Friday, March 2, 2012

Navajo Indian Sweat Houses


All over the reservation there are hundreds of little structures which are miniature models, as it were, of the hogáns, but they lack the projecting doorway. These little huts, scarcely as high as a man’s hip, look like children’s playhouses, but they occupy an important place both in the elaborate religious ceremonies and in the daily life of the Navaho. They are the sweat houses, called in the Navaho language çó‘tce, a term probably derived from qáço‘tsil, “sweat” and ĭnçĭníl‘tce, the manner in which fire is prepared for heating the stones placed in it when it is used. The structure is designed to hold only one person at a time, and he must crawl in and squat on his heels with his knees drawn up to his chin. Navajo Indian Pictures Here
In the construction of these little huts a frame is made of three boughs with forked ends, and these have the same names as the corresponding 500timbers in a hogán. They are placed, as in the hogán, with the lower ends spread apart like a low tripod. Two straight sticks leaned against the apex form a narrow entrance, which, as in the hogán, invariably faces the east. Numerous other sticks and boughs inclose the frame, and enough bark and earth are laid on to make the structure practically air-tight when the entrance is closed.
When the place is to be used a fire is made close beside it, and in this fire numerous stones are heated. The patient to be treated is then stripped, placed inside the little hut, and given copious drafts sometimes of warm or hot water. The nearly red-hot stones are rolled in beside him and the entrance is closed with several blankets, forming in fact a hot-air bath. In a short time the air in the interior rises to a high temperature and the subject sweats profusely. When he is released he rubs himself dry with sand, or if he be ill and weak he is rubbed dry by his friends. This ceremony has a very important place in the medicine-man’s therapeutics, for devils as well as diseases are thus cast out; but aside from their religious use, the çó‘tce are often visited by the Indians for the cleansing and invigorating effect of the bath, with no thought of ceremonial. The Navaho, as a race or individually, are not remarkable for cleanliness, but they use the çó‘tce freely.
During the Yébĭtcai dance or ceremony four çó‘tce are set around the song house, about 40 yards distant from it, one at each cardinal point. The qaçál‘i, or chief medicine-man, sweats the patient in them on four successive mornings, just at dawn, beginning with the east and using one each morning. The çó‘tce on the east is merely an uncovered frame, and after the patient enters it and hot stones have been rolled in it is 501covered with many blankets and a large buckskin is spread over all. On this skin the qaçál‘i

sprinkles iron ochers and other colored sands in striated bands, symbolic of the rainbow and sunbeams which covered the early mythic houses. He and his assistants stand near the hut shaking rattles and singing a brief song to Qastcéjĭni, at the conclusion of which the patient is released. The initial spark of the fire used at these ceremonies and for all religious purposes is obtained by friction, and is regarded as essentially different from fire produced by flint and steel or otherwise, because the first spark of friction fire was brought from Qastcéjĭni, who is the god of the underworld fire. The production of fire by friction is a very simple matter to these Indians and is often done in play; frequently, under the windy conditions that prevail
 in their country, in but little more time than a white man can accomplish the same result with matches. For this purpose they often use the dry, brittle stalks of the common bee weed (Cleome pungens). The drill, which is whirled between the palms of the hands, consists of a stalk perhaps a quarter of an inch in diameter. This is made to revolve on the edge of a small notch cut into a larger stalk, perhaps an inch in diameter. A pinch of sand is sometimes placed under the point of the drill, the rapid revolution of which produces a fine powder. This powder runs down the notch or groove, forming a little pile on the ground. Smoke is produced in less than a minute, and finally, in perhaps two minutes, tiny sparks drop on the little pile of dry powder, which takes fire from them. By careful fostering by feeding with bits of bark and grass, and with much blowing, a blaze is produced.
It is said that First-man made the first çó‘tce. After coming up the qadjinaí, or magic reed, he was very dirty; his skin was discolored and he had a foul smell like a coyote. He washed with water, but that did not cleanse him. Then Qastcéjĭni sent the firefly to instruct him concerning the çó‘tce and how to rotate a spindle of wood in a notched stick. As First-man revolved the spindle, or drill, between his hands, Firefly ignited the dust at its point with a spark of fire which Qastcéjĭni had given it for that purpose. There is another myth concerning the origin of these little sweat houses which does not agree with that just stated. According to this myth, the çó‘tce were made by the Sun when the famous twins, Nayénĕzgani and Ço‘badjĭstcíni, who play so large a part in Navaho mythology, were sent to him by Estsánatlehi. When they reached the house of the Sun they called him father, as they had been instructed to do, but the Sun disowned them and subjected them to many ordeals, and even thrust at them with a spear, but the mother had given each of the youths a magic feather mantle impervious to any weapon. Kléhanoai (the night bearer—the moon) also scoffed at them and filled the mind of the Sun with doubts concerning the paternity of the twins, so he determined to subject them to a further ordeal.
He made four çó‘tce, but instead of using wood in their construction he made them of a metallic substance, like iron. He placed these at 502the cardinal points and sent the moon to make a fire near each of them. This fire was obtained from the “burning stars,” the comets. The çó‘tce were made exceedingly hot and the twins were placed in them successively; but instead of being harmed they came out of the last one stronger and more vigorous than ever. Then the Sun acknowledged them as his sons and gave the elder one the magic weapons with which he destroyed the evil genii who infested the Navaho land. This is the reason, the Navaho say, why it is well to have many çó‘tce and to use them frequently. Their use gives rest and sweet sleep after hard work; it invigorates a man for a long journey and refreshes him after its accomplishment.
First-woman, after coming up the qadjinaí, was also foul and ill smelling, and after First-man she also used the çó‘tce. Hence the Navaho women use the çó‘tce like the men, but never together except under a certain condition medical in character. The çó‘tce is built usually in some secluded spot, and frequently large parties of men go together to spend the better part of a day in the enjoyment of the luxury of a sweat bath and a scour with sand. On another day the women of the neighborhood get together and do the same, and the men regard their privacy strictly.