The sandpaintings ['iikááh] with which you are familiar are only small, incomplete renditions of the sandpaintings ['iikááh] used by the Navajo in their ceremonials. One atypical sandpainting ['iikááh] was seen on Day 1. These small (< 2' × 2') sand paintings ['iikááh] are made as trade items, for sale to tourists and collectors.

Sandpaintings (or better, drypaintings) ['iikááh] are an essential part of Navajo ceremonials [Diné binahagha'], and, as such, are sacred. They are created to aid in the restoration of health and harmony [ hózho] in the life of the patient, the one sung over. While in most ceremonials, the images are created on the hooghan floor of mineral [nahasdzáán bii' bil haz'ánígíí] materials on a base of sand [séí], the paintings in the Blessingway ceremony [Hózhóojí] are created on buckskin ['abaní] using a variety of vegetal materials (pollen [tádídíín], meal [naada'ak'aan] and crushed flower petals) as the medium. The image is formed of charcoal [t'eesh] and crushed minerals [nahasdzáán bii' bil haz'ánígíí] placed on a bed of sand [ séí] in the other ceremonies.

A large number (> 500) of different designs have been recorded by observers and anthropologists over time, and more probably exist. A few are small, but many are so large (20 feet in diameter) that they are made only in hooghans constructed especially for them. The smaller sandpaintings ['iikááh] can be made by two [naaki] or three [táá] people working for less than an hour ['ahéé'ílkid], but the largest may require 10 [neeznáá] - 15 ['ashdla'áadah] people to work for most of a day [ji]. The ceremonial sandpaintings ['iikááh] are made by assistants to the chanter [Hatáálii] (or singer), perhaps family members of either the chanter [Hatáálii] or the patient, in a hooghan that has been blessed, or made sacred, for the ceremony. The hooghan may even have been built especially for the ceremony.

Each image is linked with a particular ceremony, which may last from one [t'áálá'í] to 9 [náhást'éí] days [ji]. The stories associated with the ceremony dictate which designs are used and the manner of executing these designs. If a shorter version of a ceremony is being conducted, the designs to be used are decided upon by the singer [Hatáálii] in consultation with the patient and his family in order to choose the one(s) most appropriate to the particuliar situation.

Most sandpaintings ['iikááh] are made during the daytime, but a few are created after dark. Most are made upon a base of fine sand [séí] that is carried into the hooghan and laid down on a layer one [t'áálá'í] to three [táá'] inches deep upon the floor. While the colors ['altah'áát'eelgo nidaashch'aa'ígíí] can vary, the four [dii] principal colors ['altah'áát'eelgo nidaashch'aa'ígíí], white [ligai], blue [dootl'izh], yellow [litso] and black [lizhin], are always present. These colors ['altah'áát'eelgo nidaashch'aa'ígíí] are symbolically associated with the directions [da'nílts'aa'góó]: white [ligai] with the dawn [Hayíílka] and the east [ha'a'aah], blue [dootl'izh] with the midday sky [yáh] and the south [shádi'ááh], yellow [litso] with evening twilight [nahootsoii] and the west ['e'e'aah], and black [lizhin] with the night [tl'éé'] sky [yáh] and the north [náhookos]. The colors ['altah'áát'eelgo nidaashch'aa'íg'í'í] are laid on by the chanter [Hatáálii] and his assistants using the right [nishnááji] hand ['ala'] and allowing the material to trickle out between the thumb ['álátsoh] and forefinger. Some dimensions and the balance between certain figures must be very exact in order for the sandpainting ['iikááh] to be effective, for the proper balance to be achieved. Therefore careful measurements are made using tape measures and pieces of string which are then stretched tight at the proper location and snapped to make an accurate straight line [k'éhézdon ídzoh] in the base sand [ séí] as a guide line. In this way, figures are kept in proper alignment and proper proportion. In order to make the image three-dimensional, the figure painting ['ak'ina'adzoh] on the backs of the figures is laid down first and, when completed, the proper colored sand [séí] is laid on representing the body ['ats'íís] . Then the figure painting ['ak'ina'adzoh] on the front side of the bodies is constructed on top of these, assuring that the complete representation of the Holy People [dighin diné] is made. This will more surely insure their presence and aid in the ceremony. To not to disturb the parts of the sandpainting ['iikááh] that have been completed, the chanter [Hatáálii] and his assistants work outward from the center. If an error is made, that part of the image is covered with fresh sand [séí] and is begun again.

