Thursday, September 6, 2018

Traditional Navajo Farming -- Songs and Stories from Rock Point


Photo Kris Barney 2018 A stocky blue corn with an ear forming — atTsé Chízhí Farm and Seeds.

Traditional Navajo Farming -- Songs and Stories from Rock Point

By Brenda Norrell

Censored News
French translation by Christine Prat at:
http://www.chrisp.lautre.net/wpblog/?p=4659

ROCK POINT, Navajo Nation --
Navajo elder Tabaahi Ts'osi, George Blue-eyes shared his knowledge of the magic and mystery of dry farming with a planting stick in the book 'Navajo Farming,' now a classic.

"George Blue-eyes plants by the stars. When the weather starts getting warm, he watches the evening sky to look for six tiny stars which in Navajo are called Dilyehe, and in English are called the Pleiades."


Blue-eyes words live on by way of the work of Navajo students. In 1978, a group of Navajo eighth graders at Rock Point Community School embarked on a special project and interviewed their Diné elders about methods of traditional farming.

Now, "Navajo Farming", published in 1979, has become a classic, rare resource on planting by the stars, the use of the traditional planting stick and dry farming.

Beginning with the words sang while planting in Canyon de Chelly, there is the song of "In the Field of the Home God."

"The holy blue corn seed I am planting. In one night it will grow and be healthy. In one night it grows tall, in the garden of the Home God." The planting song tells of hearing the whisper of the corn stalks coming up and the moisture that comes from the dark clouds.

"With dew of the mist, it is beautiful. With white corn it is beautiful." The song journey joins the beans and squash and then ties them together with the strings of lightning and rainbow. Sharing the song of Haashch'eehoghan and his field, Navajo eighth graders wrote, "People don't sing to their crops as much as they used to. But there were reasons for doing all of these things and this knowledge is still worth knowing today."

Navajo elder Tabaahi Ts'osi, George Blue-eyes, medicine man and storyteller, shared his knowledge of the magic and mystery of dry farming with a planting stick.

"George Blue-eyes plants by the stars. When the weather starts getting warm, he watches the evening sky to look for six tiny stars which in Navajo are called Dilyehe, and in English are called the Pleiades."

The stars are easy to find in winter, but each night these stars go down earlier than the night before. Finally in spring, when the Dilyehe go down with the sun and can be seen no more, Blue-eyes took his seeds and ax and began to plant.

Blue-eyes selected a Greasewood plant and made his digging stick. With the digging stick, he parted the soil and placed seeds a few inches down. He selected six or seven seeds for corn, nine or 10 for melons. On top of the seeds, he placed wet dirt, then dry dirt. After planting the first four holes, he sang a Navajo song. The planting was finished and the digging stick put away before the last quarter of the moon.

Blue-eyes said in earlier times, as many as 60 Navajos would gather and camp together for planting corn. Rising at sunrise, the men would dig and the women planted and cooked meals. "In those days, corn and wild plants and meat were all we had to eat," Blue-eyes said. "That has all changed now, but planting the old way is still best."

While corn planted by tractor can take two weeks to come up, Blue- eyes corn sprouted above the ground in four days. "Wind can blow tractor-planted corn right out of the ground. Mine is strong." He said that the metal plow rolls the ground over on itself and too much soil dries out. The planting stick digs just enough for each seed and the ground underneath stays wet.

Rock Point students, writing about Blue-eyes bent on his knees planting corn, said, "In the fall, when others are eating powdered eggs and tomatoes out of a can, he will be rich with corn and melons."

Hastiiltsoi, Yellowman's brother, was more than 80 years old in 1978 when he told of how early Navajos came together and planted crops in a spiral, rather than rows. "In Navajo that was called ha'oolmaaz. This was done before I was born, but I have heard about it. People used to say circular farming was the best."

Hastiiltsoi shared another secret, of how Navajos sometimes soak the kernels in water mixed with the Greasewood plant leaves so the corn would grow better and be drought resistant. After planting the seeds with the digging stick, a little cup was made above the seeds in the soil to catch rainwater. He knew when to plant by the moon and planted corn in a different place each year, rotating with squash and melons.

Howard Gorman, former vice chairman of the Navajo Nation, shared his memories when he was 78 years old in 1978. Gorman told of his grandfather's stories of planting and harvesting corn in the Nazlini Valley, under the leadership of the Naachid leaders.

"Navajo Farming", shares the Diné words for all parts of Naadaa the corn plant - cob, kernel, husk, tassel, pollen, stalk, roots and leaves. The students reveal the ancient and scientific reasons for planting beans and corn together, explaining that corn takes nitrogen from the soil and beans help return nitrogen by way of bacteria in their roots.

It is an ancient story. Corn, dated 7,000-years-old was found in Mexico. Long before Columbus, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, squash, peppers, pineapples, avocados, cashews, pumpkins, tomatoes, tobacco, cotton and peanuts grew in the Americas.

A quarter-century ago, Navajo eighth graders at Rock Point School - Lorraine Coggeshall, Laverne Gene, Rex Lee Jim and Stanley Pahe - interviewed Blue-eyes on May 10, 1978. Today, the book remains in the forefront of books on American Indian farming. When they finished their work, Navajo students wrote, "The most important parts of this book are about real farmers."

Continuing the song, when Home God was asked why the corn was so beautiful, Home God answered.

"Bee hozhonigo! It is beautiful with this: With the dark cloud, with the dew of the cloud, it is beautiful. With blue corn it is beautiful. Bee hozhonigo! It is beautiful with this: with dark mist, with dew of the mist, it is beautiful. With white corn it is beautiful."

New in this series at Censored News:

Dineh Farmer Kris Barney at Rough Rock, Growing Food, Connecting to our Ancestors and Ourselves
http://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2018/09/dineh-farmer-kris-barney-growing-food.html

Traditional Dineh Foods for Survival and Health: Revolutionary food research revealed the powerful nutrients in Navajo ancient foods. Recipes.
https://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2018/09/traditional-dineh-foods-foods-for.html

Dineh Wild Foods, Voices from Tse Ho Tso, Fort Defiance, Howard McKinley and Katherine Arviso, when yucca bananas and wild potatoes were harvested along Blue Canyon.

https://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2018/09/dineh-wild-foods-voices-from-tse-ho-tso.html

Copyright Brenda Norrell, originally published in 2004.

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