Editor’s Preface to this chapter

There is not one official version of the Navajo emergence story. This chapter is based on a variety of accounts, especially Ethelou Yazzie’s Navajo History (1971), Paul G. Zolbrod’s Diné Bahane’ (1984), Hastliin Tol’tsi Hee’s oral account (1928), and the oral account told by Hasteen Klah and re-written by Mary C. Wheelright (1942). Refer to those primary sources for the most authoritative versions of the story.

Introduction to the Navajo Diné Bahaneʼ


Diné Bahaneʼ (Navajo: “Story of the People”), the Navajo creation myth, describes the prehistoric emergence of the Navajo, and centers on the area known as the Dinétah, the traditional homeland of the Navajo. This story forms the basis for the traditional Navajo way of life. The basic outline of Diné Bahaneʼ begins with the Niłchʼi Diyin (Holy Wind) being created as the mists of lights which arose through the darkness to animate and bring purpose to the four Diyin Dineʼé (Holy People), supernatural and sacred in the different three lower worlds. All these things were spiritually created in the time before the Earth existed and the physical aspect of humans did not exist yet, but the spiritual did.

The First or Dark World, Niʼ Hodiłhił, was small and centered on an island floating in the middle of four seas. The inhabitants of the first world were the four Diyin Dineʼé, the two Coyotes, the four rulers of the four seas, mist beings and various insect and bat people, the latter being the Air-Spirit People. The supernatural beings First Woman and First Man came into existence here and met for the first time after seeing each other’s fire. The various beings on The First World started fighting with one another and departed by flying out an opening in the east.

They journeyed to the Second or Blue World, Niʼ Hodootłʼizh, which was inhabited by various blue-gray furred mammals and various birds, including blue swallows. The beings from the First World offended Swallow Chief, Táshchózhii, and they were asked to leave. First Man created a wand of jet and other materials to allow the people to walk upon it up into the next world through an opening in the south.

In the Third or Yellow World, Niʼ Hałtsooí, there were two rivers that formed a cross and the Sacred Mountains but there was still no sun. More animal people lived here too. This time it was not discord among the people that drove them away but a great flood caused by Tééhoołtsódii when Coyote stole her two children.

When the people arrived in the Fourth or White World, Niʼ Hodisxǫs, it was covered in water and there were monsters (naayééʼ) living here. The Sacred Mountains were re-formed from soil taken from the original mountains in the Second World. First Man, First Woman, and the Holy People created the sun, moon, seasons, and stars. It was here that true death came into existence via Coyote tossing a stone into a lake and declaring that if it sank then the dead would go back to the previous world.

Diné Bahaneʼ

The First World

Of a time long ago these things are said. The first world was small, and black as soot. In the middle of the four seas there was an island floating in the mist. On the island grew a pine tree.

Dark ants dwelt there. Red ants dwelled there. Dragonflies dwelled there. Yellow beetles dwelled there. Hard beetles dwelled there. Stone-carrier beetles dwelled there. Black beetles dwelled there. Coyote-dung beetles dwelled there. Bats dwelled there. Whitefaced beetles dwelled there. Locusts dwelled there. White locusts dwelled there.

These were the twelve groups of the Níłchʼi Dineʼé, the Air-Spirit People, who lived in the First World.

Around the floating island were four seas. Each sea was ruled by a being. In the sea to the East dwelled Tééhoołtsódii, Big Water Creature, The One Who Grabs Things in the Water. In the sea to the south lived Táłtłʼááh álééh, Blue Heron. In the sea to the west dwelled Chʼał, Frog. In the ocean to the north dwelled Iiʼniʼ Jiłgaii, Winter Thunder.

Above each sea appeared a cloud. There was a black cloud, a white cloud, a blue cloud, and a yellow cloud. The Black Cloud contained the Female spirit of Life. The White Cloud contained the Male spirit of Dawn.

The Black Cloud and the White Cloud came together in the East, and the wind from the clouds blew. From the breath of wind, First Man, Áłtsé Hastiin, was formed and with him the white corn, Kóhonotʼíinii, perfect in shape, with kernels covering the whole ear. Crystal, symbol of the mind and clear seeing, was with him.

The Blue Cloud and the Yellow Cloud came together in the West, and a wind from the clouds blew. From the breath of wind, First Woman, Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́, was formed, and with her the yellow corn, perfect in shape, with kernels covering the whole ear. White shell, and turquoise, and yucca were there with her.

Colorized b&w image from O'Bryan 1936 text
First Man between Black Cloud and White Cloud, and First Woman between Blue Cloud and Yellow Cloud

First Man between Black Cloud and White Cloud, and First Woman between Blue Cloud and Yellow Cloud

First Man made a fire with his crystal. Its light was the mind’s first awakening. First Woman made a fire with her turquoise. They saw each other’s light in the distance.