The sandpainting ['iikááh] is oriented so that the top is at the east [ha'a'aah] and is surrounded by a guardian on the other three [táá'] sides. This protects the sandpainting ['iikááh] from evil on those sides and allows strength and all good things (which come from the east [ha'a'aah] with the dawn [Hayíílka]) to enter. The sandpainting ['iikááh] derives its power to heal from the coexistence within the image of multiple layers of time, space, and meaning. The layers of time derive from the presence of the Holy People [dighin diné] (in their images and their presence which is presumed); the layers of space derive from the careful construction of the back and front images of the Holy People [dighin diné]; the layers of meaning come from the myths and stories associated with these sandpaintings ['iikááh] especially chosen for the situation at hand ['ala'] in the same way that the parables of the Bible are used. The patient sits on the sandpainting ['iikááh], in direct contact with the images of the Holy People [dighin diné] during the ceremony. They enter his body ['ats'íís] and thus help to heal him in this way.

It is important to note that the process itself of creating a sandpainting ['iikááh] contributes to the healing because the act of drawing such symmetrical, orderly images focuses the thoughts of everyone present on the principles of balance and order. The patient can begin to believe in the possibility of his healing based on his belief in the ability of the perfectly executed sandpainting ['iikááh] to bring the Holy People [dighin diné] and the power that they can bring to bear on his behalf.

The images become almost unrecognizable during the ceremony. After the ceremony the sand [ séí] is all swept up and removed from the hooghan. It is taken far away and ceremonially disposed of. It is still holy and possesses great power. If it is not properly treated, great harm may come.

Sandpainting Image

In order to take a closer look at one of the central sandpaintings ['iikááh] in many of the ceremonies, I have shown here a watercolor [bee na'ach'aahí tóhígíí] painting of the Mother Earth - Father Sky image from the Male Shootingway chant [Na'at'oii bika' bihóchó'íjí] made by Trudy Griffin-Pierce. You can immediately find in this painting many of the characteristics that have already been mentioned: the presence of the four [dii] principal colors ['altah'áát'eelgo nidaashch'aa'ígíí] and the rainbow [nááts'íílid] guardian surrounding the image on three [táá'] sides. The arms ['agaan] and legs ['ajáád] of Father Sky lie over those of Mother Earth [Nahasdzáán Shimá] just as the sky [Yáh] lies above the earth [Nahasdzáán]. The faces ['aníí'] of both Mother Earth [Nahasdzáán Shimá] and Father Sky are covered with the Sun's [Jóhonaa'éí] house stripes, the yellow [litso] of evening twilight [nahootsoii] in a band across the chin ['ayaats'iin], the blue [dootlish] of the midday sky [yáh] above the mouth ['azéé'], the black [lizhin] of the night sky [yáh] across the eyes ['anáá'], and the white [ligai] of dawn [Hayíílka] across the forehead [á'táá]. On the body ['ats'íís] of Mother Earth [Nahasdzáán Shimá] are seen the four [dii] sacred plants [nanise'], corn [naada'], rising toward the head ['atsii'] of Mother Earth [Nahasdzáán Shimá], five [ashdla'] bean [naa'olí] plants [nanise'] rising toward the south [shádi'ááh], the black [lizhin] squash [naayízí] plant with yellow [litso] squash [naayízí] toward the west ['e'e'aah], and five [ashdla'] blue [dootlish] stems of tobacco to the north [náhookos], all radiating from the central lake, representing the place of emergence of the Navajo into this the Fourth World. The plant [nanise'] images are made solely by female assistants. This is important as they represent the regeneration and renewal of the earth [Nahasdzáán]. The gray-blue color of the body ['ats'íís] of Mother Earth [Nahasdzáán Shimá] represents the turquoise [dootl'izhii] dress of the summer [shi] sky [yáh]. The body ['ats'íís] of Father Sky is covered by the constellations [so'lání], the sun [Jóhonaa'éí], the moon [Tl'éhonaa'éí] and the Milky Way [Yikáísdáhí]. The Milky Way [Yikáísdáhí] is represented by the crossing zig-zag lines [nooltl'iizhgo na'asdzoh] running across the shoulders ['awos] of Father Sky from hand ['ala'] to hand ['ala']; as it is associated with the east [ha'a'aah], it should be placed high up on the body ['ats'íís] near the head ['atsíí'], which is at the east [ha'a'aah]. The blue [dootlish] disk of the Sun [Jóhonaa'éí] is centrally placed. The white [ligai] disk of the Moon [Tléhonaa'éí] is placed above the Sun [Jóhonaa'éí]. The top of each disk is oriented toward the west ['e'eaah], indicating their paths across the sky [yáh]. Horns of power are placed on each disk and they are painted with eyes ['anáá'] and mouths ['azéé']. Feathers are drawn at the tops of each disk to symbolize their ability to float through the air and the powers of clear thought and good judgement. The constellations
[so'lání] represented are Náhookos bika'ii (the Big Dipper), a male figure, Náhookos ba'áadii (Cassiopeia), a female figure, Dilyéhé (the Pleiades), 'Atsé'ets'ózí (Orion), Hastiin Sik'ai'í (Corvus), 'Atsé'etsoh (composed of the front part of Scorpius), Gah heet'e'ii (the tail of Scorpius). The hands ['ala'] and feet ['akee'] of both Mother Earth [Nahasdzáán Shimá] and Father Sky are painted with yellow [litso] pollen [tádídíín] to represent fertility. The Sun's [Jóhonaa'éí] tobacco pouch is placed just above Father Sky's right hand ['ala']; the Bat [jaa'abaní] goes above Mother Earth's [Nahasdzáán Shimá] left hand ['ala']. These guardians will protect the eastern opening. Pollen [tádídíín] balls are placed in the mouths ['azéé'] of both Mother Earth [Nahasdzáán Shimá] and Father Sky and a line of pollen [tádídíín] stretched between these two balls.

