by Hattie Greene Lockett
Produced by David Starner,
Stephanie Maschek and the Online Distributed
Vol. IV, No. 4 May 15, 1933
University of Arizona Bulletin
SOCIAL SCIENCE BULLETIN No. 2
The Unwritten Literature of the Hopi
BY HATTIE GREENE LOCKETT
PUBLISHED BY University of Arizona TUCSON, ARIZONA
The Unwritten Literature of the Hopi
[Footnote 1: A
thesis accepted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the Master of Arts degree in
Archaeology, University of Arizona, 1933. Published
under the direction of the Committee on Graduate Study,
R.J. Leonard, Chairman.]
Hopi Social Organization
Pottery And Basket Making
Traditional - Its Symbolism
Myth And Folktale - General
Ceremonies - General
Hopi Myths And Traditions And
Some Ceremonies Based Upon Them
Ceremonies For Birth,
Stories Told Today
SHOWING THAT THE PRESENT-DAY
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION OF THE HOPI IS THE OUTGROWTH OF THEIR UNWRITTEN
By a brief survey of present day Hopi culture and an examination
into the myths and traditions constituting the unwritten literature
of this people, this bulletin proposes to show that an intimate
connection exists between their ritual acts, their moral standards,
their social organization, even their practical activities of today,
and their myths and tales—the still unwritten legendary lore.
The myths and legends of primitive peoples have always interested
the painter, the poet, the thinker; and we are coming to realize
more and more that they constitute a treasure-trove for the
archaeologist, and especially the anthropologist, for these sources
tell us of the struggles, the triumphs, the wanderings of a people,
of their aspirations, their ideals and beliefs; in short, they give
us a twilight history of the race.
As the geologist traces in the rocks the clear record of the early
beginnings of life on our planet, those first steps that have led
through the succession of ever-developing forms of animal and plant
life at last culminating in man and the world as we now see them, so
does the anthropologist discover in the myths and legends of a
people the dim traces of their origin and development till these
come out in the stronger light of historical time. And it is at this
point that the ethnologist, trying to understand a race as he finds
them today, must look earnestly back into the “realm of beginnings,”
through this window of so-called legendary lore, in order to account
for much that he finds in the culture of the present day.
The Challenge: Need of Research on
Basic Beliefs Underlying Ceremonies
“It is still an open question in
primitive social psychology whether we are justified in assuming
that beliefs of a basic character do motivate ceremonies. It
seems to us that such must be the case, because we recognize a
close similarity in numerous practices and because we are
accustomed to believe in the unity of the world and life. So it
may still be our safest procedure to secure better records of
tribal traditional beliefs and to deal with objective procedures
as far as possible. No one has ventured to correlate specific
beliefs and ceremonial procedures, but it is through this
approach that the motivating power of beliefs will be revealed,
if such potency exists.”
[Footnote 2: Wissler, Clark, An
Introduction to Social Anthropology: Henry Holt &Co., New York,
1926, p. 266.]
Some work has been done along this line by Kroeber for the tribes of
California, Lowie for the Crow Indians, and Junod for the Ekoi of
West Africa; but it appears that the anthropological problem of
basic beliefs and philosophies is dependent upon specific tribal
studies and that more research is called for.
The Myth, Its Meaning and Function in Primitive Life
As a background for our discussion we shall need to consider first,
the nature and significance of mythology, since there is some,
indeed much, difference of opinion on the subject, and to arrive at
some basis of understanding as to its function.
The so-called school of Nature-Mythology, which flourishes mainly in
Germany, maintains that primitive man is highly interested in
natural phenomena, and that this interest is essentially of a
theoretic, contemplative and poetical character. To writers of this
school every myth has as its kernel or essence some natural
phenomenon or other, even though such idea is not apparent upon the
surface of the story; a deeper meaning, a symbolic reference, being
insisted upon. Such famous scholars as Ehrenreich, Siecke, Winckler,
Max Muller, and Kuhn have long given us this interpretation of myth.
In strong contrast to this theory which regards myth as
naturalistic, symbolic, and imaginary, we have the theory which
holds a sacred tale as a true historical record of the past. This
idea is supported by the so-called Historical school in Germany and
America, and represented in England by Dr. Rivers. We must admit
that both history and natural environment have left a profound
imprint on all cultural achievement, including mythology, but we are
not justified in regarding all mythology as historical chronicle,
nor yet as the poetical musings of primitive naturalists. The
primitive does indeed put something of historical record and
something of his best interpretation of mysterious natural phenomena
into his legendary lore, but there is something else, we are led to
believe, that takes precedence over all other considerations in the
mind of the primitive (as well as in the minds of all of the rest of
us) and that is getting on in the world, a pragmatic outlook.
It is evident that the primitive relies upon his ancient lore to
help him out in his struggle with his environment, in his needs
spiritual and his needs physical, and this immense service comes
through religious ritual, moral incentive, and sociological pattern,
as laid down in the cherished magical and legendary lore of his
The close connection between religion and mythology, under-estimated
by many, has been fully appreciated by the great British
anthropologist, Sir James Frazer, and by classical scholars like
Miss Jane Harrison. The myth is the Bible of the primitive, and just
as our Sacred Story lives in our ritual and in our morality, as it
governs our faith and controls our conduct, even so does the savage
live by his mythology.
The myth, as it actually exists in a primitive community, even
today, is not of the nature of fiction such as our novel, but is a
living reality, believed to have once happened in primeval times
when the world was young and continuing ever since to influence the
world and human destiny.
The mere fireside tale of the primitive may be a narrative, true or
imaginary, or a sort of fairy story, a fable or a parable, intended
mainly for the edification of the young and obviously pointing a
moral or emphasizing some useful truth or precept. And here we do
recognize symbolism, much in the nature of historical record. But
the special class of stories regarded by the primitive as sacred,
his sacred myths, are embodied in ritual, morals, and social
organization, and form an integral and active part of primitive
culture. These relate back to best known precedent, to primeval
reality, by which pattern the affairs of men have ever since been
guided, and which constitute the only “safe path.”
Malinowski stoutly maintains that these stories concerning the
origins of rites and customs are not told in mere explanation of
them; in fact, he insists they are not intended as explanations at
all, but that the myth states a precedent which constitutes an ideal
and a warrant for its continuance, and sometimes furnishes practical
directions for the procedure. He feels that those who consider the
myths of the savage as mere crude stories made up to explain natural
phenomena, or as historical records true or untrue, have made a
mistake in taking these myths out of their life-context and studying
them from what they look like on paper, and not from what they do in
[Footnote 3: Malinowski, B.,
Myth in Primitive Psychology: M.W. Norton & Co., Inc., New York,
1926, p. 19.]
Since Malinowski’s definition of myth differs radically from that of
many other writers on the subject, we would refer the reader to the
discussion of myth under the head of Social Anthropology in the
Encyclopedia Britannica, Fourteenth Edition, page 869.
Back to Contents
II. 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
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.
[Footnote 4: Colton, H.S.,
Days in the Painted Desert: Museum Press, Flagstaff, 1932, p. 17.]
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
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
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.
Back to Contents
In government, the village is the unit, and a genuinely democratic
government it is. There is a house chief, a Kiva chief, a war chief,
the speaker chief or town crier, and the chiefs of the clans who are
likewise chiefs of the fraternities; all these making up a council
which rules the pueblo, the crier publishing its decisions. Laws are
traditional and unwritten. Hough says infractions are so few that
it would be hard to say what the penalties are, probably ridicule
and ostracism. Theft is almost unheard of, and the taking of life by
force or law is unknown.
[Footnote 5: Hough, Walter,
The Hopi: Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, 1915.]
To a visitor encamped at bedtime below the mesa, the experience of
hearing the speaker chief or town crier for the first time is
something long to be remembered. Out of the stillness of the desert
night comes a voice from the house tops, and such a voice! From the
heights above, it resounds in a sonorous long-drawn chant. Everyone
listens breathlessly to the important message and it goes on and on.
The writer recalls that when first she heard it, twenty years ago,
she sat up in bed and rousing the camp, with stage whispers (afraid
to speak aloud), demanded: “Do you hear that? What on earth can it
mean? Surely something awful has happened!” On and on it went
endlessly. (She has since been told that it is all repeated three
times.) And not until morning was it learned that the long speech
had been merely the announcement of a rabbit hunt for the next day.
The oldest traditions of the Hopi tell of this speaker chief and his
important utterances. He is a vocal bulletin board and the local
newspaper, but his news is principally of a religious nature, such
as the announcement of ceremonials. This usually occurs in the
evening when all have gotten in from the fields or home from the
day’s journey, but occasionally announcements are made at other
The following is a poetic formal announcement of the New Fire
Ceremony, as given at sunrise from the housetop of the Crier at
“All people awake, open your
Become children of light, vigorous, active, sprightly:
Hasten, Clouds, from the four world-quarters.
Come, Snow, in plenty, that water may abound when summer
Come, Ice, and cover the fields, that after planting
they may yield
Let all hearts be glad.
The Wuwutchimtu will assemble in four days;
They will encircle the villages, dancing and singing.
Let the women be ready to pour water upon them
That moisture may come in plenty and all shall
[Footnote 6: Hough, Walter, Op. cit.,
As to the character of their government, Hewett says:
“We can truthfully say that these
surviving pueblo communities constitute the oldest existing
republics. It must be remembered, however, that they were only
vest-pocket editions. No two villages nor group of villages ever
came under a common authority or formed a state. There is not
the faintest tradition of a ‘ruler’ over the whole body of the
Pueblos, nor an organization of the people of this vast
territory under a common government.”
[Footnote 7: Hewett, E.L., Ancient
Life in the American Southwest: Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis,
1929, p. 71.]
The Clan and Marriage
Making up the village are various clans. A clan comprises all the
descendants of a traditional maternal ancestor. Children belong to
the clan of the mother. (See Figure 1.) These clans bear the name of
something in nature, often suggested by either a simple or a
significant incident in the legendary history of the people during
migration when off-shoots from older clans were formed into new
clans. Thus a migration legend collected by Voth accounts for the
name of the Bear Clan, the Bluebird Clan, the Spider Clan, and
[Footnote 8: Voth, H.R.,
Traditions of the Hopi: Field Columbian Museum Pub. 96,
Anthropological series, vol. 8, pp. 36-38, 1905.]
Sons and daughters are expected to marry outside the clan, and the
son must live with his wife’s people, so does nothing to perpetuate
his own clan. The Hopi is monogamous. A daughter on marrying brings
her husband to her home, later building the new home adjacent to
that of her mother. Therefore many daughters born to a clan mean
increase in population.
Figure 1.—Hopi Family
at Shungopovi.—Photo by Lockett
Some clans have indeed become nearly
extinct because of the lack of daughters, the sons having naturally
gone to live with neighboring clans, or in some cases with
neighboring tribes. As a result, some large houses are pointed out
that have many unoccupied and even abandoned rooms—the clan is dying
out. Possibly there may be a good many men of that clan living but
they are not with or near their parents and grandparents. They are
now a part of the clan into which they have married, and must live
there, be it near or far. Why should they keep up such a practice
when possibly the young man could do better, economically and
otherwise, in his ancestral home and community?
The answer is, “It has always been that
way,” and that seems to be reason enough for a Hopi.
Property, Lands, Houses, Divorce
Land is really communal, apportioned to the several clans and by
them apportioned to the various families, who enjoy its use and hand
down such use to the daughters, while the son must look to his
wife’s share of her clan allotment for his future estate. In fact,
it is a little doubtful whether he has any estate save his boots and
saddle and whatever personal plunder he may accumulate, for the
house is the property of the wife, as well as the crop after its
harvest, and divorce at the pleasure of the wife is effective and
absolute by the mere means of placing said boots and saddle, etc.,
outside the door and closing it. The husband may return to his
mother’s house, and if he insists upon staying, the village council
will insist upon his departure.
Again, why do they keep doing it this way? Again, “Because it has
always been done this way.” And it works very well. There is little
divorce and little dissension in domestic life among the Hopi, in
spite of Crane’s half comical sympathy for men in this
“woman-run” commonwealth. Bachelors are rare since only heads of
families count in the body politic. An unmarried woman of
marriageable age is unheard of.
[Footnote 9: Crane, Leo,
Indians of the Enchanted Mesa: Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1925.]
The Hopi woman’s life is a busy one, the never finished grinding of
corn by the use of the primitive metate and mano taking much time,
and the universal woman’s task of bearing and rearing children and
providing meals and home comforts accounting for most of her day.
She is the carrier of water, and since it must be borne on her back
from the spring below the village mesa this is a burden indeed. She
is, too, the builder of the house, though men willingly assist in
any heavy labor when wanted. But why on earth should so kindly a
people make woman the carrier of water and the mason of her home
walls? Tradition! “It has always been this way.”
Her leisure is employed in visiting her neighbors, for the Hopi are
a conspicuously sociable people, and in the making of baskets or
pottery. One hears a great deal about Hopi pottery, but the pottery
center in Hopiland is the village of Hano, on First Mesa, and the
people are not Hopi but Tewas, whose origin shall presently be
Not until recent years has pottery been made elsewhere in Hopiland
than at Hano. At present, however, Sichomovi, the Hopi village built
so close to Hano that one scarce knows where one ends and the other
begins, makes excellent pottery as does the Hopi settlement at the
foot of the hill, Polacca. Undoubtedly this comes from the Tewa
influence and in some cases from actual Tewa families who have come
to live in the new locality.
For instance, Grace, maker of excellent
pottery, now living at Polacca, is a Tewa who lived in Hano twenty
years ago, when the writer first knew her, and continued to live
there until a couple of years ago. Nampeo, most famous potter in
Hopiland, is an aged Tewa woman still living at Hano, in the first
house at the head of the trail. Her ambitious study of the fragments
of the pottery of the ancients, in the ruins of old Sikyatki, made
her the master craftsman and developed a new standard for
pottery-making in her little world.
Mention was made previously of the women employing their leisure in
the making of baskets or pottery. An interesting emphasis should be
placed upon the “or,” for no village does both. The women of the
three villages mentioned at First Mesa as pottery villages make no
baskets. The three villages on Second Mesa make a particular kind of
coiled basket found nowhere else save in North Africa, and no
pottery nor any other kind of basket. The villages of Third Mesa
make colorful twined or wicker baskets and plaques, just the one
kind and no pottery. They stick as closely to these lines as though
their wares were protected by some tribal “patent right.” Pottery
for First Mesa, coiled baskets for Second Mesa, and wicker baskets
for Third Mesa.
The writer has known the Hopi a long time, and has asked them many
times the reason for this. The villages are only a few miles apart,
so the same raw materials are available to all. These friends merely
laugh good naturedly and answer: “O, the only reason is, that it is
just the way we have always done it.”
Natural conservatives, these Hopi, and yet not one of them but likes
a bright new sauce-pan from the store for her cooking, and a good
iron stove, for that matter, if she can afford it.
There is no tradition against this, we
More than two centuries ago, these Tewas
came from the Rio Grande region, by invitation of the Walpi, to help
them defend this village (See Figure 2) from their Navajo, Apache,
and Piute enemies. They were given a place on the mesa-top to build
their village, at the head of the main trail, which it was their
business to guard, and fields were allotted them in the valley
They are a superior people, intelligent, friendly, reliable, and so
closely resemble the Hopi that they can not be told apart.
The two peoples have intermarried freely, and it is hard to think of
the Tewas otherwise than as “one kind of Hopi.” However, they are of
a distinctly different linguistic stock, speaking a Tewa language
brought from the Rio Grande, while the Hopi speak a dialect of the
It is an interesting fact that all Tewas speak Hopi as well as Tewa,
whereas the Hopi have never learned the Tewa language. The Hopi have
a legend accounting for this:
“When the Hano first came, the Walpi
said to them, ‘Let us spit in your mouths and you will learn our
tongue,’ and to this the Hano consented. When the Hano came up
and built on the mesa, they said to the Walpi, ‘Let us spit in
your mouths and you will learn our tongue,’ but the Walpi would
not listen to this, saying it would make them vomit. This is the
reason why all the Hano can speak Hopi, and none of the Hopi can
[Footnote 10: Mindeleff, Cosmos,
Traditional History of Tusayan (After A.M. Stephen): Bureau American
Ethnology, vol. 8, p. 36, 1887.]
