The other day I had an encounter with a harried young woman who needed information. She telephoned as I was working in my office, attempting to write creative interpretations of the week's purchases and failing miserably. Under the circumstances, the nice voice on the other end of the line was a pleasant distraction. In the background I could hear several children playing noisily and an older woman speaking Navajo, trying to calm the kids. The poor girl on the phone sounded stressed, and admitted she was at her wit's end because an assignment was due and she was not having any luck finding source material. Someone told her Twin Rocks Trading Post had a respectable Navajo art and culture reference library, so she gave us a call.
Admitting we had numerous books on the subject, I invited her to come in any time and do research. I cautioned, however, the publications were not to leave the building. Because of our poor tracking system, Steve and I have lost too many books. Many of our copies are first editions, out-of-print and not easily replaced. “Even nice young ladies don’t get out the door with the volumes”, I chided. “Oh", she said, “now that creates a problem.”
Punching the phone's speaker button and sitting back to listen, I queried, “What’s up?” Through the din of shouting children I learned the young woman was taking classes from Dine’ College in Tsaile, Arizona and had been assigned a paper on the tsiiyééł, the traditional Navajo hair bun. She had the paper written, but needed to reference sources other than the Internet. “I need hard copy”, she said hopefully. As she explained her dilemma, I reached-up and plucked Gladys A. Reichard’s Navajo Religion from my book shelf. Thumbing through the glossary I discovered several references and passed them on.
The next thing I knew Priscilla walked into the office and started pulling books from the shelf and passing them to me, whispering, “She needs help. Just do it!” That eves-dropping woman has been around Steve far too long, and because of that association, she is getting sassy. Within ten minutes Priscilla and I had nine separate references. She happily shut us down and thanked us profusely. “Thank Ni’ma' (your mother)”, I said referring to Priscilla. The young lady laughed merrily and signed off.
As I understand it, the tsiiyééł was introduced to Navajo people when First Man and First Woman were created by the Holy People. The First Couple were told their hair was part of their strength and represents their inner being. Hair also represents rain and nourishment along with personal growth and a progressive attitude. Cutting your hair inhibits your capabilities. Binding one's hair, with a representation of sunbeams, helps manage your thoughts, it keeps them whole and unified. Everyone we question about the tsiiyééł has a slightly different perspective, but the bottom line always comes down to honoring tradition and culture
Unfortunately the tsiiyeel is going the way of the Wooly Mammoth. Today most Navajo people wear their hair as do the rest of us, in the latest fashion. The headgear accepted these days is often a scarf for women and a cowboy hat or baseball cap for men. Here at Twin Rocks, however, we still see local Native people wearing the hair bun. The older, more traditional people may wear one on a daily basis, while the younger people wear their hair in a tsiiyééł only on special occasions. When the Utah Navajo Fair and Head Start Days come to town, so does the tsiiyééł. There is nothing more adorable than a young Navajo child dressed traditionally in satin, velveteen and leather moccasins with her hair tied up.
“You’re right I guess. Go home, let your hair down, put your feet up and relax. Enjoy your evening”, I said. “I wish I could”, was her reply, "but the grandkids are going to need a little help.” “Homework?” I queried. “Yup”, she replied.