TITLE: Yei Bi Chei Ganaskidi
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
ETHNICITY: Diné (Navajo)
DESCRIPTION: Ganaskidi Mask
CEREMONY: Yei Bi Chei Dance
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; pigment; dyed wool
The Yei Bi Chei (also spelled Yébichai) is a sacred night dance of the Diné (commonly but improperly called Navajo) people of the southwestern United States. The ceremony lasts nine days and has a healing function for tribe members and is generally performed in the winter. The masked dancer personifies the god represented.
Yei Bi Chei masks are always made by skilled medicine men. In a healing ritual, the patient is sweated, and then songs are sung. During the singing, the Yei Bi Chei representing the gods treat the patient while calling “wu-hu-hu-hu-u.” The gods represented are speechless and live in sacred caves, mountains and canyons. The male gods wear full leather helmet masks like this one with a ruff of spruce twigs (formerly furs) around the neck. Female Yei wear square half-masks. Both wear ceremonial regalia and paint their bodies white with clay. On the ninth night, a public dance including six men and six women dance as Yei Bi Chei. There is also a leader, Talking God, and a fourteenth Yei, the Water Sprinkler. Talking God is distinguished by his white mask with eagle feathers. The six male Yei carry gourd rattles and spruce twigs or feathers, and make the “hu” call periodically during the dance.
This specific mask represents Ganaskidi, a god of the abundant harvest.
For more on the Yei Bi Chei, see Berard Haile, Head and Face Masks in Navaho Ceremonialism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996).