The Navajo Indians had few possessions
when they came to Dinerkah ("Home of
the People") a land of towering peaks,
grasslands, deserts, and blood-red
canyons located in the Arizona and
New Mexico areas.
The People's way of life, when they
first appeared in the Southwest,
was simple, being limited to hunting,
trapping, and camping in transitory
shelters made of brushwood, skins,
and leaves. One can only guess at
their wonderment and awe when they
first laid eyes on pueblos or towns built on mesa tops, vast cliff houses, and multi-tiered cave-homes located
high on canyon walls.
The People must have gazed in wonder at the fields of corn, beans, and pumpkins. What probably most
impressed The People were the blankets of cotton, baskets, pottery, turquoise beads, and tools to tame the soil.
The Navajo Indians pounced on these treasures. In raid after raid they seized looms, pots, baskets, blankets,
and agricultural tools. Women were taken as well. But all was not warfare. As the Navajo Indians settled down in
the Southwest, they opened their eyes and ears to the wonders around them and adopted many Pueblo
practices,beliefs, and a large part of their mythology, molding them to their own uses.
In later years, when the Pueblo peoples were battling with the Spaniards, many of the Pueblos fled to Navajo
lands to live among their neighbors and began to teach them such crafts as weaving and pottery-making. It was
not long before they were wearing blankets they had made and growing their own corn.
Although village life held no appeal for the Navajo Indians, they needed permanent settlements now that they
were tillers of the soil as well as huntsmen. Acknowledging neither central authority nor tribal community, they
built their homes in small, family-sized groups, each cluster miles away from its neighbors.
If Pueblo influence added much to The People's culture, so too did that of the Spaniards. The Navajo Indians
watched, fascinated, as the 16th-century Spanish colonists moved into the Pueblo lands with their impressive
train of goods-laden carts and herds of sheep, cattle, and horses.
In lightning raids upon the fledgling Spanish settlements, The People made off with fresh spoils: knee breeches,
silver baubles, and-best of all-numerous sheep and horses.
With considerable foresight the Navajo Indians refrained from eating the sheep they stole, unlike the
neighboring Comanches and Apaches, who also delighted in raids on Spanish holdings. Instead,
The People used the sheep to build up herds for future meals and a self-perpetuating supply of wool. Their
women learned to shear, spin, and dye this new material, and wove it into blankets and breech cloths.
But sheep require grazing land. As the herds grew over the decades, Navajo families drifted westward in
search of grass, and Navajo dwellings grew farther and farther apart. Many families built two or more hogans,
and moved from one to another as weather and the needs of the herds dictated. Copyright 2012
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.