1. Sand Painting example 1
  2. Sand Painting example 2
  3. Sand Painting example 3
  4. Eye-Dazzler, 1890-1900
    (Navajo - anonymous)

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A principal area of visual languaging among the Navajos consists of ceremonial sandpaintings, or drypaintings (the pigments are rarely sands as such). These in turn are part of the complex Navajo chantway system, along with songs, masked dances, & a range of smaller & larger event-pieces (body painting, prayerstick planting, pollen events, herb events, etc.) that work toward a balance of negative & positive elements in the patient & the world. The drypainting as such functions as a narrative & a map, the image of a segment of The People’s sacred geography into which successive generations have entered. But the whole chantway system is so complex in fact that the individual medicine man or chanter (hatali, literally a keeper-of-the-songs) can rarely keep in mind more than a single ceremony – the nine-day Night Chant for example – sometimes only part of one.

In the drypainting segment of the chantway the patient is seated within the large image, absorbing power from the sacred beings depicted therein or casting off elements of the sickness from his or her own body. After the elaborate construction & ritual employment of each painting, the image, which has been nearly obliterated by the patient’s presence, is gathered up & disposed of in a prescribed (= holy) manner.

The following is a highly condensed synopsis of one such procedure.


(to be performed after making a sandpainting of male & female dancing figures with yellow legs from dancing knee-deep in pollen)

  1. Meal applied to divine figures.
  2. Plumed wands erected.
  3. Cup placed on the rainbow’s hands.
  4. Cold infusion made, sprinler placed on cup.
  5. Pollen applied to figures.
  6. Doctor departs, unmasked.
  7. Patient enters, song begins.
  8. Patient sprinkles picture.
  9. Patient sits, southeast, & disrobes.
  10. Doctor, masked, returns as god.
  11. Doctor sprinkles picture.
  12. Assistant takes up meal from picture.
  13. Doctor touches moistened sprinkler to figure.
  14. Patient sits on picture.
  15. Infusion offered to gods & given to patient.
  16. Assistant moistens doctor’s hands.
  17. Sacred dust applied to patient.
  18. Doctor yells into patient’s ear.
  19. Doctor departs, masked.
  20. Patient leaves picture.
  21. Patient fumigated.
  22. Doctor returns, unmasked.
  23. Plumed wands pulled out.
  24. Picture despoiled.
  25. Picture erased.
  26. Material from picture taken out & discarded.

[From J.R., Shaking the Pumpkin, after Washington Matthews, The Night Chant, a Navajo Ceremony, 1902]

Included here also is an example of Navajo weaving in which selected letters of the roman alphabet are made to play a part.

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