Man has always looked to the sky for guidance, whether it is a part of their spiritual beliefs or for literal guidance when navigating ships across the vast seas. As with the Greeks and Romans, the constellations represent images with unique stories and meanings for the Navajo people. The Navajo word for constellations is “So’ Dine’e.” which translates to “Star People.”
Navajo astronomy is deeply entrenched in their culture and it is found in many stories and activities within their culture. A string game played by many Navajo represent figures found in the constellations. The player creates a pattern with the string that is said to be the figure that is find amongst the stars. One of the stories told by the players of this game is about how the First Man and First Woman tried to set up the stars in the sky and how the Coyote ruined their plans.
Many of the Navajo constellations are similar to the Greek constellations of which most people are familiar. Here is a list of constellations with their Navajo name and their representation.
Náhookos Bika’ii – The Northern Male is synonymous with the Big Dipper’s location amongst the stars. This figure is a man lying down on one of his sides and he represents the father and protector of the home.
Náhookos Bi’áadii – The Northern Female is equivalent to the Greek constellation known has Cassiopeia in its location. The woman is lying on her side and she is considered the mother of the home. She is also a figured represented in the string game.
Náhookos Biko’ – The Northern Fire is the “North Star” and it is surrounded by four other stars. It represents the fire that is at the center of the hogan, or home, which the mother and father of the home circle around. The three stars all represent the family. This is another character that appears in the string game.
Hastiin Sik’ai’í - The Squatting Man is located among “Corvus,” the stars of “Hydra” and the “Spica of Virgo.” The better translation for this figure is “the man with his legs spread apart.” He is a leader in the sky because he has three other constellations that follow him that include Áltse Etsoh, the First Great One; Áltse Álts’oosi, the First Slender One and Dilyehe, Planting Stars. Dilyéhé, the Planter, is also a figure in the string game.
Áltse Etsoh – The First Great One is found amongst many of the Greek constellations. It is located near “Sagittarius” and “Libra.” The star “Anteres” and a star that is within the constellation “Scorpius” makes up the heart of this figure. He holds a cane in his hand and represents the elders. Áltse Etsoh represents the concept that “with old age comes happiness or contentment.” This reflects the thought that while today’s generation is focused on remaining, the elders used to focus on becoming an elder in order to gain the wisdom and respect that came with their age.
Áltse Álts’oosi – The First Slender One is located in the same place as the constellation “Orion.” This figure is representative of protection and in the sky, he moves in front of the children making up the constellation Dilyéhé.
Dilyéhé – They are the Planters and it is located in the same location as the Greek constellation “Pleiades.” The legend is the they are children that were left behind in the sky because they were too busy playing when the Holy People were going to Earth via a rainbow. The children represent youth and when the constellation appears in the morning sky, it indicates that it is time to plant, if it appears early in the morning, planting must stop. This constellation is also a part of the string game.
Gah Haat’e’ii - This constellation is known as Rabbit Tracks and it is part of the tail of the constellation “Scorpius.” It was used long ago by hunters to determine the start of hunting season. When the constellation was seen in one place in the say, it was said that deer could not be hunted because they still depended on their mother’s for nourishment. However, once the constellation tipped eastward the hunting season began in earnest.
Yikáísídáhí – Means It Waits for Dawn and it is located where the “Milky Way” is in the sky. It represents corn pollen, called tádídíín, that is sprinkled when during the morning prayers of traditional Navajos. Ásdzáá Nádleehí, who is Changing Woman, showed the Navajos how to distribute tádídíín before themselves when they prayed. This figure is called “Many Stars” in the Navajo string game.
So’ Tsoh – This is the Coyote Star, but it literally translates to mean “Big Star.” It is synonymous with the “Morning Star” because it is seen early in the morning.