Dine bahane’: The Navajo Creation Story paraphrased by Paul G. Zolbrod.

I enjoyed reading this creation mythology far more than I expected to. It is broken-up into four parts and each segment follows a different storyline. There’s an emphasis on repetition and continuous emphasis on east, south, north, and west with an emphasis on seemingly holy colors of white, yellow, black, and blue typically representing or emphasizing curiosity or acquiring knowledge. I’m not sure how this may come across, but for most of the story, I found a lot of the content hilarious and somewhat comical because most of the stories consisted of characters or groups of characters getting into bizarre antics or nonsensical feuds. There seemed to be a distinct playful tone within most of the stories insofar as what the writer appears to have paraphrased from oral Navajo traditions. The paraphraser, Paul G. Zolbrod, a professor of English at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, essentially admitted to having a translator to translate the stories and basing material on earlier written accounts from 1897 from the Matthews paraphrasing. He provides copious notes that give just as many rich details into Navajo tradition and distinct facets of each of the prominent characters of the Navajo Creation story. I want to stress that, as far as I can see, this is the most well-intentioned and complete format of the Navajo Creation mythology so far that is so detailed that people could use this book alone as a resource for writing stories utilizing Navajo mythology. However, there are a few distinct problems that I feel are important to go in detail about how the stories were paraphrased. The book is broken into four parts and revolve around the four major stories of the Navajo Creation myth.

This book was published in 1984 and the book’s notes largely assume a predominately Christian and European audience to be its readers. I don’t fault the author for this as even as early as in 1990, the US public was 90 percent Christian and so the author’s presumption makes sense in the context of when it was published. Nevertheless, the way the book is articulated, especially in the very beginning, can sometimes be confusing at best and asinine at worst. I must repeat that most of the stories, especially in Part II, are written fairly well and I largely had no problem with most of the content. However, the very beginning is written in the most infuriating manner possible and gave me a negative impression of the translation initially. Zolbrod kept adding “or in the White Man’s language” followed by the English term for specific references to locations and sometimes people. Unfortunately, he kept repeating this every one or two sentences ad nauseum to the point I had to re-read certain early parts because it read as if there was a deity called “or in the White Man’s language” instead of just writing the actual terms and what they meant. Both before and after describing what certain Navajo words meant, this buffoon of a paraphraser kept adding “or in the White Man’s language” to the point that I had to re-read to parse what he was even talking about. What specifically annoyed and – frankly – pissed me off about this was that there are four Holy Beings called the Holy People in the Navajo tradition who act as moral guides throughout the story and one of them is the White Holy Person representing the East and the daylight. Similar to the other Holy People, this spiritual being is defined as being the pure color of what they represent. For example, the Holy Being symbolized as Blue is a pure Blue person. Thus, the Holy Person representing Black is a pure Black person, the Holy being representing yellow is a pure yellow person, and the Holy Being representing the color white is represented as a being of pure whiteness. So, this moron of a paraphraser kept writing “or in the White Man’s language” when there is literally a holy, pure white being who is considered male in this theological tradition that could credibly be called “Holy White Man” or “Holy White Person” just as the one symbolizing Black would be the “Holy Black Man” or “Holy Black Person” and so on. Writing “in the White Man’s language” in this context was so infuriating and asinine to read through because of the confusion of terms and their contexts. He should never have written it in this idiotic way and I despise his idiotic decision to the fullest extent and in the strongest possible terms. Other contentions I have is that there is such a large extension of notes that he probably should have added some of those specific details in the actual written part of the story instead of adding the details in the notes page. The Sun God having their power represented by having lightning shoot out of their hair, fingertips, and whole body was a rather intriguing detail and honestly reminded me of Dragonball Z’s Super Saiyan form; the metaphor of Long-Life Boy and Happiness Girl representing the joys of giving birth to a newborn, and near the end, a rather interesting paragraph of how the First Man and First Woman – two beings created to lead the pre-Navajo people by the Four Holy People – refusing Changing Woman’s departure from their Clan (in some versions of the myths, she was found and adopted by them) and inadvertently or purposefully cursing the Navajo with disease, death, and physical ailments because they refused to accept her decision to leave and be with the Sun God. As a book published during its time, Zolbrod refers to the first two transgender children that are born as the first pair of twins from First Man and First Woman as “hermaphrodites” when referencing their gender fluidity.  Finally, some of the content within the Navajo Creation myth makes more sense within the context of Aztec / Mexica mythology’s Order-Disorder paradigm and Zolbrod even began the notes mentioning the Order-Disorder paradigm with many of the monsters that the protagonists of these stories fight mentioning how they’ve turned a monster or event of disorder into a convenient function for the pre-Navajo community. Zolbrod interpreted this as a universal message of good against evil, but the simplified moral paradigm of good against evil seems altogether juvenile and weak when applied to the Navajo tradition. This is especially the case after reading James Maffie’s explanation of how Indigenous traditions conceive order and disorder as inherent within each other in his book about Aztec Philosophy. In many ways, reading Maffie’s book first gave better understanding and context when reading this much older book for me. It didn’t help that for some of the locations, instead of translating what they meant in the Navajo language, Zolbrod simply gave the English coined terms and that compounded to the confusion in the context of the Navajo narrative than helped to resolve it.

