Although no attempt at decoration is ever made, either of the inside or the outside of the houses, it is not uncommon to hear the term beautiful applied to them. Strong forked timbers of the proper length and bend, thrust together with their ends properly interlocking to form a cone-like frame, stout poles leaned against the apex to form the sides, the whole well covered with bark and heaped thickly with earth, forming a roomy warm interior with a level floor—these are sufficient to constitute a “qo[.g]an n[)i]joni,” house beautiful. To the Navaho the house is beautiful to the extent that it is well constructed and to the degree that it adheres to the ancient model.
There are many legends and traditions of wonderful houses made by the gods and by the mythic progenitors of the tribe. In the building of these houses turquois and pearly shells were freely used, as were also the transparent mists of dawn and the gorgeous colors of sunset. They were covered by sunbeams and the rays of the rainbow, with everything beautiful or richly colored on the earth and in the sky. It is perhaps on account of these gorgeous mythical hogans that no attempt is now made to decorate the everyday dwelling; it would be bats[)i]c, tabooed (or sacrilegious). The traditions preserve methods of house building that were imparted to mortals by the gods themselves. These methods, as is usual in such cases, are the simplest and of the most primitive nature, but they are still scrupulously followed.
Early mention of house building occurs in the creation myths: First-man and First-woman are discovered in the first or lowest underworld, living in a hut which was the prototype of the hogan. There were curious beings located at the cardinal points in that first world, and these also lived in huts of the same style, but constructed of different materials. In the east was Tieholtsodi, who afterward appears as a water monster, but who then lived in the House of Clouds, and Icni’ (Thunder) guarded his doorway. In the south was Teal’ (Frog) in a house of blue fog, and Tiel’i[ng], who is afterward a water monster, lay at that doorway. Acihi Estsan (Salt-woman) was in the west, and her house was of the substance of a mirage; the youth Co’nen[)i]li (Water-sprinkler) danced before her door. In the north Cqaltlaqale made a house of green duckweed, and S[)i]stel’ (Tortoise) lay at that door.
[Footnote 1: Recorded by Dr Matthews as the Blue Heron.]
Some versions of the myth hold that First-man’s hut was made of wood just like the modern hogan, but it was covered with gorgeous rainbows and bright sunbeams instead of bark and earth. At that time the firmament had not been made, but these first beings possessed the elements for its production. Rainbows and sunbeams consisted of layers or films of material, textile or at least pliable in nature, and were carried about like a bundle of blankets. Two sheets of each of these materials were laid across the hut alternately,