Navajo Sandpainters

Production Date: 
Unknown male narrator
Run Time: 
Santa Fe Railroad

Establishing shot: Extreme long shot of the Navajo reservation. On screen right a scraggly desert tree can be seen, and in the background a large mountain (Navajo Mountain) can be seen in the center of the frame.
Named locations: Santa Fe, New Mexico; Navajo Mountain.
Major themes covered: The cultural significance of sandpaintings
Native activities shown: Seeking council of a healer; preparing for and performing a sing; preparing for and creating a sandpainting; the sing; erasing a sandpainting after its use.

Fresh sand is spread over a space on the floor in the hogan. Rocks and ores are ground and crushed on a grinding stone; Colored sands are separated; man creates a cross and a circle with white sand; Helpers fill in the white sand circle.

The white circle represents the moon (Bearer of the Night); black sand makes eyes, mouth, and a circle around the moon; Yarn is used to insure the lines of the sandpainting are straight.

The shooting arrow chant is created by the medicine man. Narrator discusses some of the chants known to the Navajo and beliefs about diseases.

The sandpainting is completed by the medicine man and his helpers.  Sand is separated into different bark containers. Slender black god, "the holy one," is made with Black sand; Children of the Sun, including Holy Boy and Holy Girls, are drawn with sand in different colors. Heads of the figures are always pointing East, where the gods will enter the hogan. He Who Carried the Day (the sun) is drawn in sand;

Navajo healer removes ceremonial items from his medicine bundle and puts them in a woven basket. The ill individual enters the hogan and consecrates the sandpainting with pollen. Navajo families watch as the patient sits on the sandpainting; healer works with ill individual. Shells are filled with different waters; blessings and prayers are offered, patient is anointed with sacred water. Chanters begin singing [no audio].

Healer dips sprinkler in sacred water and blesses painting; patient sits on the center of the sandpainting; chanters continue  [low audio can be heard]; Patient takes a sacred drink from the medicine man; Medicine man touches different parts of a patient's body to remove his illnesses and troubles; Patient is taken outside of the ceremonial hogan; Medicine man carefully erases the painting; Sand is gathered by four helpers and each bundle is put in a different location to represent each of the four cardinal directions.
Individuals Named No named individuals
Native language spoken: Navajo overdubbed at (00:01:28-00:01:46); Chanting is overdubbed at (00:15:07-00:15:19);   some singing during the ceremony
Audible: Good quality Navajo and English narration
Noteworthy elements: Good description of what each element of the sandpainting means in Navajo culture and traditional healing ceremonies
Other notes: Racist language used: “Navajo squaws have an early and busy day while a sandpainting is in progress (00:03:23).

Film Information:

Michelle Boyer, 2011

Mikel Stone, 2012