8. Ceremonies, General Discussion

Beliefs and Ceremonials

The beliefs of a tribe, philosophical, religious, and magical, are, for the most part, expressed in objective ceremonies. The formal procedure or ritual is essentially a representation or dramatization of the main idea, usually based upon a narrative. Often the ceremony opens with or is preceded by the narration of the myth on which it is based, or the leader may merely refer to it on the assumption that everyone present knows it.

As to the purpose of the ceremony, there are those who maintain that entertainment is the main incentive, but the celebration or holiday seems to be a secondary consideration according to the explanation of the primitives themselves.

If there chances to be a so-called educated native present to answer your inquiry on the point, he will perhaps patiently explain to you that just as July Fourth is celebrated for something more than parades and firecrackers, and Thanksgiving was instituted for other considerations than the eating of turkey, so the Hopi Snake Dance, for instance, is given not so much to entertain the throng of attentive and respectful Hopi, and the much larger throng of more or less attentive and more or less respectful white visitors, as to perpetuate, according to their traditions, certain symbolic rites in whose efficacy they have profoundly believed for centuries and do still believe.

Concerning the Pueblos (which include the Hopi), Hewett says:[19] "There can be no understanding of their lives apart from their religious beliefs and practices. The same may be said of their social structure and of their industries. Planting, cultivating, harvesting, hunting, even war, are dominated by religious rites. The social order of the people is established and maintained by way of tribal ceremonials. Through age-old ritual and dramatic celebration, practiced with unvarying regularity, participated in by all, keeping time to the days, seasons and ages, moving in rhythmic procession with life and all natural forces, the people are kept in a state of orderly composure and like-mindedness.

"The religious life of the Pueblo Indian is expressed mainly through the community dances, and in these ceremonies are the very foundations of the ancient wisdom...."

Dance is perhaps hardly the right word for these ceremonies, yet it is what the Hopi himself calls them, and he is right. But we who have used the word to designate the social dances of modern society or the aesthetic and interpretive dances for entertainment and aesthetic enjoyment will have to tune our sense to a different key to be in harmony with the Hopi dance.

Our primitive's communion with nature and with his own spirit have brought him to a reverent attitude concerning the wisdom of birds, beasts, trees, clouds, sunlight, and starlight, and most of all he clings trustingly to the wisdom of his fathers.

"All this," according to Hewett, "is voiced in his prayers and dramatized in his dances—rhythm of movement and of color summoned to express in utmost brilliancy the vibrant faith of a people in the deific order of the world and in the way the ancients devised for keeping man in harmony with his universe. All his arts, therefore, are rooted in ancestral beliefs and in archaic esthetic forms."

Surely no people on earth, not even the Chinese, show a more consistent reverence for the wisdom of the past as preserved in their myths and legends, than do the Hopi.