At Kachina House, we carry a selection of Kachina dolls and masks that represent Yeibichai dancers. The Night Chant is a healing chantway and a major ceremony that must be carried out in minute detail in exact prescribed order. According to Navajo custom on the last day of the Night Way two masked figures appear who represent “Yei.” These Yei Dancers initiate the young children (boys and girls) and at the end of this initiation part of the ceremony the Yeis remove their masks, reveal that they are humans personating the gods, then place the masks on each child in turn so the child then sees the world as it is seen through the eyes of the gods.
The precise meaning of the Yei symbol might be slightly different from clan to clan. Passed down from one generation to the next, the meaning was undoubtedly altered in small ways, and remains somewhat imprecise according to Western standards. However, general consensus is that the Yei represents a group of holy people, or deities, who serve as mediators between humans and the great spirit. They preside over forces like the weather and the cycle between day and night. They can be forces for good or evil.
The Navajo Yei symbol is present in much Native American art, from petroglyphs (drawings carved in stone) and sand paintings to elaborate decorative rugs. But representations of the Yei make a more meaningful appearance in the masks worn by the Yeibichai dancers during Navajo ceremonies. It is believed that these dancers, by wearing the masks, can summon the Yei into their realm for healing and spiritual guidance.
One dancer represents a Yei deity, called a “Talking God,” who serves as a direct communicator to humans, giving them the advice they need to live a harmonious life. He is said to command the rainbow, an ultimate symbol of beauty and harmony, and provide ethical guidance for those looking to achieve these things. Human beings, created in the image of the holy people, need to respect and learn from them in order to remain balanced and healthy in this life on Earth.
Typically, there are fourteen Yeibichai dancers involved in the Nightway ceremony to summon the Yei. Their depiction in Native American art and artifacts is common, but there are always elements left out of representations to maintain the sanctity of the associated ceremony. At Kachina House, we have Yeibichai Talking God Katsina dolls in the Old Style or Traditional as well as the Contemporary or Full-Figure. We also carry Yei masks in clay, gourd, soft sculpture, and the occasional original painting.