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Navajo Dwellings

navajocodetalkersadmin on September 10, 2014 - 10:00 am in Navajo History

Some of the most iconic structures of past civilizations are the structures and monuments they build. From the ancient pyramids, to the Great Wall of China, these structures remain fixtures in our minds. Ranging from large to small, how a culture approached building speaks to their knowledge of materials, engineering, and supports. One series of dwellings that is interesting to look at is the Navajo dwelling. Let’s take a look at the Navajo dwelling, and see its purpose, design, and significance. In addition, we will take a look at a few places where these and other Navajo dwellings can still be found and admired.

The Hogan

The Navajo house is more then just a place to sleep and live. It is considered a sacred space, and is necessary for the family. It becomes the center for tradition and ceremonies within the family and is seen as a way for the family to stay in balance. Where as families may live in a newer home, they still return to the Hogan for important ceremonies.

Hogan Designs

The Navajo dwelling, or Hogan, comes in a variety of forms. Changes in time, climate, and building materials have led to several different varieties. However, at its core, most Navajo homes have the following things in common. First, they are circular. Most of the time, the home will be close to the shape of a sphere cut through the middle and place open side down. Depending on location, the walls will wither be vertical, or have a slanting wall leading to the roof. Building materials mostly include wood and mud. Whereas the wood forms the structural support, the mud is used to cover the wood, creating insulation. The amount of wood used changes depending on the number of trees, leading some Hogans to have almost no wood in them.

The roof is domed, with a space for smoke to escape from the top. In addition, the roof material may change depending on where it is built. Solid mud and solid roof houses are common, along with homes that include a mixture of both materials. Finally, there are a number of door designs. Some doors stick out of the half sphere, creating a small hallway leading in. Other designs have the door sunken into the structure, leading to a partially protected entryway into the Hogan.

Other Designs and Navajo Homes Found Now

With western influence and technology, Navajo homes have changed. First, a number of people no longer live in Hogans, but rather western style homes or trailers. However, there is still a movement within the Navajo people to maintain their way of life, including still living in the Hogan. There are also other designs for Navajo dwellings, which are seen far less frequently. Some of those designs will be talked about later.

There has also been a move in architecture to adopt Navajo aesthetics towards new designs. Using newer materials like glass and metal, these homes seek to emulate the look and feel of the Navajo people, paying tribute to the original design. Whereas some of these homes are circular, a growing number of them are rectangular, showing a gradual increase in western emphasis.

The Use of The Hogan

Take a look at where you live. Chances are that your home consists of more then one room. That is not the case for the Hogan and Navajo dwelling. The Hogan is not spilt into smaller spaces. Instead, it is a single large room. Everything takes place in that room, including sleeping, cooking meals, and important cultural ceremonies.

Special Places Where Navajo Homes Can Be Viewed

An Early Example: The Navajo National Monument
The Navajo National Monument contains one of the most intact series of Navajo cliff dwelling homes in the United States. Constructed mainly of sandstone blocks with mud and mortar, the structures are thought to be 6 to 7 hundred years old. They were abandoned by the end of the 1300’s, making them some of the earliest dwelling of the Navajo people.

A Later Example: The Canyon De Chelly National Monument
Nestled within the cracks of a rock wall and along its sides are the abandoned Navajo structures of the Canyon De Chelly. A series of preserved ruins that represent a much greater habitation by the Navajo, these dwellings represent excellent historical finds. They were lived in up until the Navajo were driven out by United States forces in 1805. Now entirely owner by the Navajo Tribal Trust, these excellent ruins represent a part of the Navajo past as well as samples of Navajo Dwellings.

Besides these locations, there are any numbers of places where you can check out other Navajo structures. Located throughout the south east, the Navajo have left many structures that are a testament to the strength of their culture and the determination of their people.

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