This Site Last Updated: Wednesday, December 31, 2003
This Page Last Updated: Tuesday December 16, 2003
[Map of Hopi Lands]
The Hopi live near the Navajo, but are a totally unrelated people. The name Hopi comes from Hopituh Shi-nu-mu meaning "The Peaceful People" or "Peaceful Little Ones". They have lived in the southwest for thousands of years.
[Hopi Man (circa 1905)]
Hopi Man (circa 1905)
Although the Hopi were -- and still are -- a peaceful people, they were fierce fighters when invaders tried to steal from them. Theft attempts happened regularly, since the Hopi were hardworking, frugal, and resourceful, and they consequently amassed great wealth which attracted envy and thieves.
[Hopi Woman (circa 1905)]
Hopi Woman (circa 1905)
The Hopi history has been likened to the hub of a wheel with many spokes. The spokes represent the influx of peoples from many different cultures and linguistic stocks. The Hopi are descended from the Hisatsinom (pronounced "ee-SAH-tse-nom") or Shoshonean peoples, and appear to be the only branch of the lineage which adopted a Pueblo culture. The Hopi language is of the Uto-Aztecan family, closely related to the Aztecs of Mexico and the Northern Paiute. They have lived in the Four Corners area for at least 1,000 years.
[Hopi Girl With Squash Blossom Hair (circa 1905)]
Hopi Girl With Squash Blossom Hair (circa 1905)
(hair style signifies an unmarried woman)
While the Hopi reservation is quite small today, being situated inside the Navajo reservation near the Four Corners region, archaeology shows they once inhabited a very large area in the American southwest. Ruins of Hopi villages have been discovered as far west as Flagstaff, Arizona, as far east as the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico, as far south as the Verde Valley in the Tonto Basin and Gila River, and as far north as the Colorado River.
Villages organized by clans
Each Hopi village consisted of numerous clans, many of which still exist today.
[Walpi Pueblo (circa 1918)]
Walpi Pueblo (circa 1918)
There are seven principal Hopi towns, known as pueblos, today. These pueblos are situated on three impressively sized mesas which are criss-crossed by streams which flow only during the brief rains.
[Mishongnovi Pueblo (circa 1900)]
Mishongnovi Pueblo (circa 1900)
The most important of the pueblos is the west-most one called Oraibi. This pueblo as constructed approximately A.D. 1150 and is among the oldest continuously occupied towns in the United States. (The Acoma pueblo may be as old.) There were, of course, Hopi in the area long before A.D. 1150, but their pueblos survive only as ruins.
[Woman Drawing Water from Cistern at Orabi Pueblo (circa 1880-1900)]
Woman Drawing Water from Cistern at Orabi Pueblo (circa 1880-1900)
Pottery and Textiles
The Hopi have always been renowned for their artistic skills, including textiles, ceramics, and woven baskets.
[Hopi Basket Weaver (circa 1910)]
Hopi Basket Weaver (circa 1910)
Hopi pottery is among the finest ever produced in the southwest, and uses distinctive designs.
[Photograph of a Hopi Woman Making Pottery (circa 1910)]
Hopi Woman Making Pottery (circa 1910)
Hopi woven and embroidered textiles -- including blankets, belts, kilts, and sashes -- were made from native cotton dyed using natural sources. The cochineal dye -- a brilliant red -- is made from aphid-like insects that feed on prickly pear cactus. This dye, also called "carmine" was used for Britain's infamous "Redcoat" soldiers' uniforms. Today, huge commercial plantations of prickly pears supply the pigment for use in industrial and medical purposes.
The Hopi were hunters and agriculturalists. The mountains and canyons to the west and north provided a variety of game animals, including antelope, deer, and elk.
Hunting typically used bows and arrows, but the Hopi also herded animals into corrals or into areas in which pits had been dug. The coralling technique involved constructing a fenced in area with an opening on one side and then driving the animals into it. They also hunted rabbits with throwing sticks, and either drowned prairie dogs and rodents in their burrows or drove them out so they could be killed. Birds were caught using nets.
In addition to hunting wild game, the Hopi raised domesticated turkeys. Given the number of turkey remains discovered, they must have been a food staple.
