Navajo Home Life
Navajo "Long Walk"
She was born in Chilchinbeto, on reservation territory
in Northern Arizona. It is a very poor community, but
very close-knit. It has no stores or post office. It has
very few telephones. It does have a school and a clinic
and a chapter house (town hall).
It's great claim to fame is that it is the home of the
"World's Largest Indian Rug" The rug measures 25' X 40'
and was made entirely by hand, including the dyeing of the wool. Lupita worked on this rug with nine of her
friends. And this rug is as tightly woven as her life story.
In a desert community called Chilchinbeto a lady named Lupita sits at her well-worn kitchen table and shucks
corn. Lupita is considered an elder, and looked upon by younger Navajos as wise. Lupita isn't sure when her
actual birthday is, but she claims January 8, 1912, because the government assigned that day to her for
census purposes. Below: A Navajo woman stands at the door of a typical hogan in 1925.
This is Lupita's story in her own words:
"I'm Navajo. My father and mother were both
full-blood Navajo. I was born close to this house
somewhere; the original home place is long gone.
My father had three wives when I was born.
I had five sisters and four brothers, and I was
the baby. Later my mom had another child, a boy
that was stillborn, so I was still the baby."
"We lived in an adobe hogan with a dirt floor.
The fire, used for warmth and cooking, set on
the floor in the center. We were never afraid
of the fire. I didn't see my father much when
I was small. He was always out working with my older (teenage) brothers. They had to build corrals, herd sheep,
cattle, horses and the goats...there was a lot of work to do."
"Mother Earth was good to the Navajos then. This area wasn't like this arid place it is today. We grew apple and
orange trees, and grapes. Corn would grow anywhere. We planted different types of squash and beans. We used
all we planted. The wool was woven into clothes and blankets. We also used gray, and white, and brown, and black
sheep for different colors of wool."
"My grandmother made pottery. I don't know where she learned it. She did not use a (potter's) wheel, but made
everything by hand. We used the pots for a variety of things, like fetching water from the spring."
"My brothers didn't leave home until they were in their 20s. My father said they had to `know something' first
so they could take care of their families. They learned to do silver and leather work for trading. They did good
"It was, I don't know how far, to the nearest trading post, but it took two days and three nights to get there.
We took a buckboard. I don't remember going often because it was such a long journey."
"Mother was a great weaver. She made clothing, horse blankets, chief blankets, bedding, wall hangings...I never
learned to weave as well as my mother. She made other things too, such as our moccasins and ropes. The yucca
plant made great ropes. We cleaned off the thorns, pounded the leaves down to strands and braided them
together. We also made ropes from horsehair (tails). Horsehair could be braided easily into ropes and even into
halters and bridles."
"We lived in camps then. Camps were families. We moved to summer homes and winter homes following the
weather and vegetation for the animals. Winter homes were usually made of rocks and held together with adobe
mud. We had cellars, too, which were storage places for the vegetables and extra shelter. Usually extended
families lived in separate hogans very close together. Often the girls would live with one aunt and the boys with
another. This was a kind of privacy because hogans, being round, have only one room. Everyone worked together."
"Hogans are more than a house. They are the center of a Navajo's religious beliefs. Ceremonies are always held
in hogans. Hogans have one door and it always faces east to the rising sun. The Navajo religion is termed
`traditional' and traditional ways are handed down through the legends of the four sacred mountains by word
of mouth from the elders to the children. There are many stories about the creation of the Navajo. Some are
winter stories and some are summer stories. The elders sit after supper in the hogans and tell the stories."
"Navajo's are very superstitious about death and dying. The way the dead were taken care of depended on how
the person died. When a baby was stillborn, it could be put up in a tree for the ravens to eat, that was what we
did with my baby brother. When a person died with a disease, that person was left in the hogan and the hogan
was burned down to kill the disease. If someone died of natural causes, he could be left in the hogan and the
rest of the family would just move out -- that is what happened to Marie's room."
"She died in childbirth and the family just moved away and left her body there. Many times if an elder was sick
and knew he was dying he'd just go off by himself. He would not want to die in his hogan because it is a sacred
place and he would not want his family to have to move. He would rather die alone under a tree, praying."
"I never heard of measles and chickenpox until the 1920's. It was brought here by the white man. We treated
most illnesses with special herbs and ceremonies. Babies were born at home then. When a woman was about to
deliver, other women would be called in to help. A medicine man or woman would also be called to do the
ceremonies to ease the pain of childbirth. The woman would deliver her baby by squatting over a padded hole in
the dirt floor. She could be holding onto a sash belt handing from the rafters for support. "
"Afterwards she would drink a cleansing tea and there would be a blessing. When a woman was pregnant she was
expected to walk a lot. This was done so that the baby would not get too big and would come out easier. Navajo
women breast-fed their babies and put the baby's first stool on their faces to show unconditional love.
