Words And Places native literature from the american southwest

Supplementary Materials for
By This Song I Walk

Setting Canyon de Chelly, the setting for this videotape, is very near the center of the Navajo reservation. At some points in the tape we can see the salmon cliffs of the Lukachuchai Mountains to the northeast and the long dark line of Black Mesa to the west. Beyond stand the sacred mountains of the four directions which enclose the Navajo world. Navajo people call the canyon "tesyi," rock canyon, a word Spaniards heard as "chelle" or "chegui," and Anglo-Americans through them as Canyon de Chelly, literally "Canyon Canyon."

Religion Navajos view the universe as a dangerous place which contains good and evil elements. The goal of Navajo religion is to keep all these elements in balance, and thereby, to keep the world going in an harmonious way. This balanced state of existence is described in the Navajo language as hozho, a concept we have translated in the songs as "Beauty."

For Comment and Discussion

The verses of the song are a series of predications alternating with the refrain. In them Natonabah identifies himself with two of the Holy People and the powers associated with them. We notice that each thing mentioned in the first stanza is balanced by its opposite in the corresponding verse of the second stanza:

Talking God
White Corn
Hard Goods
(Precious stones, jewelry,
and so on)
Hard Rain

House God
Yellow Corn
Soft Goods
(Blankets, rugs, and the like)
Soft Rain
Related Reading There is probably more written about Navajo people than about any other Indian group. A good bibliographic guide to this extensive literature is Peter Iverson's The Navajos: A Critical Bibliography (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1976), which is part of the Newberry Library Center for the History of the American Indian Bibliographical Series. Two good overviews of Navajo culture are Ruth Underhill's The Navajos (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967), and The Navajo (1946; rev. ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974) by Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton. The section on Navajos in Robert Spencer and Jess Jennings's text The Native Americans: Prehistory and Ethnology of the North American Indians (New York: Harper and Row, 1965) is also concise and helpful. See pp. 318-336.


By This Song I Walk: Navajo Songs | Seyewailo: The Flower World Yaqui Deer Songs | The Origin of the Crown Dance: An Apache Narrative and Ba'ts'oosee: An Apache Trickster Cycle | Iisaw: Hopi Coyote Stories & Hopi Songs | Natwaniwa: A Hopi Philosophical Statement | Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems | Songs of My Hunter Heart: Laguna Songs and Poems | A Conversation with Vine Deloria, Jr. | Home