Cultivated plants included maize (a type of corn), beans, chili peppers, onions, pumpkins, and sunflowers. At least a third of the crops were always dried and stored in case of a crop failure in the subsequent year.
Much of the Hopi religion system is designed to instill a sense of responsibility in the young, and they employ numerous religious rituals intended to teach them right from wrong. Unlike many simple societies, the Hopi were monogamists and believed in being faithful. It was considered dishonorable to be unfaithful to one's spouse, just as it was dishonorable to lie or steal.
Hopi religion is complicated, having a rich mythology and many rituals. They are polytheists, having many supernatural beings. The head of each clan was a priest who had a number of initiated helpers. These priests brought the rains, ensured a good harvest, and healed the sick.
Unlike other southwestern groups, the Hopi had no medicine man class. Like many religions with a priest class, the only way to communicate with the supernatural beings was through the priests. Power was given to the clan, and not to the individual. But to ensure that the clan retained its power, the individual priests had to follow rituals without error, and had to lead an honorable life kept free of violations of taboos.
The Hopi ceremonial year is based on planting, and notes the time for the sowing of seeds, growth, and harvest.
Corn was of critical importance to the Hopi, just as it was for the other southwest peoples. In an area where food was often scarce, corn provided a relatively stable food supply with important nutritional value. Corn is pounded into flour and made into tortillas as well into piki. This is basically cornbread spread into a very thin layer, almost paper thin, that is then baked in an oven. The resulting crispy bread is called piki. (Kellog's Corn Flakes is, basically, a Hopi invention.)
[Woman Making Piki (circa 1906)]
Woman Making Piki (circa 1906)
The Hopi believe that they received corn from the vegetation deity. The spirits of rain and fertility are believed to carry corn which they sprinkle before them as they walk through the skies so as to form a road.
[Hopi Farmer Howing Corn (circa 1910)]
Hopi Farmer Howing Corn (circa 1910)
Corn has great importance in everyday life and in ceremonial life. A perfect ear of corn was the emblem of a ceremonial leader. (The Zuni have similar beliefs.) The base of the ear would be wrapped in feathers and jewels, and it would be placed on an alter at ceremonies or placed across a medicine bowl. Sacred cornmeal would be sprinkled over sacred objects and ceremony participants to purify them. Corn sprinkled across a road prevents an enemy from crossing. A corn ear provides protection after a birth or a death.
There are several kinds of wild tobacco in the southwest, and small amounts were cultivated for ceremonial use. The tobacco leaves were dried and smoked either in a cane tube, much like a cigarette, or using a "cloud blower", which is a short, funnel-shaped clay pipe. A man from the Tobacco clan would ceremonially fil the pipe which would then be lit by a man from the Fire clan.
Wild tobacco is nothing remotely like what is smoked in cigarettes today. It is many times stronger, with a variety of alkalyoid compounds that have been bred out of modern tobacco. The effect of wild tobacco is substantial, resulting in hallucinations and marketed physiological effects. The Hopi did not smoke tobacco for recreational purposes, and it was general used only in important ceremonies.
A kiva is a special building used for ceremonial purposes. Each clan would have its own kiva. The kiva is descended from an ancient Anasazi pithouse dwelling, and was dug into the earth. Entry was made by a ladder on the roof, just as the ancient Pueblo dwellings were entered.
[Snake Priests Entering Kiva (circa 1890 - 1910)]
Snake Priests Entering Kiva (circa 1890 - 1910)
The floor was of hard-packed earth and had a small fire burning. This fire was the only source of light for ceremonies. Near the fire was a symbolic hole called the sipapu. This represented the hole by which the first humans emerged from the underworld into the Grand Canyon. The sipapu was normally covered with a small stone. This stone was loudly stamped on during ceremonies, so that the dead might hear the ceremony. During the year end initiation for young men the sipapu was left uncovered.
[Interior of Snake Kiva at Walpi Pueblo (circa 1899)]
Interior of Snake Kiva at Walpi Pueblo (circa 1899)
The Hopi make sand paintings, as do the Navajos. The Navajo likely adopted the creation of sand paintings after they sought refuge from the Spaniards among the Hopi, and lived among them between 1680 and 1696 during the great pueblo revolt.
