Hogan House

Navajo Hogan House

What was a Hogan?

A Hogan House was the name of the traditional semi-subterranean shelter or house style that was used by the Navajo Native Indian tribe. The Hogan was built to a specific, predetermined plan and were used as both a home and a center for religious ceremonies and rituals.

The main timbers used to construct the Hogan were from the piñon pine tree that was native to Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado where the Navoho tribe was located. Learn about the structure and the interior of  the Hogan House with pictures and images together with interesting facts and information.

Hogan House Definition
Summary and Definition: The Hogan was a semi-subterranean dwelling that was dug from the earth built by the Navajo Tribe. A wooden domed mound was built over the top that was covered with earth, mud, sod (turf) and reeds or was occasionally made from stone. Hogans were roughly round, consisted of a single room without dividing walls and windows. The name Hogan derives from the Athapaskan (Navaho) word 'hoghan' or 'hooghan' meaning "dwelling, house." The Navaho people recognize two distinct classes of hogans called the 'keqai' meaning the winter place, and the 'kejin' meaning the summer place which were more makeshift constructions. The Hogan was not only the home of the Navajo but also the center of religious ceremonies and rituals.

Why was the Hogan built as a Navajo shelter or house style?
Every tribe choose a type of housing to suit their lifestyle, the climate, the environment and the natural resources (known as biomes) that were available to them, and the Navajo tribe were no different. The Hogan was chosen as the most suitable type of house because it suited the lifestyle of the Navajo tribe who lived in the southwest desert regions in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. The Navajo people were skilled builders and made good use of the piñon tree found in their habitat and used to make the timber framework of the Hogan style house.

Navajo Hogan: Piñon pine tree
The Navajo tribe used timber from the piñon pine tree (Pinus edulis) to construct a hogan. The piñon pine tree grew to a height of 33 - 66 (10–20 metres) tall and its trunk had a diameter of up to 31 inches (80 centimetres). Five principal timbers were carefully selected to make the house frame. There was no standard size for the completed Hogan, but commonly piñon trees but trees of about 10 - 12 feet long with diameters of 8 to 10 inches were selected. Three of the five timbers were used to terminate in spreading forks. The other two timbers were selected for their straightness and used for the frame for the Hogan doorway. When suitable trees were found they were cut down, trimmed of branches, stripped of bark, and dragged to the site selected to build the Hogan, often some  distance away.

Styles and Types of Hogan House
There were two types, or styles, of Hogan. The ancient Hogan was known as the "forked stick hogan" was the conical, tepee shaped house constructed of three forked poles covered with logs, brush and mud called the "male" hogan by the Navajos. The later Hogans were circular, 6 sided dwellings constructed of logs or stone called the round or  "female" Hogan.

Hogan House: Rituals, Traditions and Customs
The Hogan was used for various religious rituals and ceremonies and there were many traditions and customs related to the building and occupation of the Hogan.

  • The door of the Hogan always faced towards the East so that upon rising the Navajo would greet the rising sun, often with a prayer
  • A recess was made on the western side of the Hogan, called the "mask recess", where  the shaman or medicine-man would store his masks and fetishes. The offset thus formed is called the "mask recess”. The Navajo believed that Yei spirits could be summoned by masked dancers who were called the Yei-Bi-Chi.
  • The dirt floor represented the people's connection with mother earth
  • The dome or roof represented the sky
  • The smoke hole not only let out the smoke and let in light and air but also allowed the spirits to come and go  through this "Spirit Hole"
  • Should a person die in the Hogan it could no longer be used and was often destroyed. Sick people, near death, were
    therefore moved away from the house

How was a Hogan built?
The  size of a Hogan ranged from 20 to 50 feet in diameter. The outside walls sloped inward and upward from the ground to a height of up to 15 feet. A typical dwelling would have 15-25 people living in it. The process and method to build a typical Forked Stick Hogan was as follows:

  • The building of the Hogan was planned well in advance and required cooperation for collecting the construction materials including the timber from the piñon trees
  • The timbers were cut to the correct size and stripped of branches and bark
  • The whole frame, comprising of the five timbers, were laid outside ready for the building work and consisted of the South timber, West timber, North timber, and the two doorway timbers which would face the east which were all duly marked
  • All Hogans were roughly a round shape and a circle was laid out according to the size required using a lariat
  • Sod and earth was removed creating a shallow pit for the floor and a central fire pit was built into the floor area
  • The earth was formed into a low bench entirely, or partly, around the circumference of the interior, for seating and storage
  • The north and south timbers were the first to be placed. The butt ends fixed firmly in the ground on opposite sides and lowered to a slanting position until the forks locked together
  • The west timber was then put into place and the timbers were tied together with yucca fiber
  • The apex was left open to form the smoke hole
  • The two doorway timbers were next placed into position facing east
  • The outside of the Hogan was packed with brush and a heavy coating of earth
  • The construction of the Hogan was built to a predetermined plan but no rituals or ceremonies were conducted until after the building work was finished

Hogan House: Ceremony of Dedication
When a Hogan House was built there was a ceremony of dedication. The woman would sweep out the house with a wisp of grass and a fire was lit on the floor directly under the smoke hole. The head of the household, or a Shaman, would rub a handful of dry white cornmeal on the five principal timbers or the Hogan framework. Then, with a sweeping motion of his hand from left to right (as the sun travels) he would then sprinkles the cornmeal around the whole of the outer circumference of the floor

The Hogan Interior
Hogans consisted of a single room without dividing walls and a central fire pit. There were no windows. The Round Hogan interior included a central fire pit within a central communal area, located between the four main vertical posts. The communal area was used for preparing and cooking food and also as a meeting place. The west wall, opposite the eastern entrance doorway, contained the sacred area called the "mask recess". Beds, consisting of dried grasses covered with animal hides, were located on the floor, or on the built in ledges. The early hogan contained no decorations and very little furniture. There was a grinding stone and cooking utensils. Hogans were kept cool by natural air ventilation and water sprinkled on the dirt ground inside.

Native American Houses
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