Tag Archives: male hogan

Counting the Hogans Leads Us to Learning More About The Navajo People

28 Mar

As part of our Road Scholar trip we were often on the road in a bus going from one place to another.   I need activity.  I remember when my children were young finding something to count along the way: water towers, yellow cars, different license plates, helped.   Soon I found myself counting the hogans.  Joining me was my partner in anxious inactivity, we traveled with another couple, and the husband and I share this trait.  We sat by the windows and started counting.  I must say that I was better at discerning the shape of hogans better than he.

What is a hogan and why count them, you might ask?  I am glad to explain.

A hogan is a Navajo hut/home.  Originally there were two types.  The simple, smaller, tipi style Hogan was called a male hogan. They are made of wood covered in mud. These were usually used and lived in by single men.  But anyone could live in them.  It is not gender assigned in that sense.

A beautiful stone Hogan on the grounds of the Hubbell Trading Post.

The other, female hogan is much larger.  It is often multi-sided ranging from 6 to 9 sides, with differing explanations why. But one guide told us a nine-sided hogan is to represent the nine months of pregnancy.   Both males and females can live in a hogan.

The opening of a hogan always faces east to welcome the morning sun.

Although many Navajo families still have a hogan on their property for ceremonial reasons, most no longer live in hogans.  However, that is not an absolute.  They are inhabited as well.  They can also look different now.  No longer are they just mud-covered beams of tree trunks and branches, they can be made of brick, stone, wood, shingles and siding.   We saw it all.  Some have had additions put on to make them bigger.  Others stand alone and silent, somewhat decaying.  Others have had windows installed — no longer with just an opening in the east and on the ceiling to let the smoke from the stove or fire vent.

We saw our first hogan in the Heard Museum in Phoenix.  The guide explained to use how they were built and why they were used.  Being that it was inside and enclosed in the museum, it did not face the elements ,and you really could not tell that it was facing east.  But it was interesting to see.

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Hogan at Canyon De Chelly

The second hogan we entered was at the entrance to the Canyon De Chelly National Monument on the grounds of the Welcome Center. This hogan was outside.  Our guide told us stories about his family and what his grandmother told him about the meaning in parts of the hogan.  Much we had heard from our guide at the museum, but his tellings were more authentic.  Our Road Scholar guide explained later that different families have slightly different opinions. And she did correct one bit of information he gave us.  Thank you Azalia!

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Agathla Peak or El Capitan 

Our third entrance to a hogan was at a rest stop near El Capitan.  First the beauty of the surrounding area as we drew closer to Monument Canyon was stunning.  Seeing El Capitan, or Agathla Peak, an ancient volcanic plug in the horizon was amazing.  We eventually got much closer to it.  So at first I did not notice the hogans, but there they were with some information about them.

The rest stop featured two hogans, both the male and the female.  Thus for the first time we could enter the smaller one and see how it was made. I loved seeing how the interlocking forked branches and tree trunks formed the top of the male hogan.  To be honest, it was quite small, and I can see why it has gone out of use.  Unless you are camping or living off by yourself, there is not much room but to sleep and take shelter, so it is not a great living situation.

The female hogan is much better for families or daily living. The way the logs were formed for these is much more intricate, with layers of logs forming a design in the ceiling.  Some female hogans have the side logs layered horizontally. Other are formed by longs standing upright, vertically around the exterior.

So why count hogans? Well as we drove through the Navajo reservation, we had plenty of time on the bus.  And although much of the scenery was breathtaking, there were also many areas where we drove through empty dessert, except every so often we would see a group of homes where a family had its compound.  And there, among the more modern homes was often an original or remodeled hogan.   So we did what any child would do on a long trip, we found something to count and to discuss.  We counted 15 hogans.  They were a variety of colors, symmetry, materials, and shapes as we saw several connected to other additions.

Counting hogans led us to discuss what we were seeing.  How do people live out here in the middle of nowhere?  We found that solar panels have helped with electricity.   That water has to be brought in.   That addresses are basically non-existent.  Residents of these isolated compounds tell visitors to go to a certain highway marker and turn either left or right and follow a dirt road to get to their homes.

I am glad we started counting hogans because this led us to learn more about the Navajo people and their life on the reservation.