When the Blue Cloud and the Yellow Cloud rose high in the sky, First Woman saw the light of First Man’s fire, and she went out to find it. Three times she was unsuccessful. The fourth time she found the home of First Man. “I wondered what this thing could be,” she said. “I saw you walking and wondered why you did not come,” First Man said. “Why do you not come with your fire, and we will live together.” First Woman agreed to this. So instead of the man going to the woman, as is the custom now, the woman went to live with the man.

Another person, Mąʼiitoʼí Áłchíní, Great Coyote, was formed in the water. He told First Man and First Woman that he had been hatched from an egg, and knew all that was under the water and all that was in the skies. First Man believed him. Then a second coyote, Áłtsé Hashké, First Angry, appeared. He said to the three, “You believe that you were the first persons. You are mistaken. I was living when you were formed.” First Angry brought witchcraft into the world.

The Air-Spirit People became jealous of one another and began to fight. The rulers of the four seas, Blue Heron, Frog, White Thunder, and Big Water Creature could stand it no more, and told the beings of the island that they must all leave this world. Some climbed and some flew until they came to an opening in the sky. They crawled through it and into the Second World.

The Second World

First Man, First Woman, the Great-Coyote-Who-Was-Formed-in-the-Water, and the Coyote First Angry, followed by all the others, climbed up from the Dark World to the Second or Blue World.

After arriving to the second world, the insect people sent scouts, which were plain locusts, to see if they could find anyone in the area. The scouts were first sent to the east and after two days, they returned and had not found anyone or anything yet. The scouts were then sent south to explore and they were once again not able to find anyone or anything. The scouts were sent on two more trips and after they had returned from their fourth trip, the camp of the Air Spirit people was visited by the Swallow people.

They found a number of people already living there: bluebirds, blue hawks, bluejays, blue herons, and all the blue furred beings. The powerful swallow people lived there also. They lived in blue houses, scattered across a broad, blue plain. The houses were cone-shaped and they were tapered towards the top. The swallow people said to the Air-Spirit People, “You are welcome here among us.” The Swallow people and Air-Spirit people then treated each other like they were all members of a single tribe, and for twenty-three days they all lived together in harmony. But on the night of the twenty-fourth day one of the Air-Spirit People approached the wife of the swallow chief and wished to sleep with her.

The next morning after finding out what happened the previous night, the Swallow Chief, Táshchozhii, said to the newcomers, “We welcomed you here among us. We treated you as kin. Yet this is how you return our kindness. Now you must leave this world.” After the Chief told the Air-Spirit people that they must leave, he said “Anyhow, this is a bad land. There is not enough food for all of us. People are dying here every day from hunger. Even if we allowed you to stay, you could not live here very long.” While in the second world, the Air-Spirit people still had not changed their way of life and they were not yet living in balance and harmony.

The Air-Spirit people wandered upward looking for a way into the next world. Niłchʼi, The Wind, called to them from the South. They followed him and found a slit in the sky that was upward slanted. The sky had a hard shell like the world they had previously been to. First Man created a wand of jet and other materials and the Air-Spirit people flew or walked upon it up into the next world. One by one they passed through to the other side.

The Third World

The bluebird had joined the Air-Spirit People and was the first to reach the Third or Yellow World. After him came the First Four and all the others.

The great Female River crossed this land from north to south. The great Male River crossed the land from east to west. The rivers flowed through one another in the middle, and the name of this place is Tó Ałnáosdlį́į́, Crossing of the Waters.

In the Yellow World were six mountains. In the East was Sisnaajiní, Dawn, or White Shell Mountain. In the South was Tsoodził, Blue Bead, or Turquoise Mountain. To the West was Dookʼoʼoosłííd, Abalone Shell Mountain. In the North was Dibé Nitsaa, Big Sheep Mountain. Near the Center of the Yellow World was Dził Náʼoodiłii, Soft Goods or Banded Rock Mountain. And near it, East of center, there was Chʼóolʼį́ʼí, Precious Stones, or Great Spruce Mountain.

Holy People lived on the mountains. They were immortal, and could travel by following the path of the rainbow and the rays of the sun. One was Haashchʼééłtiʼí, Talking God. His body was white. One was Tó Neinilí, Water Sprinkler. He was blue. One was Haashchʼééʼooghaan, House God. His body was yellow. One was Haashchʼééshzhiní, Black God, the god of fire. Beyond them to the east lived Turquoise Boy, who was a Nádleehi, neither male nor female, who guarded the great male reed. And far to the West, on Abalone Shell Mountain, lived Yoołgaii Asdzą́ą́ White Shell Girl, also a Nádleeh. With her was the big female reed, which grew at the water’s edge with no tassel.

Colorized b&w image from O'Bryan 1936 text
Drawing by Sam Ahkeak of sandpainting of Dinétah, the Navajo Homeland created by ceremonial leaders near Shiprock around 1930.

In the autumn, the four Holy People called to First Man and First Woman, and visited them, but they did not speak. Four days in a row they visited. On the fourth day, Black God said, “You must cleanse yourselves and we will return in twelve days.”

