Style: Yei / Yei Be Chei (Holy People)

NAVAJO YEI (HOLY PEOPLE)

The Navajo way of life is based on an oral tradition in which stories, lessons and values are passed down from generation to generation. The Creation story of the Navajo Emergence as “The People or Dine” is as sacred as the Bible to the Navajo.

 

One theme reoccurs often and in almost all writings, that is central to the Navajo, attainment and maintenance of harmony and beauty, called hozho. Harmony and beauty are always challenged by the chaos of life. To attain harmony does not necessarily mean the destruction of chaos and disorder but rather describes the balance between the two.

The Navajo concept is perceived as an idea that is generated within and is shared with others. Therefore beauty is created or expressed rather than observed and safeguarded. This Navajo saying expresses the Navajo ideal of harmony and beauty:

shil hozho with me there is beauty
shii hozho in me there is beauty
shaa hozho from me beauty radiates

In the Navajo Creation Story, there exists numerous persona identified as Holy People or Yeibichai who exemplify the concepts of hozho. 

 

Yet these same Holy People also have the potential to create their dynamic opposites as seen in such qualities as chaos, foolishness and ugliness.

 

This duality of beauty and harmony co-existing with chaos and disorder is indeed the central theme of the traditional Navajo culture and of weaving as well. Although the blankets and textiles were not originally woven with any ceremonial content, the reference to, and infusion of the Holy People are abundant.

Images of birds, feathers, stars and pollen all refer to the Stories of Emergence and those to whom the Navajo refer to as the Holy People or the Yei. These elements can be found in woven form pre-1900.  

 

NAVAJO YEI BE CHEI (YEIBICHAI)YEI BE CHEI (YEIBICHAI)
The Yei Be Chei dancers are the human impersonators who perform the ceremonies. The Yei Be Chei weavings present the dancers as they dance, perform, and enact the ceremony of the Yeis. Ceremonies are performed to either attract or exorcise effects to The People. The Yeis perform specific dances and rituals, as directed by the Medicine Man, during the ceremony for the desired end.

During ceremony, a team will be composed of fourteen dancers: the leader Yeibichai - the Talking God, six male dancers, six women dancers, and finally, the Water Sprinkler - the God of Precipitated Waters. On the final night, teams of dancers appear in public in what is referred to as the Yeibichai Dance until just before dawn. The ceremony ends with the chanting of the “Bluebird Song” which celebrates the happiness and the peace that the bluebird symbolizes.

 

The Yeibichai weavings are highly individual, therefore, different elements may be found in them. Male Yeis have round heads and Female Yeis have square heads. Other elements included may be: gourds, ruffs of spruce around the neck, fox pelts, moccasins, woven garters or sashes, arrows, corn, clouds, stars, and more.

 

 

In 2016 we hosted an exhibition titled Woven Holy People.  You can learn more about medicine men, the yei, and yei be chei in the exhibit guide.  Read about it here .  Shop Yei / Yei be Chei weavings here