The work of the men must now be accounted for lest the impression be
gained that the industry of the women leaves the males idle and
It is but fair to the men to say that first of all they carry the
community government on their shoulders, and the still more weighty
affairs of religion. They are depended upon to keep the seasonal and
other ceremonies going throughout the year, and the Hopi ceremonial
calendar has its major event for each of the twelve months, for all
of which elaborate preparation must be made, including the
manufacture and repair of costumes and other paraphernalia and much
practicing and rehearsing in the kivas.
Someone has said much of the Hopi man’s
time is taken up with “getting ready for dances, having dances, and
getting over dances.” Yes, a big waste of time surely to you and me,
but to the Hopi community—men, women, and children alike—absolutely
essential to their well-being. There could be no health, happiness,
prosperity, not even an assurance of crops without these ceremonies.
The Hopi is a good dry farmer on a small scale, and farming is a
laborious business in the shifting sands of Hopiland. Their corn is
their literal bread of life and they usually keep one year’s crop
stored. These people have known utter famine and even starvation in
the long ago, and their traditions have made them wise. The man
tends the fields and flocks, makes mocassins, does the weaving of
the community (mostly ceremonial garments) and usually brings in the
wood for fuel, since it is far to seek in this land of scant
vegetation, in fact literally miles away and getting farther every
year, so that the man with team and wagon is fortunate indeed and
the rest must pack their wood on burros.
Both men and women gather backloads of
faggots wherever such can be found in walking distance, and said
distance is no mean measure, for these hardy little people have
always been great walkers and great runners.
“Seemingly the men work harder
making paraphernalia and costumes for the ceremonies than at
anything else, but it should be remembered that in ancient days
everything depended, in Hopi belief, on propitiating the
deities. Still if we would pick the threads of religion from the
warp and woof of Hopi life there apparently would not be much
left. It must be recorded in the interests of truth, that Hopi
men will work at days labor and give satisfaction except when a
ceremony is about to take place at the pueblo, and duty to their
religion interferes with steady employment much as fiestas do in
the easy-going countries to the southward. Really the Hopi
deserve great credit for their industry, frugality, and
provident habits, and one must commend them because they do not
shun work and because in fairness both men and women share in
the labor for the common good.”
[Footnote 11: Hough, Walter, Op. cit,
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AND BASKET MAKING TRADITIONAL; ITS SYMBOLISM
The art of pottery-making is a traditional one; mothers teach their
daughters, even as their mothers taught them. There are no recipes
for exact proportions and mixtures, no thermometer for controlling
temperatures, no stencil or pattern set down upon paper for laying
out the designs. The perfection of the finished work depends upon
the potter’s sense of rightness and the skill developed by
practicing the methods of her ancestors with such variation as her
own originality and ingenuity may suggest.
All the women of a pueblo community know how to make cooking
vessels, at least, and in spare time they gather and prepare their
raw materials, just as the Navajo woman has usually a blanket
underway or the Apache a basket started. The same is true of Hopi
basketry; its methods, designs, and symbolism are all a matter of
memory and tradition.
From those who know most of Indian sacred and decorative symbols, we
learn that two main ideas are outstanding: desire for rain and
belief in the unity of all life. Charms or prayers against drought
take the form of clouds, lightning, rain, etc., and those for
fertility are expressed by leaves, flowers, seed pods, while
fantastic birds and feathers accompany these to carry the prayers.
It may be admitted that the modern craftsman is often enough
ignorant of the full early significance of the motifs used, but she
goes on using them because they express her idea of beauty and
because she knows that always they have been used to express belief
in an animate universe and with the hope of influencing the unseen
powers by such recognition in art.
The modern craftsman may even tell you that the once meaningful
symbols mean nothing now, and this may be true, but the medicine men
and the old people still hold the traditional symbols sacred, and
this reply may be the only short and polite way of evading the
troublesome stranger to whom any real explanation would be difficult
and who would quite likely run away in the middle of the patient
explanation to look at something else. Only those whose friendship
and understanding have been tested will be likely to be told of that
which is sacred lore.
However, if the tourist insists upon
having a story with his basket or pottery and the seller realizes
that it’s a story or no sale, he will glibly supply a story, be he
Indian or white, both story and basket being made for tourist
To the old time Indian everything had a being or spirit of its own,
and there was an actual feeling of sympathy for the basket or pot
that passed into the hands of unsympathetic foreigners, especially
if the object were ceremonial. The old pottery maker never speaks in
a loud tone while firing her ware and often sings softly for fear
the new being or spirit of the pot will become agitated and break
the pot in trying to escape. Nampeo, the venerable Tewa potter, is
said to talk to the spirits of her pots while firing them, adjuring
them to be docile and not break her handiwork by trying to escape.
But making things to sell is different—how could it be otherwise?
In one generation Indian craftsmen have come to be of two classes,
those who make quantities of stuff for sale and those few who become
real artists, ambitious to save from oblivion the significance and
idealism of the old art that was done for the glory of the gods.
Indian art may survive with proper encouragement, but it must come
now; after a while will be too late.
A notably fine example of such encouragement is the work of Mary
Russell F. Colton of Flagstaff, Arizona, in the Hopi Craftsman
Exhibition held annually at the Northern Arizona Museum of which she
is art curator. At the 1931 Exhibition, 142 native Hopi sent in 390
objects. Over $1500 worth of material was sold and $200 awarded in
prizes. The attendance total of visitors was 1,642. From this
exhibit a representative collection of Hopi Art was assembled for
the Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts at the Grand Central Galleries,
New York City, in December of the same year.
A gratifying feature of these annual
exhibits is the fact that groups of Hopi come in from their
reservation 100 miles away and modestly but happily move about
examining and enjoying these lovely samples of their own best work
and that of their neighbors; and they are quick to observe that it
is the really excellent work that gets the blue ribbon, the cash
prize, and the best sale.
Dr. Fewkes points out that while men invented and passed on the
mythology of the tribe, women wrote it down in symbols on their
handicrafts which became the traditional heritage of all.
The sand paintings made for special ceremonies on the floors of the
various kivas, in front of the altars, are likewise designs carried
only in the memory of the officiating priest and derived from the
clan traditions. All masks and ceremonial costumes are strictly
prescribed by tradition. The corn symbol is used on everything.
Corn has always been the bread of life
to the Hopi, but it has been more than food, it has been bound up by
symbolism with his ideas of all fertility and beneficence. Hopi
myths and rituals recognize the dependence of their whole culture on
corn. They speak of corn as their mother. The chief of a religious
fraternity cherishes as his symbol of high authority an ear of corn
in appropriate wrappings said to have belonged to the society when
it emerged from the underworld.
The baby, when twenty days old, is
dedicated to the sun and has an ear of corn tied to its breast.
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As already stated, the house (See Figure 3) belongs to the woman.
She literally builds it, and she is the head of the family, but the
men help with the lifting of timbers, and now-a-days often lay up
the masonry if desired; the woman is still the plasterer. The
ancestral home is very dear to the Hopi heart, men, women, and
After the stone for building has been gathered, the builder goes to
the chief of the village who gives him four small eagle feathers to
which are tied short cotton strings. These, sprinkled with sacred
meal, are placed under the four corner stones of the new house. The
Hopi call these feathers Nakiva Kwoci, meaning a breath prayer, and
the ceremony is addressed to Masauwu. Next, the door is located by
placing a bowl of food on each side of where it is to be. Likewise
particles of food, mixed with salt, are sprinkled along the lines
upon which the walls are to stand.
The women bring water, clay, and earth,
and mix a mud mortar, which is used sparingly between the layers of
stone. Walls are from eight to eighteen inches thick and seven or
eight feet high, above which rafters or poles are placed and smaller
poles crosswise above these, then willows or reeds closely laid, and
above all reeds or grass holding a spread of mud plaster. When
thoroughly dry, a layer of earth is added and carefully packed down.
All this is done by the women, as well as the plastering of the
inside walls and the making of the plaster floors.
Now the owner prepares four more eagle feathers and ties them to a
little willow stick whose end is inserted in one of the central roof
beams. No home is complete without this, for it is the soul of the
house and the sign of its dedication. These feathers are renewed
every year at the feast of Soyaluna.
The writer remembers once seeing a tourist reach up and pull off the
little tuft of breath feathers from the mid-rafter of the little
house he had rented for the night. Naturally he replaced it when the
enormity of his act was explained to him.
Not until the breath feathers have been put up, together with
particles of food placed in the rafters as an offering to Masauwu,
with due prayers for the peace and prosperity of the new habitation,
may the women proceed to plaster the interior, to which, when it is
dry, a coat of white gypsum is applied (all with strokes of the bare
hands), giving the room a clean, fresh appearance.
In one corner of the room is built a
fireplace and chimney, the latter often extended above the roof by
piling bottomless jars one upon the other, a quaint touch, reminding
one of the picturesque chimney pots of England.
Hopi Home.—Courtesy Arizona State Museum
The roofs are finished flat and lived
upon as in Mediterranean countries, particularly in the case of
one-story structures built against two-story buildings, the roof of
the low building making the porch or roof-garden for the
second-story room lying immediately adjacent. Here, on the roof many
household occupations go on, including often summer sleeping and
When the new house is completely finished and dedicated, the owner
gives a feast for all members of her clan who have helped in the
house-raising, and the guests come bearing small gifts for the home.
Formerly, the house was practically bare of furniture save for the
fireplace and an occasional stool, but the majority of the Hopi have
taken kindly to small iron cook stoves, simple tables and chairs,
and some of them have iron bedsteads. Even now, however, there are
many homes, perhaps they are still in the majority, where the family
sits in the middle of the floor and eats from a common bowl and pile
of piki (their native wafer corn bread), and sleeps on a pile of
comfortable sheep skins with the addition of a few pieces of store
bedding, all of which is rolled up against the wall to be out of the
way when not in use.
In the granary, which is usually a low back room, the ears of corn
are often sorted by color and laid up in neat piles, red, yellow,
white, blue, black, and mottled, a Hopi study in corn color. Strings
of native peppers add to the colorful ensemble.
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VI. MYTH AND
FOLKTALE - GENERAL DISCUSSION
Because none of this material could be written down but was passed
by word of mouth from generation to generation, changes naturally
occurred. Often a tale traveled from one tribe to another and was
incorporated, in whole or in part, into the tribal lore of the
neighbor—thus adding something. And, we may suppose, some were more
or less forgotten and thus lost; but, as Wissler tells us,
“tales that are directly associated
with ceremonies and, especially, if they must be recited as a
part of the procedure, are assured a long life.”
[Footnote 12: Wissler, Clark, Op.
cit, p. 254.]
Such of these tales as were considered sacred or accounted for the
origin of the people, were held in such high regard as to lay an
obligation upon the tribe to see to it that a number of individuals
learned and retained these texts, perhaps never in fixed wording,
except for songs, but as to essential details of plot.
Many collectors have recorded several versions of certain tales,
thus giving an idea of the range of individual variation, and the
writer herself has encountered as many as three variants for some of
her stories, coming always from the narrators of different villages.
But Wissler, while allowing for
these variations, says:
“All this suggests instability in
primitive mythology. Yet from American data, noting such myths
as are found among the successive tribes of larger areas, it
appears that detailed plots of myths may be remarkably stable.”
[Footnote 13: Wissler, Clark, Op.
cit., p. 254.]
Intrusion of Contemporary Material
However there is another point discussed by Wissler which troubled
the writer greatly as a beginner, and that was the intrusion of new
material with old, for instance, finding an old Hopi story of how
different languages came to exist in the world and providing a
language for the Mamona, meaning the Mormons, who lived among the
Hopi some years ago.
The writer was inclined to throw out the
story, regarding the whole thing as a modern concoction, but
Wissler warns us that:
“From a chronological point of view
we may expect survival material in a tribal mythology along with
much that is relatively recent in origin. It is, however,
difficult to be sure of what is ancient and what recent, because
only the plot is preserved; rarely do we find mention of objects
and environments different from those of the immediate present.”
[Footnote 14: Wissler, Clark, Op.
cit, p. 255.]
A tale, to be generally understood, must often be given a
contemporary setting, and this the narrator instinctively knows,
therefore the introduction of modern material with that of undoubted
Stability, then, lies in the plot rather than in the culture
setting; the former may be ancient, while the latter sometimes
reflects contemporary life.
Boaz argues that much may be learned of contemporary tribal
culture by a study of the mythology of a given people, since so much
of the setting of the ancient tale reflects the tribal life of the
time of the recording. He has made a test of the idea in his study
of the Tsimshian Indians.
From this collection of 104 tales he
“In the tales of a people those
incidents of the everyday life that are of importance to them
will appear either incidentally or as the basis of a plot. Most
of the reference to the mode of life of the people will be an
accurate reflection of their habits. The development of the plot
of the story, further-more, will on the whole exhibit clearly
what is considered right and what wrong.”
[Footnote 15: Boaz, Franz, Tsimshian
Mythology: Bureau American Ethnology, vol. 35, 1916, p. 393.]
How and Why Myths Are Kept
There are set times and seasons for story-telling among the various
Indian tribes, but the winter season, when there is likely to be
most leisure and most need of fireside entertainment, is a general
favorite. However, some tribes have myths that “can not be told in
summer, others only at night, etc.” Furthermore there are secret
cults and ceremonials rigidly excluding women and children, whose
basic myths are naturally restricted in their circulation, but in
the main the body of tribal myth is for the pleasure and profit of
[Footnote 16: Wissler, Clark,
Op. cit., p. 256.]
Old people relate the stories to the children, not only because they
enjoy telling them and the children like listening to them, but
because of the feeling that every member of the tribe should know
them as a part of his education.
While all adults are supposed to know something of the tribal
stories, not all are expected to be good story-tellers.
Story-telling is a gift, we know, and primitives know this too, so
that everywhere we have pointed out a few individuals who are the
best story-tellers, usually an old man, sometimes an old woman, and
occasionally, as the writer has seen it, a young man of some
When an important story furnishing a
religious or social precedent is called for, either in council
meeting or ceremonial, the custodian of the stories is in demand,
and is much looked up to; yet primitives rarely create an office or
station for the narrator, nor is the distinction so marked as the
profession of the medicine man and the priest.
Service of Myth
As to the service of myth in primitive life, Wissler says:
“It serves as a body of information,
as stylistic pattern, as inspiration, as ethical precepts, and
finally as art. It furnishes the ever ready allusions to
embellish the oration as well as to enliven the conversation of
the fireside. Mythology, in the sense in which we have used the
term, is the carrier and preserver of the most immaterial part
of tribal culture.”
[Footnote 17: Wissler, Clark, Op.
cit., p. 258.]
There comes a time in the Hopi year when crops have been harvested,
most of the heavier and more essentially important religious
ceremonials have been performed in their calendar places, and even
the main supply of wood for winter fires has been gathered. To be
sure, minor dances, some religious and some social, will be taking
place from time to time, but now there will be more leisure, leisure
for sociability and for story-telling.
Figure 4.—Kiva at Old
Oraibi.—Courtesy Arizona State Museum
In the kivas (See Figure 4) the priests
and old men will instruct the boys in the tribal legends, both
historical and mythological, and in the religious ceremonies in
which they are all later supposed to participate. In the home, some
good old story-telling neighbor drops in for supper, and stories are
told for the enjoyment of all present, including the children; all
kinds of stories, myths, tales of adventure, romances, and even
bed-time stories. Indian dolls of painted wood and feathers, made in
the image of the Kachinas, are given the children, who thus get a
graphic idea of the supposed appearance of the heroes of some of
The Hopi, like many primitive people, believe that when a bird sings
he is weaving a magic spell, and so they have songs for special
magic too; some for grinding, for weaving, for planting, others for
hunting, and still others for war; all definitely to gain the favor
of the gods in these particular occupations.
Without books and without writing the Hopi have an extensive
literature. That a surprising degree of accuracy is observed in its
oral transmission from generation to generation is revealed by
certain comparisons with the records made by the Spanish explorers
in the sixteenth century.
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Gods and Kachinas
The Hopi live, move, and have their being in religion. To them the
unseen world is peopled with a host of beings, good and bad, and
everything in nature has its being or spirit.