"After the baby was born, no matter if it was a boy or a girl, it would get its ears pierced. The Navajos, like
many Indian tribes, used cradleboards. Navajo cradleboards were made of cedar. They were made by the baby's
father and passed down from one child to the next. If a baby died, however, the cradleboard would be
destroyed and a new one made for the next baby. The next big event for the baby would be the first-laugh
party. Whomever made the baby have its first giggle would have to have a party. An animal would be butchered
and everyone would come bringing gifts to the baby. "
"Traditionally, this is when the baby gets its first turquoise jewelry. I remember my mother making diapers out
of muslin and flour sacks. She also made the mattress for the cradleboard out of muslin and stuffed it with a
special plant. The curved board across the top of the cradleboard is called the rainbow; it protects the baby's
head in case of falling."
"Navajos are clean people. They used sweat baths to cleanse themselves because water was scarce. During a
sweat bath, hot rocks would be placed into a small shelter called the sweat lodge. The person would go in
covered with a blanket and begin to sweat. The sweat would detoxify the body. The person would then dry off
in the hot desert sand. Sweat lodges are also used for purifying ceremonies at times.
"We did not waste any part of the animals we butchered. We ate everything we could, including the brain and
tongue. We used the intestines to make sausage. The lining of the goat's skin made good water bags. We tanned
hides for our leather moccasins and winter boots. We used the fat to make lard and the tallow for face creams.
We drank goat's milk and ground corn and wheat on a stone, and gathered pinons (pine nuts). We even ate prairie
dogs and rabbits.
"Medicine men and women are expensive. They are expensive because all their knowledge is in their heads. When
a person wants to learn to be a medicine "man": he gathers with whatever group is teaching that particular
ceremony he would like to learn. The teachings are held in the spring and fall. They can learn such teachings as
stargazing, hand trembling, and seeing, or they can learn specific ceremonies such as blessingway and enemyway.
It takes many, many years to learn all the herbal preparations, all the chants, all the sand paintings, all the
sings, and all the medicines that a medicine man knows.
"I became a woman when my menstrual began. I could not attend any ceremony if I was having a period; I guess
I was unclean. It was after my puberty that I went to school. I was 15 or 16 when I was taken to the Bureau of
Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding school in Chinle, Arizona. It was a concentration camp. They would wash our
mouths out with soap if we spoke Navajo. This was just after World War I and we had to march, scrub walls,
and whatever we were told to do. The boys and girls were in separate dormitories. It was at BIA school that I
learned to run a sewing machine and read and write English. We were also exposed to Catholicism at that time.
There were missionaries who taught us about their Christian ways; I remember Father Leopold teaching me the
Ten Commandments. Today I'm Catholic and Navajo (religion).
"It was in BIA school that I had chickenpox. I hated being away from my mother when I was sick. I had been
with her my entire life. I had helped her dye wool, carry water from the spring, bring in firewood, cook meals,
"Our clan is Tachiinii which means Red Running Into the Water People Clan. A Navajo always introduces himself
to someone new by using his clan name. People in the same clan can tease each other. They cannot marry each
"My opinion of men is that if they don't work, forget them. I was pregnant in 1934, but miscarried. I was helping
to move a stove downstairs and it fell on me. The doctor said I could probably get pregnant again but it would be
a long time, maybe ten years. And he was right because I was again pregnant sometime in the 1940's. I was
working in an ammunition plant in Flagstaff and I miscarried again. I did however raise two orphans.
"In 1950 I started working for the Public Health Service (PHS). I was a liaison between the chapters and the
PHS. I took the training to be a Community Health Representative (CHR), too. I helped bring this school to
Chilchinbeto. At first we had school in a trailer that was in 1953 and then in 1962 the brick school was built. I
retired from the Public Health Service in 1970.
"The last thing I'd like to record is the story of the fall, because it crippled my life ever since. When I was
about 18 months old I fell from a tree. My older sisters were supposed to be watching me, but I was a burden to
their play so they put me in a wooden box so I would stay out of trouble. I kept climbing out so they moved the
box up in a tree. I remember falling asleep with the rocking of the tree and when I woke up I began reaching
for the leaves around me. That was when I fell. I hurt my hip."
"My mother wanted to know what happened but my sisters wouldn't tell her. My hip swelled up huge. And I was
in such pain. There was not even an aspirin in those days. I remember my mother calling my uncles and the
medicine man. My uncles took two heavy pop bottles and heated them. The said they had to open the skin. My
uncles tied me to my cradleboard and then tied the cradleboard to my mother. The bottles were broken and
used to cut into my skin."
"My mother knew this had to be done because I was running a fever and would not breast-feed. She knew there
was infection in my hip. Afterwards they doctored me with pine pitch ointment to draw out the infection. I could
not walk for a long time and remained using the cradleboard until I was over two years old. When I learned to
walk I had a limp. I still have problems with it yet today. Today, I have arthritis there. This is all I'd like to
say. I've got a lot of work to do yet today and I'm tired of remembering."
Lake-Thom, R. Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies.
Locke, R. F. The Book of the Navajo. 2002.
O'Neill, C.M. (2005). Working the Navajo Way: Labor and Culture in the Twentieth Century.