This week, we veer way off the beaten path and into the wilderness to ancient Native America, to explore an important piece of Navajo life and history.
We will be reviewing the Nightway Ceremony, also referred to as Night-Chant Ceremony. Use the attached handout(s) to distribute to students to serve as background information and a more detailed description of the ceremony.
Since the Native American history and culture’s central focus is within nature, the earth, and its resources – you may want to consider holding class outside. In fact, an outdoor classroom setting may actually be the only way to deliver this lesson.
I would also suggest taking it a step further to include some Native American or Navajo props to assist with setting the right “mood”. Try to obtain some Navajo or Native American hand-held instruments that your students can actually use. The idea is to physically engage them in the lesson and to add another level of interaction, to assist in the comprehension and memory.
Do not distribute the handouts prior to class, because the students may be bored by the subject by the time they make it to class, and they may not engage in the classroom activity as well.
Inviting a guest from the Native American community to “perform” an example of a Night Chant would be ideal, but it is not likely you will succeed. Instead, use volunteers from class to chant assigned selections from the Night Chant.
Remember, student participation is key. Do a brief class introduction describing the process in a bit of detail prior to starting the actual in-class chants.
Pass out the handouts at the beginning of class, along with a printed copy of one of the texts of an actual Night Chant to “perform” in class.
Be sure to emphasize to the class that this is not simply a performance, but a healing ritual that is intended to be very personal. That Night Chants aren’t typically “performed”, like a tribal group dance. That the Night Chant is normally focused on an individual person, with a very specific healing/restoration need.
Use an example from pop-culture to illustrate what the healing/restoration may be in today’s society. For example, healing from addiction, healing from a disease like cancer, or reconciliation of a relational dysfunction.
After the Intro and “performance”, open up the class for a Q&A.
Follow up with a homework assignment, asking each student to write a two-page paper which uses the first page to summarize the ceremony in Native history, and which uses the second page to illustrate a hypothetical or real personal dilemma the student would likely utilize a Night Chant to heal if they were a Native American.
What is a Nightway Chant
Navajo “Nightway” ceremonies were typically “private ceremonies for healing” either physical or psychological maladies. (Faris, C.)
The introduction provided in our text also claims these Nightway ceremonies have “have proven their therapeutic power and earned the respect of Western medicine. In fact, they cross the boundaries of art, religion, and science. “(Norton) Art, for their creative poetic, and dramatic expression.
Religion, because the purpose was to summon a deity.
Evidently, each Nightway chant addressed a specific ailment or problem, such as stroke.
Repetition in Night Chants
The following introductions (In the house, With you, etc.) is a full list of the various beginnings to the different lines found in Night Chant.
In the house, With your, With the, My feet (body, limbs), Happily my, Happily abundant, Happily may, With these, With beauty, It is
Each of these line openings repeat to some degree.
While there doesn’t seem to be and readily accessible material explaining the repetition from a poetic perspective, we can only speculate as to the purpose of the repetitiveness.
We also know, from the introduction within our textbook, these Nightway ceremonies are a way to “restore harmony between individuals and the environment.” To that end, I believe the repetitive line-openers are necessary to help align the individual’s mind, body and spirit with the particular objective of that line. For example, in the example below we see “Happily abundant” repeated several times with a different ending for each line. So, part of the objective for this particular Nightway chant is to summon dark clouds, dark mists and passing showers; but not just dark clouds – Happily abundant ones. Perhaps the repetitive chant is a way of “making it so”. Perhaps similar to what we see with some of today’s prosperity gospel pastors, particularly within the Pentecostal group, where believers will “speak things into existence”, also similar to the way believers “speak blessings over their life and the lives of others”.
Again, I can only speculate – but each repetitive line beginning seems to be individual unique line endings which share an overarching theme, such as thunder and rain as we see in the example below.
Happily abundant dark clouds I desire.
Happily abundant dark mists I desire.
Happily abundant passing showers I desire