Monday, August 13, 2012

An Appreciated Pelt

The vast majority of items we sell go off with happy people and we never know how the purchase worked out for the buyer.  Did the roving spin up as they hoped?  Was the yarn the right color after all?  Was the sheepskin being enjoyed?  I recently received an email from friend who wanted to share with me the 'new life' a pelt she bought here is enjoying (she refers to it below as a fleece, but it's an actual sheepskin).  This glimpse into another way of  life seemed so interesting that I thought I'd pass it along.  Here, in part, is her email (reprinted with permission, of course).

.......I also kept expecting I might need it for a gift. Well, the day arrived and I wish you could have seen it -- you would have been so proud of your sheep! I am living in the Navajo nation in northern Arizona area, and was fortunate to be invited to a traditional kinalda ceremony, which I am writing to tell you about. As you know, Navajo life is still very much about sheep and tradition, and the grandmas still process their own wool from their Churro sheep and weave it into rugs.

More than anyone, I think, the Navajo can appreciate the value of sheep, and a beautiful fleece symbolizes almost everything good in their world. Every elder here remembers growing up in a hogan, with just a sheep fleece as a bed between themselves and the dirt floor. With that in mind, I brought one of your beautiful fleeces as a kinalda gift for the girl. These days, it is hard to get your hands on a fleece here, let alone such a beautiful one, so everyone was impressed and had many questions about it, and it provoked good conversation.

I expected the fleece gift to go in a pile somewhere with the other gifts, but when I entered the hogan later, there was your fleece, stretched out in the place of honor to the left of the medicine man, for the kinalda girl to sit on during the all night singing. Surrounding that spot on the west wall were other medicine objects, a sage bundle, and the girl's school certificates and awards put up to recognize the girl's achievements so far, as she takes her place in the adult world. The fleece was glowing, and the family was proud to present their daughter in such a way. Good work! I know you would have appreciated this scene even more than if the fruit of your labor were displayed in the White House. I wish I could have taken a picture for you but of course it's not acceptable to photograph such things. Trust me, there is much gratitude emanating to you and your sheep from this corner of the world!

Under supervision of the mentor, Nizhoni (the girl having the ceremony) had to grind some 50 pounds of roasted corn, which she cooked and stirred yesterday in a huge outdoor kettle to make the traditional Navajo cake. Some ceremonial herbs were added but nothing sweet, and nothing that would cause you to recognize it as cake! The cake was spread on corn husks in a wide hole in the ground, then it was covered with husks and dirt and the all-night fire was built on top.

Even in this poor and desolate country, there must have been a hundred people on the grounds eating when I arrived.  The family was prepared for all the people who would be visiting and helping over the four days of ceremony. The girl's maternal grandmother is responsible for providing the hogan, hiring the medicine man, and other preparations, but everyone can help out. As a guest, it is good form to bring special food for the giveaway that happens after the cake is brought out of the ground. I was loaded with seven pounds of candied nuts, dried peaches, and beef jerky. Lucky I had just stocked up on goodies the last time I was in Albuquerque!

Almost everyone went home after supper, but around 35 of us stayed. The younger kids ended up spreading out blankets and sleeping in the grandmother's hogan when they were done wrestling and playing. The rest of us entered the ceremonial hogan at nearly 11 PM. The hogan is round and has a dirt floor but there were thin rug remnants set around the wall for the guests to sit on. The hogan was just big enough for all of us to sit in a circle, men on the south side, and the medicine man in the west with his helper to his right and the girl Nizhoni to his left (Nizhoni means "beautiful" in Navajo). The father sat at the door in the east. There were three ancient "grandmas" and they got to sit together on folding chairs along the north wall with the women. The medicine man sings medicine songs all night, and directs the girl at times in ritual. The rest of us can sing along if we want, and try to stay awake. From time to time someone falls forward or leans sideways, overcome by sleep. I don't know the Navajo language but one of the ladies sitting next to me (Well, more like she was sitting against me with her elbow in my ribs and her knees tucked up to her chest like the rest of us, since there wasn't room to sit "Indian style!" ) told me the first song is about the hogan. Late in the night a couple of the men guests took turns singing special songs that were their gift to the girl. They can expect to take home extra large pieces of cake later for their trouble..

By 5:30 am our butts were numb, and I was delirious with wanting sleep. The sun would be rising soon but it was still pitch black from the stormy but rainless night when Nizhoni headed out for her final run to the east. The kids were all directed to run with her, but only the older kids could keep up as she ran about 2 miles to the east, yelling and running as directed, then running back.

 I can't imagine how tired Nizhoni would have been after laboring outdoors all day on her fourth day of ceremony, sitting up for ceremony all night, then completing the ceremony in the morning! It was amazing to see the amount of support that went into the event, from all the friends and family.

How far removed most of us are from this culture and way of life.  I may not ever get out West to look around, but it makes me very happy to think a pelt from this flock has found its way out there and is appreciated.


  1. Wow!!!! That is so interesting! And to think, one of your pelts was there!

  2. For me, one of the unexpected pleasures of fiber processing is getting to see what my customers do with the fiber.

    By the way, some of your "Ferns & Moss" is about to become a Yarn Basket Part I for FLFF. Love the color and loved spinning it!