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ma'ii so' yyiighaz coyote threw the stars up
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Navajo Constellations A description of various constellations, and their significance.

Navajo Phases of the Moon
A chart showing a few Navajo names of the various phases of the moon.

Below is the Navajo story of how the moon (T'honaa') and sun (Jhonaa') were created, and how the Coyote was responsible for the arrangement of the stars as it is today. The way each Navajo family tells the story is a little different. The story below is a combination of what my grandma, Margaret Ray, had told me and how I heard it in grade-school from various Navajo Culture Instructors. Enjoy!

Ak'id' dajin (a long time ago, they used to say), the Holy People (Diyin Dine') came together and had a meeting. During this time, there was no sun, moon, or stars in existence. Because the world was quite cold and dark at this time, they decided to create the sun and moon. Because Coyote (ts Hashk) had gotten them into trouble already, they left him out of these plans.

They formed the sun out of hard goods (nit'iz), seeds (lstsii'), and corn (naad'), which looked like puberty cake (ylkaad). For the moon, they used a perfect white shell. Both of these they laid down on a buckskin that was killed without any arrows (doo k'' k'ehii). While they were busy planning the arrangement of the stars, coyote came up to them and asked, "What are you guys planning?" The first three times they responded, "We're not doing anything." The fourth time he inquired, they said, "We're busy with something very important. Leave us alone until we are done." Hurt and offended, Coyote ran over a hill and was not seen for some time.

The Holy People had asked one of Changing Woman's sons Turquoise Boy
(Doot'izhii Ashkii) to enter the Sun. White Shell Girl (Yoogai At'eed) was asked to enter the the moon. Both were given a flute that would cause both the Sun and Moon to move in proper synchronization when they were played.

First Man (ts Hastiin) and First Woman (ts Asdz) planned sun to follow certain trails (Jhonaa' Bitiin). The sun would have 102 trails. The moon would also follow particular trails (T'ehonaa' Bitiin). So they also decided the moon would have 102 trails. Both of their flight patterns would cross in March (Wzch'd) and September (Bini'anit'ts's). Both Turquoise Boy and White Shell Girl wanted reimbursement, saying that their ability to provide light would not be free. In payment for this, Turquoise Boy said that a portion of the earth's population would have to pay with their lives. White Shell Girl wanted the authority to control the tides with her movements. The Holy People agreed that this would be a good arrangement. For this reason, the sun sets lower in the horizon in July and returns in December giving us the summer and winter months, and the moon has the ability to control the tides. Among medicine men, the point at which the sun starts returning is called Sh Niiltah* (when the sun stops moving), which is the winter and summer solstices.

Before the Holy People had begun planning how the stars would be arranged, Coyote ran among the people from over the horizon, grabbed the bucksin sheet that the stars were laid upon with his teeth, and threw the stars up in the sky, scattering them in an un-organized arrangement across the sky.

The Holy People then asked, "Why have you done this?" Coyote responded, "You left me out of your decision-making." After that, Coyote started naming the various constellations. "This will be called Nhookos Bika'ii (Northern Male), and that will be his partner, Nhookos Bi'adii (Northern Female). Both will circle around Nhookos Biko' (Northern Fire), representing a man and wife around the hogan fire. That will be Dilyh (Planting Stars), that will be called Hastiin Sik'a' (Squatting Man), Ma'ii Ats'' Ylwo (Coyote's Running Apart), So' n (Many Stars), Hooghn (the home), eeh Sis (unknown translation), So' Bidee' (Horned Star), So' Ahts'i' (Pinched Stars), ts Etsoh (First Big One), ts Ets'os (First Skinny One), Gah Haat'e'ii (Rabbit Tracks), and Yiksdh (Waiting For Dawn)." Coyote named all the constellations, many of which are no longer remembered. After he was done, one star fell back to earth. Coyote picked it up and said, "This will be my star. It will be called So' Tsoh (Big Star)." He hung this at the horizon, and still shines brightly there early in the morning.

After this Coyote continued. "Because I was left out, I will add extra days so the months will not be even. I will also change the moon's flight patterns so there will be 13 moon periods**, and not 12 alone." That's how the stars came into their arrangement, dajino (they say).


Side-notes:

According to some stories, Dilyh were not placed in the sky by Coyote. When some of the Holy People came to this world on a rainbow before the stars were set some children stopped to play along the rainbow's edge. Because these children did not keep up with their parents, they got left behind in the sky forever playing.

* The word Sh Niighh is recorded in Young & Morgan's Navajo Dictionary for the summer & winter solstices. My grandma uses the word included above.

** Twelve of the thirteen moon periods retain their traditional names on the Christian calendar. The name of the thirteenth lunar month was known as
Na'a'aash. Witht the exception of conversations among medicine men, this word is no longer used.

 
"And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from th night, and let them be signs and tokens [of God's provident care], and [to mark] seasons, days, and years.
And let them be lights upon the earth. And it was so.
And God made the two great lights - the greater light (the sun) to rule the day and the lesser light (the moon) to rule the night. He also made the stars."

Genesis 1:14 - 16