Culture change and the Navajo Hogan

TitleCulture change and the Navajo Hogan
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication1985
AuthorsWarburton, M
Academic DepartmentAnthropology
UniversityWashington State University

The Navajo tribe has been subjected to acculturation pressures since its arrival in the American Southwest in the 1500s. The pressures came first from indigenous Pueblo groups, these were succeeded by pressures from the Spanish, Mexicans, Utes, U.S. military, and other Euroamerican local populations.

The Navajo response to the pressures of acculturation in both the economic and religious spheres of life is manifested in the Navajo house or hogan. The hogan serves as both a sacred and secular structure. Some features of hogan construction such as shape and doorway orientation have strong symbolic associations, and alterations in their form thus reflect fundamental shifts in religious orientation. Other features of hogan construction such as the use of power tools or milled lumber, while changing the appearance of the structure, do not have strong symbolic associations and thus are not indicative of a similar shift away from traditional Navajo culture. Instead, these features represent a Navajo incorporation of items from the dominant culture that are most useful in easing the hardships of traditional life.

Habitation structures from two areas of Arizona illustrate this trend. Over 500 structures from the remote, conservative and until very recently, unacculturated area of Black Mesa are compared with over 200 structures from the substantially more acculturated region of the Defiance Plateau. The difference in the chronology of housing construction techniques between the two areas is striking. Influences from the dominant culture, including a shift away from traditional houses, are evident in the late 1800s on the Defiance Plateau. Conversely, on Black Mesa, these same trends do not appear until the 1970s and 1980s.

Architecture is composed of both a technological and an expressive element. This marriage of two aspects of culture in one place--housing--is an important locus of information for anthropologists. Analysis of changing construction methods and morphology provides a physical manifestation of changes documented in other areas of the cultural system.