First Man and First Woman bathed carefully and dried themselves with corn meal. They listened and waited. On the twelfth day the four Holy People returned. Water Sprinkler and Black God carried a sacred buckskin. Talking God carried two perfect ears of corn, with their points completely covered with kernels. One ear of corn was white, the male corn belonging to First Man. The other ear was yellow, the female corn belonging to First Woman. The gods placed one buckskin on the ground facing west, and on it they placed the two ears of corn with their tips pointing east. Under the white ear they put the feather of a white eagle. Under the yellow ear of corn they put the feather of a yellow eagle. They told the people to stand at a distance so that the wind could enter.

The White Wind, Níłchʼi Łigai blew between the buckskins, and while the wind blew, each of the Holy People walked four times around them, and the feathers were seen to move. In this way, they transformed First Man and First Woman from spirit people into human beings, with great powers. “Now,” the Holy People said, “live here as husband and wife.”

At the end of four days First Woman gave birth to twins. They were neither male nor female, but Nádleeh. Four days later a second set of twins was born, one male and one female. After twenty days a total of five pairs of twins had been born, half of them male and half of them female. Almost at once they were full grown. The Holy People took each set of twins to their home on the East Mountain and taught them how to wear masks and pray, and then returned them to their parents. Eight winters passed, and during that time the twins found mates with the Mirage People. Many people came into being.

Spider Man, Spider Woman and Weaving

Near Tó Ałnáosdlį́į́, Crossing of the Waters, lived Spider Man and Spider Woman. They knew how to weave the fibers of cotton and hemp and other plants. First Woman asked Spider Man and Spider Woman to teach people how to weave the fibers of plants so they would not have to depend on animal skins for clothing. Cotton seeds were planted, and the cotton was gathered. Spider Man taught the people to shape a little wheel, 3 or 4 inches in diameter, and put a slender stick through it to spin the cotton. First Woman said, “You must spin towards your person, not away, as you wish to have the beautiful goods come to you. If you spin away from you, the goods will depart from you.” Spider Man named the spindle “yódí yił yaʼhote,” meaning “turning around with the beautiful goods.” Spider Woman said, “No, it shall be called nto is yił yaʼhote, turning around with the mixed chips.”

After they had spun the thread they rolled it into good-sized balls, and brought straight poles and tied them to make a rectangular frame. Spider Man wound the thread on two of the poles from east to west, over and under the poles. Then Spider Man said that the ball of thread should be called “yódí yił nasmas aghaaʼ,” meaning “rolling with the beautiful goods.” Spider Woman said, “No, it shall be called ntsilí yił nasmas aghaaʼ, rolling with the mixed chips.”

After the loom was finished the cross poles were erected and other poles placed on the ground to hold the loom frame solidly, and the loom was stretched into place. Spider Man said, “It shall be called yótí ilth na daiʼdi, raising with the beautiful goods.” Spider Woman said, “No, it shall be called niltłʼiz na daiʼdi, raising with the mixed chips.”

There was a notched stick running across, with a notch holding every other thread. Spider Man said, “It will be called yódí bił nesłon, looping with the beautiful goods.” Spider Woman said, “No, it shall be called niltłʼliz bił nesłon, looping with the mixed chips.” Then they used a narrow stick about two and a half feet long, and wound the yarn or thread over it, and where there is no design they ran it along. That was given the same name as the ball of thread. They used the wide flat stick for tapping down the thread. Spider Man said, “It shall be called yódí naʼygolte;” but Spider Woman said, “It shall be called niltłʼiz naʼygolte.”

Spider Man then said, “Now you know all that I have named for you. It is yours to work with and to use following your own wishes. But from now on when a baby girl is born to your tribe you shall go and find a spider web woven at the mouth of some hole; you must take it and rub it on the baby’s hand and arm. Thus, when she grows up she will weave, and her fingers and arms will not tire from the weaving.”

The Separation of Men and Women

One day First Man brought home a fine deer that he had killed. First Woman said, “I thank my vagina for this deer.” First Man demanded to know what she meant. “I mean that you bring me food because you wish to have sex with me,” she said. “But we women could live happily without men. We are the ones who gather the food and till the fields. We have no need of men.” First Man grew angry and called all the men together. “The women think they can live without us,” he told them. “Let us see if that is true.”

The men and the two hermaphrodite twins crossed the river to the north bank carrying the grinding stones and bowls and baskets that the hermaphrodite twins had made, and the axes and hoes that the men had invented. The women bared themselves along the bank of the river and called out to the men, saying “See what you are missing?” There were occasionally men and women who so longed after the other that some jumped into the river that separated them in a vain attempt to reunite with their loved ones. Unfortunately the currents of the river were too strong and the swimmers were washed down the river, never to be seen again.

