Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Unbreakable Code: Navajo Belief About Death

One Navajo belief that has caused many difficulties for them in their dealings with outsiders over time is their fear of death. This was especially true of the Navajos who fought in America's wars of the 20th Century. They are not afraid of dying, but want no part of anything that has already died. The Navajo faith teaches that people are not totally extinguished at their deaths. Unlike Christianity, however, the traditional Navajo religion did not assign the souls of the dead to an afterlife in another world. Traditional Navajos believed that the evil part of a dead creature or person lingered on Earth. The chindi, as these spirits were called, returned to the place where the person had died to terrorize the living. Chindi were to be avoided at all costs. Once a person was dead, his or her name was not to be mentioned again, even if the dead person was a loved one.

If a person died in their hogan, the body had to be taken out through a hole in the northern wall, since north is the direction of evil to a Navajo. The hogan was either burned to the ground or abandoned and allowed to fall in on itself. One of the greatest favors a belegana (white person) could offer to Navajos was to bury their dead relatives for them. Burial was an ominous task, and elaborate ritual precautions had to be taken to protect those who had to perform it.In the Pacific war, Navajo Code Talkers were surrounded by chindi. They lived among death and slept among death. They had to pull bodies of dying and dead comrades out of vine-choked ditches and slimy rivers; they huddled in fox holes all night long while dead enemies lay in the darkness around them.

Next: Troubles with the US government


  1. I also love Hillerman's mysteries and find the Navajo culture interesting. Thanks for posting these, Linda.

  2. Looking forward to more about the "Code Talkers." Theirs was one of the only codes the Japanese could not break. Enjoyed this post.