Snakes in the ladies' room: Navajo views on personhood and effect

Maureen Trudelle Schwarz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


In the summer of 1994 snakes were sighted in a public restroom facility on the Navajo reservation. In this article I analyze the reactions of Navajo involved in this incident in order to illustrate the philosophical principles governing Navajo views of the cultural construction of the human body, self, personhood, and effect. The philosophical system, which provides a cultural context for explaining this disturbing event, is in part based on the principle of synecdoche - the premise that parts of the body (hair, fingernails) and bodily secretions (saliva, blood, skin oil, urine) retain lifelong influence and can thereby affect the well-being of the individual from whom they originated for a long time after their detachment or expulsion. This analysis of the Navajo case contributes to broader disciplinary concerns about the opposition of "self" and "person" found in classic anthropological discourse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)602-627
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Ethnologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Effect
  • Native America
  • Navajo
  • Personhood
  • Self
  • The human body

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology


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