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“Navajo Customs”

by Roy Dunn

In 1933, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President, US citizens were suffering from the bad times known as the Great Depression. Under the new president, Congress passed laws aimed at speeding up economic recovery and helping people in need. One of these acts created the Works Progress Administration, or WPA. The WPA gave people jobs building highways, streets, bridges, and parks. It also hired writers, actors, and musicians to create and perform new works. Nationwide, about 8.5 million people found jobs through the WPA.

Between 1936 and 1942, writers working with the New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project, a department of the WPA, fanned out across New Mexico. They gathered information and wrote several thousand pages describing the state's landscape and people, reporting on social and economic conditions, and recording folklore and oral histories. Many of these WPA files, including the one below, ended up at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe, where anyone can go in and read them.

“Navajo Customs” was published in 1936.

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A Navajo will never burn ants or insects of any kind.

A Navajo will never whistle at night.

A Navajo will never go near a burial or hogan (home) where someone has died.

It is a very old superstition of the Navajos not to comb their hair at night.

A Navajo will never cut a watermelon or cantaloupe with the tip or point of a knife, and he will never stick a knife into either of these point first after cutting a piece of melon.

A Navajo woman should never look at her son-in-law, or the son-in-law at the mother-in-law.

A Navajo will never kill reptiles.

A Navajo will never cut a young piñon or cedar tree.

When a Navajo kills a rabbit, he breaks the back legs because only the eagle and hawk leave them unbroken.

A prairie dog is always carried by the head after it is killed.

The hogan of a Navajo must always face the east.

A Navajo will not tell another person his name, and it is unethical to mention a person’s name in his presence or in the presence of close relatives of his.