For the Navajos, death isn’t seen as something threatening but rather as the natural course of things. Indeed, the Navajo people’s conception of time is cyclical, so death isn’t seen as an end but rather as a step which is part of the life cycle. Death would allow the birth of others, it thus appears as a necessity. According to their myth, when the first man died nobody knew what it meant. After the death of this man, two men who had looked upon his body died, from then, Navajo knew that looking at a dead’s body would bring bad luck and death, so they began to follow death rituals.
Myth of the coming of Death.
The Navajo believed that man had at least two souls, one free to leave the body during sleep or sickness, and the other bound to the body. The first soul went directly to the underworld and the second dies as the body does. The funerals were a way to ensure that the first soul would go to the underworld and won’t come back to the living world.
When someone is dying this person is put in a separate place, during this period family members and the shaman aren’t allowed to stay. Only two close siblings, strong enough to confront the evil spirits can stay. If the dying one dies at home, the dwelling is then destroyed. Once the person is dead, two undressed related men, who cover their body with ashes to protect themselves against the evil spirits, wash, dress and mourn the deceased. Two other men dig the grave in a special site. The burial is held as soon as possible and the body is buried with personal belongings. Only the four men attend to the funerals. All the tools used to dig the grave are then destroyed, and the horse pulling the wagon which brought the body is sometimes sacrificed.
Then during three to four days the deceased is mourned. The mourners fast, and distance themselves from others. They remained quiet during the mourning not to disturb the leaving soul‘s journey. Women were expected to look after the men and help them mourn. During these mourning days all reservations are closed to foreign people.