On Navajo Creation Stories

The Dine’ or Navajo have their own sets of origin stories. In these stories, we see what is held sacred by the Navajo people. The stories move through four different worlds: black, blue, yellow, and white. While the colors do seem to mean more than simply the color of the world that First Man and First Woman experienced, I have not yet found the symbolism. In each world, the First Man and First Woman encounter various beings who travel with them to the next world. Many ceremonies revolve around the experiences depicted in each world and story, as well as simply worldview and way of life understandings. Much of the symbolism that occurs in the stories affects how the Navajo understand the world around them, and understand how they should live. All people wonder where they came from, and why they are here. While the Navajo’s origin stories might not answer the second of those questions, they do answer the first.

Navajo Creation Story Painting by Kee Lee

As Westerners have their own ideas of where they came from and where they are going, so do the Navajo. What I find particularly interesting, is that in some way, the creation stories of the Dine reflect the Western understanding of the history of the world. While not being the exact duplicate of our Western stories, the creation stories do have certain elements that ring true to a more universal understanding of where we have come from. They also are particularly interesting as they are very specific to the Southwestern identity, and certain creatures and experiences that are very Southwestern. For example, the mountains that the First Man and First Woman encounter in the Third world are specific mountains in the Southwestern area (Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico specifically). And, just as the Western ideas of origin and creation shape how we think and act in the world, the Dine form their culture through their stories.

I find the creation stories interesting as they give an insight into how the Navajo people think about themselves and the world around them. Where we come from and where we are going is a major part of the human experience, and the culture’s answer to that question shapes how each person in the culture understands their place in the world. Understanding how a people thinks about themselves is key to understanding their culture and world view. A major part of the Navajo creation stories is the unity between the other creatures, the earth, and the First Man and Woman. Knowing that they understood themselves to all be equal, and even that the Humans were not the ‘first born’, (if you will), helps us to understand their desire to help preserve and take care of nature, and their feeling of unity, even today, with the environment.

 

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