Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Story Research--Death in Navajo Culture

The next story in the Catalyst Chronicles series will feature Julia Kee, a minor character from Twinned Universes. (In case you're wondering when I'll return to this series, it'll be after I finish revising Scattered Seasons, sequel to the just-released Seasons' Beginnings.) Julia Kee is half-Navajo and spent a lot of her childhood as a member of the Navajo Nation. Part of the reason it's taking me so long to write her story is that I needed to learn more about Navajo culture. With Halloween and All Saints' Day fast approaching, I thought it would be interesting to share a few tidbits I learned about how death is regarded in Navajo culture. Many of these I picked up by reading Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee mystery series. He was considered a friend of the Navajo people, and in my opinion, he does a good job of portraying Navajo attitudes.

  • The Navajo view death as a necessary part of life, as a way of making sure there weren't too many people.
  • However, Navajos consider corpses unclean and avoid touching or going into a residence where someone has died. If they must touch a body, they will have a medicine man conduct a sing for them to restore themselves to harmony.
  • Navajos will avoid speaking the name of a dead person because they do not want to attract the attention of the dead.
  • The Navajo believe that the evil parts of a person live on as an evil spirit called a chindi. If a person dies in a building, they believe the chindi is trapped inside. Therefore, they break a hole in the north wall of the hogan (north is the direction of evil) and do not use that hogan again.
  • The formal mourning process lasts for four days. Four is a sacred number to the Navajo, and they believe this is how long it takes the deceased spirit to travel to the underworld.
You can find some additional information at this link.

 If I had time, I would have made this into a month-long series about death in different cultures. Unfortunately, I've been too busy to research this. Fortunately, I know another indie author who has researched many death customs and included them in her books. I'll discuss them next week. If we're lucky, she might answer a few questions for me too.


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