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Changing Woman

Much has been printed about the history and stories of the Diné and their wrongfully labeled "mythology". In Diné culture, our stories are considered to be the life blood which flows through our veins to nourish us and keep us whole, and there are those of us who honor and cherish them when we are fortunate enough to have them handed down to us. We are especially fortunate when we remember these stories and pass them on to our children in the hopes that our culture will be honored and respected by them. In spite of the terrible history of oppression and cultural genocide brought upon us by Western society, we continue to endure. In this resilience, we have hope for a future where many generations of Dine to come will continue to keep and teach our history and identity as it was put forth for us by our ancestors. The following body of text is one account of how Changing Woman came to be. I hold this story close to my heart because it was handed down to me from my late grandfather Jack Toadlena of Chinle, AZ. It is in his honor that I recount the story as I remember it being told to me on a distant, winter night.
- Brent David Toadlena, Chinle, AZ - 2007

Long ago, it is said, in a time of great mysteries, and when the respect of natural phenomenon was still revered, a group of people lived on the earth at a place known as Dine tah. One day during a period of drought and famine, the people noticed an unusual formation of fog that had accumulated over the mountain known as Ch'o ool'i'I, (Spruce Mountain). That first day the fog formed a cap over the summit of the mountain, and by the fourth day the fog had completely engulfed the mountain to its base. The people knew things like this didn't happen ordinarily so they became very concerned. The event was discussed at great length, but no one was able to put forth any answers or suggestions about this mysterious occurrence.

A holy person known as Hash ch'eel ti'i', or Talking God, was summoned by First Man and First Woman to investigate the cause(s) of this event. Hash ch'eel ti'i' belonged to a group of people called Hash ch'ee dine'e , who neighbored The People. He was chosen because of his reputation as a wise man as well as a swift runner.

It is said that Hash ch'eel ti'i' was asked four times to perform this task, and that he refused four times before he finally agreed. Thus he set out on his journey to and came upon the mountain called Ch'o ool'i'i'. As he approached the mountain, the fog began to lift and recede as he ascended the slope until it again became a cap of fog when he reached the top. There in the midst of the fog he heard the gentle cooing of what he though might be a baby. Looking closer he noticed a small, water-filled crater and in doing so, he frightened a hooshdodii (whippoorwill), causing it to shriek and flap its wings frantically about. He then observed what is called taliwosh (water foam) floating on the water and to his amazement, there embedded comfortably upon it, was a tiny infant girl. The whippoorwill hovered over the child shrieking out in protest of his presence. A rainbow arched over them, and there was a fine mist in the air. Hash ch'eel ti'i' was overwhelmed at viewing such an incredible sight and became dumbfounded. It is said that for all his wisdom he did not know what to do in such a situation, so he returned immediately to Dine tah to seek the council of First Man and First Woman.

First Man and First Woman were stunned at the bringing of such news. It was decided that the baby was to be brought back at once, so Hash ch'eel ti'i' was again asked to return to Cho'ooli'i' to do so. He was instructed to sing special songs when he came upon the child, when he picked up the child and songs for the return journey as well. Having understood the instructions, Hash ch'eel ti'i' again dashed off wiping away sweat as he ran. When he arrived back at the summit of Cho' ooli'i' , he sang a song as he came upon the crying baby which hushed it and the bird instantly. Another song was sung as he lifted the baby off the water foam. Having done this, he realized he needed something to carry the baby with. He noticed some very tall aweets' aal (cliff rose shrubs) growing nearby and in no time fashioned a small cradle. This became the first cradle which was the model for all cradleboards made thereafter. Hash ch'eel ti'i' began the return journey home and as he sang the special songs for the child, they arrived at Dinetah with great haste.

First Man and First Woman were overwhelmed at the sight of the child. It is said that they shed tears of joy and greeted the child by saying "ahalaane'ee she'awee'" (My dear child), which became the proper greeting for children for all time thereafter. Since they had never had children of their own, it was decided that First Man and First Woman should be allowed to raise the child. Immediately, First Woman washed the baby and fed her with dew drops and plant pollens. Soon the child was resting peacefully. That was the first day of the child's life among the people living at Dinetah.

The next day, the baby had already grown into a young child and was able to walk. The People already knew that she was no ordinary child, and along with the circumstances of her discovery, she was at once, considered as diyin (sacred). By the third day the girl had grown into a pretty youth. First Woman dressed her in the finest buckskin dresses and adorned her with turquoise and white shell beads. The young girl danced as First Woman sang lively songs for her. The noise made by the beads "clicking" together made a pleasing sound. On the fourth day the girl reached adolescence and "became a woman", or kinaasda' (had her menses). She had grown into an alluring young woman and all the people came to admire her beauty. Even Jo honaa'aii (the Sun) noticed her, and at once began to covet her.

First Man and First Woman decided that a ritual needed to be held in order to recognize their daughter's rite of passage into womanhood. Salt Woman tied the young woman's hair and molded and massaged her , so that she would develop in the most holy and spiritual way. For four more days the young woman was assigned to various domestic tasks such as grinding corn, and gathering and preparing different foods as a demonstration of her endurance and will. The fourth and final day of the event was designated as biji (the main day), and a hataalii (singer) was needed to conduct the proper rites. Hash ch'eel ti'i' was again summoned. Four times he refused, claiming that he did not possess the knowledge or wisdom to conduct such rituals. Each time it was pointed out to him that the twelve eagle tails decorating his headdress were not there only for decoration, but that they represented knowledge that no one else on the earth possessed. Hash ch'eel ti'i' finally agreed and sang one song for each of the feathers in his headdress, which became known for all time as Hooghan biyiin (Songs of the home). Many people came from all around to participate in this ceremonial precedence. Because the ceremonial lodge became so crowded, many did not get to observe the rituals inside. They included "the undesirables" such as: Dichin (Hunger), Ilhoyee (Laziness), Te e ih (Poverty) and the like. There were many other Holy People who were present that sang their songs of wealth, beauty and good health for the young woman throughout the final night of the ceremony. Today, this ceremony is still conducted for young women when they come-of-age and brings families together in a celebration of the continuity of life and spiritual communion forever to be known as Kinaaldá. The Name Asdzáán Nádlééhé (Changing Woman) was given to the Young Woman. People say she lives life from infancy to old-age everyday and renews her youth with each new dawn. Later she became the mother to Monster Slayer, and Born For Water, who rid the earth of many "monsters" who were killing people. That is another story...

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