Just what kind of religion shall we call this of the Hopi? Seeing
the importance of the sun in their rites, one is inclined to say Sun
Worship; but clouds, rain, springs, streams enter into the idea, and
we say Nature Worship. A study of the great Snake Cult suggests
Snake Worship; but their reverence for and communion with the
spirits of ancestors gives to this complex religious fabric of the
Hopi a strong quality of Ancestor Worship. It is all this and more.
The surface of the earth is ruled by a mighty being whose sway
extends to the underworld and over death, fire, and the fields. This
is Masauwu, to whom many prayers are said. Then there is the Spider
Woman or Earth Goddess, Spouse of the Sun and Mother of the Twin War
Gods, prominent in all Hopi mythology. Apart from these and the
deified powers of nature, there is another revered group, the
Kachinas, spirits of ancestors and some other beings, with powers
good and bad. These Kachinas are colorfully represented in the
painted and befeathered dolls, in masks and ceremonies, and in the
main are considered beneficent and are accordingly popular. They
intercede with the spirits of the other world in behalf of their
Masked individuals represent their return to the land of the living
from time to time in Kachina dances, beginning with the Soyaluna
ceremony in December and ending with the Niman or Kachina Farewell
ceremony in July.
Much of this sort of thing takes on a lighter, theatrical flavor
amounting to a pageant of great fun and frolic. Dr. Hough says these
are really the most characteristic ceremonies of the pueblos,
musical, spectacular, delightfully entertaining, and they show the
cheerful Hopi at his best—a true, spontaneous child of nature.
There are a great many of these Kachina dances through the winter
and spring, their nature partly religious, partly social, for with
the Hopi, religion and drama go hand in hand. Dr. Hough speaks
appreciatively of these numerous occasions of wholesome
merry-making, and says these things keep the Hopi out of mischief
and give them a reputation for minding their own business, besides
furnishing them with the best round of free theatrical
entertainments enjoyed by any people in the world. Since every
ceremony has its particular costumes, rituals, songs, there is
plenty of variety in these matters and more detail of meaning than
any outsider has ever fathomed.
The Niman, or farewell dance of the Kachinas, takes place in July.
It is one of their big nine-day festivals, including secret rites in
the kivas and a public dance at its close.
Messengers are sent on long journeys for sacred water, pine boughs,
and other special objects for these rites.
This is a home-coming festival and a Hopi will make every effort to
get home to his own town for this event. On the ninth day there is a
lovely pageant just before sunrise and another in the afternoon. No
other ceremony shows such a gorgeous array of colorful masks and
costumes. And it is a particularly happy day for the young folk, for
the Kachinas bring great loads of corn, beans, and melons, and
baskets of peaches, especially as gifts for the children; also new
dolls and brightly painted bows and arrows are given them. The
closing act of the drama is a grand procession carrying sacred
offerings to a shrine outside the village.
This is the dance at which the brides of the year make their first
public appearance; their snowy wedding blankets add a lovely touch
to the colorful scene.
Religion Not For Morality
The Hopi is religious, and he is moral, but there is no logical
connection between the two.
Mrs. Coolidge says:
“In all that has been said
concerning the gods and the Kachinas, the spiritual unity of all
animate life, the personification of nature and the correct
conduct for attaining favor with the gods, no reference has been
made to morality as their object. The purpose of religion in the
mind of the Indian is to gain the favorable, or to ward off
evil, influences which the super-spirits are capable of bringing
to the tribe or the individual. Goodness, unselfishness,
truth-telling, respect for property, family, and filial duty,
are cumulative by-products of communal living, closely connected
with religious beliefs and conduct, but not their object. The
Indian, like other people, has found by experience that honesty
is the best policy among friends and neighbors, but not
necessarily so among enemies; that village life is only
tolerable on terms of mutual safety of property and person; that
industry and devotion to the family interest make for prosperity
and happiness. Moral principles are with him the incidental
product of his ancestral experience, not primarily inculcated by
the teaching of any priest or shaman. Yet the Pueblos show a
great advance over many primitive tribes in that their legends
and their priests reiterate constantly the idea that ‘prayer is
not effective except the heart be good.’”
[Footnote 18: Coolidge, Mary Roberts,
The Rain-makers: Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, 1929, p. 203.]
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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
Concerning the Pueblos (which include the Hopi), Hewett says:
“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....”
[Footnote 19: Hewett, E.L., Op. cit.,
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.
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IX. HOPI MYTHS
AND TRADITIONS AND SOME CEREMONIES BASED UPON THEM
The Emergence Myth and the Wu-wu-che-ma
Each of the Hopi clans preserves a separate origin or emergence
myth, agreeing in all essential parts, but carrying in its details
special reference to its own clan. All of them claim, however, a
common origin in the interior of the earth, and although the place
of emergence to the surface is set in widely separated localities,
they agree in maintaining this to be the fourth plane on which
mankind has existed.
The following is an abbreviation of the version gathered by A.M.
Stephen, who lived many years among the Hopi and collected these
sacred tales from the priests and old men of all the different
villages some fifty years ago, as reported by Mindeleff.
[Footnote 20: Mindeleff,
Cosmos, Traditional History of Tusayan (After A.M. Stephen): Bureau
American Ethnology, vol. 8, pp. 16-41, 1887.]
In the beginning all men lived together in the lowest depths, in a
region of darkness and moisture; their bodies were mis-shapen and
horrible and they suffered great misery.
By appealing to Myuingwa (a vague conception of the god of the
interior) and Baholinkonga (plumed serpent of enormous size, genius
of water) their old men obtained a seed from which sprang a magic
growth of cane.
The cane grew to miraculous height and penetrated through a crevice
in the roof overhead and mankind climbed to a higher plane. Here was
dim light and some vegetation. Another magic cane brought them to a
higher plane, with more light and vegetation, and here was the
creation of the animal kingdom. Singing was always the chief magic
for creating anything. In like manner, they rose to the fourth stage
or earth; some say by a pine tree, others say through the hollow
cylinder of a great reed or rush.
This emergence was accompanied by singing, some say by the Magic
Twins, the two little war gods, others say by the mocking bird. At
any rate, it is important to observe that when the song ran out, no
more people could get through and many had to remain behind.
However, the outlet through which man came has never been closed,
and Myuingwa sends through it the germs of all living things. It is
still symbolized, Stephen says, by the peculiar construction of the
hatchway of the kiva, in designs on the kiva sand altars, and by the
unconnected circle on pottery, basketry, and textiles. Doubtless the
most direct representation of this opening to the underworld is the
sipapu or ceremonial small round opening in the floor of the kiva,
which all Hopi, without exception, agree symbolizes the opening or
spirit passage to the underworld. “Out of the sipapu we all came,”
they say, “and back to the underworld, through the sipapu, we shall
go when we die.”
Once every year the Hopi hold an eight-day ceremony commemorating
this emergence from the underworld. It is called the Wu-wu-che-ma,
occurs in November and thus begins the series of Winter festivals.
Four societies take part, and the Da-dow-Kiam or Mocking Bird
Society opens the ceremony by singing into the kiva of the
One-Horned Society this emergence song, the very song sung by the
mocking bird at the original emergence, according to Voth.
This ceremony is a prayer to the powers
of the underworld for prosperity and for germination of new life,
human, animal, and vegetable. Fewkes called this the New Fire
Ceremony, and in the course of the eight-day ceremonial the kindling
of new fire with the primitive firestick does take place.
But it is not hard to feel a close
relation between the idea of fire and that of germination which
stands out as the chief idea in the whole ritual, particularly in
the subtle dramatization of the underworld life and emergence as
carried on in the kivas, preceding the public “dance” on the last
[Footnote 21: Voth, H.R., Op.
cit, p. 11.]
Thus we have at least three distinct
points in this one myth that account for three definite things we
find the Hopi doing today:
Note that it was “our old men” who
got from the gods the magic seed of the tall cane which brought
relief to the people. To this day it is the old men who are
looked up to and depended upon to direct the people in all
important matters. “It was always that way.”
While the magic song lasted the
people came through the sipapu, but when the song ended no more
could come through, and there was weeping and wailing. Singing
is today the absolutely indispensable element in all magic
rites. There may be variation in the details of some
performances, but “unless you have the right song, it won’t
work.” The Hopi solemnly affirm they have preserved their
original emergence song, and you hear it today on the first
morning of the Wu-wu-che-ma.
The sipapu seen today in the floor
of the kiva or ceremonial chamber symbolizes the passage from
which all mankind emerged from the underworld, so all the Hopi
The belief of the present-day Hopi that
the dead return through the sipapu to the underworld is based firmly
upon an extension of this myth, as told to Voth, for it
furnishes a clear account of how the Hopi first became aware of this
[Footnote 22: Voth, H.R., Op.
cit, p. 11.]
It seems that soon after they emerged from the underworld the son of
their chief died, and the distressed father, believing that an evil
one had come out of the sipapu with them and caused this death,
tossed up a ball of meal and declared that the unlucky person upon
whose head it descended should be thus discovered to be the guilty
party and thrown back down into the underworld. The person thus
discovered begged the father not to do this but to take a look down
through the sipapu into the old realm and see there his son, quite
alive and well. This he did, and so it was.
Do the Hopi believe this now? Yes, so they tell you. And Mr. Emery
Koptu, sculptor, who lived among them only a few years ago and
enjoyed a rare measure of their affection and good will, recently
told the writer of a case in point:
On July 4, 1928, occurred the death
of Supela, last of the Sun priests. Mr. Koptu, who had done some
studies of this fine Hopi head, was in Supela’s home town, Walpi,
at the time of the old priest’s passing.
The people were suffering from a
prolonged drouth, and since old Supela was soon to go through the
sipapu to the underworld, where live the spirits who control rain
and germination, he promised that he would without delay explain the
situation to the gods and intercede for his people and that they
might expect results immediately after his arrival there. Since his
life had been duly religious and acceptable to the gods, it was the
belief of both Supela and his friends that he would make the journey
in four days, which is record time for the trip, when one has no
obstacles in the way of atonements or punishments to work off
Supela promised this, and the people
looked for its fulfillment. Four days after Supela’s death the long
drouth was broken by a terrific rain storm accompanied by heavy
thunder and lightning. Did the Hopi show astonishment? On the
contrary they were aglow with satisfaction and exchanged
felicitations on the dramatic assurance of Supela’s having “gotten
through” in four days. The most wonderful eulogy possible!
It is indicated, in the story of Supela, that the Hopi believe that
only the “pure in heart,” so to speak, go straight to the abode of
the spirits, whereas some may have to take much longer because of
atonements or punishments for misdeeds. Their basis for this lies in
a tradition regarding the visit of a Hopi youth to the underworld
and his return to the earth with an account of having passed on the
way many suffering individuals engaged in painful pursuits and
unable to go on until the gods decreed they had suffered enough. He
had also seen a great smoke arising from a pit where the hopelessly
wicked were totally burned up.
He was told to go back to his people and
explain all these things and tell them to make many pahos
(prayer-sticks) and live straight and the good spirits could be
depended upon to help them with rain and germination. Voth
records two variants of this legend.
[Footnote 23: Voth, H.R., Op.
cit, pp. 109-119 (A journey to the skeleton house).]
Some Migration Myths
The migration myths of the various clans are entirely too numerous
and too lengthy to be in their entirety included here. Every clan
has its own, and even today keeps the story green in the minds of
its children and celebrates its chief events, including arrival in
Hopiland, with suitable ceremony.
We are told that when all mankind came through the sipapu from the
underworld, the various kinds of people were gathered together and
given each a separate speech or language by the mocking bird, “who
can talk every way.” Then each group was given a path and started on
its way by the Twin War Gods and their mother, the Spider Woman.
The Hopi were taught how to build stone houses, and then the various
clans dispersed, going separate ways. And after many many
generations they arrived at their present destination from all
directions and at different times. They brought corn with them from
It is generally agreed that the Snake people were the first to
occupy the Tusayan region.
There are many variations in the migration myths of the Snake
people, but the most colorful version the writer has encountered is
the one given to A.M. Stephen, fifty years ago, by the then oldest
member of the Snake fraternity. A picturesque extract only is given
“At the general dispersal, my people
lived in snake skins, each family occupying a separate
snake-skin bag, and all were hung on the end of a rainbow, which
swung around until the end touched Navajo Mountain, where the
bags dropped from it; and wherever their bags dropped, there was
their house. After they arranged their bags they came out from
them as men and women, and they then built a stone house which
had five sides.
“A brilliant star arose in the southwest, which would shine for
a while and then disappear. The old men said, ‘Beneath that star
there must be people,’ so they determined to travel toward it.
They cut a staff and set it in the ground and watched till the
star reached its top, then they started and traveled as long as
the star shone; when it disappeared they halted. But the star
did not shine every night, for sometimes many years elapsed
before it appeared again. When this occurred, our people built
houses during their halt; they built both round and square
houses, and all the ruins between here and Navajo Mountain mark
the places where our people lived. They waited till the star
came to the top of the staff again, then they moved on, but many
people were left in those houses and they followed afterward at
various times. When our people reached Wipho (a spring a few
miles north from Walpi) the star disappeared and has never been
There is more of the legend, but quoted
here are only a few closing lines relative to the coming of the
Lenbaki (the Flute Clan):
“The old men would not allow them to
come in until Masauwu (god of the face of the earth) appeared
and declared them to be good Hopitah. So they built houses
adjoining ours and that made a fine large village. Then other
Hopitah came in from time to time, and our people would say,
‘Build here, or build there,’ and portioned the land among the
[Footnote 24: Mindeleff, Victor,
Pueblo architecture (Myths after Stephen): Bureau American
Ethnology, vol. 8, pp. 17-18, 1887.]
The foregoing tradition furnishes the answer to two things one asks
in Hopiland. First, why have these people, who by their traditions
wandered from place to place since the beginning of time, only
building and planting for a period sometimes short, sometimes a few
generations, but not longer, they believe—why have they remained in
their present approximate location for eight hundred years and
perhaps much longer? The answer is their story of the star that led
them for “many moves and many stops” but which never again appeared,
to move them on, after they reached Walpi.
The second point is: The Flute Dance, which is still held on the
years alternating with the Snake Dance, is of what significance? It
is the commemoration of the arrival of this Lenbaki group, a branch
of the Horn people, and the performance of their special magic for
rain-bringing, just as they demonstrated it to the original
inhabitants of Walpi, by way of trial, before they were permitted to
Flute Ceremony and Tradition
This Flute ceremony is one of the loveliest and most impressive in
the whole Hopi calendar. And because it is one which most clearly
illustrates this thesis, some detail of the ceremony will be given.
From the accounts of many observers that of Hough has been
[Footnote 25: Hough, Walter, Op.
cit., pp. 156-158.]
“On the first day the sand altar is
made and at night songs are begun. Within the kiva the
interminable rites go on, and daily the cycle of songs
accompanied with flutes is rehearsed. A messenger clad in an
embroidered kilt and anointed with honey, runs, with flowing
hair, to deposit prayer-sticks at the shrines, encircling the
fields in his runs and coming nearer the pueblo on each circuit.
During the seventh and eighth days a visit is made to three
important springs where ceremonies are held, and on the return
of the priests they are received by an assemblage of the Bear
and Snake Societies, the chiefs of which challenge them and tell
them that if they are good people, as they claim, they can bring
“After an interesting interchange of ceremonies, the Flute
priests return to their kiva to prepare for the public dance on
the morrow. When at 3:00 a.m. the belt of Orion is at a certain
place in the heavens, the priests file into the plaza, where a
cottonwood bower has been erected over the shrine called the
entrance to the underworld. Here the priests sing, accompanied
with flutes, the shrine is ceremonially opened and prayer-sticks
placed within, and they return to the kiva. At some of the
pueblos there is a race up the mesa at dawn on the ninth day, as
in other ceremonies.
“On the evening of the ninth day the
Flute procession forms and winds down the trail to the spring in
order: A leader, the Snake maiden, two Snake youths, the
priests, and in the rear a costumed warrior with bow and whizzer.
