Navajo Society Navajo Culture Essay

Pages: 8 (2553 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Native Americans

With each passing generation, young people are becoming further separated from their traditional values and belief systems. Elders are respected as keepers of the past and will continue to play an important role in preserving traditional Navajo values. This is a struggle that plagues many cultures, not only the Navajo.

Sickness and Healing

How humans treat sickness and healing can give the ethnographer many clues as to the society and culture. As with the traditional belief system and economy, the Navajo way of treating the ill is unique and provides many clues to the traditional Navajo way of life. The Navajo take a religious approach to sickness and healing. They use a herbalism, shamans, and singers in their traditional medical practice. Like many facets of Navajo society, this too is a disappearing way of life, and most Navajo use western medical practices. Sometimes traditional medicine is combined with western medicine.

Navajo approach to sickness and healing involves plants to relieve symptoms and the use of the traditional medicine man to cure the underlying cause of the malady. The medicine man plays an important role in healing of the patient. Like western medicine, traditional Navajo healing practices are divided into two primary functions. The first and diagnosis and finding the source or origin of the illness. The second is treating the illness so that it no longer is problematic for the person.

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The Navajo believe that illness and sickness are caused by a disharmony in the universe. Once harmony in the universe is restored the person will be cured. The medicine man uses ceremony to restore harmony in the universe. Some ceremonies can last up to nine nights and others will not be as long. Dancing in costume, chanting, the particiipation by the family and patient, sand paintings, and reciting tribal stories can be a part of the ceremony. The medicine man directs what must be done and supervises the progress of the ceremony (Carmean, 2002).

Essay on Navajo Society Navajo Culture: Primary Assignment

Diagnostic practices in Navajo medicine differ from traditional western viewpoints. Navajo traditional medicine does not diagnose through the use of symptoms or the part of body that a disease affects. Traditional Navajo medicine diagnoses disease through their agents such as lightning, water, wind, and earth. Likewise, these elements are used to treat the sickness. Navajo medical practice is divided into specialties. Certain diagnosticians are consulted as to the origin of the illness. The medicine man then devises a ceremony to return balance to the universe and cure the person (Carmean, 2002). The Navajo do not seek treatment until symptoms occur that concern them. Patients are not stigmatized and held responsible for their own illness. Medical practices are driven by pragmatism ather than morality issues with the possible exception of witchcraft or incest (Carmean, 2002).

The diagnostician uses divination techniques to find the cause of the illness. Misdiagnosis is held as a serious matter because of the social support needed in the ceremony and the high social cost. If a diagnostician makes a mistake and the patient does not get better, the advice of another diagnostician is sought. They generally will consult someone local first, but if the first one fails, they must go outside of their immediate area. Patients will often be treated by several different diagnosticians in the course of an illness. If the first diagnostician fails, they may be accused of ill intention or fakery (Carmean, 2002).

A recent study found that among Navajo and families with asthma, only about 30% still sought traditional healing methods. Seeking traditional healing methods was unrelated to the use of modern medical treatments. Individual beliefs about disease were a key factor in determining whether the family would choose traditional or modern medical interventions. The study found that local social, economic, and cultural context were significant factors in the choice of whether you choose traditional or modern medical treatment (Van Sickle, Morgan, and Wright, 2011).


This research has focused on the traditional values and beliefs that form the fabric of Navajo Society. Throughout the paper traditional values were contrasted with changes that have been influenced by the onslaught of modern culture. Traditional Navajo values and beliefs, as well as the traditional economic system in the Navajos were found to be almost nonexistent. At present, it is in danger of going extinct in favor of the need for self preservation. Traditional values and art still exist, that they are largely being ignored by the younger generation. As the elders leave this earth, the traditional way of life may not be continued and has a possibility of being lost forever.

The Navajo walk a fine line between preserving the old ways and making their way in modern society. This is the conundrum faced by many Native American tribes, as well as other traditional cultures that make up modern American Society. There is a growing concern over loss of the old ways and loss of identity as a people in the Navajo nation. Ethnographers have taken a particular interest in the Navajo since the early 1990s; for fear that someday the only place traditional Navajo Society will exist is in academic journals. This is a sad state of affairs, but nonetheless in reality that we must all face. This study points out the harsh reality of the imminent loss of traditional society and values among the Navajo people. It is hoped that bringing this issue to light will result in a resurgence of interest in traditional ways, if not only in the interest of keeping the Navajo culture a part of the American fabric.


Carmean, K. (2002). Spider Woman Walks this Land: Traditional Cultural Properties and the Navajo Nation. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press,

Dempsey, P. & Gesse, T. (1995). Beliefs, values, and practices of Navajo childbearing women. West J. Nurs Res. Dec;17(6):591-604.

Denetdale, J. (n.d.) We Shell Remain -- The Dine. Retrieved September 1, 2012 from

Van Sickle, D., Morgan, F. And Wright, A. (2011). Qualitative Study of the Use of Traditional

Healing by Asthmatic Navajo Families. Retrieved September 1, 2012 from

Quintero, G. (2000). The lizard in the green bottle": "aging out" of problem drinking among

Navajo men. Social Science & Medicine, 51 (7): 1031-1045. [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Navajo Society Navajo Culture.  (2012, September 1).  Retrieved May 10, 2021, from

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"Navajo Society Navajo Culture."  1 September 2012.  Web.  10 May 2021. <>.

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"Navajo Society Navajo Culture."  September 1, 2012.  Accessed May 10, 2021.