Diné Bikeyah

Diné Bikeyah is the land of the People.

Diné Bikeyah exists in the heart of the Diné as hozhoogi—the beauty of life.

Diné Bikeyah also lies between the peaks of four Sacred Mountains.

White Shell Peak in the east, Mount Blanca, Colorado

Blue Turquoise Mountain to the south, Mount Taylor, New Mexico

Yellow Abalone Shell Mountain in the west, San Francisco Peak, Arizona

Black Coal Mountain on the north, Mount Hesperus, Colorado

It is said by anthropologists that the Diné have lived

in Diné Bikeyah for six or seven hundred years.

That their ancestors migrated across the great ice mass on the Bering Sea

thousands of years ago and then south along the Canadian coast.

Yet the oral history of the People tells a different story. A story rich in mythology

and allegory. The Diné creation story says they have always been here.

The oral history of the Diné has many versions including one that describes twelve

underworlds each grouped with three layers in, four "rooms" which are also called worlds.

The Creator had a thought that created Light in the East. Then the thought went South

to create Water, West to create Air, and North to create pollen from emptiness.

This pollen became Earth.

The Morning Spirit Song is sung in remembrance of this creation story.

Morning Spirit Song

The Morning Spirit song sings of the abundance
and wealth of the morning,
when the warmth and light of day come with all
its glory, when all is possible and potential.


You feel the water of life running
over your feet and the soft
wet earth beneath your feet.


You begin to walk
through the white corn fields as the pollen blesses you
with the sacred seed of Life.


You feel the good above you, below you,
in front of you, behind you

all around you


(Then the drumming shifts)


Now you are walking into the
twilight

into the darkness, into the night
bringing with you virtue and spiritual abundance gathered
during the sacred day.


The stars begin to come out.
This is the good way, the blessing way."

sung by Billy Yellow 2002
translated by Jeremiah Harvey

 

The Morning Spirit Song is a creation story song. It sings of the blessing of

the corn pollen in the cycle of life from dawn to dusk, from birth to death.

In this song the corn pollenates each person as we walk through the sacred corn field of life.

This is a song about nurturing the seed of virtue and spiritual abundance in our heart.

It is about taking our life lessons into the night of death.

It was sung to me by Billy Yellow,

the Diné singer with the red headband in Earl Waggoner's photographs

of the "show-you-how-its-done" ceremony described below.

When I was researching these photographs in Monument Valley

I was surprised to discover that Billy Yellow was still alive.

He was "about 100" years old I was told.

When I found him he was living near Shiprock, NewMexico.

I showed him the pictures of the "show-you-how-its-done"

ceremony he had conducted 45 years earlier.

 He said he remembered many things about the ceremony

His eldest son Jeremiah Harvey translated and Billy told us what he remembered.

It was after this that Billy sang the Morning Spirit Song.

(Click here to hear Billy singing the Morning Spirit Song)

Billy Yellow was a Singer.

This is what the Diné call a shaman. He was deeply connected to the earth.

 He could dig for roots like a badger and fly like an eagle.

He taught his medicine brothers and he learned from everyone and everything.

He loved his family. The People loved him. He was an amazing man.

He laughed easily and spoke the language of the heart.

He died in September 2003. 102 years old we think. Nobody knows for sure.

A couple of hundred people attended his funeral. Many stories were told.

A golden eagle circled overhead for at least 20 minutes

as we left the burial grounds near his winter camp.

Many believe that the people bring spirit to the land.

But Billy knew it is the land that brings spirit to the people.

Where would we be without the land?

To the Diné land is spirit. But spirit exists outside of the land as well as within it.

The singer seeks to bring this into balance.

And balance, like nature, is fragile.

The gods, the Holy People who created the Diné, are easily offended.

The singer supplicates to the gods on behalf of the people.

 He brings harmony in the roll of his rattle and the sacred shape of clay designs in the sand.

In their attempt to balance the wild forces of nature with a sense of

harmony, cooperation and respect, the Diné conceived of hozho.

Hozho is balance, beauty and blessing.

It is found in art and music and human kindness.

It grants a sense of the holy and the sacred to human life.

The Diné singers carry this beauty in their sand paintings and their songs.

Diné Ceremony

This is not a sacred ceremony. It is what Billy called a "show-you-how-it's-done" ceremony. The people involved agreed to have their photographs taken for the purpose of sharing the knowledge of the Diné with others.

A sacred healing ceremony is carried out inside a hogan. Still this is an incredible collection of historic information --- one of a kind images.

In the ceremony shown below Billy Yellow and another singer paint a horned toad to protect a young girl who was "kicked in the head by a goat" and was having bad dreams.

The girl was placed on a sheepskin over the painting. The singers then began to chant and roll their rattles. In one image the girl drinks water from an abalone shell. Finally the men enter a sweat lodge where they purify their bodies with the heat of lava rocks heated red hot in a cottonwood and pinion fire. These lava rocks represent the ancestors that come from the fire in the earth. The men pray for the girl and for their own worthiness to make those prayers.

In September 2002 when I visited Billy and his nephew at their home to interview him about the ceremony Earl had photographed 45 years earlier. Billy, who was 101 at the time, spoke about the photos and his nephew translated. At 101 years old Billy was a very bright man. He still drove his pick up truck and visited his friends. He remembered the images and discussed them.

The translation was difficult, but what I learned from Billy was interesting. Billy Yellow told the me that a horned toad was used in the sand painting to protect the girl from the spirit that caused the goat to kick the girl, not to protect her from the goat. The horned toad is a protective animal spirit, he said, pointing out that the sand painting shows lightning bolts coming out of the horned toads claws as well as a bow and arrow in the painting. He also mentioned that the black and white mound at the head of the painting was an ant hill that would provide food for the horned toad during the ceremony!

Once the horned toad painting is completed a sheepskin is placed over it.

The girl then sits on the sheepskin while the men conduct a "sing". They chant and roll their rattles to pray and connect with Spirit. This singing goes on for some time.

The ceremony then moves to a sweat lodge dug into the ground and covered with dirt.

Here only men enter to pray and sing sacred songs to heal and protect the girl. The men purify themselves and ask Spirit that their prayers for the girl be heard, that she be healed and that they be worthy of their prayers.

After they finish praying, singing and chanting in the ground the men exit...

...and clean their bodies with sand.

More History Click Here...

 


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