[Sand Painting in Sacred Kiva (circa 1890-1900)]
Sand Painting in Sacred Kiva (circa 1890-1900)
When not being used for special ceremonial purposes, the kiva served as a clubhouse for men. Women were forbidden to enter the kiva except to clean, bring food, or, on certain special occasions, view a ceremony.
The walls of the kiva were coated with plaster and painted with murals having religious significance.
The Hopi ritually obliterated their kiva paintings with new plaster from time to time and then repainted them. One famous kiva, the Kuaua kiva, had eight-seven layers of plaster, twenty-five of which had elaborate murals painted on them.
There are about 350 Kachinas, which are personifications of supernatural beings, as well as important animals and ancestors.
There are eleven bird kachinas for the chicken, duck, eagle, hummingbird, kit, mockingbird, owl, red-tailed hawk, roadrunner, snipe, and turkey. The turkey kachina uses turkey feathers to form a fan-shaped crest representing the spread tail of the male turkey.
The kachina dancers are men wearing masks, each of which represents a particular kachina, and paint, and feathered costumes. Everyone in a village aside from the children knew that the kachina dancers were actually men from the village, but they were still believed to have supernatural powers. Much of the value of Kachina dancers was in instructing the young.
The kachina masks are clearly non-human, since the kachina are themselves non-human. The shape, color, and appearance of the mask are important, and each kachina has a unique mask. Color is often used in the form of painted dots signifying corn or rain. Dolls are made to represent the kachinas and to help children learn the difference between them.
[Kachina Dolls for Sale (circa 1900-1930)]
Kachina Dolls for Sale (circa 1900-1930)
In February kachina dancers go through the village distributing small bean plants to the young children along with a present. Boys receive a bow and girls receive a kachina doll. Because it is still winter, the bean plants were raised in secret in the kivas, being kept warm and watered until it was time to distribute them.
The Hopi Death Kachina is "Maasaw" also written as "Masauwu" or "Masau". He responsible for the Earth's surface, fire, and the underworld. Death was an important part of hunting and war, and hunters, warriors, and shaman called upon him for assistance. Hunters sought food, and called upon Maasaw to guide the spirit of the animal into the underworld where it could enter the cycle of rebirth. Warriors sought the death of his enemy or power for battle. Shaman sought to heal the sick, since Maasaw had power over death.
The California natives had a similar concept. One of their sheep shaman images represents the cycle of death and rebirth.
Representations of Masau are placed closed to ground level, under rock overhangs, or actually inside of fractures in the rock surface. This is done so that the association with rock and earth contributes to the rock art's meaning.
Maasaw has a fleshless head with bulging forehead, round, hollow eyes, a triangular nose, and gnashing teeth. Sometimes he is depicted with a square, skull-like, head. The Mimbres used a similar depiction as early as A.D. 950.
The Hopi Hand Kachina had a large red and white hand painted on the figure's mask. This kachina is similar to the Pueblo Peoples' Elder War Deity.
The Hopi kachina Panwu, or Mountain Sheep Kachina shares many of the same elements as does the Anasazi Kokopelli and the the Navajo Humpbacked Ye'i and the Fringe Mouth Ye'i of the Night Way.
Religious Aspects of Nature
The Anasazi considered the centipede to be a potent symbol of power. The Hopi, and their cousins the Zuni, have a similar belief, and regard the centipede as a symbol of the transition from the world of the living to the world of the dead. They also consider the centipede symbols to be taboo. This discomfort or fear is likely of relatively recent origin, both because of the number of centipede images in the area and because some of the images have been obliterated or altered in modern times.
The Hopi believe that the snake Dance ensures adequate spring water for themselves and rainwater for their crops. Snakes are seen as emisaries to the underworld, and it is believed they will deliver the message for the Hopi.
