On the desert plains of the Southwest, the Hopi are one of the oldest Native American tribes in existence. Know as “the Peaceful People,” they have maintained their land and culture in spite of immigration, political, and economic forces. Although these internal and external pressures have changed the social and cultural dynamics within the tribe, they are continuing to preserve their native traditions through education and historical preservation.
The Hopi tribe are direct descendants of the Anasazi people, whose presence in the North America can be traced back to approximately 200-1300 AD, although there is evidence that their ancestors may have been here much longer. The distinctive elements of the Anasazi people began to be defined at this time period, including the establishment of the first permanent housing structures on this continent. The Anasazi would be the predecessors of number of later tribes including the Navajo, the Pueblo and the Hopi.
At around 1000 AD, the Hopi people became established as a distinctive group from the ancient Anasazi culture. Complete with a unique set of religious traditions, cultural mores and mythology, the Hopi people then established their own permanent structures in Eastern Arizona. The Hopi are credited with building the village of Old Oraibi in the 11th century, which makes it the oldest continuous living structure in North America. In it are found multileveled houses of brick and mud that provided excellent shelter from enemies. Families would flee to the rooftops in emergencies, pulling up the long ladders behind them to make access from outsiders impossible.
The key element to Hopi life was agriculture. For over 500 years, they created a special bond with the desert land that they believed was given to them by the Great Creator. Utilizing irrigation and water-saving techniques they were able to create sustainable crops of beans, corn, and squash. As the Spanish began to move north into their territory in the early 16th century, they also learned how to incorporate animal husbandry and had small flocks of sheep and herds of cattle.
Still, the Hopi were not interested in sharing their land with outsiders. As a steady stream of possible colonists began infiltrating their space, the Hopi made preparations to fight. Often, they combined with the neighboring Tewa Indians to drive out invading tribes like the Navajo and later the Spanish conquistadors. As the United States began forming and then moving west, the Hopi found themselves neighbors with settling pioneers including large numbers of Mormons and railroad workers. They managed to keep to themselves, maintaining their land through much of the 19th century.
In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur divided up the Hopi lands among many southwestern tribes and gave them a small portion that excluded many of their religious and traditional sites. Because the wording of their portion said it was for the Hopi and “such other Indians as are already settled thereon,” many other tribes believed they also had a right to the land. In addition, the Navajo reserve was created at the outskirts, and continued to grow from 3.5 to 16 million acres over the next 50 years, completely surrounding the small 2.5 million acre Hopi lot.
Like many indigenous cultures in the Southwest, the Hopi are a very religious people. They believe in a number of gods, with a supreme deity leader, the Great Creator Taiowa. However, most of their ceremonies do not focus on him, but on elements relating to agriculture. Religious traditions incorporate rain and rainbow dances, as well as corn ceremonies.
One of the most unique religious beliefs is the concept of the Katsina or Kachina, guardian spirits that remain with the Hopi through the winter and spring months. Both fear and respect for these spirits is taught to children by giving them Kachina dolls and by having discipline meted out by men in Kachina costumes.
The Hopi also have a significant amount of prophecy in their religious culture. There are nine prophecies that represent the existence of the Hopi people, three each for the past, present, and future. Additionally, there is a prophecy relating to astronomy in which the Blue Star, Saquasohuh will remove his mask to strangers and all traditional faith will die.
Another interesting element is the use of snakes in religion. The Hopi believe that snakes carry prayers to the gods, and engage in a Snake Dance to connect with higher powers. After two weeks of ritual preparation, the Antelope Priest presides over the dancers who put the snakes in their mouth and across their shoulders. At the culmination, the snakes are released to carry the prayers back to the other world.
Since the advent of the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1880s, cultural practices have been one of the most intriguing parts of Hopi society. At this time, the railroad saw the intricate dances, baskets and beads as obvious tourist attractions and began marketing them to railway riders. Today the practice of creating native artifacts in the Hopi tribe is still a relatively lucrative one.
Many of the traditional artifacts with religious significance and practical use are accessible by the public in some form. The kachina dolls, a large part of the religious life of the Hopi, are often sold to tourists. All of these dolls have intentional design flaws, however, as the “true” kachina dolls are not for sale. Sandpainting is also sold with damage in order to avoid giving away its power to outsiders.
Each of the three mesas that house the current eleven Hopi tribes have their own specialty when it comes to goods production. The first mesa, which includes the villages of Waalpi, Hanoki, and Sitsomovi, are known for their multicolored handcrafted pottery. The second mesa, which includes Songoopovi, Musungnuvi, and Supawlavi create coiled baskets and silver jewelry. The third mesa is the largest and includes Hoatvela, Oraibi, Paaqavi, Munqapi, Kiqotsmovi, and Orayvi. They specialize in wicker and twill basket work. Still, not all villages are open to the public and many ceremonies are still kept very sacred by the Hopi community.
The Hopi Community Today
Today the Hopi nation has over 7,000 members living on the 2,500 mile reservation in northern Arizona. Land rights have remained an issue between the Navajo and Hopi since the redistribution in the late 19th century, but have recently provided that the government will pay to relocate Navajo indians settled on the Hopi lands. The Navajo Nation also promised to pay a fee of $29 million for damages related to overgrazing. This is a tenuous solution, and many from both tribes feel that the Navajo-Hopi relations continue to maintain the traditional strain felt between them since the early split from the Anasazi.
Another source of significant strain upon the Hopi tribe today is the conflict between internal factions. As with many other tribes, the pull away from traditional values and beliefs are embraced by some and condemned by others. When the tribal leadership provided access to the Peabody Coal Company to drill parts of the reservation in December of 2008, many Hopi natives were outraged. Even though a large amount of the tribe’s income is provided through revenue from this partnership, it split the tribe into “friendlies,” those who are friendly to governmental and commercial projects, and “hostiles.” Many hostiles do not support the leadership that made these financial decisions and it has created a kind of non-violent civil war between the two factions.
The Hopi are also doing a number of things to preserve their cultural heritage. In addition to continuing to make traditional goods, the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office is excavating for historical artifacts to preserve the earlier versions of Hopi tradition. Another change in the past 100 years is the written documentation of tribal myths like the ones related by Edmund Nequatewa in 1936. This represents a significant change in the perspective of written language as debasing to the value of these sacred stories.
The Hopi Tribe is the official governmental site of the tribe. It provides information about the tribal government, federal financial assistance, job listings and news updates.
The Hopi Cultural Preservation Office is a site dedicated to the archaeological preservation of the Hopi past and provides information on current excavation site projects, scholarships and grants for Hopi students and a number of links to relevant historical and cultural collections.
Thorpe University provides a copy of the first Hopi Constitution as presented to the US government in 1936. This document is still in effect for the Arizona Hopi tribe today.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has an excellent e-book entitled HOPI NATION: Essays on Indigenous Art, Culture, History, and Law available in fulltext at their digital commons site. This primary document is written by actual members of the Hopi Tribe and covers topics like religion, law, and personal history.
Arizona State University has a historical page dedicated to the Hope tribe that includes information about the tribe’s major changes in response to physical and governmental pressures over the last 400 years.
A six-part documentary called Hopi: People of Peace has been made available at YouTube by the director, Michael Pearce. The 1975 film discusses the encroachment of European values on the oldest permanent community in the United States.
http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=251573&title=Native_American_Hopi_Tribe – Anasazi Video