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Robinson: It was interesting, talking with Dale [LeRoys
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
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.