Hosteen Klah (Sir Left Handed)
(1867 - 1937)
Tse taa'aanii -- Rock-Extends-Into-Water People Clan
Hosteen Klah was an outstanding male Weaver and honored Medicine Man who applied the sacred designs of the Navajo Sandpaints onto his created Navajo rugs.
Klah was born at Bear Mountain near Fort Wingate in New Mexico. Klahs father was Hoskay Nolyae and his mother was Ahson Tsosie of the Tse taa'aanii Clan. As a youth, he was called Ahway Eskay, a common name for prepubescent Navajo boys. Hosteen, in Navajo, is an appellation of respect for men meaning something like "Sir" or "Mister" (with respect). The Navajo word, Klah, means Left Handed.
During his youth, Klah fell off a pony and had to use crutches. An uncle who was a medicine man decided to aid the boys recovery by performing the Wind Chant over his body. After singing over him during this five-day ceremony, the Fire Ceremony was also performed. Fascinated by the ancient ceremonies, the impressionable young lad sought out knowledgeable Navajo traditionalist to learn more about his peoples ways.
During this time, it was discovered that he was a Hermaphrodite - an honorable state, in Navajo tradition, for its combination of the admirable traits of both sexes. Klah was chosen in the early 1890s to be a male Weaver at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, although women usually did the weaving. In later years, he became an outstanding Weaver.
In the meantime, he continued his studies of Navajo traditional ways and collaborated with Dr. Washington Matthews on The Night Chant, a classic anthropological work, in the early twentieth century. After his work with Matthews, Klah focused on learning the Winter or Yeibichei Ceremony. By 1917, he had completed his lengthy spiritual apprenticeship, he became an honored Medicine Man when he was able to fully perform his first Night Chant (a nine-day curing rite).
As a Medicine Man, Klah realized that the Navajo art of Sandpainting was an important component in the Yeibichei ritual. The art of creating designs with finely ground earth on hogan floors intrigued Klah. Usually, the sandpaintings are scattered outside the hogan when the ceremony is completed. In an attempt to preserve some of these designs, Klah began to weave some of the important images into rugs. In 1916, he finished a Yeibichei dancer rug. By 1919, his rugs were becoming more detailed in their representations of designs in the ritual life of the Navajo. Although many Navajo traditionalists censured his work as sacrilegious, Klah appeared to experience no injuries for his artistic representations of Navajo ceremonies.
During the latter part of his life, the rugs that he wove recorded over two dozen ceremonial motifs. Mary Cabot Wheelwright, a friend of Klahs memorialized his work in the Wheelwright Museum at Santa Fe, New Mexico. On February 27, 1937, he died at the age of seventy; he is buried on the grounds of the Wheelwright Museum. Through his abilities as a medicine man and the artforms that he developed, he was able to introduce the non-Navajo world to the vitality, beauty, dignity, and harmony of Navajo ritual art.
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