At the spring they sit on the south side of the pool, and as one
of the priests plays a flute the others sing, while one of their
number wades into the spring, dives under water, and plants a
prayer-stick in the muddy bottom. Then taking a flute he again
wades into the spring and sounds it in the water to the four
cardinal points. Meanwhile sunflowers and cornstalks have been
brought to the spring by messengers. Each priest places the
sunflowers on his head and each takes two cornstalks in his
hands and the procession, two abreast, forms to ascend the mesa.
A priest draws a line on the trail with white corn meal and
across it three cloud symbols. The Flute children throw the
offerings they hold in their hands upon the symbols, followed by
the priests who sing to the sound of the flutes.
Ceremony at Michongnovi.—Courtesy Arizona State Museum
“The children pick the offerings
from the ground with sticks held in their hands, and the same
performance is repeated till they stand again in the plaza on
the mesa before the cottonwood bower, where they sing melodious
songs then disperse.”
The foregoing description of Hough’s is
an account of the Walpi ceremony, where we find only one Flute
fraternity. Each of the other villages has two fraternities, the
Blue Flute and the Drab Flute. The Flute Ceremony at Mishongnovi is
perhaps the most impressive example of this pageant as given by the
double fraternity. Dr. Byron Cummings reports this Mishongnovi
ceremony as having several interesting variations from the Walpi
report given above.
Figure 6.—Flute Boy
before Costuming.—Courtesy Arizona State Museum
On the ninth day women were observed
sweeping the trail to the spring with meticulous care, in
preparation for the double procession which came down at about 1:30
in the afternoon.
All the costuming was done at the spring—body painting, putting on
of ceremonial garments and arranging of hair.
The fathers of the Flute maidens brushed and arranged their hair for
them and put on their blankets. If a girl had no father, her uncle
did this for her. There were two Flute Maids and a Flute Boy
who walked between them, in each of the
two fraternities. Even this ceremonial costuming was accompanied by
When all was ready the priests sat on the edge of the pool with
their legs hanging over, and the two maids and the boy sat behind
them on a terrace of the bank. The Blue Flute fraternity occupied
one side of the pool and the Drab Flute fraternity another. Many
songs were sung to the strange, plaintive accompaniment of the flute
players. After a while an old priest waded into the pool and walked
around it in ever-narrowing circles till he reached the center,
where he sank into the water and disappeared for a dramatically long
moment and came up with a number of ceremonial objects in his hands,
including a gourd bottle filled with water from the depths of the
It was late afternoon by the time all the songs had been sung, and
evening when the two processions had finished their ceremonial
ascent to the mesa top, pausing again and again as the old priest
went ahead and drew his symbolic barrier of meal and the three rain
clouds across the path, which were to be covered with the pahos of
the Flute children, then taken up and moved on to the next like
symbol. The old priest led the procession, the three children behind
him, then the flute players, followed by the priests bearing
emblems, and the priest with the bull roarer at the end of the line.
Each fraternity preserved its own
formation. Having reached the village plaza they marched to the Kisa
and deposited their pahos and ceremonial offerings, then dispersed.
The solemnity of the long ritual, the weird chant and the plaintive
accompaniment of the flutes running through the whole ceremony,
while at the spring, coming up the hill, and to the last act before
the Kisa, leaves the imprint of its strange musical vibration long
after the scene has closed.
The legend back of this ceremony is a long account of the migrations
of the Horn and Flute people. It relates that when they at last
reached Walpi, they halted at a spring and sent a scout ahead to see
if people were living there. He returned and reported that he had
seen traces of other people. So the Flute people went forth to find
them. When they came in sight of the houses of Walpi, they halted at
the foot of the mesa, then began moving up the trail in ceremonial
procession, with songs and the music of the flutes.
Now the Bear and Snake people who lived in Walpi drew a line of meal
across the trail, a warning understood by many primitives, and
challenged the new-comers as to who they were, where they were
going, and what they wanted. Then the Flute chief said,
“We are of your blood, Hopi. Our
hearts are good and our speech straight. We carry on our backs
the tabernacle of the Flute Altar. We can cause rain to fall.”
Four times the demand was repeated, as
the Flute people stood respectfully before the barrier of meal, and
four times did their chief make the same reply. Then the Walpis
erased the line of meal and the Flute people entered the pueblo, set
up their altars and demonstrated their rain magic by singing their
ceremonial Flute songs which resulted in bringing the needed rain.
Then said the Bear and Snake chiefs, “Surely your chief shall be one
of our chiefs.”
Thus we see that the Flute Dance as given today is a dramatization
of this legend. Dr. Fewkes, who collected this legend, tells us that
the Flute fraternity claims to be even more successful rain-makers
than the world-famous Snake fraternity.
[Footnote 26: Fewkes, J.
Walter, The Walpi Flute Observance: Journal American Folklore, vol.
Dr. Monsen tells of seeing the Flute ceremony at Mishongnovi, a good
many years ago, and of the deeply religious feeling that pervaded
the whole scene. His words are descriptive of a dramatic moment at
the close of the day, when the procession had at last reached the
public plaza on top of the mesa.
[Footnote 27: Monsen,
Frederick, Religious Dances of the Hopi: The Craftsman, vol. 12,
1907, pp. 284-285.]
Girl in Butterfly Costume.—Photo by Lockett
“By this time it was nearly dark,
but the ceremony went on in the center of the plaza where other
mysterious symbols were outlined on the rocky floor with the
strewn corn meal, and numbers of supplementary chants were sung
until night closed down entirely and the moon appeared.... Then
came something so extraordinary that I am aware that it will
sound as if I were drawing on the rich stores of my imagination,
for the coincidence which closed the festival.
“But all I can say is that to my unutterable astonishment, it
happened exactly as I tell it. At a certain stage in this part
of the ceremony there was a pause. No one left the plaza, but
every one stood as still as a graven image, and not a sound
broke the hush, apparently of breathless expectancy. The
stillness was so unearthly that it became oppressive, and a few
white friends who were with me began to urge in whispers that we
leave the plaza as all was evidently at an end, and go back to
our camp below the mesa, when suddenly there rang out such a
wild, exultant shout of unrestrained, unmeasured rejoicing as
only Indians can give in moments of supreme religious
exaltation—raindrops had splashed on devout, upturned faces.
“Their prayers had been answered. The spell of the drouth-evil
had been broken, and the long strain of the solemn ceremonial
gave place to such a carnival of rejoicing as it seldom falls to
the lot of civilized man to see....
“From the white man’s point of view, this answer to prayer was,
of course, the merest coincidence, but not all the power of
church or government combined could convince the Hopi that their
god had not heard them ... that their devotion to the ancient
faith had brought relief from famine, and life to themselves and
their flocks and herds.”
The present-day Hopi, including the most
intelligent and best educated of them, will tell you, that all their
important dances and ceremonials follow faithfully the old
traditions, and are still believed to be efficacious and necessary
to the welfare of the people. And this has been the conviction of a
majority of the scientific observers who have studied them.
There is a very definite calendar arrangement of these ceremonials,
some variation in the different villages, but no deviation in the
order and essential details of the main dances.
In December comes the Soyaluna, or winter solstice ceremony, to turn
the sun back from his path of departure and insure his return with
length of days to the Indian country. Good-will tokens are
exchanged, not unlike our idea of Christmas cards, at the end of the
ceremony; they are prayer tokens which are planted with prayers for
health and prosperity. The kiva rituals are rich in symbolism and
last eight days, if young men are to be initiated, otherwise four.
The public dance at the end is a masked pageant.
In January comes the Buffalo Dance, with masks representing buffalo,
deer, mountain sheep, and the other big game animals. Its chief
characters are the Hunter and the Buffalo Mother, or Mother of all
big game. A prayer for plentiful big game is the idea of this dance.
In February the Powamu, “bean sprouting,” ceremony occurs, with very
elaborate ritual signifying consecration of fields for planting.
Various masks and symbolic costumes are used, and the children’s
initiation is accompanied with a ceremonial “flogging”—really a
switching by kachinas. Dr. Dorsey considers this the most colorful
of all Hopi ceremonies and says that nowhere else on earth can one
see in nine days such a wealth of religious drama, such a pantheon
of the gods represented by masked and costumed actors, such
elaborate altars and beautiful sand mosaics, nor songs and myths
sung and recited of such obvious archaic character, containing many
old words and phrases whose meaning is no longer known even to the
March brings the Palululong, “Great Plumed Serpent,” a masked and
elaborately costumed mystery play given in the kiva. This shows more
of the dramatic ability and ingenuity of this people than any other
of their ceremonies; the mechanical representation of snakes as
actors being one of its astonishing features.
One of the very pretty social dances is the Butterfly Dance, given
during the summer by the young people of marriageable age. Costumes
are colorful and tall wooden headdresses or tablets are worn. Figure
7 shows a Hopi girl acquaintance photographed just at the close of a
Butterfly Dance that the writer witnessed in the summer of 1932 at
This dance is really a very popular social affair, a sort of coming
out party adopted from the Rio Grande Pueblos a good many years ago.
The Snake Myth and the Snake Dance
The Snake Dance of the Hopi is, of course, the best known and most
spectacular of their ceremonies, and comparatively few white people
have seen any other.
One hears from tourists on every hand,
“Oh, they used to believe in these
things, but of course they know better now, and at any rate it’s
all a commercial racket, a side show to attract tourists!”
Second Mesa.—Photo by Lockett
Anyone who says this has seen little and
thought less. The Hopi women make up extra supplies of baskets and
pottery to offer for sale at the time of the Snake Dance because
they know many tourists are coming to buy them, otherwise they get
no revenue from the occasion. No admission is charged, and the snake
priests themselves seriously object to having Hopi citizens charge
anything for the use of improvised seats of boxes, etc., on the
near-by house tops.
The writer has seen tourists so crowd the roofs of the Hopi homes
surrounding the dance plaza that she feared the roofs would give
way, and has also observed that the resident family was sometimes
crowded out of all “ring-side” seats. No wonder the small brown man
of the house has in some cases charged for the seats. What white man
would not? Yet the practice is considered unethical by the Hopi
themselves and is being discontinued.
We know that this weird, pagan Snake Dance was performed with deadly
earnestness when white men first penetrated the forbidding
wastelands that surround the Hopi. And we have every reason to
believe that it has gone on for centuries, always as a prayer to the
gods of the underworld and of nature for rain and the germination of
The writer has observed these ceremonies in the various Hopi
villages for the past twenty years, some with hundreds of spectators
from all over the world, others in more remote villages, with but a
mere handful of outsiders present. She is personally convinced that
the Snake Dance is no show for tourists but a deeply significant
religious ceremony performed definitely for the faithful fulfillment
of traditional magic rites that have, all down the centuries, been
depended upon to bring these desert-dwellers the life-saving rain
and insure their crops. They have long put their trust in it, and
they still do so.
Are there any unbelievers? Yes, to be sure; but not so many as you
might think. There are unbelievers in the best, of families,
Methodist, Presbyterian, and Hopi, but the surprising thing is that
there are so many believers, at least among the Hopi.
The Snake Dance, so-called, is the culmination of an eight-days’
ceremonial, an elaborate prayer for rain and for crops. Possibly
something of the significance of parts of its complicated ritual may
have been forgotten, for some of our thirst for knowledge on these
points goes unquenched, in spite of the courteous explanations the
Hopi give when our queries are sufficiently courteous and respectful
to deserve answers. And possibly some of the things we ask about are
“not for the public” and may refer to the secret rituals that take
place in the kivas, as in connection with many of their major
We do know that the dramatization of their Snake Myth constitutes
part of the program. This myth has many variations. The writer,
personally, treasures the long story told her by Dr. Fewkes, years
ago, and published in the Journal of American Ethnology and
Archaeology, Vol. IV., 1894, pages 106-110.
But here shall be given the much shorter
and very adequate account of Dr. Colton, as abbreviated from
that of A.M. Stephen:
“To-ko-na-bi was a place of little
rain, and the corn was weak. Tiyo, a youth of inquiring mind,
set out to find where the rain water went to. This search led
him into the Grand Canyon. Constructing a box out of a hollow
cottonwood log, he gave himself to the waters of the Great
Colorado. After a voyage of some days, the box stopped on the
muddy shore of a great sea. Here he found the friendly Spider
Woman who, perched behind his ear, directed him on his search.
After a series of adventures, among which he joined the sun in
his course across the sky, he was introduced into the kiva of
the Snake people, men dressed in the skins of snakes.
The Snake Chief said to Tiyo, ‘Here
we have an abundance of rain and corn; in your land there is but
little; fasten these prayers in your breast; and these are the
songs that you will sing and these are the prayer-sticks that
you will make; and when you display the white and black on your
body the rain will come.’ He gave Tiyo part of everything in the
kiva as well as two maidens clothed in fleecy clouds, one for
his wife, and one as a wife for his brother. With this
paraphernalia and the maidens, Tiyo ascended from the kiva.
Parting from the Spider Woman, he
gained the heights of To-ko-na-bi. He now instructed his people
in the details of the Snake ceremony so that henceforth his
people would be blessed with rain. The Snake Maidens, however,
gave birth to Snakes which bit the children of To-ko-na-bi, who
swelled up and died. Because of this, Tiyo and his family were
forced to emigrate and on their travels taught the Snake rites
to other clans.”
[Footnote 28: Colton, H.S., Op. cit.,
Most of the accounts tell us that later only human children were
born to the pair, and these became the ancestors of the Snake Clan
who, in their migrations, finally reached Walpi, where we now find
them, the most spectacular rain-makers in the world.
Another fragment of the full Snake legend must be given here to
account for what Dr. Fewkes considers the most fearless episode of
the Snake Ceremonial—the snake washing:
“On the fifth evening of the
ceremony and for three succeeding evenings low clouds trailed
over To-ko-na-bi, and Snake people from the underworld came from
them and went into the kivas and ate corn pollen for food, and
on leaving were not seen again. Each of four evenings brought a
new group of Snake people, and on the following morning they
were found in the valleys metamorphosed into reptiles of all
kinds. On the ninth morning the Snake Maidens said: ‘We
understand this. Let the Younger Brothers (The Snake Society) go
out and bring them all in and wash their heads, and let them
dance with you.’”
[Footnote 29: Fewkes, J.W., The Snake
Ceremonials at Walpi: Jour. Am. Ethnology and Archaeology, Vol. IV,
1894, p. 116.]
Thus we see in the ceremony an acknowledgment of the kinship of the
snakes with the Hopi, both having descended from a common
ancestress. And since the snakes are to take part in a religious
ceremony, of course they must have their heads washed or baptized in
preparation, exactly as must every Hopi who takes part in any
ceremony. The meal sprinkled on the snakes during the dance and at
its close is symbolic of the Hopi’s prayers to the underworld
spirits of seed germination; and thus the Elder Brothers bear away
the prayers of the people and become their messengers to the gods,
to whom the Elder Brothers are naturally closer, being in the
ground, than are the Younger Brothers, who live above ground.
Rather a delicately right idea, isn’t it, this inviting of the Elder
Brothers, however lowly, to this great religious ceremonial which
commemorates the gift of rain-making, as bestowed by their common
ancestress, and perpetuates the old ritual so long ago taught by the
Snake Chief of the underworld to Tiyo, the Hopi youth who bravely
set out to see where all the blessed rain water went, and came back
with the still more blessed secrets of whence and how to make it
Nine days before the public Snake
Ceremony, the priests of the Antelope and Snake fraternities enter
their respective kivas and hang over their hatchways the Natsi, a
bunch of feathers, which, on the fifth day is replaced by a bow
decorated with eagle feathers. This first day is occupied with the
making of prayer-sticks and in the preparation of ceremonial
paraphernalia. On the next four days, ceremonial snake hunts are
conducted by the Snake men. Each day in a different quarter of the
world, first north, next day west, then south, then east.
It is an impressive sight, this line of Snake priests, bodies
painted, pouches, snake whips, and digging sticks in hand, marching
single file from their kiva, through the village and down the steep
trail that leads from the mesa to the lowlands.
When a snake is found under a bush or in his hole, the digging stick
soon brings him within reach of the fearless hand; then sprinkling a
pinch of corn meal on his snakeship and uttering a charm and prayer,
the priest siezes the snake easily a few inches back of the head and
deposits him in the pouch. Should the snake coil to strike, the
snake whip (two eagle feathers secured to a short stick) is gently
used to induce him to straighten out.
