Yei-bi-chai Rugs & Yei Rugs
Yei-bi-chai and Yei rugs refer to rug designs that depict Yei, a Navajo Holy Person and the important nine day ceremonial dance that involves them. Over one hundred fifty years ago weavers deviated from the elders who did not want the sacred images to be used in weaving and started depicting the sacred dance and Yei dancers in their weaving. Although it was at first controversial to depict sacred images in the weaving, the tradition persisted and now there is a long history of Yei and Yeibichai rugs. Today, Navajo (Dine') people hang the Yeibichai rugs over their front doorway, which usually faces east, as a guard against evil and to honor the Sky and Earth.
According to Navajo (Dine') legend, it was the deity known as Spider Woman who taught a young Dine' shepherdess who was shivering from the cold the art of weaving upon a loom. After teaching her to sheer sheep, card, and spin wool Spider Woman told her: "My husband, Spider Man, constructed the weaving loom making the cross poles of sky and earth cords to support the structure; the warp sticks of sun rays, lengthwise to cross the woof; the heralds of rock crystal and sheet lightning to maintain original condition of fibers. For the batten, he chose a sun halo to seal joints, and for the comb he chose a white shell to clean strands in a combing manner." Spider Woman then warns the newly named Weaving Woman to "walk the Middle Way," keeping her life in balance and not to do too much of one thing. Good advice for someone taking on the challenge of weaving a large rug. Since Weaving Woman, the Dine' have always been accomplished weavers through the generations, hoping to pay proper homage to the Spider Woman and her husband.
By far the largest category of Navajo rugs would be non-regional, sometimes called "general rugs." These rugs do not exhibit unique characteristics that allow them to be pinpointed to a specific regional trading post area. Either no design elements stand out or the style of rug was, or is, woven throughout Navajo land. While Indian arts dealers will try assign a regional attribution to almost any rug, most rugs, in fact, fall into the non-regional category. The photo at right is only one example of a non- regional Navajo rug. There are many, many designs that fall into this category.
Spider Woman / Spider Rock stands with awesome dignity and beauty over 800 feet high in Arizona's colorful Canyon de Chelly National Park. Geologists of the National Park Service say that "the formation began 230 million years ago. Windblown sand swirled and compressed with time created the spectacular red sandstone monolith. Long ago, the Dine' Indian tribe named it Spider Rock. Stratified, multicolored cliff walls surround the canyon. For many, many centuries the Dine' built caves and lived in these cliffs. Most of the caves were located high above the canyon floor, protecting them from enemies and flash floods. Spider Woman possessed supernatural power at the time of creation, when Dine' emerged from the third world into this fourth world. At that time, monsters roamed the land and killed many people. Since Spider Woman loved the people, she gave power for Monster- Slayer and Child-Born-of-Water to search for the Sun-God who was their father. When they found him, Sun-God showed them how to destroy all the monsters on land and in the water. Because she preserved their people, Dine' established Spider Woman among their most important and honored Deities. She chose the top of Spider Rock for her home. It was Spider Woman who taught Dine' ancestors of long ago the art of weaving upon a loom. She told them, "My husband, Spider Man, constructed the weaving loom making the cross poles of sky and earth cords to support the structure; the warp sticks of sun rays, lengthwise to cross the woof; the heralds of rock crystal and sheet lightning, to maintain original condition of fibers. For the batten, he chose a sun halo to seal joints, and for the comb he chose a white shell to clean strands in a combing manner." Through many generations, the Dine' have always been accomplished weavers. From their elders, Dine' children heard warnings that if they did not behave themselves, Spider Woman would let down her web- ladder and carry them up to her home and devour them! The children also heard that the top of Spider Rock was white from the sun-bleached bones of Dine' children who did not behave themselves!