For four years the men and the women lived apart. During this time the food that the women harvested became less, because they had no tools, while the men grew more and more food. But each group longed for the other. The women sought to satisfy themselves with bones and feathers and long stones. The men tried to relieve their longing with the fresh meat of animals. One man, Kʼíídeesdizí, tried to satisfy himself using the liver of a deer. Owl called out to him to stop. “This is wrong,” Owl said. “No good can come of this separation. You must bring the men and the women together again.” As it turns out Owl was right. From the women who had sought to satisfy themselves with foreign objects, monsters were born out of this. The monsters would go on the terrorize the people wherever they roamed.

Kʼíídeesdizí spoke to the other men. Finally they all spoke to First Man. First Man called across the river to First Woman, and asked, “Do you still think you can live alone?” “I no longer believe I can,” she responded. “I am sorry I let the things you said make me angry,” First Man said. And then the men sent a raft to the women’s side of the river to bring the women across. The men and women bathed and dried their bodies with corn meal, and remained apart until nightfall. Then they would resume their lives together.

Big Water Creature and the Great Flood

But a mother and her two daughters had been in the fields and had not seen the raft. Now it was dark, and they saw that all of the women had crossed the river to the men’s side. They began to swim across. But Tééhoołtsódii, Big Water Creature, grabbed the two daughters and dragged them to her home under the water. For three days and three nights, the people searched the river for the girls, but they could not find them.

On the morning of the fourth day, Talking God and Water Sprinkler appeared with a large bowl of white shell and a large bowl of blue shell. The people gathered around them. They placed the bowls at the water’s edge, and started to spin them. The spinning bowls created an opening in the water which led downward to a large house with four rooms. First Man and First Woman traveled down the passage and into the house, and behind them crept the Coyote named First Angry. In the north room of the house, they found Big Water Creature asleep in a chair. Her own two children were there, and also the two missing daughters. First Man and First Woman took the hands of the girls and led them back through the passage and on to the bank. Behind them, Coyote carried the two children of Big Water Creature, wrapped in his big skin coat with white fur lining. There was great celebrating because the lost girls were returned.

The next morning, animals began running past the village from the east. Deer ran by, and turkeys, and antelopes, and squirrels. For three days, animals ran past, fleeing from something. On the morning of the fourth day, the people sent locusts flying to the east to find out what was happening. The locusts returned and told that a great wall of water was coming from the east, and a tide of water from the north and from the south. The people ran to the top of the mountain Sisnaajiní. First Man ran to each of the other Sacred Mountains, took dirt from each, and summoned the Holy People, and returned to Sisnaajiní. Turquoise Boy came bearing the great Male Reed, and First Man planted it in the top of the mountain. All the people began to blow on the reed, and it began to grow and grow until it reached the canopy of the sky. Woodpecker hollowed out a passage inside the reed, and the people and Turquoise Boy and the four Holy People all began to climb up until they came out in the Fourth World.

The Fourth World

After the people had all emerged into the Fourth, or White World, they saw the water continuing to rise in the Third World beneath them. Big Water Creature pushed her head through the opening in the reed. Her curly hair floated on the water, and lightning flashed from her black horn and her yellow horn. First Man asked Big Water Creature why she had come. She said nothing. But the Coyote named First Angry came forward wearing his skin coat. He said “Perhaps it is because of this,” and drew the two babies from under his coat. Turquoise Boy took a basket and filled it with turquoise. On top of the turquoise he placed the blue pollen from blue flowers and yellow pollen from the corn, and pollen from water flags, and on top of these he placed the crystal, which is river pollen. This basket he gave to Coyote, who put it between the horns of the Big Water Creature, and on the basket he placed the two children. The Big Water Creature disappeared down into the reed, and the water with her.

They saw that they were on an island in the middle of a bubbling lake, surrounded by high cliffs. At first the people could not find a way to get across the water to the shore. They called on Water Sprinkler to help them. He had brought four great stones with him from the Third World. He threw one to the east. When it hit the cliff wall, it broke a hole through it, and water began to flow out of the lake. He threw a stone to the south. He threw one to the west. And to the north he threw one. Each stone created a hole in the cliff, and the water of the lake became lower. A lane now connected the island to the shore to the east, but it was deep with mud. The people called on Níłchʼi Dilkǫǫh, Smooth Wind, to help them. He blew steadily for a long time, and finally the people were able to leave the island.

First Man and First Woman built a hogan to live in. It was not like a hogan of today. First Man dug a shallow pit in the earth and placed poles in it. For the main poles he used two parts of the Black Bow, Ałtį́į́ʼ Diłhił. One pole he cut from the Male Reed. One pole he cut from the Female Reed. The structure was covered with earth and grass. First Woman ground white corn and they powdered the poles and sprinkled corn meal inside the dwelling from East to West. First Man said, “May my home be sacred and beautiful, and may the days be beautiful and plenty.” This was the first hogan-raising ceremony.

