How one Navajo tour guide plans to pay respect during the annular solar eclipse

By Gabriel Pietrorazio
Published: Friday, October 13, 2023 - 11:54am
Updated: Wednesday, October 18, 2023 - 1:00pm

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Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

A map showing where the moon’s shadow will cross the U.S.
A map showing where the moon’s shadow will cross the U.S. during the 2023 annular solar eclipse and 2024 total solar eclipse.

For Navajos, Saturday’s annular solar eclipse is a solemn moment, and not a spectacle. So much so, all five Navajo tribal parks from the Little Colorado River Gorge to Four Corners Monument, managed by the Nation's Park and Recreation, will be closed during this celestial event from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.

And even Navajo-owned tour companies will also shut down, including Taadidiin Tours, in Page. 

"Tádídíín means corn pollen," said Navajo cultural adviser Paul Begay, which is coincidentally connected to this taboo observance.

The 71-year-old former council delegate-turned-tour guide, is typically bringing visitors to Antelope or Cardiac Canyon, but he’ll instead be staying home once the eclipse occurs while the moon passes between the sun and Earth. It's an astronomical phenomenon that'll be seen by millions across the Americas.

"You do nothing. Don’t eat, don’t drink anything. Do not stand. Do not sleep. Don't lie down. Do not talk to each other," Begay explained. "There is a death that has happened. The sun has died. And so, you sit quietly, inside your hogan." 

All of these are considered to be acts of reverence that Navajos must abide by. Time-honored teachings come in the form of instructions from relatives, like parents and grandparents who usually huddle together indoors to avoid witnessing this sight.

From the winged-beings, or birds, to crawling and four-legged creatures, even these animals recognize the eclispe's significance, according to Begay. Sheep, in particular, a domesticated species that Navajo herders have shepherded on their homelands for thousands of years, also show respect for their ways, too. 

"Sheep will start to walk under a tree, when the eclipse is about to happen," Begay added. "And under the tree, they will huddle and they will not make any noise until the eclipse has passed. And then they’ll go out and graze again."

In the Diné culture, Begay said: "Death is taboo, so you basically don’t talk about eclipse; you just naturally let it happen." Once it ends, the sun is essentially reborn, in accordance with their traditions. And this is when tádídíín, or corn pollen, comes out to bless each other. 

"You put some in your mouth. You sprinkle some in the air towards the Holy Ones in the universe, in the sky, and you pray that you will have a good life again, from here on going forward," he elaborated. "Everything will happen after it's over. A new cycle of life will begin."