The Navajo Indian man in this photograph is wearing the costume of Tonenili, the God of Water, for a ceremony called the night chant or Yebichai. His costume is made of spruce tree branches and a mark. This photograph was taken about 1904.
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Edward S. Curtis, photographer

Tonenili, Navajo God of Water

Tonenili is the Navaho God of Water.  He is also called the Water Sprinkler because he sprinkles water on people. He makes rain, sleet, and snow. He also makes thunder and lightning

Tonenili is a very mischievous guy.  He means no harm, but he likes to play tricks.  He has been known to cause downpours at times when people were hoping for blue sky, like during a picnic.  He often acts like a clown.

At Navaho ceremonies there is often a man acting as Tonenili. He dresses up in the braches of a spruce tree and a mask. Then the acts like a clown just like Tonenili would during the ceremony.  The funny things he does are often welcome during rituals that are very serious like the night chant.  The night chant is done to either heal someone who is ill or heal the world when it is out of balance. A chant is repeated over and over. Dances are repeated over and over too. Meanwhile, Tonenili acts like a clown and lightens the mood. He sprinkles water around and has fun while the chanters chant and the dancers dance.

Last modified July 23, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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