Creation of Sun and Moon

Inside, First Man lay with his head to the East, and First Woman lay with her head to the West. Their thoughts mingled, and those thoughts were sacred. They began to plan for the time that was to come, and how people would live on the earth. Great Coyote-Who-Was-Formed-in-the-Water came in to help them plan. Together, they planned that there should be a sun, a moon, and day and night. They decided to keep the other Coyote, First Angry, away from their planning, because it was he who had brought unhappiness.

First Man, First Woman, and Great-Coyote-Who-Was-Formed-in-the-Water covered the floor of the hogan with a perfect buckskin. On the buckskin the placed a perfect round turquoise, larger than the height of a man. Below the turquoise they placed a great perfect white shell. At that moment the Coyote Áłtsé Hashké, First Angry, came and asked them what they were doing. “Nothing,” they said. “So I see,” he said. And he went away.

First Man went looking for Haashchʼééshzhiní, The Black Yéʼii, known as the Fire God. First Man found him in a place where there was fire under the earth, and called to him. He returned to the first hogan with First Man. First Man and First Woman also summoned the other three Holy People, Water Sprinkler, House God, and Talking God. Together, they told Turquoise Boy and White Shell Girl that they were creating the sun and the moon. They asked Turquoise Boy if he would become the sun, and they asked White Shell Girl if she would become the moon. Again, the Coyote named First Angry came by and asked them what they were doing. “Nothing,” they said. “So I see,” he said, and he went away.

First Man, First Woman, Great Coyote, and the Holy People planned that there would be 12 months. With each month, the moon would pass from dark to light, and the sun would move to a different path in the sky. White Shell Girl was given a whistle made from the Female Reed, with 12 holes in it. Each time she completed her cycle she would blow on the whistle, and a new month would begin. The first month was named Ghąąjįʼ, Back-to-Back, or Parting of the Seasons. Today it is called October. The second month was named Níłchʼitsʼósí, Time of Slender Winds. The third month was Níłchʼitsoh, Great Wind. It is the time to begin to tell the sacred stories. The fourth month, January, was Yas Niłtʼees, Crusted Snow. This is the month of many ceremonies, and the time for sacred stories. February, the fifth month, is Atsá Biyáázh, Baby Eagle. After this month, sacred stories must not be told to the young people. The sixth month, Wóózhchʼį́į́d, is the month of Sudden Spring Storms. Ceremonies are held to bless the fields before seeds are planted. The seventh month was Tʼą́ą́chil, Little Leaves. May, Tʼą́ą́tsoh, was the eighth month. Finally they planned Yaʼiishjááshchilí, When-Few-Seeds-Ripen, Jáátsoh, Great Seed Ripening, Biniʼantʼą́ą́tsʼózí, Little Ripening, and finally September, Biniʼantʼą́ą́tsoh, Harvest Time, when foods are stored for the winter.

Again, the Coyote named First Angry came by and asked what they were doing. “Nothing,” they said. “So I see,” he said, and he went away.

Fire God, the Black Yéʼii, used his fire to heat the turquoise on the buckskin until it became red hot. Then they asked Turquoise Boy to enter the glowing turquoise. “If I do that, I must be paid with the lives of the people of the earth, all the human beings, the animals which have four legs, the birds and insects of the air, the fishes and all the people under the water.” And then the White Shell Girl repeated the same thing. First Woman, First Man, Great Coyote, and the Holy People all agreed. Then Turquoise Boy entered the glowing Turquoise. First Man used his crystal to heat the White Shell, and White Shell Girl entered the White Shell. Four circles were made around the inside of the hogan to complete the ceremony. In this way, Turquoise Boy became the sun, Jóhonaaʼéí, The One Who Rules the Day. And White Shell Girl became the moon, Tłʼéhonaaʼéí, The One Who Rules the Night. Níłchʼi Haʼaʼaahdę́ęʼgo, the East Wind, asked to carry the newly formed sun to his land so that it could begin its journey there.

The Coyote named First Angry appeared again. He said, “I know you have been planning great things. I demand to know why I was not included in the planning.” First Man and First Woman said nothing. Coyote said, “You believe that I spoiled your living in the lower worlds, but it is not true. Now I will spoil your plans. The path of the sun and the path of the moon will not return to their beginning after 12 months. The twelve months of the sun will be 13 months of the moon. Sometimes frost will come early, and sometimes it will remain late. Sometimes the rains will not come, and you will have to summon the baby of the Big Water Creature to bring water.” And he left them.

