2. The Hopi

Their Country—The People

The Hopi Indians live in northern Arizona about one hundred miles northeast of Flagstaff, seventy miles north of Winslow, and seventy-five miles north of Holbrook.

For at least eight hundred years the Hopi pueblos have occupied the southern points of three fingers of Black Mesa, the outstanding physical feature of the country, commonly referred to as First, Second, and Third Mesas.

It is evident that in late prehistoric times several large villages were located at the foot of First and Second Mesas, but at present, except for two small settlements around trading posts, the villages are all on top of the mesas. On the First Mesa we find Walpi, Sichomovi, and Hano, the latter not Hopi but a Tewa village built about 1700 by immigrants from the Rio Grande Valley, and at the foot of this mesa the modern village of Polacca with its government school and trading post. On Second Mesa are Mashongnovi, Shipaulovi, and Shungopovi, with Toreva Day School at its foot. On Third Mesa Oraibi, Hotavilla, and Bacabi are found, with a government school and a trading post at Lower Oraibi and another school at Bacabi. Moencopi, an offshoot from Old Oraibi, is near Tuba City.

This area was once known as the old Spanish Province of Tusayan, and the Hopi villages are called pueblos, Spanish for towns. In 1882, 2,472,320 acres of land were set aside from the public domain as the Hopi Indian Reservation. At present the Hopi area is included within the greater Navajo Reservation and administered by a branch of the latter Indian agency.

The name Hopi or Hopitah means "peaceful people," and the name Moqui, sometimes applied to them by unfriendly Navajo neighbors, is really a Zuni word meaning "dead," a term of derision. Naturally the Hopi do not like being called Moqui, though no open resentment is ever shown. Early fiction and even some early scientific reports used the term Moqui instead of Hopi.

Admirers have called these peaceful pueblo dwellers "The Quaker People," but that is a misnomer for these sturdy brown heathen who have never asked or needed either government aid or government protection, have a creditable record of defensive warfare during early historic times and running back into their traditional history, and have also some accounts of civil strife.

The nomadic Utes, Piutes, Apaches, and Navajos for years raided the fields and flocks of this industrious, prosperous, sedentary people; in fact, the famous Navajo blanket weavers got the art of weaving and their first stock of sheep through stealing Hopi women and Hopi sheep. But there came a time when the peaceful Hopi decided to kill the Navajos who stole their crops and their girls, and then conditions improved. Too, soon after, came the United States government and Kit Carson to discipline the raiding Navajos.

The only semblance of trouble our government has had with the Hopi grew out of the objection, in fact, refusal, of some of the more conservative of the village inhabitants to send their children to school. The children were taken by force, but no blood was shed, and now government schooling is universally accepted and generally appreciated.

A forbidding expanse of desert waste lands surrounds the Hopi mesas, furnishing forage for Hopi sheep and goats during the wet season and browse enough to sustain them during the balance of the year. These animals are of a hardy type adapted to their desert environment. Our pure blood stock would fare badly under such conditions. However, the type of wool obtained from these native sheep lends itself far more happily to the weaving of the fine soft blankets so long made by the Hopi than does the wool of our high grade Merino sheep or a mixture of the two breeds. This is so because our Merino wool requires the commercial scouring given it by modern machine methods, whereas the Hopi wool can be reduced to perfect working condition by the primitive hand washing of the Hopi women.

As one approaches the dun-colored mesas from a distance he follows their picturesque outlines against the sky line, rising so abruptly from the plain below, but not until one is within a couple of miles can he discern the villages that crown their heights. And no wonder these dun-colored villages seem so perfectly a part of the mesas themselves, for they are literally so—their rock walls and dirt roofs having been merely picked up from the floor and sides of the mesa itself and made into human habitations.

The Hopi number about 2,500 and are a Shoshonean stock. They speak a language allied to that of the Utes and more remotely to the language of the Aztecs in Mexico.[4]

According to their traditions the various Hopi clans arrived in Hopiland at different times and from different directions, but they were all a kindred people having the same tongue and the same fundamental traditions.

