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What is a Hogan?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 17, 2024
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A hogan, also spelled “hoghan,” is a traditional residential structure of the Navajo people. Although Navajo people also build and, at times, reside in sweat houses, underground homes, and summer shelters, the hogan is the most frequently used structure. In the Navajo religion, it is considered to be a sacred space.

There are two types of hogans: the “forked stick” and the “circular” hogan. The forked stick version is also known referred to as the “male” hogan. These structures resemble pyramids in shape, but with five faces instead of four. The shape of the pyramid, which is created with wood and sticks, is sometimes obscured by the earth that is mounded up on top of the wood. The earth creates strong walls that can stand up through winter and insulate the interior. Forked stick hogans have small vestibules. They are traditionally used for religious ceremonies rather than everyday living.

Circular hogans are known as the “female” hogan. It differs from the forked stick variety because it does not contain a vestibule and it much larger in size. These structures are used as the primary homes for the Navajo people. Inside, cooking, domestic craft work, and friendly entertainment takes place, and there are also spaces for children to play.

The circular hogan was reinvented to be more of a hexagonal shape in the 1900s when the railroad came through Navajo territory. The availability of wooden railroad ties allowed Navajos to enlarge the traditional structures. As they were working with straight lumber, however, the smooth roundness of the traditional home gave way to the sharper corners of the hexagonal hogan. They were still referred to as the “female” hogans, however, and were used for the same purposes.

In Navajo tradition, if a member of the community dies within a hogan, the structure is abandoned and none of the building materials are reclaimed for new structures. Either the body is buried inside, or the entrance is blocked and the body is taken through a hole that is broken into a north wall. Hogans that are abandoned for such reasons may be burned. One can also become taboo if lightning strikes nearby or a bear rubs up against one of the walls of the structure.

Although hogans are still used for ceremony today, they are rarely built for residential purposes.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By Saraq90 — On Sep 05, 2011

@speechie - Wow, I feel like I won the trivia lottery because I can answer both your questions!

The Navajos live in the Southwest part of the United States. To help you jog your memory about Navajos, they were considered great warriors and they farmed until the mid seventeen hundreds. During this time they lived in and around Arizona and began herding sheep.

And as far as Hulk Hogan, I know of course, that you probably assumed that Hulk was not his real name but Hogan is not his real name either! His name was Terry Bollea and Hogan was used to be representative of Irish Americans (as Hogan is actually an Irish name as well derived from a few different names such as O'Hogan).

By Speechie — On Sep 05, 2011

We had quite an extensive unit about Native Americans when I was in middle school; in fact we took a day to make wigwams another type of Native American structure.

What I am trying to remember after reading this article is what area of America did the Navajos live on? I truly loved hearing about and learning of the cultures that were a part of these different tribes.

And I have a silly pop culture question: if hogan is a Native American term is Hulk Hogan part Native American?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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