Monday, April 16, 2007

First Mesa (Part 3: Hopi Culture)















Left: Hopi canteen (Stanford Museum). Right: basketware from the village of Oraibi

Note: Scroll down to start with First Mesa-Part 1 if you haven't read those posts yet.


Because it is a sacred place for the Hopi, outsiders are admitted to Walpi only by guided tour. The Hopi are a very spiritual people, and within its small area Walpi has a number of kivas, rooms which are used for religious and civic purposes. Most of the year the kivas are open only to men, but women are admitted at the time of the solstice festival.

Our guide was happy to explain Hopi beliefs and customs, but she sometimes had to stop and consider what was appropriate to tell visitors, and what should remain within the tribe. One important fact is that the Hopi are one of the few traditionally matrilineal societies, where inheritance and social status is determined by the female. A man will become part of his wife's clan upon marriage.

Read on to see what the World Culture Encyclopedia says about Hopi religious beliefs:

The Hopi universe consists of earth, metaphorically spoken of as "our mother," the upper world, and the under world from which the Hopi came and to which their spirits go after death. Although the concept of original creation is unclear, there are various accounts of the Emergence into this present world from three preceding ones, the place of emergence, or the sipapu, being located in the Grand Canyon. Each of the preceding worlds came to an end because of some evil done by witches, and the present world will someday come to an end also. In order to forestall this and to keep the world in harmony, ceremonies are performed by ceremonial societies and by kiva members. The universe is balanced between a feminine principle, the earth, and a masculine one, manifested in the fructifying but dangerous powers of sun, rain, and lightning. Evil is caused by the deliberate actions of witches, called "two-hearts" because they have bargained away their hearts for personal gain and must steal another's heart to prolong their own lives. When a ceremonial leader is believed to "steal" the heart of a relative to ensure that the ceremony will be successful, there is an element of magical human sacrifice in this belief.

In Hopi cosmology Dawa, the Sun-Spirit, created the Four Worlds.


There are three major classes of supernatural. The most individualized are the gods and goddesses, each having his or her special area of concern. Figures or impersonations of these deities are used in ceremonial activity.

A few of the kachinas are individuals, but most of them are classes of beings each with its different character and appearance. In kachina dances the dancers wear the costume appropriate to the kachina type they portray. Some types are more popular than others; new ones are invented and old ones drop out of use.

Kachina dolls from 19th c. to present. Artists unknown.
These are given to girls to teach them about the over 300 kachina spirits.

Finally, there are the generalized spirits of natural objects and life-forms, who will be offended if one of their earthly representatives is treated improperly. Thus, when a game animal is killed, its spirit, and the generalized spirits of that animal type, must be placated.

The Hopi follow a ceremonial calendar determined by solar and stellar positions. The ceremonial year begins with Wuwtsim, the Emergence ceremony, in November. Soyal, occurring at the time of winter solstice, is conducted by the village chief, and its officers are the men holding the leading ceremonial positions in the village. It is at this time that ceremonial arrangements for the coming year are planned. Powamuya, in February, is a planting festival in which beans are sprouted in the kivas in anticipation of the agricultural season. This is a great kachina festival, with many types being represented. Kachina dances begin after Soyal and continue until July, when Niman or Home Dance is held. This celebrates the return of the kachinas to their unearthly homes in the mountain peaks and the under world.

Snake dance at Walpi


Snake-Antelope and Flute Dances alternate biennially in August, the first emphasizing war and the destructive element and the second emphasizing the continuity of life after death. In September, Mamrawt, or the principal women's ceremony, is held. This contains many elements found in Wuwtsim. The other women's societies hold their ceremonies in October. Along with these ceremonies, there are some that are held only from time to time and others that have been defunct for many years. In addition, there are many small rituals. Accounts of the late nineteenth century indicate that hardly a day passed without some ritual activity taking place somewhere in each village. While ceremonies have specific purposes, all are in some way thought to bring rain, which is valued both for itself and as a symbol of abundance and prosperity. The kachinas, especially, are rain-givers. Kachina dances are joyous public events, consisting of carefully choreographed dance sets interspersed with comical performances of clowns. The clowns, like ignorant children, mock everything and understand nothing. Social deviants are shamed by the clowns' mockery.

1899 photo of Hopi snake priest (with snake in mouth!)
(Library of Congress)


Next post: Monument Valley and the Colossus of Memnon

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