Honoring the Spirit
Scenes from Ceremonies—Ye’ii, Ye’ii Bicheii, & Sandpaintings
“In the Nightway religious ceremony, the ye’ii bicheii, who represent the Holy People (ye’ii), dance for the well-being of one or more patients. In other Navajo curing rituals too, medicine men perform lengthy song cycles and create elaborate sandpaintings on the ground in order to bring the world into harmony and to relieve a patient of illness or to protect a person against harm. The ye’ii bicheii dancers, the ye’ii and other Holy People, and various sandpaintings appear in Navajo textiles, but not for specific religious use.
“Reasons for representing such powerful imagery in woven form range from personal devotion, to family customs, to requests from customers. The textiles themselves are not used in specific ceremonies. However, many Navajos agree that reproducing such designs is personally dangerous. Those who weave them either undergo ritual protection through the help of a traditional Navajo medicine man or, as non-believers, consider themselves outside of traditional concerns.
“Weaving of sandpainting and other ceremonial designs started in earnest in the early 20th century, when medicine man Hosteen Klah first wove and instructed his nieces Gladys and Irene Manuelito. Since then, a market for this esoteric art has grown. Many weavers today avoid using specific sandpainting imagery; instead, some weave stylized ye’ii rugs that are popular tourist items.” —Ann Hedlund