A hogan is a traditional home of the Navajo people, who are the second-largest federally recognized tribe in the United States. In its very construction, the building reflects tribal beliefs about balance and tradition. Even though most Navajo now live in modern homes, many -- especially those who live on the reservation -- keep a hogan to maintain that balance and provide a place for special ceremonies. The hogan has a conical or polygonal shape and one door, which faces the rising sun. Its base is made of a circle of sticks stuck at angles into the ground or log walls placed horizontally one on top of the other in a polygonal formation.
The Navajo make hogans from natural materials found on the surrounding land, as these buildings symbolize a connection to the land. Hogans are crude structures, created entirely from stick or log frames, mud walls and woven branch roofs. Stone was also sometimes used to help form the walls. You can make a hogan as part of a school project from natural materials found outdoors. Decide on the type of wall structure you want to create, then gather either branches to create a cone-shaped frame or larger logs to create a polygon frame. Large, flat stones could also be used to create the layered walls of a polygon.
The Navajo build several types of hogans, depending on the season and purpose. The most primitive and simplest consists of a frame of long, flexible sticks with forked branches on one end. To imitate this, place six to eight sticks in a circular formation in a flat container of dirt; the forks should face up and angle toward the center of the circle. Place thinner branches across the top of the circular frame, weaving them to form a roof. Leave a traditional smoke hole in the center of the roof. Cover the frame walls with smaller branches and mud, leaving a triangular shaped door opening.
To create the walls of a polygonal hogan, use either larger sticks to represent logs, miniature fake logs from a hobby store or flat stones. Fill a flat base container with dirt and place the first layer of logs or stones in a polygonal shape that has five to eight sides. Continue layering the walls, placing mud between the stones or logs for an authentic look. Once it's about 6 inches tall, begin using smaller logs or stones so the diameter of the polygonal shape begins to lessen and the opening begins to close. Continue building the cone-shaped structure until only a small opening is left, leaving it as the traditional smoke hole. Cover the roof portion with branches and mud.
The Navajo lived in family groups with several hogans built for different purposes. In a large, dirt-filled base, you can create an authentic looking Navajo compound containing several types of hogans. Make a primitive hogan as the sweat house. These have no smoke holes and are used mostly for bathing and ceremonial purposes. Build two polygonal hogans, one larger than the other. The larger of the two would be for the medicine lodge and group ceremonies. The smaller of the polygonal hogans houses the entire family. Another primitive hogan, with one side left entirely open so it resembles a lean-to structure, is usually created for both summer living and for cooking.
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