Before they started raising sheep, the Navajo wore clothes made of woven yucca plants or deerskin. The men wore breechcloths and the women skirts. Their shoes were soft leather moccasins. Later, they wore clothes woven from the wool of sheep.
The Navajo traditionally farmed squash, corn and beans and hunted animals such as deer and prairie dogs. Corn is a staple Navajo food and is eaten fresh, ground or dried. Other popular corn- and wheat-based foods include frybread, hominy, blue bread, roast corn and wheat sprouts.
The Navajo did not wear Indian headdresses. Men would wear cloth headbands. Mostly, men and women would wear ponchos or cloaks made from deerskin or rabbit fur.
For the Navajos, four colors have special meaning: black, white, blue, and yellow. These colors can symbolize many different things, including spiritual beings and important places in Navajo cul- ture.
1. Manuelito “Little Manuel,” 1818-1894. Manuelito is probably the best-known Navajo for the role he played in ensuring the continued existence of the Navajo people. Born in the Folded Arms People, or Bit’ahni, Manuelito was unknown until he became the headman of his group.
The interrelatedness of the universe is recognized by religious ceremonies and prayer offerings. Navajo people view the earth as a spiritual mother, with family comprising a network of Holy People and livestock as well as human relatives.
As the Navajo evolved under the influence of first the Pueblo Indians and then the Spanish, they came also to be shepherds and farmers. Mutton and goat became staple foods, as did corn, beans, squash, and some fruits from orchards.
Holy People: The Navajo believed in good and evil. Their Holy People were supernatural beings with the power to hurt or help the Navajo people. Some of the Holy People were named Talking God, Changing Woman, Bear, Ant, and Corn People.
The Navajos call themselves Diné.
The word Indian came to be used because Christopher Columbus repeatedly expressed the mistaken belief that he had reached the shores of South Asia. Convinced he was correct, Columbus fostered the use of the term Indios (originally, “person from the Indus valley”) to refer to the peoples of the so- called New World.
The sprawling Navajo reservation, located in parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, is the largest and most populous Indian reservation, with 14 million acres of trust lands, which are leased for farming, grazing, and oil, gas and other mineral extraction.
Native American cultural representatives and activists have expressed offense at what they deem the cultural appropriation of wearing and displaying of such headdresses, and other “indigenous traditional arts and sacred objects” by those who have not earned them, especially by non-Natives as fashion or costume.
The Navajo and the Apache are closely related tribes, descended from a single group that scholars believe migrated from Canada. Both Navajo and Apache languages belong to a language family called “Athabaskan,” which is also spoken by native peoples in Alaska and west-central Canada.
Known to its speakers as Diné, Navajo is an Athabaskan language spoken by 150,000 people. Although Navajo is the most-spoken Native American language in the U.S., it is rarely spoken outside of the Navajo reservation.
Pronounced “di-nay,” the term derives from the group’s traditional Athabaskan language and can mean both “people of the Earth” and “man.” The term Navajo has no clear meaning and was bestowed by the Spanish when they claimed control over the 17 million acres that is now Navajo land.