At sunset they return in the same grim formation, bearing the snake
pouches to the kiva, where four jars (not at all different from
their water jars) stand ready to receive the snakes and hold them
till the final or ninth day of the ceremony.
On the next three mornings, just before dawn, in the Antelope Kiva,
is held the symbolic marriage of Tiyo and the Snake Maiden, followed
by the singing of sixteen traditional songs.
Just before sunset of the eighth day, the Antelope and Snake priests
give a public pageant in the plaza, known as the Antelope or Corn
Dance. It is a replica of the Snake Dance, but shorter and simpler,
and here corn is carried instead of snakes.
On the morning of the ninth and last day occurs the Sunrise Corn
Race, when the young men of the village race from a distant spring
to the mesa top. The whole village turns out to watch from the rim
of the mesa, and great merriment attends the arrival of the racers,
the winner receiving some ceremonial object, which, placed in his
corn field, should work as a charm and insure a bumper crop.
In 1912, Dr. Byron Cummings witnessed a more interesting sunrise
race than the writer has ever seen or heard described by any other
An aged priest stood on the edge of the mesa, before the assembled
crowd of natives and visitors, and gave a long reverberating call,
apparently the signal for which the racers were waiting, for away
across the plain below and to the right was heard an answering call,
and from the left and far away, another answer. Eagerly the crowd
watched to catch the first glimpse of the approaching racers, for
there was no one in sight for some time, from the direction of
either of the answering calls.
Finally mere specks in the distance to the right resolved themselves
into a line of six men running toward the mesa. As they came within
hailing distance they were greeted by the acclamations of the
These runners were Snake priests, all elderly men, and as each in
turn reached the position of the aged priest at the mesa edge, he
received from that dignitary a sprinkling of sacred meal and a
formal benediction, then passed on to the Snake Kiva.
Before the last of these had appeared, began the arrival of the
young athletes from across the plain to the left. Swiftly them came,
and gracefully, their lithe brown bodies glistening in the early
sunlight, across the level lowland, then up the steep trail, to be
met at the mesa edge by a picturesque individual carrying a cow bell
and wearing a beautiful garland of fresh yellow squash blossoms over
his smooth flowing, black hair, and a girdle of the same lovely
flowers round his waist, with a perfect blossom over each ear
completing his unique decoration.
As the athletes, one at a time, joined him they fell into a
procession and, led by the flower bedecked individual, they moved
gracefully in a circle to the rhythmic time of a festive chant and
the accompaniment of the cow bell. When the last racer had arrived,
they were led in a sort of serpentine parade toward the plaza.
But before they reached that point they encountered a waiting group
of laughing women and girls in bright-colored shawls, whose
rollicking role seemed to be that of snatching away from the young
men the stalks of green corn, squash, and gourds they had brought up
from the fields below. The scene ended in a merry skirmish as the
Later, Dr. Cummings unobtrusively followed the tracks of the priests
back along their sunrise trail and out across the desert for more
than two miles, to find there a simple altar and nine fresh
About noon occurs the snake washing in the kiva. This is not for the
public gaze. If one knows no better than to try to pry into kiva
ceremonies, he is courteously but firmly told to move along.
A few white men have been permitted to see this ceremony, among
them, Dr. Fewkes; an extract from his description of a snake washing
at Walpi follows:
[Footnote 30: Fewkes, J.W.,
“The Snake priests, who stood by the
snake jars which were in the east corner of the room, began to
take out the reptiles and stood holding several of them in their
hands behind Supela (the Snake Priest), so that my attention was
distracted by them. Supela then prayed, and after a short
interval, two rattlesnakes were handed him, after which venomous
snakes were passed to the others, and each of the six priests
who sat around the bowl held two rattlesnakes by the necks with
their heads elevated above the bowl. A low noise from the
rattles of the priests, which shortly after was accompanied by a
melodious hum by all present, then began. The priests who held
the snakes beat time up and down above the liquid with the
reptiles, which, although not vicious, wound their bodies around
the arms of the holders.
“The song went on and frequently changed, growing louder, and
wilder, until it burst forth into a fierce, blood-curdling yell,
or war cry. At this moment the heads of the snakes were thrust
several times into the liquid, so that even parts of their
bodies were submerged, and were then drawn out, not having left
the hands of the priests, and forcibly thrown across the room
upon the sand mosaic, knocking down the crooks and other objects
placed about it. As they fell on the sand picture, three Snake
priests stood in readiness, and while the reptiles squirmed
about or coiled for defense, these men with their snake whips
brushed them back and forth in the sand of the altar.
The excitement which accompanied
this ceremony cannot be adequately described. The low song,
breaking into piercing shrieks, the red-stained singers, the
snakes thrown by the chiefs and the fierce attitudes of the
reptiles as they lashed on, the sand mosaic, made it next to
impossible to sit calmly down and quietly note the events which
followed one another in quick succession. The sight haunted me
for weeks afterward, and I can never forget this wildest of all
the aboriginal rites of this strange people, which showed no
element of our present civilization. It was a performance which
might have been expected in the heart of Africa rather than in
the American Union, and certainly one could not realize that he
was in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century.
The low, weird song continued while
other rattlesnakes were taken in the hands of the priests, and
as the song rose again to the wild war cry, these snakes were
also plunged into the liquid and thrown upon the writhing mass
which now occupied the place of the altar. Again and again this
was repeated until all the snakes had been treated in the same
way, and reptiles, fetishes, crooks, and sand were mixed
together in one confused mass. As the excitement subsided and
the snakes crawled to the corners of the kiva, seeking vainly
for protection, they were pushed back in the mass, and brushed
together in the sand in order that their bodies might be
Every snake in the collection was
thus washed, the harmless varieties being bathed after the
venomous. In the destruction of the altar by the reptiles, the
snake ti-po-ni (insignia) stood upright until all had been
washed, and then one of the priests turned it on its side, as a
sign that the observance had ended. The low, weird song of the
snake men continued, and gradually died away until there was no
sound but the warning rattle of the snakes, mingled with that of
the rattles in the hands of the chiefs, and finally the motion
of the snake whips ceased, and all was silent.”
Several hours later these snakes are
used in the public Snake Dance, and until that time they are herded
on the floor of the kiva by a delegated pair of snake priests
assisted by several boys of the Snake Clan, novices, whose fearless
handling of the snakes is remarkable.
Already (on the eighth day) in the plaza has been erected the Kisa,
a tall conical tepee arrangement of green cottonwood boughs, just
large enough to conceal the man who during the dance will hand out
the snakes to the dancers. Close in front of the Kisa is a small
hole made in the ground, covered by a board. This hole symbolizes
the sipapu or entrance to the underworld.
Priest with Tiponi.—Courtesy Arizona State Museum
At last comes the event for which the
thronged village has been waiting for hours, and for which some of
the white visitors have crossed the continent. Just before sundown
the Antelope priests file out of their kiva in ceremonial
array—colorfully embroidered white kilts and sashes, bodies painted
a bluish color with white markings in zigzag lines suggestive of
both snakes and lightning, chins painted black with white lines
through the mouth from ear to ear, white breath feathers tied in the
top of their hair, and arm and ankle ornaments of beads, shells,
silver, and turquoise.
Led by their chief, bearing the insignia
of the Antelope fraternity and the whizzer, followed by the asperger,
with his medicine bowl and aspergill and wearing a chaplet of green
cottonwood leaves on his long, glossy, black hair, they circle the
plaza four times, each time stamping heavily on the sipapu board
with the right foot, as a signal to the spirits of the underworld
that they are about to begin the ceremony. Now they line up in front
of the Kisa, their backs toward it, and await the coming of the
Snake priests, for these Antelope priests, with song and rattle, are
to furnish the music for the Snake Dance.
There is an expectant hush and then come the Snake priests, up from
their kiva in grim procession, marching rapidly and with warlike
determination. You would know them to be the Snake priests rather
than the Antelope fraternity by the vibration of their mighty tread
alone, even if you did not see them. Their bodies are fully painted,
a reddish brown decorated with zigzag lightning symbols and other
markings in white. The short kilt is the same red-brown color, as
are their mocassins, the former strikingly designed with the snake
zigzag and bordered above and below this with conventionalized
Soft breath feathers, stained red, are worn in a tuft on the top of
the head, and handsome tail feathers of the hawk or eagle extend
down and back over the flowing hair. A beautiful fox skin hangs from
the waist in the back. Their faces are painted black across the
whole mid section and the chins are covered with white kaolin—a
really startling effect. Necks, arms, and ankles are loaded with
native jewelry and charms, sometimes including strings of animal
teeth, claws, hoofs, and even small turtle shells for leg ornaments,
from all of which comes a great rattling as the priests enter the
plaza with their energetic strides.
Always a hushed gasp of admiration greets their entrance,--an
admiration mixed with a shudder of awe. Again the standard bearer,
with his whizzer or thunder-maker, leads, followed by the asperger,
and we hear the sound of thunder, as the whizzer (sometimes called
the bull-roarer) is whirled rapidly over the priest’s head. The
chapleted asperger sprinkles his charm liquid in the four
directions, first north, then west, south, and east.
They circle the plaza four times, each stamping mightily upon the
cover of the sipapu as they pass the Kisa. Surely, the spirits of
the underworld are thus made aware of the presence of the Snake
Brotherhood engaged in the traditional ritual. Incidentally, this
Snake Dance is carried on in the underworld on a known date in
December, and at that time the Hopi Snake men set up their altar and
let the spirits know that they are aware of their ceremony and in
sympathy with them.
Priests in Front of Kisa.—Courtesy Arizona State Museum
Now the procession lines up facing the
Antelope priests in front of the Kisa, and the rattles of both lines
of priests begin a low whirr not unlike the rattle of snakes. All is
perfectly rhythmic and the Snake priests, with locked fingers, sway
back and forth to the music, bodies as well as feet keeping time,
while the Antelopes mark time with a rhythmic shuffle. At last they
break into a low chant, which increases in volume, and rising and
falling goes on interminably.
At last there is a pause and the Snake priests form into groups of
three, a carrier, an attendant, and a gatherer.
Each group waits its turn before the Kisa. The carrier kneels and
receives a snake from the passer, who (with the snake bag) sits
concealed within the Kisa. As he rises, the carrier places his snake
between his lips or teeth, usually holding it well toward the neck,
but often enough near the middle, so that its head may sometimes
move across the man’s face or eyes and hair, a really harrowing
sight. The attendant, sometimes called the hugger, places his left
arm across the shoulder of the first dancer and walks beside and a
step behind him, using his feather wand or snake whip to distract
the attention of the snake. Just behind this pair walks their
gatherer, who is alertly ready to pick up the dropped snake, when it
has been carried four times around the dance circle; sometimes it is
The dance step of this first pair is a rhythmic energetic movement,
almost a stamping, with the carrier dancing with closed eyes. The
gatherer merely walks behind, and is an alertly busy man. The writer
has seen as many as five snakes on the ground at once, some of them
coiling and rattling, others darting into the surrounding crowd with
lightning rapidity, but never has she seen one escape the gatherer,
and just once has she seen a snake come near to making its escape.
This was during the ceremony at
Hotavilla last summer (1932); the spectators had crowded rather
close to the circle, and several front rows sat on the ground, in
order that the dozens of rows back of them might see over their
heads. As for the writer, she sat on a neighboring housetop, well
out of the way of rattlers, red racers, rabbit snakes, and even the
harmless but fearsome-looking bull snake from 3 to 5 feet long.
Often the snake starts swiftly for the
side lines, but always without seeming haste the gatherer gets it
just as the startled spectators begin a hasty retreat. If the snakes
coils, meal is sprinkled on it and the feather wand induces it to
straighten, when it is picked up. But this time the big snake really
got into the crowd, second or third row, through space hurriedly
opened for him by the frightened and more or less squealing white
visitors. The priest was unable to follow it quickly without
stepping on people, who had repeatedly been warned not to sit too
Priests with Snake.—Photo by Bortell
Very quietly and without rising, a man
in the third row picked up the snake and handed it to the gatherer.
The writer shuddered but did not realize that the impromptu gatherer
was her son, so bronzed by a summer’s archaeology field trip that
she did not recognize him.
Afterward he merely said,
“It was a harmless bull snake, and
the priest couldn’t reach it; it’s a shame for visitors to crowd
up and get in the way unless they are prepared to sit perfectly
still, whatever happens.”
Really one feels ashamed of the
squealing and frightened laughter of careless white visitors who
stand or sit nearer than they should and then make an unseemly
disturbance when a snake gets too close. The priests resent such
conduct, but always go right on without paying any attention to it.
The rattles and singing voices of the Antelope priests furnish a
dignified, rhythmic accompaniment throughout the dance, and the
Snake men move in perfect time to it.
When all the snakes have been carried and the last one has been
dropped from the mouth of the carrier, the chant ceases. A priest
draws a great round cloud symbol on the ground. Quickly the Hopi
maids and women, (a small selected group), who stand ready with
baskets of meal, sprinkle the ground within the circle. At a signal
all the snakes, now in the hands of the gatherers and the Antelope
priests, are thrown upon this emblem.
The women hastily drop sacred meal on the mass of snakes, then a
second signal and the Snake priests grab up the whole writhing mass
in their hands and run in the four directions off the steep mesa, to
deposit their Elder Brothers again in the lowlands with the symbolic
sacred meal on their backs, that they may bear away to the
underground the prayers of their Younger Brothers, the Snake Clan.
The Antelope priests now circle the plaza four times, stamping on
the sipapu in passing, and then return to their own kiva, and the
dance is over.
The Snake priests presently return to
the village, still running, disrobe in their kiva and promptly go to
the nearest edge of the mesa, where the women of their clan wait
with huge bowls of emetic (promptly effective) and tubs of water for
bathing. This is the purification ceremony which ends the ritual.
Immediately the women of their families bring great bowls and trays
of food and place them on top of the Snake Kiva, and the men, who
have fasted all day and sometimes longer, enjoy a feast.
A spirit of relief and happiness now pervades the village and
everybody keeps open house.
Far more often than otherwise, rain, either a sprinkle or a
downpour, has come during or just at the close of the dance, and the
people are thankful and hopeful, for this is often the first rain of
the season. The writer has herself stood soaked to the skin by a
thunder shower that had been slowly gathering through the sultry
afternoon and broke with dramatic effect during the ceremony. The
Snake priests were noticeably affected by the incident and danced
with actual fanatic frenzy.
Those who habitually attend this ceremony from Flagstaff and Winslow
and other points within motoring distance (if there is any motoring
distance these days) have long ago learned that they would better
start for home immediately following the dance, not waiting for
morning, else the dry washes may be running bank high by that time
and prevent their getting away.
The writer has counted more than a hundred marooned cars lined up at
Old Oraibi or Moencopi Wash, waiting, perhaps another twenty-four
hours, for the ordinarily dry wash to become fordable. One will at
least be impressed with the idea that the Snake Dance (a movable
date set by the priests from the observation of shadows on their
sacred rocks) comes just at the breaking of the summer drouth.
The writer has seen in the Snake Dance as many as nine groups of
three, all circling the plaza at once. But in recent years the
number is smaller, in some villages not more than four, for the old
priests are dying off and not every young man who inherits the
priesthood upon the death of his maternal uncle (priest) is willing
to go on, though there are some novices almost every year.
This year (1932) the eleven year old
brother of a Hopi girl in the writer’s employ went into his first
snake dance, as a gatherer, and his sister (a school girl since six)
was as solicitous as the writer whenever it was a rattler that Henry
had to gather up. But we both felt that we must keep perfectly
still, so our expressions of anxiety were confined to very low
whispers. Henry was not bitten and if he had been he would not have
died. It is claimed and generally believed that no priest has ever
died from snake bite, and indeed they are seldom bitten. During the
past twenty years the writer has twice seen a priest bitten by a
rattler, once a very old priest and once a boy of fourteen. No
attention was paid, and apparently nothing came of it.
Dr. Fewkes, Dr. Hough, and other authorities, in works already
referred to, assert that the fangs of the snakes are not removed,
nor are the snakes doped, nor “treated” in any way that could
possibly render their poison harmless. Nor is it believed that the
Hopi have any antidote for snake bite in their emetic or otherwise.
