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Robinson: It was interesting, talking with Dale [LeRoy’s brother-in-law] yesterday. He was saying how this fair is so amazing. Passion was one of his key words. He said the passion, the intimacy of this event just still strikes such a chord for him and chatting with some other people at the fair yesterday, I heard the same kind of thing.

Tobias: That's the humor, you see. For example, one joke that a Navajo woman shared with me was two Anglos are traveling and they see an Indian coming out of a sweat lodge, "Oh, there goes the gingerbread man." And she laughed, she cracked up hysterically, because to the Navajo that means, as we discovered, as our crew discovered, to take a sweat is to do it four times at about ten-minute intervals, in a temperature of somewhere between 140 and 160 degrees. Now, keep in mind the hottest surface on earth is in Namibia, and it was recorded 172 degrees, at level ground — enough to fry an egg or melt a cheese sandwich, or delight a salamander, presumably, and to fry the feet off of an Anglo. So, our sweat lodge was about 140 degrees, which we took with LeRoy. He was kind enough to invite us in. We went two feet below ground level into their fabulously filled cedar sweat lodge, he did his prayers, which included saying, "Farewell hot rocks." That was part of the translation. And "Beauty be to our north, beauty be to our south, to our west, to our east. Let us walk in beauty and harmony in all ways." Not an exact translation, obviously, since I don't speak Navajo. So we're in there, and then you roll in the sand and so on. And so to the Navajo, this would be a sense of humor, they would understand. Humor doesn't always translate. But there's no question about the delight-makers in Indian tradition, in the shaman tricksters who screw around with weddings and funerals and just infuse humor into everything. And so our notion of sobriety, the solemn Indian who's always so stereotyped in the wooden movies of the past that pitted cowboys against Indians was so wrong, so off, because Indian culture is joyous. It's funny. It's a zeitgeist of one-liners and puns and witticisms that are very complex, I suspect.

Experiencing a Navajo Sweat

Robinson: Tell us more about your sweat experience, and your day with LeRoy in his home.

Tobias: The reservations are partitioned according to family utilization over the centuries. So, their family has used that chunk of land for a long time. You'd have to obviously speak with LeRoy and his family to get the precise particulars. But from what I gather, all [of their] land, which is about 8,000 acres, of splendid, splendid country, about an hour outside of Page, consists of direct views to Navajo Mountain, some vernal pools, low scrub and pinion and some cedar. His parents have a small home right in the center of this piece of land, four miles from the road, reached by the old stagecoach road, which is a very four-wheel-drive-type experience, and it is a modest home built about ten years ago, with a television and a nice dining room and kitchen and back bedrooms. The sweat lodge is about a hundred meters from there, built into the sand, about four feet high, sufficient for five small or four larger individuals. Both men and women take the sweat lodge — not together — but you do it naked, and you roll in the sand afterwards, after each of the four sessions. And the outside ambient temperature, which may well be a hundred degrees, feels cool.

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jack dykinga / leroy dejolie / david muench

 

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