Sunday, October 19, 2008

Navajo Cultural Center

The Navajo Cultural Center consists of a small grouping of buildings and artifacts situated between the Hampton Inn and the Burger King. I suspect that it is, in part, designed to lure charter bus traffic to the Burger King (several buses stopped at the BK while I was there, but none of them went to the McDonald’s down the street). However, I’m glad I checked it out. I learned several things:

  • Until the early twentieth century, many Navajo living on the reservation had no way to haul goods to market or to bring supplies to their homes. This situation changed when the U.S. government started a program that enabled Navajo to purchase horse-drawn wagons on the installment plan and started giving wagons in lieu of wages to Navajo employees.
  • Navajo traditionally lived in hogans, which are small buildings constructed of mud-covered logs. Every hogan has an opening in the roof so that contact is maintained with the sky, and every door faces east so that the inhabitants greet the morning sun.
  • There are two types of hogans: "female" and "male." These designations refer only to the style of the building, not the gender of the people who built or resided in them.
  • The round, “female” hogan was used as a dwelling space and for storage of food and possessions. Most families built several hogans of this sort.
  • The more elongated “male” hogans were used strictly for ceremonial purposes. They are increasingly rare; owing to changes in Navajo culture, ceremonial observances can now take place in “female” hogans.

  • The materials used to construct hogans are good insulators. The interiors of the hogans were substantially cooler than the surrounding area, and in summer Navajo families would cook outdoors in order to keep the hogans cool. In the wintertime, the stove at the center of the hogan keeps the space comfortably warm.
The center also features a small summer shade house that contains exhibits, but it wasn't open when I was there.

I wouldn't travel a great distance to see the Navajo Cultural Center, but anyone venturing to the Kayenta area really ought to check it out.

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