Does their belief make them fearless and likewise immune? Or are
they wise in their handling of the snakes, so that danger is reduced
to the vanishing point? No one knows.
The writer has made no attempt to go into the very numerous minute
details of this ceremony, such as the mixing of the liquid for snake
washing, the making of the elaborate sand painting for the Snake
altar, or descriptions of various kinds of prayer-sticks and their
specific uses. Authorities differ greatly on these points and each
village uses somewhat different paraphernalia and methods of
procedure. These details occupy hours and even days and are
accompanied by much prayer and ceremonial smoking, and the sincerity
and solemnity of it all are most impressive to any fair-minded
The Hopi year is full of major and minor ceremonies, many of them as
deeply religious as those already described at some length; others
of a secular or social order, but even these are tinged with the
religious idea and invariably based on tradition.
If many elements of traditional significance have been forgotten, as
they undoubtedly have in some instances, nevertheless the thing is
kept going according to traditional procedure, and the majority of
the participants believe it best to keep up these time-honored
rituals. Their migration tales, partly mythical, partly historical,
relate many unhappy instances of famine, pestilence, and civil
strife, which have been brought upon various clans because of their
having neglected their old dances and ceremonies, and of relief and
restored prosperity having followed their resumption.
Once, bad behavior brought on a flood.
Here is the story, and it will explain at least partially, the
ceremonial use of turkey feathers.
A Flood and Turkey Feathers
Turkey feathers are much prized for ceremonial uses today. If you
want to carry a little present to a Hopi friend, particularly an old
man, or an old woman, save up a collection of especially nice
looking turkey feathers. They will be put to ceremonial uses and
bring blessings to their owners.
Here is at least one of the legends back of the idea, as collected
by Stephen and reported by Mindeleff.
The chief of the water people speaks:
“In the long ago, the Snake, Horn,
and Eagle people lived here (in Tusayan), but their corn grew
only a span high, and when they sang for rain the cloud sent
only a thin mist. My people then lived in the distant
Palatkiwabi in the South. There was a very bad old man there,
who, when he met anyone, would spit in his face, blow his nose
upon him, and rub ordure upon him. He ravished the girls and did
all manner of evil. (Note: Other variants of the legend say the
young men were mischievously unkind and cruel to the old men,
rather than that an old man was bad. H.G.L.) Baholikonga (big
water serpent deity) got angry at this and turned the world
upside down, and water spouted up through the kivas and through
the fireplaces in the houses.
The earth was rent in great chasms,
and water covered everything except one narrow ridge of mud; and
across this the serpent deity told all the people to travel. As
they journeyed across, the feet of the bad slipped and they fell
into the dark water, but the good, after many days, reached dry
land. While the water, rising around the village, came higher,
the old people got on the tops of the houses, for they thought
they could not struggle across with the younger people.
But Baholikonga clothed them with
the skins of turkeys, and they spread out their wings and
floated in the air just above the surface of the water, and in
this way they got across. There were saved of our people, Water,
Corn, Lizard, Horned Toad, Sand, two families of Rabbit, and
Tobacco. The turkeys’ tails dragged in the water—hence the white
on the turkey tail now. Wearing these turkey skins is the reason
why old people have dewlaps under the chin like a turkey; it is
also the reason why old people use turkey feathers at the
[Footnote 31: Mindeleff, Victor, Op.
cit. (Myths by Cosmos Mindeleff after Stephen), p. 31.]
Hough says that in accord with the belief that the markings on
the tail feathers were caused by the foam and slime of an ancient
deluge, the feathers are prescribed for all pahos, since through
their mythical association with water they have great power in
[Footnote 32: Hough, Walter,
Op. cit, p. 172.]
Back to Contents
FOR BIRTH, MARRIAGE, BURIAL
The story of the Hopi, who does every important thing in his life
according to a traditional pattern and accompanied by appropriate
religious ceremony, would not be complete without some account of
birth, marriage, and burial. Not having seen these ceremonies, the
writer offers the record of authoritative observers.
Babies are welcomed and well cared for in Hopiland, and now that the
young mothers are learning to discard unripe corn, fruit, and melons
as baby food, the infant mortality, once very high, is decreasing.
Natal ceremonies are considered important. Goddard gives us a
brief picture of the usual proceedings:
“The Hopi baby is first washed and
dressed by its paternal grandmother or by one of her sisters. On
the day of its birth she makes four marks with corn meal on the
four walls of the room. She erases one of these on the fifth,
tenth, fifteenth, and twentieth day of the child’s life. On each
of these days the baby and its mother have their heads washed
with yucca suds. On the twentieth day, which marks the end of
the lying-in period, the grandmother comes early, bathes the
baby and puts some corn meal to its lips.
She utters a prayer in which she
requests that the child shall reach old age and in this prayer
gives it a name. A few of the women members of the father’s clan
come in one at a time, bathe the baby and give it additional
names. After the names have been given, the paternal grandmother
goes with the mother and the child to the eastern edge of the
mesa, starting so as to arrive about sunrise. Two ears of white
corn which have been lying near the child during the twenty
days, are carried with them.
The grandmother touches these ears
of corn to the baby’s breast and waves them to the east. She
also strews corn meal toward the sun, placing a little on the
child’s mouth. As she does this, she prays, uttering in the
course of her prayer the various names which have been given to
the child. The mother goes through a similar ceremony and utters
a similar prayer.
“The names given relate in some way to the clan of the one who
bestows them. Of the various names given to the child, one,
because it strikes the fancy of the family, generally sticks ...
until the individual is initiated into some ceremony. At that
time a new name is given.”
[Footnote 33: Goddard, P.E., Indians
of the Southwest: N.Y. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., Handbook Series No. 2,
For instance, a Hopi man of middle age,
known to the writer as George (school name), tells her that his
adopted father belonged to the Tobacco Clan, so the name selected
for him by the paternal aunts was “Sackongsie” or “green tobacco
plant with the blossoms on.” Bessie, born in the same family, was
named “Sackhongeva” or “green tobacco plant standing straight.”
The nine month’s baby daughter of a Hopi
girl once in the employ of the writer is merrily called “Topsy,”
although formally named Christine in honor of the school
superintendent’s wife. Her mother explains that the father’s clan is
Tobacco, and the aunts named this baby “Topt-si,” “the red blossom
on top of the tobacco plant,” which sounds so exactly like Topsy
that the family sense of humor has permitted the nickname. One of
the writer’s Hopi girls was named “two straight, tall rows of corn,”
another, “Falling Snow.”
These pretty names, too long for
convenience, are nevertheless cherished, as a matter of sentiment,
by their owners.
The following is Hough’s description of the wedding ceremony at
“When the young people decide to be
married, the girl informs her mother, who takes her daughter,
bearing a tray of meal made from white corn, to the house of the
bridegroom where she is received by his mother with thanks.
During the day the girl must labor at the mealing stones,
grinding the white meal, silent and unnoticed; the next day she
must continue her task.... On the third day of this laborious
trial she grinds the dark blue corn which the Hopi call black,
no doubt, glad when the evening brings a group of friends, laden
with trays of meal of their own grinding as presents, and
according to the custom, these presents are returned in kind,
the trays being sent back next day heavy with choice ears of
“After this three days’ probation ... comes the wedding. Upon
that day the mother cuts the bride’s front hair at the level of
her chin and dresses the longer locks in two coils, which she
must always wear in token that she is no longer a maiden. At the
dawn of the fourth day, the relatives of both families assemble,
each one bringing a small quantity of water in a vessel. The two
mothers pound up roots of the yucca, used as soap, and prepare
two bowls of foaming suds. The young man kneels before the bowl
prepared by his future mother-in-law, and the bride before the
bowl of the young man’s mother, and their heads are thoroughly
washed and the relatives take part by pouring handsful of suds
over the bowed heads of the couple. While this ceremonial ...
goes on ... a great deal of jollity ensues.
When the head-washing is over, the
visitors rinse the hair of the couple with the water they have
brought, and return home. Then the bridal couple take each a
pinch of corn meal and leaving the house go silently to the
eastern side of the mesa on which the pueblo of Oraibi stands.
Holding the meal to their lips, they cast the meal toward the
dawn, breathing a prayer for a long and prosperous life, and
return to the house, husband and wife.
“The ceremony over, the mother of the bride (Note: All other
authorities say groom, H.G.L.) builds a fire under the baking
stone, while the daughter prepares the batter and begins to bake
a large quantity of paper bread.... The wedding breakfast
follows closely on the heels of the wedding ceremony and the
father of the young man must run through the pueblo with a bag
of cotton, handsful of which he gives to the relatives and
friends, who pick out the seeds and return the cotton to him.
This cotton is for the wedding blankets and sash which are to be
the trousseau of the bride....
“A few days later the crier
announces the time for the spinning of the cotton for the
bride’s blanket. This takes place in the kivas, where usually
all the weaving is done by the men, and with jollity and many a
story the task is soon finished. The spun cotton is handed over
to the bridegroom as a contribution from the village, to be paid
for like everything else Hopi, by a sumptuous feast, which has
been prepared by the women for the spinners. Perhaps ten
sage-brush-fed sheep and goats, tough beyond reason, are being
softened in a stew, consisting mainly of corn; stacks of paper
bread have been baked, various other dishes have been concocted,
and all is ready when the crier calls in the hungry
“With the spun cotton, serious work
begins for the bridegroom and his male relatives, lasting
several weeks. A large white blanket ... and a smaller one must
be woven and a reed mat in which the blankets are to be rolled.
A white sash with long fringe and a pair of mocassins, each
having half a deerskin for leggings, like those worn by the
women of the Rio Grande pueblos, complete the costume. The
blankets must have elaborate tassels at the four corners. (Note:
Representing rain falling from the white cloud blanket. H.G.L.)
“Shortly before sunrise, the bride, arrayed in her finery,
performs the last act in the drama, called ‘going home.’ Up to
this time the bride has remained in the house of her husband’s
people. Wearing the large white blanket, picturesquely disposed
over her head, and carrying the small blanket wrapped in the
reed mat in her hands, she walks to her mother’s house ... and
the long ceremony is over ... for in this land of women’s rights
the husband must live with his wife’s relatives.”
[Footnote 34: Hough, Walter, Op. cit,
The bride may not appear at a public ceremonial dance until the
following July, at the Kachina Farewell ceremony, when all the
brides of the year turn out in their lovely wedding blankets and
white leggings, the only time this blanket is ever worn after the
wedding (during life), save one the naming ceremony of her first
It becomes her winding sheet when at
death she wears it in her grave, then after four days, she takes it
from her shoulders and uses it as a magic carpet when, having
reached the edge of the Grand Canyon, she steps out upon her
ceremonial blanket, and like a white cloud it descends with her to
Maski, the underworld paradise of the Hopi.
Are the Hopi married in this way today? Most certainly. Figure 12
shows a Hopi girl who worked for the writer for three summers. She
is a fine, intelligent girl, having gone more than halfway through
high school before she returned to her home on Second Mesa to live.
This is her wedding picture taken last year at the moment of her
“going home,” after just such a wedding ceremonial as described
Figure 12.—A Hopi
Bride.—Photo by Colton
A letter from friends of the writer
states that her baby is just now going through his natal ceremonies
in the good old Hopi way. If the Snake Dance is continued till he
grows up—it makes one shudder to think of it—he is in line to be a
Here we have the account of Goddard:
“When an adult dies, the nearest
relatives by blood wash the head, tie a feather offering to the
hair so that it will hang over the forehead, wrap the body in a
good robe and carry it to one of the graveyards which are in the
valleys near the mesas. The body is buried in a sitting position
so that it faces east. This is done within a few hours after
death has occurred.
The third night, a bowl containing
some food, a prayer-stick offering, and a feather and string,
are carried to the grave. The string is placed so that it points
from the grave to the west. The next morning, the fourth, the
soul is supposed to rise from the grave and proceed in the
direction indicated by the string, where it enters the ‘skeleton
house.’ This is believed to be situated somewhere near the
Canyon of the Colorado.”
[Footnote 35: Goddard, P.E., Op.
Any bodies of young children who have not yet been initiated into
any fraternity are not buried in the ground, but in a crevice of
rock somewhere near the mother’s home and covered with stones. A
string is left hanging out, pointing to the home of the family. The
spirit of the child is believed to return and to be re-born in the
next child born in the family, or to linger about till the mother
dies and then to go with her to the underworld.
If the adult spirit has led a good life, it goes to the abode where
the ancestral spirits feast and hold ceremonies as on earth, but if
evil it must be tried by fire and, if too bad for purification, it
Back to Contents
Fewkes, Stephen, Mindeleff, Voth, and others have collected the more
important tales of migrations and the major myths underlying both
religion and social organization among the Hopi. One gets
substantially the same versions today from the oldest story-tellers.
These are the stories that never grow old; in the kiva and at the
fireside they live on, for these are the vital things on which Hopi
life is built.
However, there is a lighter side, of which we have heard less, to
this unwritten literature of the Hopi people. These are the stories
for entertainment, so dear to the hearts of young and old alike.
Even these stories are old, some of them handed down for
generations. And they range from the historical tale, the love
story, and the tale of adventure to the bugaboo story and the fable.
Space permits only a few stories here.
No writing of these can equal the art of the Hopi story-teller, for
the story is told with animation and with the zest that may inspire
the narrator who looks into the faces of eager listeners.
The Hopi story-teller more or less dramatizes his story, often
breaking into song or a few dance steps or mimicking his characters
in voice and facial expression. Sometimes the writer has been so
intrigued with the performance she could scarcely wait for her
interpreter (See Figure 13) to let her into the secret. Often the
neighbors gathered round to hear the story, young and old alike, and
they are good listeners. All of these stories save one, that of Don,
of Oraibi, were told in the Hopi language, but having a Hopi friend
as an interpreter has preserved, we think, the native flavor of the
The first story, as told by Sackongsie, of Bacabi, is a legend
concerning the adventure of the son of the chief of Huckovi, a
prehistoric Hopi village whose ruins are pointed out on Third Mesa.
The writer has since heard other variants of this story.
An Ancient Feud, as told by Sackongsie
“This is a story of the people that
used to live on Wind Mountain. There is only a ruin there now,
but there used to be a big village called Huckovi; that means
wind on top of the mountain. These people finally left this
country and went far away west. We have heard that they went to
California, and the Mission Indians themselves claim they are
from this place.
Author's Interpreter at Walpi and Daughter, "Topsy."
“These people used to have ladder
dances; that is an old kind of a dance that nobody has now. But
we are told that a long time ago these people brought trees from
far away and set them up in round holes made on purpose in the
rock along the very edge of the mesa.
“Then the Mud heads (masked Kachinas) furnish the music and
young men dressed as leopards and mountain lion Kachinas climb
into the tree tops and swing out over the canyon rim to time of
the music. You can see the round holes in the rock there now.
“Well—it has always been this way among Hopi—when there is a
dance, everybody goes to see.
“Now there was a dance at Mishongnovi and the boys from Huckovi
went over to see it.
“Now the war chief at Huckovi was a great man that everybody
looked up to, and he had only one son. This young man was so
religious that he never went to this kind of just funny dances,
but this time he went along with some friends. Long time ago the
chief never goes to these dances, nor his son who will follow
“When they got to Mishongnovi the dance was going on and
everybody laughing and having a good time, for the clown
kachinas were going round pestering the dancing kachinas. These
rough clown kachinas took turns appearing and disappearing, and
some coming, others going away, then coming back.
“About the middle of the afternoon, came two Kachina racers to
run with the clowns, and soon they began to call out some of the
young men from the audience, known to be the best runners. After
a while the son of Huckovi chief was chosen to run, but he was
very bashful and refused to perform. But the Kachina who had
chosen him as a competitor insisted and finally brought a gift
of baked sweet corn and the young man was embarrassed and
thought he had to run or be made fun of, so he came over and ran
with this Kachina and beat him. They ran a long race, and the
Kachina never could catch up with him, but when the boy stopped,
the Kachina ran up and took hold of him and cut off his hair.
The name of this Kachina was Hair Eater, and he was supposed to
cut off the hair if he beat the boy, but he never did beat him.
