Friday, September 18, 2009
Navajo Taboos ......"The Navajo and the Bear"
"Navajo Taboos" by Ernie Bulow...one of the few books you will find that deals with this subject matter....a fun and interesting read!
Enjoying a cold Coca Cola on the "Res"! Navajo Folk Art by well known Navajo carver Harrison Juan
"Typical" Navajo Man on the "Res" enjoying a smoke....Navajo Folk Art Carving by Harrison Juan
"The Three Bears" Left to right.....Herbert Him's Picture Stone Jasper Zuni Bear....Roderick Quam's Cedar Zuni Bear...Lena Boone's Sandstone Zuni Bear
Navajo "Taboos" are not something to be taken lightly....they are very real, and many "taboos" are not just mere coincidences, especially after you witness the result of breaking a taboo. Many Navajo people, especially some of the older members of the tribe, and those who have stayed with their traditional way of life....have their "taboos" and their beliefs concerning day to day living. Working in a gallery for 22 years prior to going on the internet in 1996 with Indian Summer, I came to know many Native American people...the majority of them being Navajo, due to our proximity to the Navajo Reservation...about a four hour drive from Salt Lake City. I became dear friends over the years with many of the Native Americans, as the gallery served as a "Trading Post" to the local Native Americans, and drew in those that were traveling through. We always had the latest copy of "The Navajo Times" (the Reservation Newspaper) on hand to read....had relaxing flute music turned on, or sometimes Indian rock and roll music playing, or perhaps peyote chants. It was a great gathering place, where we always had a cold soda on hand for them, and after earning their friendship, they would trust you with tales from the "Res" that you did not always hear about, nor learn about in books. The Navajo people have many "superstitions" and beliefs that are intriguing to say the least! Many Navajo people still practice witchcraft as well....I have had the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up, while listening to some of the stories that were shared with me, about the "darker" side of life on the "Res". This post is just going to cover a few of the taboos.....I plan on doing future posts that will cover other taboos and beliefs, but want to concentrate this post on the Navajo and the Bear. Some of the taboos associated with bears are undoubtedly a result of their rather "human like" appearance when they stand upright. Bears are also the principle figures in a sacred Navajo ceremony called the "Mountain Way". Some Navajos believe that bears are their reincarnated ancestors. The bear taboos share a common belief.....if a human being mimics a bear, he will become like that animal. In the case of bears, the taboo is more potent, because of the humanlike resemblance and because bears are one of the were-animals associated with witchcraft.....so listed below are just a few of the fascinating taboos associated with The Navajo and the bear....
1. Don't ever make fun of a bear....It will make you sick.
2. Don't step on rocks turned over by a bear...it will make bears chase you.
3. Don't step on a bear's waste...It will "bother" you, and you will act like a bear.
4. Don't walk over a bear track...You will get hairy and act crazy.
5. DON'T step on a bear track....You will turn into a Skinwalker.
6. Don't say "Shush" (Bear in Navajo) in the mountains....Bears will come to you.
7. Don't laugh at bears....they will get mad at you and come after you.
And last, but not least for today's post...
8. Don't put your shoes on the wrong feet....Bears do that, and they will come after you!
This last taboo is a reference to the story of the "Night Animals" and the "Day Animals" playing a moccasin game...this was a game they would play to see if it would remain night or day permanently....of course, the game ended in a tie, but the weary bear, in a hurry to get his moccasins on during the game, put them on the wrong feet, making the bear's toes turn out rather than inward like a human's.
Hope you enjoyed these Navajo Bear taboos.....it is always fun to learn something new about another culture, and next time you are out hiking around where there might be bears, I am sure you will be very careful NOT to step on a bear track! (Refer to #5!)