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The Night Chant
A Navaho Ceremony
The Night Chant is one of the great nine-day, Navajo winter healing ceremonies. During its course, nearly all the important characters of the Navajo pantheon are mentioned in legends, depicted in sand paintings, and impersonated with the use of masks and other ritual objects. Originally published in 1902, Washington Matthews's The Night Chant contains one of the few extensive descriptions of this important ceremony.
Washington Matthews studied Navajo language and lifeways as an ethnologist and linguistics expert in the late-nineteenth century. His unique opportunities to observe ceremonies and record the roles of participants resulted in landmark studies of Navajo ritual and tradition. Matthews spent more than twenty years working with hatathli, or singers, to record the many songs and rites that comprise the intricate Night Chant. provides a detailed description of healing rites, songs, myths, and prayers for the ceremony, which is performed only during 'frosty weather.' This edition includes powerful contemporary observations in a foreword by John Farella.
Washington Matthews (1843–1905), an army major and surgeon, was conversant in Navajo and was one of the earliest and best Anglo recorders of Navajo culture.
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations
A Note on Modern Orthography, by Robert Young
Foreword by John Farella
Part I. General Observations and Elements of the Ceremony
Part II. Rites in Detail
Part III. Myths
Part IV. Texts and Translations
Praise and Reviews:
“An important contribution to the understanding of cultural contact, the discipline of anthropology, and the debate over American Indians and cultural/intellectual property.”
—New Mexico Historical Review
“Massively detailed. Based on eight years of careful and respectful observation, it remains, almost a century after its original publication, one of the seminal studies of Navajo religious practices.”
—The Journal of Arizona History
“A comprehensive study of the ritual that utilizes songs, sand paintings and masks, among other symbols. Exhaustive. This is a book for Native Americana scholars and those with a deep and abiding curiosity about a culture that is not easily understood.”
—New Mexico Book League