navajo sand paintings


Navajo, or Dine -they call themselves, is the largest tribe of North American Indians. Long ago, the ancestors lived in Northwestern Canada and Alaska.

Over 1,000 years ago they began to travel south and reached the southwestern United States. They met farmers who are known as Pueblo Indians, and the

Navajo began to settle near them and learn from them. The Navajo learned how to plant corn, beans, squash, and melons.

The Navajo Indians lived in homes called hogans. They are made from wooden poles, tree bark, and mud. The doorway opened to the east so they could welcome the sun.

Traditionally the Dinè farmed beans, squash and corn and hunted deer, prairie dogs and other animals. Corn was the most important food. Indian corn comes in many colors and could be eaten fresh or dried and ground.

Today many raise sheep for meat and wool. Mutton (meat from sheep) and fry bread is a favorite food.

In contrast to the Judeo Christian religions which tend to celebrate people and events, and thus can be practiced anywhere, the

Navajo religion is founded on relationships to specific places. The

Navajo religion is defined by and cannot be separated from its relationship to specific geographical places. These sites are sacred because of special religious events which have occurred in that particular site.

A sand-painting for a ceremony is made on the ground in the ceremonial hogan

(Navajo home) and destroyed at the end of the ritual. In order to preserve this long-standing tradition, in the late 1940's Navajos began to create permanent sand-paintings, changing the design slightly to protect the religious significance when these paintings were shown publicly. Pictorial sandpaintings which reflect the Navajo environment and lifestyle are also made.

The Navajo word for sand-paintings means "place where the gods come and go." The sand-painting has been used for centuries in religious rituals, including healing ceremonies performed by

Navajo medicine men.