[Snake Priest (circa 1900)]
Snake Priest (circa 1900)
[Snake Dancer (circa 1900)]
Snake Dancer (circa 1900)
[Sculpture of Rain Clouds With Lightning]
Rain cloud images are a common motif among the Hopi, and they were often used as signatures by clans and individuals. The rain cloud image to the left is from an anthropomorphic Cloud Kachina, or O'mau kachina, where the rain clouds form a hat. The jagged lines represent lightning. These Kachinas are similar to the rain deity Tlaloc, and are assisted by Rain Spirits similar to the Tlaloques.
[Sculpture of Rain Clouds]
The rain cloud image to the right is from a petroglyph of a Cloud Kachina, or O'mau kachina.
Near the junction of the Colorado River and the Little Colorado is Willow Springs which deposits salt on the surface. The sandstone boulders at these springs are covered with row upon row of symbols, some of which are repeated. The reason for this comes about because the Hopi consider the Grand Canyon to be a sacred and dangerous place -- the Hopi believe their ancestors emerged from the canyon long ago through an opening called sipapu and that their spirits return to the canyon after death. Unlike today, it was not a place casually visited.
The Hopi who journeyed to Willow Springs to collect salt -- a valued condiment -- were constantly aware of the nearby canyon and recorded their personal or clan symbols on the sandstone boulders to serve as a record of their bravery, much as how mountaineers sign a log book placed at the top of many mountains for this purpose.
Land Disputes With Navajo
The Hopi must have breathed a sigh of relief when the Navajo surrendered to the United States government after Kit Carson's campaign. The Hopi called the Navajo Tavasuh, which means "head-bangers" or "beaters", and had no use at all for them, considering them to be the worst sort of thieves, rapists, murderers, and liars: all traits deeply despised by the ethical Hopi.
After surrendering, the Navajo were imprisoned at Fort Sumner where they could no longer prey on the Hopi or other peoples in the southwest. This situation was temporary, however, and a treaty with the United States was signed in 1868 setting the stage for the return of the Navajo. Hopi history relates two versions of the Navajo's return.
One version of Hopi history relates how during the imprisonment of the Navajo at Fort Sumner the Navajo sent shaman emisaries to the Hopi pueblo of Walpi plead with the Hopi for help in obtaining freedom.
The Hopi relate how they told the Navajo that the Hopi considered the Tavasuh -- the Hopi name for the Navajo -- to be the worst sort of thieves, rapists, murderers, and liars. The Hopi continued to list their objections, saying that they knew that if the Navajo returned they would immediately resume raping Hopi women, killing Hopis, invading Hopi lands, and stealing Hopi corn and peaches. Yet the Navajo shaman pledged that all abuse of the Hopi would cease upon the return of the Navajo.
Turning over of Tiponi
The discussion continued over four days and four nights. The Navajo shaman repeatedly argued that they would, for as long as the Navajo existed, respect Hopi lands, property, and religion. Finally, as proof of their sincerity the shaman then gave the Hopi two sacred bundles, each containing a Navajo tiponi wrapped in bucksin.
One fetish represented the animals the Navajo relied on for food and the other represented the Navajo people's life. The Navajo believed that damage or destruction of either tiponi would mean their death. The Hopi say they aceded to the Navajo's request and interceded with the United States because of the power the Navajo gave the Hopi by surrendering the two fetishes.
The problem with this version of events is that United States Congress released the Navajo under the condition that they be confined to a small area instead of continuing to prey upon the whites, Mexicans, and Hopi who lived in the area. There is no record that the Hopi were ever contacted by the Congress, nor does it seem likely that their opinions would have mattered very much to the politicians who were deciding the Navajo's future.
The second version of events is more plausable. The boundaries of the newly created Navajo reservation had not been specified and the Hopi were naturally concerned given the predacious behavior of the Tavasuh. This version of the meeting relates that the shaman who arrived to negotiate with the Hopi -- since the Navjo were few in number, impoverised, and weak for the first time -- were pressed to surrender the two sacred Navajo fetishes, known as tiponi, as proof of their sincerity and as a way to ensure that the Navajo would never violate their oaths. (All the Hopi would need do is threaten to damage or destroy either tiponi, and the Navajo would behave.)
