I've always had a hankering to visit the Navajo Nation. It probably comes from reading one too many of Tony Hillerman mystery novels. I'm very fond of mystery novels. I especially love the fluffy ones where frumpy middle-aged ladies solve mysteries while baking up cookies or crocheting afghans and completely put the local police detectives to shame. I have a secret desire to be one of these ladies. I just haven't stumbled across a dead body yet. That's probably a good thing.
I don't think you could describe Tony Hillerman's books as fluffy. His detectives - Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn - are part of the Navajo Tribal Police. There aren't a lot of descriptions of baking and creating things with yarn. But there are all sorts of cultural tidbits about the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi peoples living in the Four Corners (where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet). So not only do you get to read a juicy little mystery, you also learn a little something at the same time.
While we were in the Four Corners on our USA roadtrip, we purposefully visited some of the well known sites - like Canyon de Chelly and Mesa Verde. But along the way, we also stumbled across the Hubbell Trading Post near Ganado in Arizona. It was a great stumble.
We had seen lots of trading posts on our travels that seemed like nothing more than glorified gift shops where you can buy rocks and other trinkets. Not that there's anything wrong with gift shops. I've been known to while away the hours looking at adorable things that I have no practical use for while Scott waits patiently outside. Okay, maybe not so patiently, but he waits nonetheless.
Sure you can buy stuff at the Hubbell Trading Post, but it's a different kind of place, in part because it's a National Historic Site. In the late 1800s, John Lorenzo Hubbell purchased the trading post. He and his family traded goods such as coffee, flour, tools and cloth in exchange for Navajo wool, rugs, jewelry, baskets and the like. In 1967, the trading post was sold to the National Park Service and continues to be operated under the auspices of a non-profit organization.
Inside you get a glimpse of what the trading post must have looked like back in its heyday. And if you want to engage in some trading of your own, there are lots of beautiful Navajo items for sale.
I picked up a brochure when I was at the visitor's center about traveling among the Navajo. It was a good reminder that when you're in the Navajo Nation, you're in a semi-autonomous territory within the United States. The Navajo people have their own customs and traditions, some of which differ from our own.
Like eye contact. Among the Navajo, eye contact is considered impolite. People may look down at the floor or away from you when they're speaking with you, but it doesn't mean they're not paying attention or engaged in the conversation.
You won't find many strangers striking up a chatty, exuberant conversation with you. The Navajo teach their children not to be too loud, talk too much or be forward with strangers. They're not being unfriendly, they're actually being polite within the context of Navajo culture.
Forget the firm handshake. Touching among the Navajo is reserved for close friends and family. If you do shake hands with a Navajo, do so with a light touch.
Interesting, huh? Want to know more about the Navajo or other peoples of the Four Corners? Then pick up one of Tony Hillerman's books or better yet, travel to the Four Corners and see his books come to life, preferably without running across any dead bodies.
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