Part I of the Navajo Creation story begins in a rather zany fashion about earth-like worlds / earth-planes being stacked atop one another as a Pre-Navajo group called the Air-Spirit people. A people with the ability to fly and who may possibly lack five-fingers. The Air-Spirit people are often referred to as immoralists, because of repeated interactions whereby members of their clan intermingle with the wife of the chief of the clan they come in contact with. These other clans seem to also be pre-human groups. The most striking part of this narrative for me was the various areas described in varied colorful descriptions and how each sky had different multi-colored changes from each of these different “worlds” or earth-like planes of existence that were separate from each other. Each world is stacked atop each other and the clans make peace and then separate with various lower-world clans and move upward with some members of the other clans joining them. Eventually, the narrative shifts to the sudden appearance of the four Holy People who teach the Pre-Navajo people not to commit incest and who then create First Man and First Woman to guide the Pre-Navajo. There is a constant repetition of the clans having “listened and waited” repeatedly for help from the Four Holy People and spiritual animals throughout the Part I narrative. Some parts, such as how male and female genitals were created by First Man and First Woman, seem more like playful and humorous mythological stories. The story that follows on how the men and women divide themselves into two separate parts of a river was interesting due to the lasting consequences. The prevailing problem is lack of sexual stimulation for the two groups, some of the men are scolded for using foodstuffs as sexual objects whereas some women began using rocks. The intriguing aspect of this is that, judging from Maffie’s book on describing how the theological system of Order-Disorder works within Indigenous theology and mythology, with men mostly emitting ordered energies and women emitting disorderly energies; the pre-Navajo women who use energies from rocks and twigs for sexual gratification eventually give virgin births to deformed, disorderly monstrous spirits. Zolbrod seemed to ignore the implications of this portion and some internet blogs try to describe it in terms of anti-LGBT “lesbianism” but a woman masturbating and then using the properties of the object they’re using to give birth has nothing to do with two women having sexual intercourse. Zolbrod and others refer to them as “giants” but I don’t see any reason to call them that apart from their deformed sizes which is a result of their disorderly energy. It seems to me, if we go by the Order-Disorder paradigm, that these beings are Spirits of Disorder or Gods of Disorder and possibly Monster Gods or Monstrous Spirits who enact nefarious obstacles for the Pre-Navajo people. In other words, disorderly and deformed Monstrous Gods / Monstrous Spirits are clearly virgin born in the Navajo tradition. Being a virgin born spirit or God is a form of disorder and an obstacle to long life and happiness. Perhaps most intriguingly, the Navajo message of long-life and happiness as the ideal living condition goes against the death cult worshipping Abrahamic tradition that teaches life is a test that one must suffer through to be rewarded with a deranged idea: an eternal afterlife.

