Diné, the People
By Suzanne Eltsosie

 

The Navajo Hogan

The First Hogan

The first Hogan was built in the underworld by the Holy People. According to Navajo legend, Talking God (Háásch elt í) instructed First Man and First Woman on how to construct and build it.

The first Hogan was the "forked stick" or "male" Hogan (ách í ádeez áhí). It contained a vestibule in the front and was only for sacred ceremonies inside.

The Holy Gods were aware of the needs for the family, so the "circular," "round," or "female" Hogan (tsé beehooganí) became the home for the Diné people and it was built next. This Hogan was much larger and did not contain a vestibule. In it, the children were allowed to play and cry and the women would cook, weave, talk, and entertain. Here too, children were born and men could tell jokes and stories.

The First People were instructed to bless their Hogans before they lived in them and Talking God performed the first blessing. After a Hogan is completed and before it is occupied, it is blessed by cornmeal or corn pollen to the cardinal points. The blessing makes the Hogan strong and protects the family spiritually, physically, and mentally. A blessing is done by touching the four main posts and then strewing the cornmeal or corn pollen around the inside of the Hogan in a clockwise direction.

The Hogan Today

Many tourists who visit the Navajo country are unaware that the Navajo dwelling, or Hogan, plays a significant role in the religious as well as the secular life of the people.

The Navajos have two words which they apply to dwellings, kin, which means a "house" as usually understood by non-Navajos, and Hooghan, which refers to the traditional type of Navajo home. Though Navajos apply the word in to the prehistoric structures of the ancient Pueblo Indians, use of the square or rectangular type house among the Navajos is comparatively of recent date.

The earliest and traditional type of the Navajo Hogan, or Hooghan, which is still in use today throughout the reservation, is the forked-pole structure. Many remains of these have been located and recorded throughout the Navajo country and especially in northeastern New Mexico, which was once a part of the in ' h or "Old Navajo Country." Built according to prescribed traditions and religious observances, the basic framework of the traditional - and, as the Navajos consider it, the male Hogan is usually three forked poles, the bases of which are set in the ground at the north, south, and west cardinal directions of a circle with the forked ends interlocked at the top to brace them in place. Two poles were laid up against the interlocked forks from the east, or the "first light of dawn," form the entryway. After poles to fill the openings between the main forks and the entry are set in place, the structure is covered with earth except for the entry and smoke hole, a vestibule, or extension of the entry, sometimes is added to the structure. Formerly a blanket was used to cover the entry, but more recently doors made of plank serve this purpose except when a ceremony is being held.

A second type of Hogan most prevalent among the Navajos is the cribbed-log - or female - type. Like the forked-pole Hogan, these structures are today seen in all parts of the reservation. The basic structure is built by placing succeeding layers of logs or pole horizontally upon the other to form a circular building--leaving an opening for the entry, of course. At a suitable height, smaller logs are used and the circumference is diminished gradually until a domed effect is achieved. The entire structure, except for the smoke hole and entry, is then covered with earth to seal all cracks and openings.

Aside from the forked-pole and cribbed-log structures, other Hogan types in use among the Navajo, which can be observed in various areas of the reservation, include the stone-walled with cribbed-log roof type and the vertical pole type in which a framework of four upright forks with horizontal stringers in between them support a wall of poles laid vertically against the frame. The roof is also a domed construction, and the structure is also earth covered. The dugout type is another which, as the name implies, is excavated, usually into the side of a hill, the exposed portion being built either of stone or wood according to the preferences of the builder.

Hearths in Navajo Hogans are characteristically located a little front of center and ashes are disposed of on a pile northeast of and some distance from the Hogan entry.

Though tradition prescribes that the building of a Hogan be in accordance with strict religious observances, today many of these are ignored. Nevertheless, structures erected today are basically the same as those built in former times and known only through archaeological research.

Before a new Hogan is occupied it is usually blessed either by strewing pollen along the cardinal points or by having a formal ceremony performed. All Navajo ceremonies and sings for curing the sick are conducted in Hogans, and any rite or ceremony performed in the Hogan automatically sanctifies it. Even if the family occupies a frame house, there is usually a Hogan--either their own, or that of a relative--reserved for such purpose.

So great is the Navajo's feeling towards the Hogan that many taboos are associated with it. Should a death occur in the structure, the body is either buried in the Hogan, the entry sealed to warn other Navajos away, or the deceased is extracted through a hole knocked in the north side of the structure and it is abandoned and often burned. Other things which render a Hogan taboo for further Navajo use are lightning striking in close proximity to the structure, or should a bear rub against it. Wood from such structures is never used for any purpose by a Navajo.

Before the acquisition of adequate tools such as metal axes for felling larger timbers easily, Navajo hogans were smaller than they are now. Similarly, furnishings in former days were scant compared to those today. In large hogans at present one may see beds, tables, always a stove, possibly a few chairs, and occasionally even windows. Formerly, and in some instances today, the occupants slept on sheepskins on the earthen floor, lying with their heads to the wall and their feet to the fire, and custom still dictates that upon entering the Hogan, women go to the right, or the north side where the kitchen supplies and utensils are maintained, and the men go to the left or south side. The rear of the Hogan is the place of honor and is usually reserved for the patriarch or matriarch of the family. In a sense, this method is actually a partitioning of the Hogan into separate rooms.

Today, as formerly, one may observe a Navajo home site consisting of several Hogans with such  numerous--associated structures as corrals, lamb pens, armadas or sun shelters, outdoor ovens, and a sweathouse some distance away. It was not uncommon for a man to have several wives, often marrying a widow and later taking one or more of his stepdaughters or his wife's sisters also as wives. Each wife, or course, maintained her own separate Hogan.

The Navajos have always been fond of sweat bathing and the sweathouse in actuality is nothing more than a miniature forked-pole Hogan also earth covered, and without a smoke hole. The entry is covered with a blanket and heat is derived from stones heated in an outside fire and pushed inside into a small pit just to the north of the entry. The Navajo sudatory provides bath facilities in an area where water is extremely scarce.

Types of Hogans

  1. Forked Pole Hogan
  2. Four Legged Round Hogan
  3. Sweat Lodge
  4. Many-Legged Hogan
  5. Circular Stone Hogan
  6. Log Cabin Hogan
  7. Modern House
  8. Summer Shelter

Types of Hogans, 1-4

Types of Hogans, 5-8