the Diné are an integral part of the universe, they must do everything they can to maintain harmony or balance on Mother Earth.

It is believed that centuries ago the Holy People taught the Diné how to live the right way and to conduct their many acts of everyday life. They were taught to live in harmony with Mother Earth, Father Sky and the many other elements such as man, animals, plants, and insects. The Holy People put four sacred mountains in four different directions, Mt. Blanca to the east, Mt. Taylor to the south, San Francisco Peak to the west and Mt Hesperus to the north near Durango, Colorado, thus creating Navajoland. The four directions are represented by four colors: White Shell represents the east, Turquoise the south, Yellow Abalone the west, and Jet Black the north.

The number four permeates traditional Navajo philosophy. In the Navajo culture there are four directions, four seasons, the first four clans and four colors that are associated with the four sacred mountains. In most Navajo rituals there are four songs and multiples thereof, as well as Navajo wedding basket and many other symbolic uses of four.

When disorder evolves in a Navajo’s life, such as an illness, medicineman use herbs, prayers, songs and ceremonies to help cure patients. Some tribal members choose to be cured at the many hospitals on the Navajo Nation. Some will seek the assistance of a traditional Navajo medicineman. A qualified medicineman is a unique individual bestowed with supernatural powers to diagnose a person’s problem and to heal or cure an illness and restore harmony to the patient.

There are more than 50 different kinds of ceremonies that may be used in the Navajo culture – all performed at various times for a specific reason.  Some ceremonies last several hours, while others may last as long as nine days.

THE HOGAN

BY RAY BALDWIN LEWIS

The HoganThere is good in harmony – the harmony of the Navajo with the universe and all living creatures on earth. When he lives in accordance with the universe, he can expect the wealth of a clean soul that protects the whole being from the evil that preys upon his sacred dwellings.

The Hogan is built in the manner of this harmony. The roof is in the likeness of the sky. The walls are in the likeness of the Navajo’s surroundings: the upward position of the mountains, hills, and trees. And the floor is ever in touch with the “earth mother”.

The Hogan is comprised of white shell, abalone, turquoise, and obsidian, bringing the home and the sacred mountains into one sacred unit. The home is also adorned with the dawn, the blue sky, the twilight and the night – the sun in the center as the fire.

Consistent with this harmony are prayers, songs, ideas, and plans – a desire for all good things. Fire, water, air, and soil are required for the existence and well-being of every living thing – plants as well as animals; they all become a part of the home and its harmony with the universe.

When the Hogan is finished, a medicine man blesses the home in beauty, with happiness from all directions, from the earth and the sky, with protection from illnesses and all things evil, with the promise of shelter to the family and anyone in need. During the sing or in the process of the dedication, the home is marked from the inside above the walls in four directions (representing the sacred mountains) to remind the family and all others that the home has been dedicated and blessed and thus it is in the grace of the Great Spirit.

The Hogan is a sacred dwelling. It is the shelter of the people, a protection, a home, and a refuge. Because of the harmony in which the Hogan is built, the family can be together to endure hardships and grow as part of the harmony between the sacred mountains, under the care of “Mother Earth” and “Father Sky”.

*Note: When entering a traditional Navajo hogan, it is important that you walk in a clockwise direction, by turning left (head south), and walk around to the west. Never enter or leave in a counterclockwise direction.

THE MEDICINE MAN

BY RAY BALDWIN LEWIS

The Medicine man (Hatałii) plays a dominant role in the Navajo culture and holds great respect and honor among the Navajo people. He is important because he has knowledge of the heritage and culture of the Navajo and because he has a tie to the past, a tie to The People’s history, legends, and myths that are slowly fading away as the old die.

The Medicine man is the holder of truth about the Navajo way of life. Through his mouth, principles of goodness and prosperity are taught to the people. Thus, he is a man of great significance, not just because he is a healer or has knowledge of herbal medicine, but because he preserves the traditions and beliefs of the Navajo.

When a medicine man is called to perform a “sing”, or healing ceremony, he comes not only prepared to heal but to tell the story of the people and their beginning from the first world to their emergence into the fourth world.  This is the time when he will answer questions about life and anything that has to do with man’s existence on earth.  He will tell the young and remind the old that the harmony of one’s life and the universe and the order of all things is very important to the well-being of the individual.

He is a man who has spent many years and hours learning ceremonial procedures, yet he never learns more than three of these in his lifetime.  He must learn songs and prayers, none of the wording of which can be missed; he must learn many different types of herbs for his healing; he must, through many trips into different areas of the country, obtain the necessary items for his sacred medicine bag; he must purify himself by many hours of contemplation in the sweat hut; he must then have faith in the Great Spirit and in himself that he will be able to heal.  Through his faith the ill one has in him, he is able to render the service of healing.

The medicine man is well paid for his services. Some who are healed pay a large sum in cash plus as many as five sheep, and blankets. The ill one, along with help from relatives, must also provide food for the visitors and the family. Before money was available, medicine men used to be paid with livestock, turquoise, and rugs.