The Coming of Death

Late in the first day, when Jóhonaaʼéí was finishing his first journey across the sky, one of the hermaphrodite twins, Nádleeh, stopped breathing. Afraid, the people left her alone. In the morning, the Coyote named First Angry and the people went to find the twin, but Nádleeh was gone. One man looked down the reed into the Third World, and there he saw Nádleeh sitting by the side of the river combing her hair. He called to his friend, and he looked and also saw her. The people asked Coyote what to do. He took a black rock, tadzootsé, and threw it into Tódiłhił, the Black Water Lake. He said that if the rock came up and floated, the spirit of the dead person would return to the Fourth World and there would be no death. If the rock sank, the spirit would stay in the world below and there would be death. The rock sank, and the people knew then that the twin was dead, and First Man remembered the agreement they had made with the sun. Four days later the two witnesses who had looked down on the dead twin also died. The people learned that it is dangerous to look at the dead. The people were all mad at Coyote for this and gathered around to beat him. Coyote said they could beat him, but first he had something to say. “I threw the rock in the water knowing that it would sink.” The people darkly muttered about this to one another, the whole of them deciding that Coyote really did deserve a good beating. But quick thinking Coyote finished his explanation. “Without death the world would soon be overpopulated. The elders would never die and would stay stuck in their infirm bodies. There would be no room for new children. We would run out of food and shelter with so many people to feed and care for.” The gathered group was silent for a bit while all of them contemplated Coyote’s rationale and found him to be wise and intelligent.

Stars and Constellations

First Man, First Woman, Great Coyote, and the Holy People next planned stars for the night sky. They gathered as many pieces of tsésǫʼrock-star mica, as they could find, and put them on a blanket. Then First Man made a drawing in the dirt to plan the location of all the stars seeking to make the sky like a woven rug, orderly and balanced. Haashchʼééshzhiní, Black Yéʼii, placed the Sǫʼtsoh (North Star). First Man placed the Náhookǫs [bikąʼí] (Big Dipper) while First Woman put the Náhookǫs [baʼáádí] (Little Dipper) into the sky. First Man also placed the Dilyéhé (Seven Stars, the Pleiades) which Black Yéʼii claimed represented parts of his body. They placed Áłtséʼétsoh, the Big First One. They placed Áłtséʼétsʼósí, Coyote’s Feather, or the Slender One (the belt and sword of Orion). They placed Baʼáłchíní, the children of Dilyéhé and Áłtséʼétsʼósí; and Hastiin Sikʼaiʼí, The-Old-Man-with Feet Apart; and the Rabbit Tracks, Gah Atʼéʼii; and Yikáí Sidáhí Moving-toward-the-Dawn; and Náhookǫs Bakąʼí, The-Revolving-Male-Warrior-with-His-Bow-and-Arrow; and his wife, Náhookǫs Baʼáádí, Who-Carries-the-Fire-in-Her-Basket. The Coyote named First Angry returned to see what was going on. He took a piece of rock-star mica and placed it on the sky, and it became Mąʼii bizǫʼ, known by Bilagáana as Canopus. He placed another piece in the south, Sǫʼ Doo Nidisidí, Morning Star. Then Coyote said, “This is too long. I have a better way.” He then snapped the blanket and the rest of the rock-star mica was scattered across the sky.

The Re-Creation of the Sacred Mountains

Áłtsé hastiin, First Man, and Áłtsé asdzą́ą́, First Woman, together with Tó Neinilí, Water Sprinkler, and Haashchʼééshzhiní, Black Yéʼii, the god of fire, set out to create the six sacred mountains from dirt that First Man had brought up from each mountain in the third world. They placed them as they had been in the third world. They re-created Sisnaajiní, Dawn, or White Shell Mountain, in the East. They decorated it with white shells. They decorated it with white lightning. They decorated it with white corn. They decorated it with dark clouds that make male rain. From stones they had brought they fashioned Tséghádiʼnídíinii Ashkii, Rock Crystal Boy, and Tséghádiʼnídíinii atʼééd, Rock Crystal Girl, to reside there forever.

In the South they re-created Tsoodził, Blue Bead, or Turquoise Mountain. They adorned it with turquoise. They adorned it with dark mist. They adorned it with animals. They adorned it with light clouds that bring female rain. From two stones they had brought with them they fashioned Dootłʼizhii Náyooʼałí Ashkii, the Boy Who Is Bringing Back Turquoise, and Naadą́ą́ʼ ląʼí Náyooʼáłí Atʼééd, the Girl Who Is Bringing Back Many Ears of Corn. They were created to reside there forever.

To the West they re-created Dookʼoʼoosłííd, Abalone Shell Mountain. They adorned it with haliotis shell. They adorned it with animals. They adorned it with dark clouds that bring the male rain. From material from the Third World they created Naadą́ą́łgaii Ashkii, the White Corn Boy, and Naadą́ą́łtsoii Atʼééd, the Yellow Corn Girl. They were created to reside there forever.

In the North they re-created Dibé Nitsaa, Big Mountain Sheep. They adorned that mountain with black beads. They adorned it with many plants. They adorned it with many animals. They adorned it with the grey mist that brings female rain. From materials from below, they fashioned Tádídíín Ashkii, Pollen Boy, and Nahachagii Atʼééd, Grasshopper Girl. They were created to reside there forever.