The Navajo shaman were naturally reluctant to surrender their most sacred fetishes. After the same four day period, the Navajo agreed to a contest of sorts. If the Hopi could guess the contents of the sacred bundles -- which were wrapped in buckskin -- and the sex of each figure, the Navajo would surrender them to the care of the Hopi. The Hopi leaders lit their ceremonial pipes and smoked while they thought long and hard.
From their knowledge of the Navajo, the Hopi knew that the bundles contained two tiponi, one male and one female. The Hopi had similar fetishes, called páho and in Hopi tradition the male was always on the right, facing away from the sun, and the female was always on the left. Now, the Hopi knew that the Navajo shamen were aware of this placement. The real question was how the Navajo had placed the figures.
The Hopi place great emphasis on tradition, particularly with respect to religious ritual, so they thought the Navajo might have switched the order of the sacred bundles in order to throw them off. The Navajo were, after all, a devious people. But, at the same time, they might have placed the bundles in the traditional positions in order to fool the Hopi who, expecting the switch, would guess the non-traditional order. After much smoking and thought, since the future of the Hopi depended on the right decision, the Hopi leader stated that the right contained the female and the left contained the male.
The Navajo were devastated by the correct guess. But they honored the agreement and turned over the tiponi, saying that if they ever breached their promise to the Hopi to never steal or trespass that the Hopi need only show the bundles to the Navajo to obtain compliance.
The two tiponi were kept by the Snake Clan at the Walpi peublo for almost a century. They were then split up. One passed to the village crier named Pahona (of the Beaver Clan). The other went to the a man named Taylor (of the Reed clan) who served as Qaletaqa or guardian. As of the early 1960's, Taylor still retained one of the tiponi.
Despite turning over the tiponi, the Navajo failed to honor their promises. The heart of the issue was that after the Navjo signed the treaty with the United States neither the precise dimensions of the Navajo reservation nor those of the Hopi reservation were formally spelled out.
It did not take long for the Navajo to resume their old ways and begin encroaching on Hopi lands. Having created the situation which allowed the Navajo to abuse the Hopi, the United States abandoned responsiblity for the problem and refused to stop the predations of the Navajo.
The first "Indian Agent" sent by the United States Government to the Hopi was J. H. Fleming. On December 4, 1882 -- notably less than fourteen years after the return of the Navajo -- he wrote to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Washington, D.C. to complain about the Navajo encroachment on Hopi lands, and his inability to govern the region:
"I may add that the Moquis [Hopi] are constantly annoyed by the encroachments of the Navajos, who frequently take possession of their springs, & even drive their flocks over the growing crops of the Moquis [Hopi]. I have been able to limit the evils only be appealing to the Navajo through their chiefs, maintaining the rights of the Moquis [Hopi]."
Fleming continued, that a reservation was needed in order to protect the Hopi from the Navajo:
"With a Reservation I can protect them in their rights -- have hopes of advancing them into civilization. Being by nature a quiet & peaceful tribe, they have been too easily imposed upon & have suffered many losses.
These boundaries are the most simple that can be given to comply with the directions of your tleegram & I believe that such Reservation will meet the requirements of this people, without infringing upon the rights of others, at the same time protecting the rights of the Moquis [Hopi]."
The reality is a trifle more complex, as Fleming was frustrated that he lacked the absolute authority to rule the area as he wanted. He threateded to quit if he didn't get his reservation, so his superiors created one based upon his dimensions.
A Hopi reservation of 3,863 square miles was established by President Chester A. Arthur's Executive Order of 1882. Unfortunately for the Hopi, this reservation was a fraction of the Hopi historical lands lived on long before the Athapaskans invaded the southwest. Not only was far smaller than the amount of land the Hopi asserted claim to, but it was completely surrounded by the vast Navajo reservation. This allowed the Navajo to steadily whittle down the land by encroachment as the peaceful and relatively poor Hopi had no recourse.
By the 1960s the problem had become so severe that the Hopi went to court of force the return of their lands. As a result of that lawsuit some of the disputed land was designated "joint use". That turned out to mean that the Navajo could lease the land for mining and the Hopi had no choice but to sign the lease. (If they did not, the Navajo would receive all the royalties.) The whole issue remains an enormous problem, and litigation continues to this day.