“The Hopi, in those days, took great pride in their hair and
would not cut it off for anything in the world.
“The people who saw what had happened were so sorry that the
honorable son of the chief had been disgraced, that, to show
their disapproval, they all left while the dance was still going
“When the boy got home his father was grieved to see his son
coming home scalped, as he said. The father didn’t know what to
“Now the chief had a daughter twelve years old. He told her to
practice running till she can beat her brother.
Both the boy and the girl practiced a long time and at last the
girl can run faster and farther than her brother.
“Then the father said, ‘I think it is good enough.’
“Soon the chief, he was the war chief, went to visit his friend,
the war chief at Mishongnovi, and asked him to arrange a dance
without letting the village chief know, because he said he
wanted to give some kind of exhibition there.
“So his friend arranged the dance and four nights of practice
followed. This dance was to be given by the Snow Kachinas. So
that night the dance is going to be, the father and mother of
the children baked up much sweet corn for them to take to this
dance at Mishongnovi.
“Now the chief had discovered that it was the son of the
Mishongnovi village chief (not the war chief there) that had
scalped his son.
“Being fast runners, the children went a round-about way and
were still in time for the three o’clock dance. So they
approached the village from another direction so no one would
know where they had come from, and they put on their costumes
and the girl dressed exactly like the son of the Mishongnovi
village chief in his Hair Eater Kachina costume so no one can
tell who she is.
“Now when the father started his children off, he gave them two
prayer-sticks for protection, and he said when they were pursued
they must conceal these and never let anyone touch them and they
will be protected.
“Well, when they got there the clowns were dancing with the
Kachinas. So the daughter of the Huckovi chief goes to a house
top where she can see the pretty daughter of the Mishongnovi
chief sitting with a bunch of girls, all in their bright shawls
and with their hair in whorls.
“When these girls see a Hair Eater Kachina coming up on the
house top they run from her, remembering the old trouble when
that kind of a kachina had done such an awful thing. The girls
all ran into a room and on down into a lower room, and the
Huckovi girl followed them and caught the chief’s daughter and
cut off a whorl of her hair and also cut her throat. Then she
went out on the house top and shook out the whorl for all the
people to see.
“Of course the dance stopped and everybody started to come after
her, but she and her brother ran from house top to lower house
top and jumped to the ground and ran on west by Toreva and
toward home, with all the men of Mishongnovi chasing them and
shooting with bows and arrows. At last some were coming after
them on horses. Then her brother asked her if she was too tired
to run farther, fearing they would be caught. She replied, ‘No
more tired than at first!’
“By now they had come to the Oraibi Wash, and looking back they
could see some men coming on horses.
“They remembered their two prayer-sticks, so they took them out
of where they had hidden them in their clothes and they planted
them at the two sides of the wash.
“And immediately a great whirl wind started up from that place
and grew into a great sand storm that blotted out their tracks
and made such a thick cloud that their enemies could no longer
see them. Then they turned straight home.
“So the children came home with the whorl and scalp attached,
and the father was satisfied.
“But the Mishongnovi chief was terribly angry and told his
people to make much bows and arrows.
“Then a friend of the Huckovi chief went over from Mishongnovi
and told all this to the war chief of Huckovi, who told his
people to do likewise, for now there will be war.
“So after preparations had gone on for a long time, the
Mishongnovi chief went to the Huckovi chief and said, ‘We have
to divide the land between us, and Oraibi Wash shall be the
line.’ (Meaning the mark past which an enemy was not to be
pursued, and each would be safe on his own side of the line.)
“Oraibi Wash was already the line for the same purpose between
Mishongnovi and Oraibi Village because of an older trouble.
“Well, when the enemies came from Mishongnovi to fight them, the
Huckovi people had gathered many rocks and rolled them down from
the mesa top, and killed so many that the Mishongnovi men
started for home. But the Huckovi men came down then and
followed them, and fought them every foot of the way back to
Oraibi Wash, where they had to let them go free, and they went
on running all the way home, and the Huckovi people then
returned to their homes satisfied.”
The next two stories are by Dawavantsie, whose name means “sand
dune.” She is a member of the Water Clan, and is the oldest woman
now living in Walpi. She is much loved by the whole village, who
claim that she is over a hundred years old. How old she really is,
it would be impossible to know, for such things were not kept track
of so long ago. She speaks no English. When asked about her age she
merely shrugs her small shrunken shoulders, draws her shawl around
them, and with a pleasant toothless smile, says:
“O, I never know that, but I
remember a long, long time.”
She loves to tell stories, and enjoys
quite a reputation as a story-teller among her relatives and
neighbors, who like to gather round and listen as she sits on the
floor of her second story home, her back against the wall, bare feet
curled up and quiet hands folded in her lap. Her face, while deeply
wrinkled, is fine and expressive of much character as well as
sweetness of disposition. Figure 14 shows her posing for her picture
just outside her door, on the roof of the next lower room. Her skin
and hair and dress are all clean and neat; her little back is
astonishingly straight, and her bare brown feet, so long used to the
ladders of Hopiland, are surer than mine, if slower.
She has lived all her life, as did her mother and grandmother before
her, in this second story room, on whose clean clay floor we sat for
the visiting and story-telling. From its open door she looks out
over the roofs of Walpi and far across the valley in all directions,
for hers is the highest house, and near the end of the mesa. The
ancestral home with its additions is now housing four generations.
She has always been a woman of prominence because of her
intelligence and has the marks of good breeding—one of nature’s
The writer’s friends, Dr. and Mrs.
Fewkes, had told of her several years ago, for it was in her house
that they had lived for some time in the early nineties while
carrying on research work for the Bureau of American Ethnology. The
writer did not realize that this was the house and the woman of whom
she had heard till half-way through the first story, when some
mention of Dr. Fewkes, by her son-in-law (a man past middle age)
brought out the fact. When informed of the death of both Dr. and
Mrs. Fewkes, her controlled grief was touching.
In speaking of our mutual friend, the
writer used the Hopi name given him by the Snake fraternity of the
old woman’s village so many years ago—Nahquavi (medicine bowl), a
name always mentioned with both pride and amusement by Dr. Fewkes.
And I found that in this family, none of whom speak English, exactly
these same emotions expressed themselves in the faces of all the
older members of the family, who remembered with a good deal of
affection, it seemed, these friends of nearly forty years ago.
Over and over, they repeated the name; it stirred memories; they
laughed eagerly, and nodded their heads, and began to talk to me in
Hopi, completely forgetting the interpreter. Then their faces
sobered and sighs and inarticulate sounds were all that broke the
silence for fully ten minutes. Then quietly the little grandmother
turned to the interpreter and asked her to say to me, “He called me
his sister.” Silence again, and after a few minutes she went on with
Memories of a Hopi Centenarian, as told by
“One of the first important things I
can remember was when some Spanish soldiers came here. I don’t
know how old I was, but I had been married for several years, I
think, for my first child had died. I was then living in this
same old house. These Spaniards came from the direction of
Keam’s Canyon, and they passed on toward Oraibi. They did not
come up onto this mesa at all, but just took corn and melons and
whatever they wanted from the fields down below.
“It was early one morning and I had gone with two other girls,
cousins of mine, down to the spring at the foot of the mesa for
water. These men came toward us, and we ran, but they caught us
and started to take us away. I fought the man who was holding me
and got loose and ran up the mesa trail faster than he could
“I rolled rocks on them when they tried to come up and so they
gave it up. I ran on up to the top of the mesa and gave the
alarm and our men went to rescue the other two girls, but the
Spaniards had horses and they got away with the girls, who have
never been heard of to this day.
“The Hopi had no horses in those days, but there were just a few
burros. So the men followed on foot, but they could never catch
them. There was a skirmish at Oraibi, too, over the stealing of
“One Walpi man in the fields was unable to keep them from taking
his two girls, so he just had to give them up and he never saw
them again. The poor father had few relations and had to go from
house to house asking for food, for he was so grieved that he
could never get along after that, but just was always worrying
about his girls, and he died in less than a year.
“After a long time other Spaniards came, and a young man who was
down below the mesa, practicing for a race before sunrise, saw
them and ran back and got enough men to go down and capture
them. They kept their prisoners fastened in a room for a while
and then the older men decided that they would not let them be
killed although some wanted to; so they took them to some houses
below the mesa—the place is still called Spanish Seat—and kept
“After a few weeks they let them go away. Some Hopi men were
bribed to get some girls to go down off the mesa that day so
these Spaniards could take them away with them.
“They asked me to go and a girl friend of mine, but we would not
go. One girl did go, for a famine was beginning and this poor
girl thought she was being taken to visit with the Zunis and
would be better off there. Nobody ever got track of her again.
“Once food was so scarce that I had to go with my mother and
sister to Second Mesa, and we stayed there with our clan
relations till food was scarce, and then we went to Oraibi and
stayed with our clan relations there until summer. We could go
back to Walpi then because corn and melons were growing again;
but we left my sister because she had married there.
“This was a two-year famine and almost everybody left Walpi and
wandered from village to village, living wherever they could get
food. There had been more rain and better crops in some of the
“Ever since then some Walpi people have scattered among other
villages, where they married, and some went as far as the Rio
Grande villages, and some perished on the way.
“Again after many years, Spaniards came, stealing corn, and this
time they went through the houses and stole whatever they
wanted. They took away ceremonial and sacred things, that was
the worst. And when they left, they went northeast, past where
Tom’s store is now.
“No, there were never any Spanish missionaries living in Walpi;
those who tell of priests living here are mistaken—too young to
know. I have heard of those at Oraibi long ago, and at Awatobi;
some were killed at those places.
“Some of the rafters of this house, not of this room but another
part, were brought from ruins of Awatobi. An uncle of my
daughter’s husband here brought some sacred things from Awatobi
and revived some of the old ceremonials that had been dropped on
account of our not having the right things to use for them.
Spaniards had already been here and taken some of those things
out of the houses, so some ceremonies could never be held any
more without those things. You see, the Awatobi people had some
such things, too, and so our people wanted to save them. I think
some of our trouble with Awatobi was to get these things.
“I remember that after the famine, when crops were good again,
we had trouble with Navajos. It was in the summer and a Hopi
hoeing his field was killed by a bunch of thieving Navajos, and
that started the trouble. This man who was killed had a crippled
nephew working with him at the time, and that boy got away and
ran back to Walpi with the word, and everybody was surprised
that he could run fast enough to get away.
“After that they made him a watchman to look out for Navajos.
“A good while after that two Hopi boys were fired upon by
prowling Navajos who were hiding in the village of Sichomovi.
For a number of years then the Navajos plundered the fields,
drove off the stock, and killed children. Then they stopped
coming here for a good while, but later they began doing all
those things again, worse than ever. So then the Hopi decided to
shoot every Navajo they saw in their fields, and this stopped
“Now the Navajos are good friends, come here often, and bring
The Coyote and the Water Plume Snake,
“Once upon a time a Coyote and a
Water Plume Snake got acquainted. One day the Coyote invited his
friend, the big snake, to come and visit him at his house. The
Snake was pleased to be invited, so he went that very night.
“The Coyote was at home waiting, and when his guest arrived, he
told him to come right in. So the Snake started in, first his
head, then his long body, and more and more of him kept coming
in, so that the Coyote had to keep crowding over against the
wall to make room. By the time the Snake was in, tail and all,
the Coyote had to go up and stay outside, for his visitor took
up all the room in his house.
“Now the Coyote could still put his head close to his door and
visit with the Snake, so that they had a very good visit. But
that night was pretty cold, and after while the Coyote was so
cold he got cross and wished the Snake would go home.
“Well, by and by, the Snake said he must go home now, so he said
goodnight and invited the Coyote to come over to his house the
“The Coyote said he would be sure to come over, then he went
into his house and sat by the fire and got warm and made plans
how he would get even with that big Water Plume Snake.
“Well, next day he went and gathered a lot of cedar bark and
some corn husks and some pine gum, and he made himself a great
long tail and put lots of wool and some of his hair on the
outside, so that it was a very big tail and long, too.
“So when evening came, he waited for it to get dark, then he
started for the kiva of the big Snake.
“When he got there his friend was waiting and had a nice fire
and received him with good welcome and told him to come right in
and get warm.
“Now the Water Plume Snake was sure surprised when the Coyote
got in and kept going round and round, pulling his long tail
after him, and being wise he saw just what was going on, and now
he knows the Coyote is making fun of him. So he just says
nothing and makes room enough for the Coyote by going outdoors
“So the Snake just put his head in and was very nice and polite
and they have a good visit. But the Snake got very cold and
still the Coyote will not go home and the Snake is nearly
“At last the Coyote says he have to go and the Snake is pretty
cold and pretty mad, too. So he says good night to the Coyote
and crawls right down into his house quick as the Coyote’s body
is out, and when he sees all that big tail rolling out he just
holds the end of it over the fireplace and gets it burning.
“But the Coyote is very pleased with himself and he don’t look
back but just goes right along. After a while he notices a fire
behind him and turns around and sees the grass is burning way
back there. So he says to himself, ‘Well I better not go into my
house for the Hopi have set fire to the grass to drive me away,
and I’ll just go on, so they won’t find me at home.’
“But soon the fire got going fast in that cedar bark and before
he can get that tail untied he is burned so bad that he just
keeps running till he gets to Bayupa (Little Colorado River).
There was a great flood going down the river and he was so weak
from running that he could not swim, so he drowned. And that is
what he got for trying to get even with somebody.”
Quentin Quahongva, who tells the next
story, lives at Shungopovi, Second Mesa. He is a good-natured,
easy-going man of middle age, and usually surrounded by a troop of
children, his own and all the neighbors’.
Story-teller of Shungopovi, and Listeners
We had no more than started our first
story when the youngsters began to appear. They squatted about on
the floor and covered the door step, and were good listeners. Their
squeals of glee brought other children scampering, as the
story-teller imitated the song and dance steps of the Eagle, in one
of his stories. But the one we have chosen to record here is a Bear
story. Figure 15 shows Quahongva surrounded by those of the children
who had not been called home to supper when the stories ended. One
small girl in the foreground is carrying her doll on her back by
means of her little shawl, exactly as her mother carries her baby
Quahongva was a good story-teller. Some of his tales were long
enough to occupy an evening. His best story took two and a half days
for the telling and recording, so can not be included here.
A Bear Story, as told by Quahongva
“Long ago at Shipaulovi there lived
a woman with her husband and two little children, two and four
years old. The husband died. For a long time the woman stayed
alone and had to do all the work herself, bring wood and make
the fire and everything.
“One day she went to a little mesa a good ways off for wood, for
there was dry wood in that place. One of the children wanted to
go with her and cried, but the mother could not take her, she
was too little. So she told her to stay at home and play and
watch for her return.
“The two little ones were playing ‘slide down’ on a smooth,
slanting rock, and from quite a distance the mother looked back
and saw them still playing there. Then she went around a little
hill to find her wood.
“She gathered a big bunch and tied it up, making a kind of rack
that she could carry on her back. Now she leaned her load up on
a big rock so she could lift it to her back, and as she turned
around just ready to take up the load, she saw a bear coming.
She was terribly frightened and just stood still, and the bear
came closer and made big noise.
(Note: A good imitation was given, and
the children listeners first laughed and then became comically
“She said, ‘Poor me, where shall I
hide! What am I going to do!’
“She was so frightened she could not think where to go; but now
she saw a crevice under the rock where she was leaning, so she
crawled in and put the rack of wood in front of her.
“From behind the wood she could still see the bear coming and
hear his great voice. Soon he reached the rock and tore the wood
away with his great paws. Then he reached in and pulled the
woman out and ripped her open with his terrible claws and tore
her heart out and ate it up.
“By this time the sun was nearly down; it was soon dark and the
poor children were still waiting for their mother just where she
had left them, but she never returned. Some one came to them and
asked, ‘What are you doing here?’
“’We are watching for our mother, who went for wood, and we are
waiting for her,’ they said.
“’But why does she not come when it is so late?’ they said. Then
they said, ‘Let’s all go home; something must have happened.’ So
they took the children home with them and sent some others to
look for the mother.
“They followed her tracks and found the place, the mother dead,
and her heart gone. So they came back home in the dark night.
