Students: Navajo Ritual Space in Housing



University of New Mexico (USA) / Tutors: Mark C. Childs, Lynn Paxson, Claudia B. Isaac (2016)

“The hogan is more than a home. It is a representation of the universe. It is also a sacred place for Navajo ceremonies.”

The hogan is the traditional dwelling of the Navajo people. It plays a powerful role in the culture and worldview of Navajo beliefs making it a significant part of Navajo rituals. When it was common and served as the primary dwelling for the Navajo people, the hogan served as the home (with all rooms in one), place of worship and a learning tool. As a one-room dwelling, the Navajo language and traditions flourished because of the constant practice and exposure.

The hogan is also where families should have their Navajo rituals because of its connection to the Navajo worldview; the hogan is in the center of the sacred mountains with a relationship to each cardinal direction, the seasons, and many more aspects of the Navajo worldview and philosophy. The philosophy of the hogan, which encourages individual growth and discipline is the learning tool; this is found in the actual construction of a hogan as well as living in a hogan. However, hogans are no longer the primary dwelling for many Navajos families on the Navajo Nation; they find themselves in NHA or HUD housing, or manufactured trailer homes.

The Navajo home needs to serve multiple purposes. In addition to daily living needs, one of the most important functions is the home’s ability to support appropriate space for Navajo rituals. Depending on the type of ritual, a large amount of space is needed to host ceremonies and the important elements, as well as space to host the patient, family and relatives.

There are different types of Navajo rituals which may last from a few hours to nine days. The longer a ceremony lasts, the more it requires relatives to help with preparation and cooking during the ceremony. It is not uncommon for the family sleep at the patient’s home. The medicine man/woman, his/her apprentice or assistant, the patient and a few of the patient’s family members will sleep in the hogan during ceremonies that last more than a day. A majority of chanting and singing during a ceremony will take place from nighttime to dusk.

Today, some families are hosting ceremonies such as the very elaborate Kinaaldá Ceremony in their NHA homes. Many of the designs of NHA homes do not give consideration to such rituals. More and more families are likely to have their Navajo rituals in their NHA homes in the future.

“There must be an unobstructed view to the east from the doorway [of the hogan], as the beneficial influences of the God of Sunrise are much appreciated by the devout Navajo.”

Depending on the type of ritual and family preference, various exterior spaces are needed. These should be adjacent to the home. When a family has a separate hogan and a house, hosting and performing rituals are done in an ideal manner. During larger and more elaborate rituals, such as those lasting multiple days, relatives of the patient will participate. Many of the relatives travel from other parts of the reservation or beyond to assist the patient’s family with tasks such as preparation, cooking and serving of food during the ceremony, and cleaning at the conclusion of the ceremony.

During the ceremony, relatives who travel far distances will likely stay the entire duration of the ritual to make sure food is cooked and served; if the patient has children, relatives also assist with caring for them. And, if the ritual requires multiple individuals on a task (i.e. making of Navajo corn cake), relatives will help with that. Lastly, family members will clean the kitchen, dishes and the hogan. Because of their assistance during all or part of a ritual, relatives will need an area to park.

Another component of Navajo rituals is a Chaha’oh, which is a structure that provides shade for the preparation of the mutton and shelter for a place to eat. The chaha’oh also hosts other functions that are related with family functions and not necessarily with rituals.

Blackgoat Funambulist2