The third weekend in May, a small group of volunteers from Engineers Without Borders worked in a remote canyon northeast of Page AZ. The Navajos living in the canyon are some of the most remote members of their tribe. Access is by high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicle. But the canyon is a veritable Garden of Eden, replete with alot of spring water.
The EWB crew worked on 3 projects: (1) installing a small culinary water tank, (2) helping with the construction of a home (the bathroom in particular); and (3) boosting cell phone service into the canyon. While working on the latter, several cars passed us, one stopped and talked to us. The young Navajo mother indicated that they were having a “first laugh” ceremony for her baby and that we were invited. I had never heard of a “first laugh” ceremony.
According to Putnam Goodwin-Boyd writing in wondertime.go.com:
According to Navajo (or Dine) tradition, a baby is considered to be of two worlds at birth: that of the holy people and that of the earth people. As weeks pass, adults wait and listen for the child’s first chuckle — a sign of joy that signals his desire to join his earth family and community. In Navajo culture, it is believed that a child assumes the qualities of the person who witnesses, or coaxes, his first giggle.
To commemorate this event, the laugh witness hosts an A’wee Chi’deedloh (“The Baby Laughed”) ceremony. Guests, often bearing gifts, file past the infant with plates full of food. With help from the host, the baby holds out salt crystals for each of them. Placed on the food or tongue, the salt is meant to rejuvenate the good character in each recipient and serve as the first in a lifetime of generous acts by the child.
For spurious reasons, we didn’t end up attending the ceremony; we worked instead. That evening, a car full of Navajo children pulled up to our campsite. They were going swimming in a nearby pond. The proud mother showed off her baby, and expressed disappointment that we hadn’t attended the ceremony.