Manataka American Indian Council
The Navajo Enemy Way Ceremony
By Johnson Dennison, Special to The Independent
The Navajo Enemy
Way Ceremony is a healing ceremony to treat patients and is only conducted
in the summer months.
This ceremony is almost a week long process for patients who are ill from any form of illness. It was originally conducted for individuals who participated in a foreign war and usually for warriors returning from war. This is why it is called the Nidaa', the Enemy Way Ceremony. Some people call it a "Squaw dance," but that is derogatory.
The preparation for the Enemy Way Ceremony begins by building a forked stick hogan. It can also be conducted in any type of traditional hogan as well. Most of the time, a temporary hogan-shaped brush arbor is built for the ceremony. The temporary shelter is dismantled as soon as the ceremony is over. Another small arbor is built in front of the hogan also for a ceremonial purpose.
A larger arbor is also built about fifty yards from the hogan on the southwest side. This is to be used as a cook shed where visitors are received and are fed. The relatives of the patients will help build the cook shed. The shed is usually divided into two rooms. The room on the north side is reserved for the main patient and his family to prepare food for the visitors. The south room is reserved for the wife of the patient and her family to use for receiving friends and relatives.
The patients will invite their clan relatives and friends to the Enemy Way ceremony. It is a major Navajo ceremony involving a lot of people from communities. It is also a public ceremony, so anyone can attend.
There is a meeting night to start the ceremony. Most of the relatives and friends of the patients will come to the meeting night. It is usually on a Monday. The visitors and relatives will come into the hogan and make donations. Because the hogan is small and not everyone will fit, there will be some people standing outside. The people will talk about the ceremonial process and at the same time they will discuss who will receive the ceremonial staff.
A ceremonial staff is a foot and half long cut off cedar juniper branch decorated with eagle feathers and colorful yarn. The ceremonial staff is obtain and decorated on the day when it will be carried to the receiver. The receiver of the staff will eventually be considered as the person to treat the patients. The patients and visitors will decide who will receive the staff. The meeting night is concluded in the late evening while singers sing sacred songs of the Enemy Way ceremony as they stand in front of the hogan facing east.
Most of the people will leave and go home for the night, except the patients and their family members, who will camp out for the night. Throughout the evening, a reception is provided at the cook shed for the visitors. The main dish is usually mutton stew, roast mutton, coffee and fry bread.
It is also a time to socialize and exchange stories and greetings. Most of the people also bring some food with them to help out the family. The ceremony is well announced through a Navajo radio station where every one listens daily, so it is not a surprise event for people.
The next morning at dawn, the spokesperson with the patients will drive over to the staff receiver's house or hogan to make an offering. Long ago, it was one person to ride a horse a distance to meet the staff receiver. The person to receive the staff usually does not live in the same community of the main ceremonial camp.
When they, patients and spokesperson, arrive at the staff receiver's house, they will offer him the collection of donations, so he will serve the patients as a medicine man. Generally, he will agree to receive the staff. Sometime he may refuse to receive the sacred staff for several reasons. To receive a staff is a huge responsibility. However, when he agrees, he will set a date to receive the staff. He will announce by saying when the staff should be brought to him.
The elders tell us that a long time ago people used to announce five days to seven days. But nobody does that anymore. If more than three days is announced, the Enemy Way ceremony will last more than a week or even two weeks. The even number of days are not considered; it has to be an odd number. Three day agreements are most common in Enemy Way ceremonies.
The Navajo people always predict it will be three days to carry the staff, so they schedule a planning meeting on Monday night. A proposal is made on Tuesday morning, and three days after Tuesday is Friday. The day the staff is carried over is usually on Friday, so it will become a weekend activity. The day would finally arrive at the ceremony to fix, decorate, and carry the staff to the staff receiver's hogan.
Usually a crowd gathers to participate. A number of people ride their horses or bring their horses in stock trailers. While waiting for the afternoon ceremony to start, visitors are received at the cook shed and meals are served. Inside the hogan, people have already brought colorful yarn to be used in decorating the staff, horses, and even vehicles. Another selected medicine man will bring in a straight cut off juniper branch well prepared to be decorated for a sacred staff. The medicine man will sing sacred songs while decorating the staff. A design is inscribed on the staff and colorfully decorated with yarn, eagle feathers and deer hoofs. The patients and relatives pray while making the offering of corn pollen. It is a dramatic ritual activity.
When it is done, the main patient takes the staff outside and gets on a saddled horse. He takes off with the rest of the riders. There would be a number of horseback riders joining the patient carrying the staff. The rest of the people that don't have horses will follow the riders in their vehicles. This is a spectacular sight to see on the Navajo Reservation roads in the summer: a convoy of trucks and cars decorated with colorful yarn.
The horseback riders will arrive at the hogan of the person to receive the decorated staff. The main patient gets off his horse and comes into the hogan of the staff receiver while carrying the staff. He, the patient, will hand the staff over to the staff receiver while he is sitting on a buckskin in the hogan. The staff is well inspected by the receiver and his helper(s) to see if it was properly prepared. A medicine man will sing a receiving song. Following this, the traditional food is served to all people that came from the main camp of the ceremony. There will be greetings between family members, relatives, and friends from both camps as well. The family members of the receiver are the host.
In the late evening, the staff receiver and his helpers will start singing Enemy Way songs. The dancing starts next. A young girl dressed in traditional attire will come out of the hogan and initiate the dances. It is an activity many Navajo people like to participate in.
The next day is when the main patient and his family and relatives are served breakfast. After breakfast, the main patient and his family members will come to the front of the hogan and sing more sacred songs. While they are singing, they will be given gifts. After the singing is done, the main patient and family members will go home for the day. They will arrive back at the main camp at mid-morning. There will be visitors coming through out the day and having a feast at the cook shed.
Late afternoon, the staff receiver, his family, and relatives will set up camp to spend the night about three miles from the main ceremonial camp. This is the time when more people will also join the dancing, called round dancing. They will camp out along the side of the road. This type of camp is usually visible from the road. The Navajo people called it a "camp out" and some called it second night.
The next morning when the sun rises, the campers will move to the main camp of the ceremony. When they arrive, the horseback riders will ride back and forth between the main camp hogan and the staff receivers on horseback. The patients are all sitting in the hogan. As soon as the staff receiver arrives, the people from the main camp will serve breakfast.
But the staff receiver and his people still camp about a hundred yards away from the main camp. After breakfast, the people from the staff receiver's camp will come to the front of the main hogan and sing more sacred songs. As they sing, they will be given gifts from the main patient and his family members. Another medicine man specialized in the Enemy Way ceremony will conduct a ceremony most of the morning inside the hogan. The patients will spend most of morning in the hogan.
The spouse of the main patient will also participate in the ceremony, but under the small shade especially built for her just outside of the hogan. This is the time that she will be dressed with shawls, robes, fabric materials, and buckskin. She will take all these materials back to her family and relatives and they receive them as gifts from the main patient. This is considered as a main event of the ceremony.
Following the main events, there will be more round dancing. The final night of the ceremony is usually quiet, and very few people will stay as most of the people will be too tired to do anymore singing and dancing. The staff receiver stays until at dawn the next morning. There will be some more closing songs sung at this time. The Enemy Way ceremony is over.
The sun rises, everything is quiet, and everyone gets to live normal lives again. The total process lasts six days. Again, the Navajo radio stations will start announcing more up coming Nidaa' ceremonies. This is a Navajo cultural and ritual healing ceremony. The culture is still strong out in the Navajo country.
Johnson Dennison is a Navajo medicine man who contributes regularly to this column.
Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola at the Independent: (505) 863-8611, ext. 218
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