Kinaaldá is the coming of age ceremony for Navajo women. It celebrates the maturity of a girl and is held after her first menstrual period. The tradition originates from the ancient story of Changing Woman, who was one of the Holy People in Navajo belief. When her body began to transform so that she could bear children, the other Holy People marked the occasion by celebrating the first Kinaaldá. The First Woman physically molded Changing Woman into the shape of a woman, after which the latter baked a cake that was made of ground corn and offered the first piece to the most powerful Holy Person, the sun. Changing Woman conducted four ceremonies, which marked each of her first four periods, out of which she performed two for herself, and two for all Navajo women to come.
In the modern day, the ceremony is conducted over four days to represent the four seasons and the four sacred mountains of the Four Corners of the Navajo homeland. During the first night of the ceremony, the girl stays awake all night, with her legs stretched out in front of her, while the men in her family chant prayers. On the next morning, the girl takes a bath and dresses up in a dress made up of traditional Navajo rugs and jewelry made of shells and turquoise. Her mother dresses her hair in a particular kind of knot and wraps it in strings made out of deerskin, which is known as tsklólh. Later, she lays down on a blanket in front of the hogán, with her head towards the door. A female relative such as a sister or aunt or a male relative other than her father than proceeds to mold her symbolically.
During the four days of the ceremony, the girl is supposed to remain in abstinence, eating the simplest of foods without salt or any other flavoring. In addition to that, she will also have to run several times a day towards the east and then back to the hogán. This ritual assures the girl of remaining strong, lithe, and active throughout womanhood.
On the second morning, she has to make an Alkan, which is the ceremonial corn cake. This is a difficult task as the cake has to be big enough to feed the entire tribe. However, to make it easier, she is given special stir sticks that are very important for the Navajo women as they are passed from generation to generation. The girl also has to dig out the oven in which the cake will be baked overnight. There is also a particular way in which the cake is to be cut. It is cut from the east in a circular motion. The middle part of the cake is given to the most respectable members of the tribe.
The ceremony ends on the last day with a final run, a final molding and the distribution of the Alkan.
Ceremonies such as Kinaaldá have been in practice for many years now. Today, the Navajo people take part in these ceremonies as a way to remain connected to their culture and heritage. If you visit American Indian art galleries, you will find depictions of Kinaaldá in various art forms.
To learn more about Navajo culture, you can check out our online gallery by a Navajo artist as well as our other blogs.