Part II is my favorite of the entire story. While I really like certain aspects of Part III more than Part II, I find Part II to be filled with the most fun moments. The story of Part II follows the rambunctious trickster, Coyote, and his various escapades arguing with other animal metaphors, helping different clans that he meets, and getting himself into trouble due to his existence as a being of perpetual disorder. His spirit name is referred to be First Scolder, denoting his disorderly behavior. Yet, much like the Mexica / Aztecs, his disorderly actions sometimes have positive benefits and bring order since the Order-Disorder paradigm is inherent in each other. Nevertheless, he’s basically a troublemaker. The most interesting story is when he tries to court the most beautiful Pre-Navajo woman, referred to as Tingling Woman. Tingling woman has notoriously turned down even the Holy People as prospects for marriage and many other Orderly suitors because of her high demands on courtship. Coyote asks about the tasks and Tingling woman, in her exasperation as she simply doesn’t believe he’ll be able to do it, informs him. First, he has to kill a disorderly spirit / Monster God who terrorizes innocent folk. Her explicit reason for requesting this is that this specific monster, the Grey Giant, hurts innocent people. Coyote agrees to scalp its head to show proof to her that he killed the monster. He first prepares a weapon to kill the monster, hides the weapon, goes up to the monster promising it immortality by showing himself get damaged and then restored, and convinces the monster to follow him to conduct an immortality ritual. He tricks the Grey Giant into a steamy sauna-like bath after putting the weapon into position, convinces the monster to break parts of its own body for the ritual, runs outside to get the weapon while the monster cannot see him clearly, and kills it to then scalp its head as proof. Upon presenting the proof, Tingling Woman then informs him that he has to endure four more trials of her killing him and him coming back to life. They proceed to do that four times with him coming back to life all four times and she then convinces him that she needs her brothers’ permission first but allows him to stay the night. The two then become sexually enticed with each other and copulate after what is implied to be an agreement to marry. The next morning, the 17 or so brothers arrive and are displeased with her choice of a life partner and kick them both out rather coldly. Coyote initially doesn’t return her affection until agreeing to uphold his promise of marrying someone whom he has killed four times. Coyote proceeds to brutally murder Tingling woman on four occasions and she returns to life each time. Thus, satisfying his personal requirement and the two then sharing a bed happily. Coyote tries to make amends by helping her brothers’ hunt and while his tips are successful, he ignores their warnings of following the short path for a longer path and gets killed after annoying several other talking spirit animals. When the brothers are questioned by their sister, they act indifferent and one of the notes mention that she accuses them of consorting with others to kill Coyote after one of them mentions that he was probably killed by the animal spirits in the alternate path. Due to her grief at the sudden loss of Coyote, Tingling Woman proceeds to invoke a night-time disorderly version of a vision quest to gain a Nahualli form as a brown bear. She then proceeds on a one woman venture to obliterate the groups of animals who conspired to kill her husband, comes back every evening to use a ritual to heal herself of injuries, and gets back-up during the day to continue her one-woman war against them. Tingling woman becomes known as She-Bear by this point due to her transformation and actions. After mostly succeeding on her revenge, she then tracks down her fleeing brothers to assassinate them but loses to the youngest one who discovers her secret of immortality and kills her before resurrecting her to be a regular brown bear and progenitor of all other brown bears from then on.

Part III was a joy to read once the Four Holy People helped to create Changing Woman and White-Shell Woman who respectively gave births to Naaye Neizghoni, translated literally as Slayer of Alien Gods but somehow changed to the more Abrahamic-friendly Monster-Slayer, and his brother, Water Sprinkler. The pair are the Hero Twins of the Navajo story. The names make more sense when used as metaphors. Changing Woman seems to represent the change for the Pre-Navajo clans and White-Shell woman, representing white-shells near water births Water Sprinkler. The focus is on the actionable occurrences. Twoness / Duality takes a prominent role in this portion as Changing Woman and White-Shell Woman speak with one voice as if they’re one person and so do the Hero Twins of the tale. The Hero Twins ask their mothers’ if they have a father and the mothers’ – speaking in unison – deny that they do. They meet with Spider-woman, who is revealed to be their grandmother, who gives them a charm ornament to get past disorderly areas so that they can meet their father, the Sun God. After being embarrassed in the presence of his wife, Sky-Woman, at having been found bearing other children out of wedlock, the Sun God fails at using tasks as an excuse to kill them thanks to their elder half-brother’s help and gives them weapons and armor to fight the Monster Gods threatening them. After the pair kill the largest one, the Yellow Giant, who is known to be a vicious cannibal monster, Water Sprinkler then acts as protector of the pre-Navajo clan and Naaye Neizghoni goes on to slay many other Monster Gods. Naaye Neizghoni then goes on to hunt down and slay various Monster Gods mentioned having been birthed in Part I. In most cases, he overwhelms them with arrows composed of variations of lightning such as sleet-lightning to strike at monstrous enemies and proceeds to give the killing blow with his stone knife. In a few cases, he has to outwit them before he wears them down to conduct the killing blow like against the Horned Monster who is described as a monstrous deer in this version.