NAVAJO TRADITIONAL CLOTHING & HAIRSTYLEGirl in traditional Navajo clothing

Traditional Navajo women’s clothing includes a pleated velvet, or cotton skirt (tl’aakal) with a matching long-sleeve velvet blouse (deiji’éé’), a shawl, foot or knee-high deer moccasins (kełchí), Navajo jewelry and a silver concho or sash belt. Men’s traditional dress consists of a velvet or cotton shirt, white pants and silver or turquoise (dootl’izhii) jewelry, short deer moccasins and a headband. Both genders wear their long hair in a tsiiyéél – a traditional type of hairstyle that is brushed with a be’ezo, a long dried stiff grass brush, into a bun behind the head and tied with a white sheep wool string.
 
But since the 1970s, the women’s traditional skirt was introduced in a satin type material. Since then, the skirt can be made from several types of material, thus leading the way into a traditional-contemporary Navajo tiered skirt.
 
Previous to the Mexican-inspired women’s tiered skirt, women wore a biil, a woven wool rug dress. This dress consisted of 2 rug panels made of Navajo churro wool and expertly woven by Navajo master weavers, then stitched together to form a rug dress with openings available for the head and arms. Each rug panel could take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months to complete, depending on size and design.

Today, most Navajo men and women wear contemporary clothing and hairstyles on a daily basis, dressing in traditional styles and jewelry for ceremonial and special social gatherings. 

THE ANNUAL NAVAJO NATION FAIR

Couple round dancing at Navajo Nation FairEvery first week of September is The Annual Navajo Nation Fair, boasting as the largest American Indian fair in the United States – in the Navajo Nation Capital in Window Rock, Arizona. Rodeos are always a favorite in Navajo country. The Dean C. Jackson Arena will be filled with spectators all dressed in their best boots and jeans while cowboys and cowgirls compete in the All-Indian Rodeo, Senior & Youth Rodeos, and Wild Horse Races.

The tradition continues with the Navajo Song & Dance, Contest Pow-Wow, Baby Contest, Miss Navajo Nation Pageant, and the Navajo Nation Fair Parade. If your plans include the Parade, or any aspect of the fair on Saturday morning, a bit of preparation will go a long way towards an enjoyable morning. First and foremost, get to Window Rock very, very early. Highway 264 between Tse Bonito, New Mexico and St. Michaels, Arizona fills quickly with thousands of spectators anticipating all the fun and excitement of the morning. Once the parade begins, the highway is closed for hours while the parade winds its way along the course from Tsé Bonito, through Window Rock, and into St. Michaels. Comfortable chairs, water, snacks, and an umbrella (rain or sun) are all recommendations for a great parade watching experience.

Did anyone say food? Delicious, hot fry bread and Navajo Tacos are just a sampling of the cuisine on the menu at the Native Food vendor complex. At the Fry Bread contest you’ll see how it’s really made… from making a fire, mixing and patting the dough, and frying to golden perfection. Have a picnic with friends at the Free Barbeque on Thursday. You’ll be licking your fingers for sure! And what’s a fair without a stick of cotton candy from the Carnival Midway?

Other favorites at the fair are the many exhibits, including arts & crafts with vendor booths in the Gorman Hall. Horticulture, business and tribal departments tradeshow in Nakai Hall.

Rodeo roping

Navajo Nation Fair Office
phone icon 928.871.6478
Fax: 928.871.6637
P.O. Box 2370
Window Rock, Arizona 86515
web icon Navajo Nation Fair Website

If you would like to book a hotel for your stay while visiting the Navajo Nation Fair, we have a couple of hotels within the Window Rock, Arizona area:

web icon Hotels in Window Rock, Arizona 

We suggest booking early to get the best rates, as well as, the choice of room type. *Contact the hotel directly for more information.

Twin Arrows Make Your Reservation Today

Upcoming Events:

Apr
10
Sat
Crossing Between Worlds: Two Navajo Weddings – One Navajo Bride and Groom with Charles Winters @ ONLINE
Apr 10 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Crossing Between Worlds: Two Navajo Weddings – One Navajo Bride and Groom with Charles Winters
Saturday, April 10, 2021, 11:00 am – Arizona Time
Join Amerind for the free online lecture, Crossing Between Worlds: Two Navajo Weddings – One Navajo Bride and Groom with photographer Charles Winters. Winters will share the photographs he captured and discuss relationships he formed during a six-year project he undertook in the Canyon de Chelly community on the Navajo Nation.
Charles D. Winters, a photographer and cinematographer, photographed and taught photography at State University of New York in Oneonta, NY. His work has been exhibited widely most recently at the Amerind Museum and 3 books of his documentary photography have been published: “Too Wet to Plow: The Family Farm in Transition,” “The Catskills: Land in the Sky” and “Crossing Between Worlds: The Navajos of Canyon de Chelly.” Now retired, he lives in Bisbee, AZ.
This online program is free, but space is limited. To register visit: https://bit.ly/AmerindOnline041021
Apr
26
Mon
Navajo Nation Sovereignty Day @ Navajo Nation Reservation
Apr 26 all-day

Navajo Sovereignty Day

Many people would be surprised to discover that the United States has many nations within its borders. One of those nations is the Navajo Nation, a sovereign tribe of indigenous people whose nation is located in the southwestern part of the country. Navajo Sovereignty Day, which is on the fourth Monday in April, celebrates the day the Navajo Nation gained its independence from the U.S. government. READ MORE

May
31
Mon
Memorial Day
May 31 all-day
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20
Sun
Father’s Day
Jun 20 all-day
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4
Sun
Independence Day
Jul 4 all-day