They did not at first build on the tops of the mesas, but at their feet, where their corn fields now are, and it was not from fear of the war-like and aggressive tribes of neighboring Apaches and Navajos that they later took to the mesas, as we once supposed. A closer acquaintance with these people brings out the fact that it was not till the Spaniards had come to them and established Catholic Missions in the late Seventeenth Century that the Hopi decided to move to the more easily defended mesa tops for fear of a punitive expedition from the Spaniards whose priests they had destroyed.

We are told that these desert-dwellers, whose very lives have always depended upon their little corn fields along the sandy washes that caught and held summer rains, always challenged new-coming clans to prove their value as additions to the community, especially as to their magic for rain-making, for life here was a hardy struggle for existence, with water as a scarce and precious essential. Among the first inhabitants was the Snake Clan with its wonderful ceremonies for rain bringing, as well as other sacred rites. Willingly they accepted the rituals and various religious ceremonials of new-comers when they showed their ability to help out with the eternal problem of propitiating the gods that they conceived to have control over rain, seed germination, and the fertility and well-being of the race.

In exactly the same spirit they welcomed the friars. Perhaps these priests had "good medicine" that would help out. Maybe this new kind of altar, image, and ceremony would bring rain and corn and health; they were quite willing to try them. But imagine their consternation when these Catholic priests after a while, unlike any people who had ever before been taken into their community, began to insist that the new religion be the only one, and that all other ceremonies be stopped. How could the Hopi, who had depended upon their old ceremonies for centuries, dare to stop them? Their revered traditions told them of clans that had suffered famine and sickness and war as punishment for having dropped or even neglected their religious dances and ceremonies, and of their ultimate salvation when they returned to their faithful performance.

The Hopi objected to the slavish labor of bringing timbers by hand from the distant mountains for the building of missions and, according to Hopi tradition, to the priests taking some of their daughters as concubines, but the breaking point was the demand of the friars that all their old religious ceremonies be stopped; this they dared not do.

So the "long gowns" were thrown over the cliff, and that was that. Certain dissentions and troubles had come upon them, and some crop failures, so they attributed their misfortunes to the anger of the old gods and decided to stamp out this new and dangerous religion. It had taken a strong hold on one of their villages, Awatobi, even to the extent of replacing some of the old ceremonies with the new singing and chanting and praying. And so Awatobi was destroyed by representatives from all the other villages. Entering the sleeping village just before dawn, they pulled up the ladders from the underground kivas where all the men of the village were known to be sleeping because of a ceremony in progress, then throwing down burning bundles and red peppers they suffocated their captives, shooting with bows and arrows those who tried to climb out. Women and children who resisted were killed, the rest were divided among the other villages as prisoners, but virtually adopted. Thus tenaciously have the Hopi clung to their old religion—noncombatants so long as new cults among them do not attempt to stop the old.

There are Christian missionaries among them today, notably Baptists, but they are quite safe, and the Hopi treat them well. Meantime the old ceremonies are going strong, the rain falls after the Snake Dance, and the crops grow. The Hopi realize that missionary influence will eventually take some away from the old beliefs and practices and that government school education is bound to break down the old traditional unity of ideas. Naturally their old men are worried about it. Yet their faith is strong and their disposition is kindly and tolerant, much like that of the good old Methodist fathers who are disturbed over their young people being led off into new angles of religious belief, yet confident that "the old time religion" will prevail and hopeful that the young will be led to see the error of their way. How long the old faith can last, in the light of all that surrounds it, no one can say, but in all human probability it is making its last gallant stand.

These Pueblo Indians are very unlike the nomadic tribes around them. They are a sedentary, peaceful people living in permanent villages and presenting today a significant transitional phase in the advance of a people from savagery toward civilization and affording a valuable study in the science of man.

Naturally they are changing, for easy transportation has brought the outside world to their once isolated home. It is therefore highly important that they be studied first-hand now for they will not long stay as they are changing.


Hopi Social Organization









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