Both figures sit on clouds [k'os] of mist, blue [dootl'izh] and black [lizhin], held together by rainbows [nááts'íílid]. The last act of the creation of the sandpainting ['iikááh] is to place the constellations [so'lání] in their proper symbolic location. This is done by the chanter [Hatáálii] himself while recounting the story of the creation. In this story, Coyote [Ma'ii], "the patron of disorder", disrupts the orderly placement of the stars [so'] by the Holy People [dighin diné] by flinging the as yet unplaced stars [so'] up into the sky [yáh]. The chanter [Hatáálii] draws only the constellations [so'lání] that were placed in the sky [yáh] in an orderly manner, thus restoring order to the "disordered" spiritual and physical world of the patient.

The scanned image of the watercolor of the Mother Earth - Father Sky sandpainting is used with the permission of the artist, Trudy Griffin-Pierce.

A selection of reasonably priced sandpaintings, both traditional and contemporary/pictorial, can be found at the Penfield Gallery of Indian Arts, Albuquerque, NM.

This discussion is taken from the short description of sandpainting found in The Navajo by Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton and the extensive work of Trudy Griffin-Pierce in Earth is My Mother, Sky is my Father, Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting. For a more detailed discussion of this sandpainting and a recounting of a ceremony using the Mother Earth - Father Sky sandpainting in which she was a participant, see Trudy Griffin-Pierce. An alternate version of the placement of the sun, moon and stars is given in Navaho Folk Tales by Newcomb. A painting by Navajo artist Clifford Brycelea shows the Holy People placing the stars.

Holiday shopping from home!

Griffin-Pierce, Trudy, Earth is my Mother, Sky is my Father, Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting, University of New Mexico Press.

Newcomb, Franc & Paul Zolbrod, Navajo Folk Tales, University of New Mexico Press.

Farella, John R., The Main Stalk: A Synthesis of Navajo Philosophy, University of Arizona Press.

McNeley, James Kale, Holy Wind in Navajo Philosophy, University of Arizona Press.

Zolbrod, Paul, Dine Bahane : The Navajo Creation Story, University of New Mexico Press.

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