Day 110: Ron Toahami Jackson

We Navajo perceive the universe as an all-inclusive whole in which everything has its own place and unique and beneficial relationship to all other living things. Humans, animals, plants, and mountains are harmonic components of the whole. It is the responsibility of humans to honor and maintain this balance.
The all-inclusive nature of the universe means that all forces are integrated— good and evil, natural and supernatural, male and female — into a state of balance and harmony expressed by the word Hozho’. People who become involved in an act that disrupts this balance may be made ill by the forces thereby unleashed Navajo interactions with this powerful environment are characterized by a strong sense of connectedness to and respect for all living things, including the earth, which is personified as the beloved deity, Changing Woman or as a similar deity in the Lakota Indians White Buffalo Calf Woman. An important aspect of maintaining harmonious relations with the universe is the recognition of humankind’s place in the web of life and the acceptance that nature is more powerful than humans
We Navajo do not have a central place of worship, and there is no word or phrase in their language which could possibly be translated as “religion.”
Religion is not a separate entity to be believed in or subscribed to, it is ever present. It could no more be separated from the traditional Navajo’s daily life than eating, breathing, sleeping, or the ground he walks on which gives him substance, the sun which gives him warmth or the summer lightning which gives him fear. Religious rites and practices are an essential element in nearly every aspect of traditional Navajo culture, pervading it to such an extent that, paradoxical as it may seem.
To the Navajo and all Indigenous people, everything is sacred: The rigid distinction that exists in most Western minds between the daily round of work and play, on the one hand, and religion, on the other is nonexistent for the Navajos. On a daily basis, the order and continual regeneration inherent in the cosmos — the changing seasons, night and day, life and earth — serves as a constant reminder of how to live one’s life in balance, in a state of Hozho. The traditional Navajo awakens with the dawn and scatters pollen to the east outside the hogan. At night outside the tipi that is set up for the Peyote Way Ceremony one observes the constellations, through the moral stories they index as well as through their repetitive cyclical movements serve as a constant reminder of the right way to live one’s life
The prevailing values of non-Native American culture have led to a country whose oceans and streams are polluted, and where the air is often too choked to breathe. The modern Euro-American lifestyle is too often emotionally overtaxing, highly pressured, materially oriented, and spiritually depleted. We have come to expect immediate gratification and to be entertained through the media rather than learning to draw on our own powers of imagination and insight. To them those of us who stand up for Mother Earth are labeled as eco-terrorists as at Standing Rock, when what they do not realize that it is in the essence of who we are as a people, how respect and reverence for Mother Earth is ingrained unto our psyche and how we view our role as care takers of Mother Earth.
Walk in Beauty or Everywhere I Walk There is Beauty is a Navajo prayer and phrase often quoted as representing the essence of Navajo philosophy. It is a translation of a Navajo phrase that expresses our view of how to live a proper life. Hozho’ is Beauty is a central idea in Navajo thinking, but it means far more than outward appearance: it means order, harmony, blessedness, pleasantness, everything that is good, not evil, everything that is favorable to mankind, this being the overall goal to which everyone and everything should strive. “Death of old age was desirable, because it brought contentment with it in this life and no fear in the next.
Two other concepts essential to the Navajo view of an ordered, structured universe are those of the Holy Wind, and the inner forms. A firm understanding of these concepts is essential for appreciating the symbolism
After their emergence onto the earth’s surface, wind and inner forms were placed within all living things as a source of life, movement, speech, and behavior. Rather than being an independent spiritual agency that resides within the individual, like the Western notion of the soul, Holy Wind is a single entity that exists everywhere and in which all living beings participate… This means that all living beings are related and that nothing exists in isolation. Furthermore, breath and speech are intimately related to the concept of Holy Wind. also refers to air and thus involves the act of breathing. The act of breathing is a sacred act through which the individual participates in an ongoing relationship with all other living beings On breathing, the Yei’ or Holy People enter one’s lungs and are both a part of the breather as well as his being a part of and linked to all other beings. Thus by breathing, one has direct access to the thought and speech of the Holy People
Fingerprints and toe prints are expressions of the Holy Wind. “The whorls at the tips of our toes hold us to the Earth. Those at our fingertips hold us to the Sky. Because of these, we do not fall when we move about.”
When the wind ceases to blow inside us, we become speechless. Then we die. In the skin at the tips of our fingers we can see the trail of that life giving wind. Each person has a wind that exists within, which provides the means for breathing, moving, thinking, and talking. This wind arrives upon conception, sent by the Holy People from the four directions, and it is at the same time both part of the universal Wind and also made up of elements of that Wind. Accounts vary as to how many elements are involved, but two key ones. One is thus born in the ideal Navajo state . From the medicine bundle of First Man arose Sh’ah naagh1i (Long Life), who would be the primary thought, the thinking, of all the Holy People, and Bik’eh Hozho’ (Happiness), who would be their speech. In this way, thought is seen as the power of creation, and speech is the means to its active realization.
In this drawing I try and incorporate some some these traditional concepts into the design. The central figure is representation of a Navajo Yei bi Chi’ Mask and also Mother Earth. Made of deer hide and adorned with golden eagle tail feathers, which is the half circle of feathers emulating from the mask. Golden and bald eagle feathers represent one’s connection to the Creator as the eagle is who flies close to Creator and is what Indigenous Peoples use in prayer fans, hair decorations, and various types of dance outfits. Arrowheads, horse hair, turquoise,shells and personal medicine objects also are used, this was worn during the Nine day Nightway Ceremony. Under the mask is the spruce collar which also symbolizes water or waves of water indicating consistency of the universe The parallel bars represent the wind mentioned above and the crosses represent the four, directions, the four scared colors, the four elements, earth, wind , fire and air and the four races of man. The zig zag designs represents lighting or fire. Symmetry is a basic Navajo design concept used consistently in our rugs and sand paintings. I always start my designs in the middle and draw outwards. My training in Architectural Design combined with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Drawing and then juxtaposing traditional Navajo designs and concepts into a contemporary art format is how I come up with these designs. This is drawn primarily with metallic copper and gold pencil also representing two metals use in jewelry making another important and well known Navajo art form on a black background simulates the night time sky full of glittering stars or more specifically he Pleiades where traditional legends points to the home of the Holy People and thus the place of our origins
Hozho, Prismacolor pencil
Buffalo Nation, Cyanotype
Dance of the Yetis, Prismacolor
Someday They will Return, Monotype



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