Near the Center they re-created Dził Náʼoodiłii, Soft Goods or Banded Rock Mountain. They left its summit bare, but they created two beings to reside there. They were Yódí Neidiitsi Ashkii, Boy Who Produces Goods, and Yódí Neidiitsi Atʼééd, Girl Who Produces Goods.

East of center they re-created Chʼóolʼį́ʼí, Precious Stones, or Great Spruce Mountain. They decorated it with pollen and the clouds that bring female rain. On it they created two beings, Nitłʼiz Neidiitsi Ashkii, the Boy Who Produces Jewels, and Nitłʼiz Neidiitsi Atʼééd, the Girl Who Produces Jewels, to live there forever.

When all was done, First Man, First Woman, Black Yéʼii and Water Sprinkler returned and taught the people about the sacred mountains. They taught them that these six mountains were their principal mountains. From the lower mesa lands they could see them. Chants were made for them. Finally, a smoke was prepared for the mountains and the chants were sung.

The Coming of Monsters

In the Third World, there was a time when men and women had lived apart for a long time. During that time, some women had used animal horns or long stones or bird feathers for sex. Now, in the Fourth World, some of those women were pregnant. One woman who had used an antelope horn gave birth to a child with no head. The people held a council and decided that this baby would be abandoned. It was left to die in a gully. But it lived and grew to become Déélgééd, the Horned Monster.

A woman who had used an eagle’s feather for sex gave birth to a round, headless child with feathered shoulders. A council was held, and it was decided that this baby too should be abandoned. It was left in an alkali pit. But it lived, and grew to become Tsé Nináhálééh, Monster Eagle. It made its home on Tséteʼiská, a peak beyond La Plata Mountains.

A woman who had used an elongated stone for sex gave birth to a headless child with hard skin and a pointed neck. The people met in council and decided that this baby should be abandoned in a fissure in a cliff. They placed the child and closed the fissure with rocks. But the child lived and grew to become Tsé dah Hódziiłtáłii, The Monster Who Kicks People Down the Cliff. It made its home at a place called Knol ghi nee,beyond the Carrizos Mountains.

A woman who had skinned a sour cactus and used it for sex gave birth to twins, headless creatures with no limbs. They had two depressions at the top that looked like eyes. The people gathered and decided that these infants had to be abandoned. They threw them as far as they could. But the twins found shelter in brush and survived. They grew to become Binááʼ yee Aghání, the Monsters That Kill with Their Eyes.

One monster came about in a different way. A woman named Loose Running Woman went off alone in the direction of the sunrise. After defecating, she used a smooth pebble from the river to clean herself. She placed the warm stone in her genitals just as Jóhonaaʼéí, the Sun, rose above the horizon. Seeing this, the Sun sent a ray into her. In only nine days she gave birth to a large child. Having no husband, and not knowing who the father of the child was, she abandoned the child in a rocky place. But Jóhonaaʼéí knew that the baby was his, and he protected it from afar but never visited it. The child grew to be large and powerful and very angry. It was called Yéʼiitsoh, Big Giant, by the people.

The monsters hid along paths, and killed and devoured travelers. They killed many people, and the people began to live in fear.

The Monster Slayer Twins

Most of the people had been killed. First Man said, “Perhaps the Holy People will help us.” In the morning, he saw a dark cloud covering the top of Chʼóolʼį́ʼí, the Great Spruce Mountain. In the night he saw a fire on the mountain. He said to First Woman, “Someone is there. I must go to them.” “No,” she said. “There are many monsters between here and there. It is not safe for you.” The following day the dark cloud remained on the mountain, and at night the fire appeared a second time. This happened the third day as well. On the fourth day, First Man said, “I must go. I believe there is a Holy Person on the mountain who can help us.” He set out for Chʼóolʼį́ʼí. As he walked, he sang: I am Áłtsé Hastiin, and I head for Chʼóolʼį́ʼí in pursuit of old age and happiness. In pursuit of old age and happiness I follow the lightning and approach the place where it strikes. In pursuit of old age and happiness I follow the rainbow and approach the place where it touches the earth. In pursuit of old age and happiness I follow the dark cloud’s trail and approach the place where it is thickest. In pursuit of old age and happiness I follow the scent of the rain, and approach the place where the lines of rain are darkest.

At the very summit of Chʼóolʼį́ʼí, he heard the cry of an infant and the crash of lightning, the pouring of rain, and he saw the tip of a rainbow with intense colors in front of the black sky. Suddenly the rain stopped and the sky became light. Where he had heard the cry of a baby there was a turquoise figure of a girl lying on the ground. First Man picked up the turquoise girl and carried it home with him.

The Birth of Changing Woman

Two days later First Man and First Woman were awakened very early in the morning by the sound “Wu’hu’hu’hu’.” They knew it was Haashch’ééłti’í, Talking God. He told them they must return to the top of Chʼóolʼį́ʼí with the turquoise figure in twelve days.

