Friday, March 29, 2013

Navajo Nation: Navajo Language and Clan System

Navajo Language and Clan System

Yesterday evening after a dinner of mutton stew and fry bread we received a presentation on Navajo language and the clan system present by Mrs. Kenesley who is a Navajo language teacher at Dine College. The Navajo are proud of their complex language and are currently working to make sure it stays alive by teaching it in the schools. The language has 36 letters and 48 different vowel sounds which makes reading and speaking the language very difficult. The language is very precise so they were taught to be very careful with what they say especially because there is no word for sorry. The language is so complex it was used as a weapon in World War II when the Navajo Codetalkers created an unbreakable code used to communicate within the army.

The first things the Navajo say when they introduce themselves are their four clans. Their last name is not considered to be important. Rather your four clans form your identity. They inherit their clan from their mother but also share the clan they are "born for" which is their father's clan and then the clans of the mother's father and their father's father. They are not allowed to marry into their first two clans and probably not the last two either because everyone in those clans are considered relatives. The clan system can be used to make connections and find relatives in new places immediately. Almost everyone is somehow related which helped reduce infighting among the Navajo. Each clan also has associated characteristics. For example, the Many Goats Clan is known for their hospitality and the Towering House Clan is known for it's leadership. This is a very complex system that is probably fully understood by the Navajo themselves and we are hoping to learn more about it throughout the week.

Callie and Daisy

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