“Navajo women wear the trousers in Navajo society. They work the land, they raise the kids, and they preserve the culture and traditions. They are so much more than just a pretty face. —Billy Luther, MISS NAVAJO filmmaker

Navajo society is traditionally matrilineal, meaning that one’s clan identity is derived from the female and not the male. In a traditional introduction, a Navajo person will first introduce himself or herself by naming the maternal clan, followed by the paternal clan.

Changing Woman, the principal deity of the Navajo religion, represents the many roles that a woman takes on in her lifetime. Changing Woman also created the first Navajo clans and guidelines for living and established the matrilineal system.

Navajo women have always been at the core of social and economic control in their culture and occupy a strong position in Navajo life. Women are the potters and weavers, crafts they have been practicing for centuries. Women have traditionally owned the land and livestock, passing these possessions down to their daughters, who have been trained to manage them.

The Kinaalda Ceremony: One of the most important and sacred rituals among the Navajo people is the kinaalda ceremony, an elaborate four-day event that incorporates music and dance and marks the passage of 13-year-old girls into womanhood.

During the four-day ceremony, the girl involved must be on a restricted diet and is forbidden to dress herself, comb her hair, or touch her own skin. Her family and members of her society are considered helpers in the ritual. Ceremonial duties include grinding corn, preparing a cake called “alkaan” and participating in hair washings and body moldings with a chosen female companion that instructs the girl on the proper procedures.

In the ceremony, girls wear special jewelry and costumes of shells and other ornaments, and are painted with a white clay mixture. The costumes and ornaments are meant to depict Changing Woman and aid the girl in her journey through womanhood.


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