In both cases the result, so far as the house structures are concerned, is the same. The houses of the people, the homes “we have always had,” as they put it, are rapidly disappearing, and the examples left today are more or less influenced by ideas derived from the whites. Among the Navaho such contact has been very slight, but it has been sufficient to introduce new methods of construction and in fact new structures, and it is doubtful whether the process and the ritual later described could be found in their entirety today. Many of the modern houses of the Navaho in the mountainous and timbered regions are built of logs, sometimes hewn. These houses are nearly always rectangular in shape, as also are all of those built of stone masonry in the valley regions.
There is a peculiar custom of the Navaho which should be mentioned, as it has had an important influence on the house-building practices of the tribe, and has done much to prevent the erection of permanent abodes. This is the idea of the tc[)i]’ndi hogan. When a person dies within a house the rafters are pulled down over the remains and the place is usually set on fire. After that nothing would induce a Navaho to touch a piece of the wood or even approach the immediate vicinity of the place; even years afterward such places are recognized and avoided. The place and all about it are the especial locale of the tc[)i]’ndi, the shade or “spirit” of the departed. These shades are not necessarily malevolent, but they are regarded as inclined to resent any intrusion or the taking of any liberties with them or their belongings. If one little stick of wood from a tc[)i]’ndi hogan is used about a camp fire, as is sometimes done by irreverent whites, not an Indian will approach the fire; and not even under the greatest necessity would they partake of the food prepared by its aid.
This custom has had much to do with the temporary character of the Navaho houses, for men are born to die, and they must die somewhere. There are thousands of these tc[)i]’ndi hogans scattered over the reservation, not always recognizable as such by whites, but the Navaho is unerring in identifying them. He was not inclined to build a fine house when he might have to abandon it at any time, although in the modern houses alluded to above he has overcome this difficulty in a very simple and direct way. When a person is about to die in one of the stone or log houses referred to he is carried outside and allowed to die in the open air. The house is thus preserved.
The Navaho recognize two distinct classes of hogans—the keqai or winter place, and the kej[)i]’n, or summer place; in other words, winter huts and summer shelters. Notwithstanding the primitive appearance of the winter huts, resembling mere mounds of earth hollowed out, they are warm and comfortable, and, rude as they seem, their construction is a matter of rule, almost of ritual, while the dedicatory ceremonies which usually precede regular occupancy are elaborate and carefully performed.