Awéé’

Awéé' - navajo word for baby

Following up on Valentine’s Day, today’s word is awéé’.

Awéé’ is the Navajo word for “baby”.

She’awéé’ means “my baby” and awéé’ yázhí means “little baby”. Although most Navajo babies are born like every other baby, they typically weren’t given names until they have their first laugh.

Names for babies describe the qualities parents want for their child, like strength, happiness, or beauty (as in sunshine). But why wait until they laugh?

Navajos are great observers, so when it came to newborns – and this is supported to modern data on infant mortality – the period between birth and the first laugh is most critical. Without prenatal care or modern monitoring technology, the first laugh was the best marker for Navajos to judge survival. When baby laughs, it’s a sign that she has found a very important lifeline – laughter itself.

Of course, when baby first laughs, a celebration – or ceremony – is held. The one to make baby laughs has the responsibility of making the event happen, because it is said that baby will inherit qualities of that person – and there’s no better trait than generosity.

Nizhóní (Beautiful in Navajo)

Nizhóní- the Navajo word for beauty

Nizhóní means beautiful.

On one hand it can refer to something that’s attractive, and on the other it refers to something that is good.

This is because the Navajo idea of beauty goes beyond appearances. Beauty is a sense of being, and is comprised of harmony and balance that is felt within. Things outside of our own minds can remind us of that beauty, and those things we call nizhóní.

Modern day Navalish (a term for Navajo-English slang that I just made up) has a similar word – nizhóníful. You get the idea there…

To tell someone you think they’re beautiful, the second person form is nízhóní. As you can imagine, this term is related to hózhó, which is harmony. That word has deeper meanings, and is often equated with the Navajo way of life.

(I have a bit of a sore-throat today, so the audio quality might be a little off – Byron)

Shash

Shash - the navajo word for bear

Shash means bear in Navajo.

Animals are considered beings, like people. Bears, though, should be considered like humans. In the cultural way, looking directly at someone is impolite because it often seems as if you’re staring, and therefore criticizing. Stories teach that bears should be respected in that way.

Bears are known to inhabit the mountains. When you consider the word for mountain, dził, notice that it is related to bidziil, which is a word for strength. The “One who walks on the mountain” is, in many ways, a symbol of strength and protection. In this way, bears are traditionally viewed as sacred.

In the Navajo clanship system, the bear is the clan protector given to the Towering House clan, Kin Yaa’áanii. People of this clan are said to inherit qualities of leadership, such as a considerate mentality. Other qualities, such as ferocity or moood, are somewhat associated with bears, also.

Note: An earlier version of this post spelled the word as shásh. It’s been corrected.

Chaha’oh

Shade, shadow, sun shelter.

In Navajo, the chaha’oh is a gathering place made of tree trunks for posts and leafy branches for cover. Many homes have these structures, and they are great shade houses during the summer months.

A chaha’oh can range in size depending on the amount of materials in the area, and the need of the family. And, a chaha’oh is rarely “finished,” because it requires constant care. There can also be more than one per homesite.

A navajo shadehouse

Generally, chaha’oh refers to shade. It can also refer to shadow.

For example: Dził bichaha’oh kéyah bik’est’i’. The mountain’s shadow covered the land.

The shadehouse has a variety of uses. It’s a common cooking place, or it’s great when it comes time to butcher. Nowadays, it’s common to see tables, tarp coverings, chairs, and more in the chaha’oh. You may also see them at churches, farms, and fleamarkets around Diné Bikéyah.

Dibááʼ

This Navajo term refers to thirst.

If you take the word nisin, which expressed a want or desire, you would think that the phrase dibáá’ nisin means that you “want thirst.”

But dibáá’ nisin is actually how you express “I am thirsty.”

To understand what dibáá’ means, you can take another Navajo word dibahí and compare. That word roughly expresses something that is devoid of moisture. For example, łeezh dibahí will describe the fine, powdery dust commonly found in dry pond or lake beds during a drought.

Back to thirst, there is also the phrase dibáá’ nishłį́ that translates literally to “I am thirst.” That expression might not fully express what it is intended to mean. But, by using nisin, you’re saying “thirst is on my mind” or “my mind is full of a desire – the kind associated with thirst.”

Hunger works the same way – its Navajo word is dichin.

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