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.
Click on image for full size
Edward S. Curtis, photographer
Tonenili, Navajo God of Water
Tonenili, who is also known as the Water Sprinkler, is the Navaho God of Water. He is responsible for rain, sleet, and snow. He also causes 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.
Unlike other Native American tribes like the Zuni who have regular rain dances to better the chances of precipitation, the Navaho do not have a regular rain ritual. However, during the 1930’s in the Western United States, a time called the Dust Bowl when drought conditions had dried up crops and helped create dust storms, the Navaho performed a rain ritual to ask Tonenili for help.
Tonenili is often present at other Navaho ceremonies. A person dresses up as Tonenili in the braches of a spruce tree and a mask and then plays the part of the clown like god of water during the ceremony. This comical element is often welcome in rituals that are very serious such as the Navajo 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 repeated over and over combined with dances repeated over and over makes for a mesmerizing experience. As the clown, Tonenili is able to lighten the mood during the night chant. He sprinkles water around and has fun while the chanters chant and the dancers dance.
Last modified July 23, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
on science education, classroom activities in The Earth Scientist
specimens, and educational games
You might also be interested in:
Rain is precipitation that falls to the Earth in drops of 5mm or greater in diameter according to the US National Weather Service. Virga is rain that evaporates before reaching the ground. Raindrops form...more
Sleet forms when a partially melted snowflake or raindrop turns back into ice as it is falling through the air. This happens when there are different layers of air beneath the cloud and these layers have...more
Lightning is the most spectacular element of a thunderstorm. In fact it is how thunderstorms got their name. Wait a minute, what does thunder have to do with lightning? Well, lightning causes thunder....more
Ahsonnutli was the sky father and chief deity of the Navajo Indians. He created heaven, Earth, and the sky. Each of the four cardinal directions was supported by a giant. Each direction was also associated...more
Amphitrite was one of the fifty Nereids, the attendants of the sea-god Poseidon. Poseidon (Neptune) had fallen in love with Amphitrite after seeing her dancing on the island of Naxos. Amphitrite rejected...more
Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and beauty. She was known to the Romans as Venus. There were actually two different Aphrodites, one was the daughter of Uranus, the other the daughter of Zeus and...more
In Greek mythology, Apollo was the son of Jupiter(in Greek Zeus) and Leto (Letona). He was the god of the Sun, logic, and reason, and was also a fine musician and healer. Leto travelled all over Greece...more