The Navajo word Hoogan or Hooghan literally means "place home", which combines the meaning of home and a sense of place, or it simply means "house". Hoogan is spelled Hogan in English. A traditional hoogan always has it entrance facing East.
Traditionally, the hoogan is the place where the Navajo (Diné) live, sleep, cook, make plans, feed motherless lambs and goats on the bottle, and hold their life blessings, as birth, weddings, kinaalda (a Navajo girl's ceremonial initiation into womanhood), and for blessing and healing ceremonies. Traditionally, the hoogan did not accept death. Dying, if possible, took place outside the hoogan. When a person died, and he/she were the only occupants of the hoogan, all personal items belonging to that person were placed in the hoogan and the hoogan would be destroyed by burning the hoogan down. The hoogan would be set on fire by a relative or a friend, in that order. A pile of rocks or stone, would then be the marking place of his burial. Piles of rocks can be seen across desolated areas on the Navajo Nation.
Traditionally, there are two versions of the one-room hoogan:
Later, when Changing Woman (Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé) moved into a house of her own, it was beside Mountain-Around-Which-Traveling-Was-Done (El Huerfano Mesa or Dził Náoodiłii), which suggested the form of the hexagonal or octagonal cribbed-roof hogan, or female hogan (hooghan biáád), that is still in use today. It is also the most popular type of hoogan built. The female hoogan (hooghan biáád) is a stacked-log hogan (hooghan dah diitlini). Some Navajos call it the round hogan (yaadah askáni - under the round roof). The female hogan (hooghan biáád) has wooden walls made of logs laid vertically with small openings and grooves between the logs filled with mud or clay. The roof is closed with layers of logs laid horizontally in a circular pattern that gets smaller and smaller up to the chimney hole or smoke hole to form a domed roof. The roof is then covered with mud or clay. The female hogan (hooghan biáád) provides a greater living space than the male hogan (hooghan biką́). The domed roof and hexagonal-octagonal walled structure suggest a female, and being female, this hoogan is said to care for you like a mother.
Yet other practical versions of the hoogan have existed. Semi-spherical hoogans made of wooden logs (sometimes stone), and/or branches, with clay, mud, or cement, to fill gaps, and chicken wire to hold branches and/or logs and cement in place, exist on the Navajo Nation. One type is a four-legged wooden hoogan that has four leaning-logged walls supported by four main wooden posts. Mud, clay, or cement, is used to fill the gaps of the inward leaning poles. Dirt is then filled and packed around the inward leaning walls to give it a semi-spherical shape. Availability of natural building materials (stone, trees, bushes) in the area suggests the type of hoogan to build in the area. A teepee type hoogan exists that serves as a ceremonial meeting place for the Native American Church. Some permanent hoogans have a nearby sweathouse (táchééh) resembling a scaled-down mud hoogan.
Until just recently, about the 1980s or so, because the heat during summer can kill the animals in a dry desert area which exists on the Navajo Nation, Navajo familes had a summer area to live. The summer location is called a "sheep camp", where the sheep, goats, and cattle, would be shepard to the mountains where a greener pasture would be for the animals to graze. There may be a permanent hoogan located there, or a temporary shaded shelter would be built such as a ramada (chahaoh) or branch hoogan, built near a shaded area of trees, green pasture, or near a spring. The summer hoogan or ramada (chahaoh) would be occupied for about 3 months during the summer. Sheep, goats, and cattle, would be shepard and watched for, especially since the bears like to take a sheep or goat to feed her cubs.