Image of mask of Haashchʼééłtiʼí from Matthews 1902 text
Mask representing Haashchʼééłtiʼí, Talking God, used in Night Chant Ceremony, recorded by Matthews in 1902

When they reached a level spot just below the summit ofChʼóolʼį́ʼíHaashchʼééłtiʼí was there waiting for them. Haashchʼééʼooghaan, House God, was there. Tó Neinilí, Water Sprinkler, was there. With them was Níłchʼi, the Wind. Haashchʼééłtiʼí lay a perfect buckskin on the ground with its head facing the west. On the buckskin First Man lay the turquoise figure of a girl with her head to the west. Then Haashchʼééłtiʼí placed another perfect buckskin over the figure, with its head facing East. The Holy People began to sing the sacred song of Hózhǫ́ǫ́jí Sin, and Níłchʼi, the Wind entered between the buckskin blankets. The upper blanket was removed, and beneath it was a living baby girl. Her name was Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé, Changing Woman.The Holy People told First Man and First Woman to take her to their home and raise her as their daughter.

First Woman and First man carried Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé to their hogan, and First Man made a cradle board and tied her in it. “Now she will be my daughter,” he said. First woman took the baby and breathed on her four times. “Now,” she said, “she will be my daughter.” At the end of the second day the baby laughed for the first time. The Coyote named Áłtsé Hashkéarrived and said, “I was told that my grandchild laughed for the first time.” First Woman took charcoal and gave it to the Coyote saying: “This is the only thing that lasts.” He painted his nose with it and said, “I shall know all things. I shall live long by it.” Satisfied with the gift, he departed. Since then persons always receive a gift when a baby laughs for the first time, and the First Laugh Ceremony is performed.

By the thirteenth day, Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé had become a young woman, and on that day she said to First Woman, “Something unusual has passed through me.” First woman said, “That is your first race, kinaashdaah.” They covered the floor of the hogan with blankets, and Changing Woman lay on them face down. First Man pulled her hair down, and shaped her face, and dressed her in beautiful goods, beads, bracelets, and earrings, and tied her hair with a strip of perfect buckskin. Then First Man and First Woman stepped outside the hogan and told Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé to run her first race around a cedar tree and return, from east to west, as the sun does. When she returned, they invited all the people to a sing over her in the hogan called Hooghan Hotłʼeztsoos, Changeable House, on the mountain called Dził Náʼodiłii four days later. A great crowd gathered in the evening of the fourth day. A sweet corn cake was made from different colored corn meal sweetened with yeast. The Night Chant was sung, and in the morning the men received some of the maiden’s cake as a gift for their chants, and Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé, Changing Woman sat in the back of the hogan as gifts were piled in front of her. In this way the First Race of every young woman should be celebrated.

Birth of the Twins

Soon after that, Changing Woman wished for a mate. Every morning when the sun rose she lay on her back until noon, her head to the west and her feet to the east. At noon she went to the spring. She lay under the ledge and let spring water drip over her body. This took place each day for four days. On the fourth day, she heard a sound behind her and turned and saw a young man on a great white horse with black eyes. It had a long white mane, and pranced above the ground and not on the earth itself. The bridle and the saddle were white. The young man’s moccasins and leggings were also white. The rider spoke: “You lay towards me each morning until noon. When I am half over the center of the earth, you go to the spring. Your wish could not have two meanings. Go home and tell your father to build a brush hogan to the south of your home. Fill a basket with meal and set it in the hogan. Make a line of pollen from east to west across the basket on top of the meal. Make a line of pollen from north to south drawn around the basket. You and your father must sit there late into the night. He will then go home to his wife and you must stay there alone.”

Changing Woman returned home and told what had happened to her parents. First Man said that it could not be true, but First Woman said that it was indeed the message of a Holy Being and they must obey. And so First Man and Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé prepared the hogan and the basket and waited long into the night. Finally First Man returned home. When Changing Woman returned home in the morning, First Man asked her at once: “Who came last night?” The girl said, “No one came, but some of the meal has been taken.” The same thing happened the second night, and the third. On the morning after the fourth night, the girl told First Man, “I saw no one, but someone touched me, and I was moved.”Four days later, Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé said, “Mother, something moves within me.” First Woman answered, “Daughter, that must be your baby moving.”

On the ninth day, Changing Woman felt her birth labor begin. Talking God appeared, carrying a rope of sunbeam. Water Sprinkler the Rain God appeared carrying a rope of rainbow. Saying nothing, the two beings gave one end of each rope to Changing Woman and silently bid her pull them with each spasm of labor. This began the custom of giving a rope to a woman who is in labor. A baby boy emerged, and Talking God took it aside and washed it, and severed its cord. A second baby boy emerged, and Water Sprinkler took it aside and washed it and severed its cord.

This account is taken from the Wikipedia entry, “Diné Bahaneʼ”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Din%C3%A9_Bahane%CA%BC#cite_ref-16, last updated August 2019. CC-SA 3.0. A preface has been added at the beginning to reflect the different versions of the story.


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Navajo Diné Bahaneʼ by gladja0 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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