Yei's are holy symbols of the Navajo people. They act as intermediaries between the people and the forces of the natural world (Great Spirit) and serve to bring attention of these beings to the sick person to aid in his cure. During the Yei Be Chai (curing) ceremony, dancers dressed up as Yei's perform before the patient.
The Yei is an important figure in the Navajo curing ceremonies. A painting of different colored sands is created on the floor of the hogan (Navajo dwelling) by medicine people according to the type of illness and the appropriate cure. The patient sits on the saindpainting during the ceremony. After the healing rite, the sandpainting is destroyed. For many years the Yei weaving was considered taboo for the weavers to create.
In the early 1900's the Navajo weavers, under pressure from traders and collectors, began to weave these sacred figures into their textiles. The weavers of these earlier pieces would most likely have a ceremony after completion to cure them of any bad karma arising out of their duplication of holy figures. Today, Yei weavings are an acceptable style and valued art form of Navajo weaving and excellent pieces can found in any reputable gallery selling Navajo weaving arts.
Yei textiles are generally stick type figures derived from Navajo curing ceremonies. Yei Be Chai weavings typically show the dancers in profile representing dancing figures imitating the deities.