“Next day, they returned to the place and followed the bear
tracks to the woods where his home was, but never found the
bear. So they went home.
“The poor little children were very lonely and not treated very
well by the neighbors, and both children died, first the
younger, and then the older; and this is a true story.”
(Note: One could well imagine from the
faces of the young listeners that something like a resolution to
stay pretty close around home was passing unanimously. H.G.L.)
Don Talayesva of Upper Oraibi was the only one of my story-tellers
who spoke without the aid of an interpreter. He is a tall,
good-looking man of less than forty, with an expressive face and a
pair of merry dark eyes that hold a prophesy of the rich sense of
humor one soon discovers in both his conversation and his stories.
This particular tale rather gives away some state secrets as to how
Hopi children are persuaded to be good, and Don chuckled and paused
to lower his voice and see that his own small son was out of
hearing, when explaining certain parts of the story.
The Giant and the Twin War Gods, as
told by Don Talayesva
“Well, once upon a time more people
lived here in Old Oraibi—many people, many, many children, and
the children getting pretty bad. People tried every way to
punish and correct them and at last the head governor got tired
of this business, and so he thought of best way to fix them.
They were all time throwing stones at the old people and pinning
rags on the back of somebody and don’t mind their parents very
“Now this head governor is very powerful and very wise. He went
out to where there is many pinon and cedar trees and he gathered
much pinon gum. Next day he called an old lady, a Spider Woman,
to come and help him out.
“She asked what she can do. He explained about the naughty
children and their disrespect for the old people and their
“He asked her to make a Giant out of the gum. She greased her
hands and molded a big figure about a foot thick and four feet
high with head and arms and legs. Then she covered it up with a
white wedding blanket, and then she take whisk-broom and she
patted with the broom, in time to her singing, on this doll
figure, and it began to live and grow larger.
“When she finished singing he was enormously wide and tall, and
he got up and uncovered himself and he sat there and said, ‘What
can I do to help you?’
“Then the governor said, ‘I hired the old lady to make you and
make you come to life so you can do a job for me. Now you go and
make your home over here near by.’
“The governor gave him as weapons a hatchet, bow and arrow, a
rabbit stick, and a big basket to carry the children away in,
and a big wooden spear.
“’Now you go over there,’ the governor said, ‘and make your
home. On the fourth day you come down and catch the first child
you see playing on trash piles.’
“So on the fourth day the Giant came over early before sunrise
and got to Oraibi by sunrise and got up here on top of the mesa
and saw two brothers playing on the trash pile. They were facing
west and he slipped up behind and tied them together and put
them in his basket and carry them to his home.
“At breakfast the families missed the children and traced them
to where the Giant picked them up, but saw no tracks farther.
“Every morning he comes over looking for some more children and
got away with many before parents know where they went.
“This kept going on till there were very few children left and
the parents were very sad. Giant leaves no tracks, so nobody
knows what to do. At last parents decide to do something. “The
second chief decided to go to the two little War Gods, who live
with their grandmother, a Spider Woman, and see if they would
“So then the second chief cut two round pieces out of strong
buckskin, and made two big balls and stuffed them hard and
painted them with a red face, a mask like Supais. He made a
strong bow and many strong arrows and put them in a—something
like an army bag. All this he made for the Twin War Gods, who
are small but powerful and their medicine too.
“Then he took these presents and started off to the home of
these two little War Gods.
“At early sunrise he arrived there and peeked down into their
house, which was like a big kiva, and there were the two boys
“The grandmother received the man kindly and told the rough,
unruly boys to stop their playing and be quiet.
But they don’t stop their playing, so she picked up a big stick
and hit the boys a good lick across the legs. Now the boys see
the man and his two fine balls and sticks. They say to each
other, ‘We like to have those things!’ “After a good breakfast
she asked the man, ‘What can we do for you?’
“’Yes,’ he said, ‘a Giant at Oraibi has been carrying away more
than half the children from our village.’ “She said, ‘Yes, we
know all about this and just waiting for you to come to ask our
help. I have dreamed that you would come today for our help.’
“Then the man gave his nice presents to the boys and said,
‘Tomorrow you come over to Oraibi and meet the Giant when he
comes at sunrise for children.’
“The boys said, ‘Sure, we kill him!’
“But the grandmother said, ‘Don’t brag, just say you do your
“Next morning both boys forget all about it, but grandmother
wake them up and started them off. “They got to Oraibi Mesa and
waited for the Giant, but they got to playing with their balls
and sticks and forgot to watch for him.
“Soon the Giant came slipping up, but the boys saw him and they
said, ‘Here’s that Giant, let’s hit the ball hard and hit him in
the head and kill him.’ So they did, and knocked him off the
“It didn’t kill him though, but he got mad, and he said, ‘You
wait and see what I do to you!’ And he came back and picked them
up, one at a time, and put them in his basket and started off
“As they were going along, the boys told the Giant they have to
get out, for just a minute please. So the Giant let them get out
of the basket, but he held on to the rope that he has tied
“So the boys stepped behind a big rock and untied themselves and
fastened the rope to the rock. Then the Giant got mad and pulled
the rope hard and the big rock rolled over on him and hurt his
“Then that Giant was sure mad, and he catch those boys again and
he put them in his basket and take them right home and make oven
very hot for cooking boys.
“But the boys had some good medicine with them that their
grandmother gave them, and each took some in his mouth and when
the Giant threw the first boy in the oven, he spit a little of
the medicine out into the oven and cooled it off, so that it was
just warm enough for comfort. So the boys told stories and had
fun all night.
“Next morning the Giant made pudding to go with his meat, and he
opened the oven and there were the boys smiling.
“Giant was very hungry, so he said, ‘You come out and I
challenge you to fight it out and see who is more powerful.’
“So the Giant threw his rabbit stick at the bigger boy, but the
boy jumped up and the stick caught fire as it passed under him.
Then the Giant threw at smaller boy just high enough to hit his
head, but he ducked down and the stick passed over his head like
a streak of fire. Then he tried bow and arrows, but nothing hurt
“Then the Giant said, ‘Well I have used all my weapons and
failed, so now you can try to kill me.’
“So both boys threw their rabbit sticks at the same time. One
broke the Giant’s legs, the other cut off his head. Then the
boys smelled the pine gum that he was made of, so they burned
him up and he sure did make a big blaze.
“They just saved his head, and carried it to the Hopi at Oraibi.
They arrived just when the people were having breakfast, at
about ten in the morning. So they reported to the second chief
and presented him with the Giant’s head.
“The second chief was well pleased and said he was glad and very
thankful, and then he said, ‘I don’t know what I can give you
for a proper gift, but I have two daughters and, if you want
them, you can take them along.’
“The boys smiled and whispered, ‘They look pretty good, let’s
take them for squaws.’ So they said they would take them.
“’All right,’ said their father, ‘come on the fourth day and get
“So they went home and told their grandmother, and on the fourth
day they came back and got their wives.
“The Hopi always kept the head of this Giant to use as a mask in
“Really the most important thing we do with this kind of a mask
is for the men to wear when they go round the village and call
out the children and scare them a little bit and tell them to be
good so they don’t have to come back with the basket and carry
them off. Sometimes they act like they were going to take some
naughty children with them right now, and ask the parents if
they have any bad ones, and the parents are supposed to be very
worried and hide the children and tell the Giants their children
are good, and always the parents have to give these Giants that
come around some mutton and other things to eat, in order to
save their children; and then the children are very grateful to
“You see, the parents always tell the men who are coming around,
beforehand, of a few of the things the children have been doing,
so when they come looking for bad children they mention these
special things to show the children that they know about it. And
parents tell children a Giant may come back for them if they are
pretty bad, and come right down the chimney maybe.
“My brother is a pretty tall man, and I am the tallest man in
Oraibi, so we are sometimes chosen to act the part of Giants.
Then we paint all black and put on this kind of a mask. It is an
enormous black head with a big beak and big teeth. The time when
the Giants go around and talk to the children is in February.
“There were a good many of these masks, very old and very funny
ones. But a beam fell, killing many giant masks and leaving only
two of the real old ones. So now we have to use some masks made
of black felt; one of these is a squaw mask.
“I don’t know if we can wait till February, or not, mine is
getting pretty bad already.”
(Note: This last was said with a big
laugh and a look around to see where his own boy was. And just then
the tall little son, aged eight, let out a yell exactly like any
other little boy who has cut his finger on Daddy’s pocket knife. The
buxom mother and two aunts went scrambling down the ladder to see
what was the matter. The father got up, too, but laughed and
remarked, “He be all right,” and came back and sat down. H.G.L.)
One of the most pleasant memories the writer has kept of her Hopi
story-tellers is that of wholesome Mother Sacknumptewa of Oraibi.
She must be middle-aged, and is surprisingly young-looking to be the
mother of her big family of grown-up sons and daughters. She wore a
brand-new dress of pretty yellow and white print, made in the full
Hopi manner, and her abundant black hair was so clean and well
brushed that it was actually glossy. Her house was spic and span and
shining with a new interior coat of white gypsum.
Her long Indian name, Guanyanum, means “all the colors of the
It was late afternoon, and she sat on the clean clay floor of her
house and husked a great pile of young green corn for supper, as she
told me the two little fables that follow. There was a poise and
graciousness about this woman, quite outstanding; yet she was a
simple, smiling, motherly person who often laughed quietly, or broke
into a rhythmic crooning song as she imitated her characters.
Several of her grown children gathered round and laughed with hearty
approval at her impersonations, and at last her husband came in
smiling and sat near, joining in the songs of the frog and the
locust, to the great merriment of their children.
The Coyote and the Turtle, as told by
“A long time ago, there were many
turtles living in the Little Colorado River near Homolovi,
southeast of Winslow, where Hopi used to live. And there was a
coyote living there too, and of course, he was always hungry.
“Now one day the turtles decided they would climb out of the
river and go hunt some food, for there was a kind of cactus
around there that they like very much. But one of the turtles
had a baby and she didn’t like to wake it up and take it with
her because it was sleeping so nicely. So they just went along
and left the baby asleep.
“After a while the little turtle woke up and he said, ‘Where is
my mother? She must have gone somewhere and left me. O, I must
go and find her!’
“So the baby turtle saw that the others had crawled up the bank,
and he followed their tracks for a little way. But he soon got
tired and just stopped under a bush and began to cry.
(Note: Her imitation of the crying was
“Now the coyote was coming along and
he heard the poor little turtle crying. So he came up and said,
‘That’s a pretty song; now go on and sing for me.’
“But the baby turtle said, I’m not singing, I’m crying.’
“’Go on and sing,’ said the coyote, ‘I want to hear you sing.’
“’I can’t sing,’ said the poor baby, ‘I’m crying and I want my
“’You’d better sing for me, or I’ll eat you up,’ said the big
“’O, I can’t sing—I just can’t stop crying,’ said the baby, and
he cried harder and harder.
“’Well,’ the big coyote said, ‘if you don’t sing for me I’m
going to eat you right up.’ The coyote was mad, and he was very
hungry. ‘All right, then, I’ll just eat you,’ he said.
Now the little turtle thought of something. So he said, ‘Well, I
can’t sing, so I guess you’ll have to eat me. But that’s all
right, for it won’t hurt me any; here inside of my shell I’ll go
right on living inside of you.’
“Now the coyote thought about this a little bit and didn’t like
the idea very well.
“Then the baby turtle said, ‘You can do anything you want with
me, just so you don’t throw me into the river, for I don’t want
“Now the old coyote was pretty mad and he wanted to be as mean
as possible. So he just picked that baby up in his mouth and
carried him over to the river and threw him in.
“Then the baby turtle was very happy; he stuck his little head
out of his shell and stretched out his feet and started swimming
off toward the middle of the river. And he said, ‘Goodbye, Mr.
Coyote, and thank you very much for bringing me back to my house
so that I didn’t have to walk back.’ And the little turtle
laughed at the old coyote, who got madder and madder because he
had let the little turtle go. But he couldn’t get him now, so he
just went home. And the baby turtle was still laughing when his
mother got home, and she laughed too. And those turtles are
still living in that water.
(Note: Here is manifest all the subtlety
of “The Tar Baby,” though generations older. H.G.L.)
The Frog and the Locust, as told by Guanyanum
“Qowakina was a place where Paqua,
the frog, lived. One day he was sitting on a little wet ground
singing a prayer for rain, for it was getting very hot and dry
and that was Paqua’s way of bringing the rain, so he had a very
good song like this.
(Note: Here she sang a pretty little
song, very rhythmic, and her body swayed gently in time to the
music. It occurred to the writer that this would make a good bedtime
story and the little song, a lullaby, for it went on and on with
pleasing variation. H.G.L.)
“Not far away Mahu, the locust, was
sitting in a bush, and he was singing too, for he was getting
pretty dusty and the weather was very hot, and so he, too, was
praying for rain. He has a very nice song for rain, and it goes
(Note: Here came a lovely little humming
song whose words could not be interpreted, since they were but
syllables and sounds having no meaning in English. However, these
sounds had a definite order and rhythm. At this point the husband
smilingly joined in the song, and the unison of both sounds and
rhythm was perfect. H.G.L.)
“By and by the locust heard the
frog, so he came over and asked him what he was doing. The frog
said he was hot and wanted it to rain; that’s why he was
singing. Then the locust said, ‘Now isn’t that strange, that’s
exactly what I do to make it rain, too, and that’s the best
thing to do.’ So they both sang.
“Pretty soon they noticed that the clouds had been coming up
while they were singing, and before long it rained, and they
both were happy.
“After this they were always great friends because they had
found out they both had the same idea about something.”
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For some years the writer has been merely a friendly neighbor to
these friendly people, and this past summer she spent some time
among her Hopi friends, studying their present-day life, domestic
and ceremonial, and listening to their stories. The foregoing pages
record her observations, supplemented largely by the recordings of
well-known authorities who have studied these people.
To her own mind it is clear that the Hopi are living today by their
age-old and amazingly primitive traditions, as shown by their
planting, hunting, house building, textile and ceramic arts, and
their ceremonies for birth, marriage, burial, rain-making, etc. Even
their favorite stories for amusement are traditional. Surely this
can not last much longer in these days when easy transportation is
bringing the modern world to their very door. Only a few years ago
they were geographically isolated and had been so for centuries.
Culturally, the Hopi are not a new, raw people, but old, mature,
long a sedentary and peaceful people, building up during the ages a
vast body of traditional literature embodying law, religion, civic
and social order, with definite patterns for the whole fabric of
their life from the cradle to the grave and on into Maskim, the home
of Hopi Souls. It is because they have so long been left alone, with
their own culture so well suited to their nature and to their
environment, that we find them so satisfied to remain as they are,
friendly, even cordial, but conservative.
The Hopi is glad to use the white man’s wagon, cook stove, sugar,
and coffee, but he prefers his own religion, government, social
customs—the great things handed down in his traditions. Their very
conservatism is according to one of their oldest traditions, which
Tradition for Walking Beside the White
Man But in Footsteps of Fathers
In 1885, Wicki, chief of the Antelope Society at Walpi, told Mr.
A.M. Stephen one of the most complete and interesting variants ever
collected of the Snake myth.
One of its interesting details concerns a prophesy of the manner in
which the Hopitah are to take on the White man’s culture. In plain
words the Spider Woman tells Tiyo that a time will come when men
with white skins and a strange tongue shall come among the Hopitah,
and the Snake Brotherhood, having brave hearts, will be first to
make friends and learn good from them. But the Hopitah are not to
follow in the white men’s footsteps but to walk beside them, always
keeping in the footsteps of their fathers!
That is just what the Hopi are doing today.
[Footnote 36: Stephen, A.M.,
Hopi Tales: Jour. Amer. Folklore, vol. 42, 1929, p. 37.]
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More than to any one else, I am indebted to Dr. Byron Cummings for
guidance in the preparation of this study; to Prof. John H. Provinse
for material and suggestion; to Dr. H.S. Colton and Mary Russell F.
Colton for the generous use of materials; and to my Hopi friends,
Sackongsie of Bacabi, Don Talayesva of Oraibi, Guanyanum
Sacknumptewa of Lower Oraibi, Quentin Quahongva of Shungopovi,
Dawavantsie of Walpi, and Mother Lalo of Sichomovi, for Hopi
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