Traditional Navajo Ceremonies: The Yeibitchai Dance Or Night Chant

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The history of the development of a religious belief system in the Navajo tribe isn’t well known. Most of the present-day information comes from the data recorded by the Europeans who came into North America in the sixteenth century, but even the records are not completely accurate because the Europeans were neither familiar with Native American cultures and nor they did they understand any. This issue was further amplified by the fact that even the tribes themselves were reluctant to divulge any information.

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The Night Chant or The Yeibitchai Dance is one such ceremony for which you may not come across a lot of detailed descriptions. An ethnologist and linguistic expert, Washington Matthews, is one of the very few people who wrote extensively about it in his book The Night Chant, which was published in 1902. Dating back to around 1000 BC, the ceremony takes place over nine nights, and it is believed to have been first performed in Canyon de Chelly. One of the most sacred festivals for the Navajo tribe, it is a healing ritual that seeks to cure the ailing and also restore the delicate balance and order of relationships between people within their universe. It is a difficult ceremony to learn, and it requires you to memorize hundreds of songs, prayers as well as intricate sand paintings. It can take someone as much as five to six years to become competent enough to conduct their first ceremony. It is led by a medicine man and involves the use of shock and arousal techniques to eliminate the disease, and once that has been done, songs, prayers, and sand paintings are used to restore balance and order. Four major rites are carried out throughout nine nights. They are:

  • In the Rocks (Tseh’nn-jihHatal’)
  • From the Timber (Tsin-tzahn’jihHatal’)
  • Danced Across the River (Klay-chah’jihHatal’)
  • Big God Chant (Hash’jaytso’hihHatal’)

Even though an extremely demanding ceremony, Night Chant plays a pivotal role in Navajo life, and just one blog is not enough to explain all the rites and rituals associated with it. So, make sure you keep an eye out for our upcoming blogs about Night Chant or The Yeibitchai Dance.

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