Before the U.S. government got involved in helping the Navajos with housing (and building excellent schools across the reservation) in the late 1960s, most Navajos grew up in a hoogan or hooghan. Those born in the early 1960s and before remember the sense of growing up in the hoogan. Sleeping on the hard dirt floor. The small metal stove in the center of the hoogan with its metal chimney stack going vertically up to the small hole in the roof of the hoogan. Most of the time, wood would be used in the metal stove to heat the hoogan. A few times coal would be used. The rain drops sizzling when the droplets hit the stove during and after a rainstorm. The pleasant and refreshing smell of the air caused from the thousands of manure pellets from the goats and sheep surrounding the hoogan. The warmth and smell of the crackling wood warming up precious water (tó) that was hauled to the hoogan in 50 gallon aluminum trash cans from hand well pumps across the reservation, or driving to the nearest town just off the Navajo Reservation to go to a sympathetic bilagáana's (white person) home to fill up two or three trash cans from their outdoor faucet to haul back to the hoogan in a pick-up. Morning meals of stored rib or mutton from a sheep or goat killed a week ago, or homemade watery potato soup, with sandwich bread, tortillas, or frybread, to eat. Then playing with your sheep dogs while walking to the highway to wait for the school bus. There was no electricity in the hoogan. Wooden crates nailed along logged walls served as shelves. In general, all floor items (bags, trunks, rolled up beddings) went against the wall, with only the stove occupying the central dirt floor space. A Navajo rug, an old blanket, or a sheep or goat skin, could occupy the dirt floor space. The cleared floor space provided the occupants to walk and do daily activities in the hoogan. Navajos used the floor, the bedding, a trunk, or a crate, as a table, or squatted, to eat, and used the "five finger method" of rubbing outside dirt on their hands or rubbing their hands on their pants as a way of cleansing their hands after a meal. Navajos used kerosene lamps to see in the evening, or early in the morning. There was nearly no furniture, other than possibly a roll up bedding, and a trunk for storage. In general, sleeping occured when the sun when down, and people got up just before sunrise. There were no showers or a bath tub in the hoogan. Cleaning of the body occurred with what was called a "sponge bath". A sponge bath occurred using a tin basin filled with warm water, a bar of soap, and a rag to wash and wipe the body. The same water could be used for two persons. When finished, the used water would just be dumped outside the doorway of the hoogan. When a Navajo went to town, it was only then that a Navajo could take a shower at either the Gallup Indian Center, or in Farmington, which was a small one room structure built specifically for Navajos to take showers, by paying $5.00 to rent a towel and a small bar of soap, to cleanse themselves. The hoogan was such that very little of Navajo clothing (velvetine blouse and skirt), make-up (no make-up), or jewelry (only what they or relatives made) was needed by a Navajo woman at that time.
Yet not all Navajos in the early 1960s and before, experienced growing up in a true hoogan. There were Navajo families who lived and grew up in a cardboard or plywood shack (many in Shiprock on the cliff by the highway facing the river), or in log cabins, or in a stone walled one-room house or semi-spherical hoogan. One of my grandmother's home was wooden branches making up the wall and roof shaped semi-spherically. This branch shape hoogan was primative yet was nice and cool during summer. In the Navajo way, one's grandparents could be your Aunt or Uncle in the bilagáana (white man) way.
Today, on the Navajo Nation, there are now many types of homes that have replaced the hoogan such as single wide - double wide - triple wide trailers, or square-cornered houses, called a kin, such as the two or three bedroom cinder block homes built by the Navajo Nation through the Navajo Housing Authority. These westernized homes have windows, electricity, and flushing toilets, which hoogans did not have. These bilagáana type homes can also be used to hold ceremonies to cleanse their home and the occupants. There are some Navajos, all homeless, mostly men, whose home are underneath the end of bridges and drainage openings in the reservation towns, and under huge boulders near hills and mountains near the reservation towns. Other types of buildings as schools, churches, stores, offices, hospitals, Navajo colleges (Diné College, Navajo Technical College), and trading posts, have integrated the hoogan design with westernized structure, and are all over the Navajo Nation. Examples are the Hatathli Adminstration building at Diné College Tsaile. Mr. Bloomfield's hoogan trading post that exists in Bloomfield, New Mexico. The Our Lady of Fatima Parish (Catholic Church) hoogan in Chinle, Arizona. Hoogan interior built classrooms in many of the Navajo Nation public schools used to teach the Diné language and culture. These westernized buildings are cleansed and blessed through ceremonies and medicine men just as the hoogans are.
There are still examples of the hexagonal, octagonal, or spherical hoogans in existance today. Few are used for living. Most are used for storage or for ceremonial purposes. There are hoogans across the Navajo Nation, mostly in unoccupied living areas that are over a hundred years old. These ancient hoogans tend to be made of stone and rock though a few are made of wood. In the city of Albuquerque (Beeldííldahsinil), New Mexico, there stands a wooden female hogan (hooghan biáád) over a hundred years old on a hill near the edge of a cliff by the freeway, that commuters see everyday!
Therefore, Navajos, which are part of the Apachean tribes, have distinguish themselves from other Apachean tribes by their hoogan. Those Diné who lived in the hoogan were known as a farmer dwelling people. Long ago, those Diné who chose to not live in the hoogan were more like the Apaches, raided with the Apaches, and were known as a nomadic dwelling people or Enemy Navajo.
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