In a surprise twist, traditional Navajo people watched the annular solar eclipse and some young people did not, experts said after the May 20 celestial ring of fire event.
“Generally in traditional Navajo in the culture you don’t watch eclipses. It’s something out of the ordinary, something that’s not in the regular order of things, and so people were taught to be very respectful. And that included staying inside, not eating, not drinking, not having sex, things like that,” said Nancy Maryboy, Cherokee-Navajo, president and executive director of the Indigenous Education Institute and a liaison with NASA. “And that has been pretty well followed on the Navajo Nation even up to today. And in some cases, up to a few years ago, they would let school out during an eclipse and the kids would go home, stay at home.”
This time, however, she noted some surprises among the buzz generated on the Internet, especially social media, about the solar eclipse.
“Interestingly enough, a lot of younger people who are very hip, younger people were sending out messages on their Facebook not to – you know, that it was more traditional to stay in and not look at the eclipse. A lot of people were doing that. I found that very interesting,” Maryboy told Indian Country Today Media Network in an interview. “And then some of the traditional people, several of them that I knew decided it might be okay if you looked at it through dark glasses that NASA gave out. So basically everybody did it in the way that made the most sense to them.”
However, she added, “I would say that because of that traditional viewpoint probably a lot less people watched it on the Navajo nation than other tribal areas.”
The Cherokee, for instance, do not have such a taboo. Maryboy, of both heritages, said she was torn about whether to watch but that cloudy skies in Washington State, where she was at the time, made the decision for her.
At the Navajo National Monument, Melba Martin, an archeoastronomer and Navajo who works with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), was scheduled to give an inside presentation for those who wanted to learn while observing the taboo. However, she said, only five people came. The most traditional Navajo observed the taboo in a separate room, sequestered, while the rangers allowed visitors into the park, where they set up shop with telescopes.
Martin went the nontraditional route, opting to watch through a filtered telescope.
“We managed to pass out the eclipse glasses to make sure everyone was safe, and check on the people who were viewing through the telescopes. We talked with them for a short time about the traditions, in a respectful way, and told them that was why they weren’t seeing many Navajos out,” she said of the outside observers. “They were very accepting, very interested in the culture. And so for about 2 hours we were out there before, during and after the eclipse.”
She called it a unique experience and said the balance was so well struck that she is now planning a similar event to observe the transit of Venus on June 5.
“So it was quite interesting what I experienced at Navajo National Monument. And I really think the park rangers at Navajo National Monument did a great job at observing their traditional way and allowing people into the park who were not Navajos to see the eclipse.”