After several successful victories, he returns to his father to ask if there’s a special way to wipe out all the Monster Gods. The Sun God gives him Hoolah Hoops and advises to give them to his mother, Changing Woman, on condition that Changing Woman will depart her home to live with him during the sunset period in the West. Naaye Neizghoni agrees on behalf of his mother and gives his mother the Hoolah Hoops. Changing Woman proceeds to do a sacred ritual and uses the Hoolah Hoops to conduct a massive multi-world / multiversal wind blast that completely wipes out all but a few of the Monster Gods. In effect, Changing Woman – and not her son, Naaye Neizghoni – is revealed to be the most powerful being in the entire mythology. This came as a surprise to me, because Changing Woman’s story constantly had her scolding or warning of the impending doom that her son and their pre-Navajo clan would suffer at the hands of the Monster Gods. The Monster Gods had previously eaten nearly the entirety of the Part 1 and Part 2 clans leaving very few of them left prior to Changing Woman’s own birth. The Sun God displayed power outwardly and is described as quite fearsome looking, but Changing Woman’s qualities only seemed to emphasize her patience and curiosity in this version of the story. Her revealing her true power to protect her son and her clan from further Monster God attacks and the explanation of how her multi-world destroying wind attack or creative force attack blew through several worlds to wipe out all but a few of the Monster Gods certainly came across as a shocking plot twist in a mythology story. After completing the ritual, she remarks on her disappointment at seemingly being abandoned by the Sun God despite her dedication. The next part involves a conversation between Changing Woman and the Sun God in which the paraphraser admitted to adding because of his own confusion on why Changing Woman would just go join the Sun God because the Sun God asked. I think that Zolbrod misunderstood the characters or setting of the Navajo stories that he paraphrased judging from some of the notes and reasons that he gave. He emphasized the pathetic “Hero’s Journey” formula of Joseph Campbell which argues for a universal in storytelling that I frankly find unfounded. What Zolbrod did not seem to understand was that each of these characters are named after their actionable occurrence and represent metaphors just as they do their own internal logic and interests. It doesn’t make sense for Changing Woman to say that the Sun God simply did as he pleased and helped people that had nothing to do with Changing Woman, because her two children were the ones who fought and survived against Monster Gods. Changing Woman was constantly worried about what would happen to Naaye Neizghoni and Water Sprinkler. Moreover, she sings a happy song of triumph when Naaye Niezghoni completes his goal and says he is finished with hunting them down. Regardless of her own misgivings, she was always in favor of her clan and her children surviving against all the odds and that was more important to her than her own personal feelings. According to the notes, Changing Woman also expressed wanting to go willingly and I don’t think Zolbrod quite understood that Changing Woman’s name was about . . . the changing of events, the changing of life circumstances such as raising a child and retirement, and perhaps represented seasonal change too. Near the end of the Part III narrative, prior to her departure to join the Sun God, Changing Woman informs Naaye Neizghoni not to wipe out the remaining Disorderly Monster Gods as they aren’t committing wanton harm. Naaye Neizghoni goes to each of them anyway and to my surprise, they each gave intellectual debates about necessity and the positive benefits of certain Monster Gods of Disorder in serving an Orderly life of a Navajo. Debates on why items like clothing and weapons must perish to build new and stronger ones, on why a world without death where everyone can be immortal is morally wrong because immortal beings would reduce the food supply pointlessly and the culture wouldn’t change, and a few others. Naaye Neizghoni always returns home to his mother and informs her that he did not slay the remaining Monster Gods due to their compelling arguments in the latter narrative. Whereas in the beginning, Changing Woman is depicted as overly fearful and shown to be wrong about fighting the terrifying Monster Gods; in the latter half, Naaye Neizghoni is admonished as overzealous in wanting to wipe them all out and Changing Woman is shown to be morally and intellectually correct about keeping a balance of mostly Order with some elements of Disorder to keep the world in a properly Orderly condition.

Part IV of the story was alright. Apart from what felt like two short cameos by Changing Woman and a short snippet on White-Shell Woman, the story mostly centered around newly created pre-Navajo people in the far west journeying, losing their way, nearly dying, and the final few of them joining the other pre-Navajo clan to create the modern Navajo clan. I’m sorry to say that this portion of the story felt rather directionless and confusing as there were multiple references to tracks and large portions of this group left during the journey. It had no real central character other than a fearless bear protector who felt more like an extraordinary side character. I completed reading it, but I didn’t really have any strong feelings about it other than finding some of the naming styles to be really cool. I really don’t have much to say about it.

Overall, I think this is definitely a very good translation with copious notes that help provide further explanation, but the paraphraser wrote an asinine beginning addition with “or in the White man’s language” ad nauseum and it did cause confusion for me to the point that I had to re-read it for further clarity due to there being a White Holy Person who was an actual character in the narrative. I really enjoyed Part II due to Ma’ii the Coyote and Tingling Woman who becomes She-Bear and their various escapades. Part III was a mostly fun and intriguing read but I didn’t like how Zolbrod seemed to add his own nonsense into Changing Woman’s mouth because he seemed to ignore or didn’t clearly understand the paradigm of Order-Disorder despite each Monster God being referred to as disordered. Zolbrod didn’t seem to understand the characters to be metaphors either, despite references to rock people near rivers or how Happiness Girl and Long-Life Boy represent joy at giving birth to a child. I really did enjoy reading this and I want to stress the positives far outweigh the negatives, but I’d give this a 3 out of 5 and if there’s ever a translation that improves upon this and removes the annoying beginning part, then I’d probably be willing to give it a higher score. I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in Navajo mythology, Navajo theology, and anyone who wants a better appreciation of their culture.

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