Yei / Yei-be-chai

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    Navajo Healing Ceremonies

    “Yei” (pronounced “yay”) is the Navajo name for the benevolent supernatural beings who bring their healing power to medicinal sandpainting ceremonies still performed today. In fact, Yeis were first portrayed in rugs through traditional sandpainting designs created for these ceremonies, but the modern Yei rug is more of a pictorial composition, showing a row of the front-facing stylized stick figures. Between the Yeis, cornstalks, feathers and arrows may appear, and a Rainbow Guardian often surrounds and protects the figures on three sides, indicating the sandpainting roots of this particular style.

    “Yei-be-chai” is the name of the masked human dancer participating in the actual healing ceremony and embodying the Yei. This allows the Yei spirits to come among the people during the ceremony. The Yei-be-chai rug portrays a line of dancers, usually shown from the side and often with one foot raised as though in a synchronized dancing motion. The patient for whom the ceremony is being held may be shown facing the procession. The medicine man and “Talking God” often lead the way, and a clown is often shown at the end of the line.

    Some weavers currently involved in these two styles include Margie Harvey, Daisy Nakai, Marilyn Paytiamo, Ruby White, and Elouise Bia.

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