Navajo Indian Life (1939)

Navajo activities depicted include silversmithing jewelry and bow guard, grinding corn meal and baking bread, eating a meal, ploughing and planting, family life, and wrapping a baby into a cradleboard. Views of Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly.
Cultural Narrative: 

Narrated by Natasha Goldtooth, student at Diné College. Facilitated by Rhiannon Sorrell, Instructor & Librarian at Diné College.

Language of narration primarily English. Film is silent.


[Film is silent.]

Title card: “In the semi-arid desert of Northern Arizona, from Monument Valley south to the Little Colorado River and east into New Mexico, the Navajos lead a nomadic life.”

Opening wide shot of Monument Valley (MV) landscape; Navajo boy  in white hat with black band, shirt and trousers sitting on and then riding a grey and white burro past and away from the camera, MV in background; campsite at the foot of rock faces, horses and wagons, Navajos standing around or seated on the ground and then from another angle MV in background;

Title card: “The Navajo dewelling (sic), called a hogan, varies in style over the reservation.”

A man walking into thatched hogan, a boy saddles a white horse nearby; perhaps family group next to their summer shelter made with a juniper tree branches, wagon and belongings, women collected on a blanked and a man snoozing; another wagon and horse nearby; landscape and man’s hogan, sky full of clouds; hogan and people seated in an open-air shelter near rock face in Canyon de Chelly; man walking towards a large structure made of standing logs, wagon and horse outside the entrance, large tree in foreground, the horse is spooked;  

Title card: “Navajo jewelry of silver and turquoise is worn by men and women of all ages.”

An elderly woman with a little girl, seated on a mattress and box spring outside the entrance to the entrance of the shelter mentioned above, the woman straightens the girl’s necklace; the two (the woman in a black velvet blouse, the girl in a red velvet, sky behind — the girl looks and points directly at the camera; the woman’s wrists with bracelets, and then both their wrists and bottoms of their necklaces; their two touching arms and bracelets; the girl looking at camera; interior shot of the woman striking a match and lighting a cigarette;    

Title card: “The cradleboard has been used in the Southwest since prehistoric times.”

A younger woman smiling and strapping a baby into a cradleboard; the baby’s head on the board; woman continuing to strap and another the baby;

Title card: “Planting Watermelon Seeds. May be done only when the full moon rises.”

Timelapse shot of moon rising in the sky at night over a cliffside; people, some bending over, and wagons under a large juniper tree; man dry planting in field of dirt and shrubs, standing/riding a plough and two mules, closer view as he passes the camera, large sky and snowy mountain peaks in the distance; ploughing from behind; two women kneeling and digging holes with sticks in the newly dug trenches, man and plough riding past; elderly woman placing seeds in a hole and covering with dirt; another woman waiting as the man and plough create a new trench; plants (first maybe squash, then corn?) growing in the field;

Title card: “The Mano and metate also date from prehistoric times.”

Interior view of a woman grinding corn (naadą́ą́ʼ) with a mano and metate (tsédaashchʼíní/tsédaashjééʼ); brushing corn meal from the metate into a pile; packing a metal can with corn meal and sweeping up meal from the buckskin;

Title card: “Food is generally prepared over an open fire.”

A woman stoking or placing something in brick oven; a woman seated on the ground outside on a blanket, rolling balls of dough and stirring a pot on a fire; woman rolling the dough into a ball, then flattening into a disk shape (for fry bread/dah díníilghaazh/bááh dah díníilghaazh); adding the bread into hot oil, flips it over until it’s done; family group eating, seated on a blanket eating, baby on cradleboard, toddler from before looking at the camera; toddler drinking from a black cup; woman from before smiling at her baby in the cradleboard eating bread; extreme baby’s head in profile, eating and looking around; a hand dipping bread into a communal pot of noodle soup between seated family, spoons propped along the edge, then someone easting with spoon; young boys eating, one turns to look at camera; the boys’s behinds, focussing on their seated on their knees, feet behind;  

Title card: “Sandcast Silverwork. Molten silver, poured into sandstone molds, is formed into bracelets, rings, and ornaments.”

Man seated on ground near a work bench/table working intently on something in his hands, children standing in doorway of hogan behind; sandstone mold (for silver casting) tied together, a can, white squares and a black tubes?; his hands hammering a small piece of silver and then fitting it into a black metal tube; a young man blowing air into the hole at the base of a metal bucket with a bellow, tools around him; overhead a hand placing the black metal tube into the bucket of burning embers with metal tongs; men’s hands shaking and scraping soot from perhaps a piece of burned wood onto a small sandstone slab; creating a design from the soot on the slab; man tying together that slab with white twine to its mate; overhead the metal tube in the bucket red from heat, a stick is stirring the molten silver, then long tongs removing the tube from the fire and another hand picks it up with metal pliers to pour the silver into the hole in the stone mold; over-the-shoulder man unwrapping the mold; his hand pointing out forged metal design in the mold with a metal file tip, then gently lifts it and flips it over; a variety of silversmithing tools and a finished and silver piece (a man’s bow guard)from mold displayed on some buckskin; man filing the silver piece with tools around, inspecting his work; refining with a small metal punch; a metal bracelets and bow guard, placed on the sandstone mold in which it was made, including a woman’s hand rolling one over to demonstrate; another mold’s sides and a ring; extreme a man’s hand holding a finished ring; the artist’s shoulders and smiling face.

[This version has cut off the opening credits, last couple minutes and closing credits. To watch the entire version see Navajo Homelife (alternate title?) on Northern Arizona University's Colorado Plateau Digital Collections page.]