About the Hopi Beliefs and Ceremonies


Beliefs and Ceremonials

The beliefs of a tribe, philosophical, religious, and magical, are, for the most part, expressed in objective ceremonies. The formal procedure or ritual is essentially a representation or dramatization of the main idea, usually based upon a narrative. Often the ceremony opens with or is preceded by the narration of the myth on which it is based, or the leader may merely refer to it on the assumption that everyone present knows it.
As to the purpose of the ceremony, there are those who maintain that entertainment is the main incentive, but the celebration or holiday seems to be a secondary consideration according to the explanation of the primitives themselves.
If there chances to be a so-called educated native present to answer your inquiry on the point, he will perhaps patiently explain to you that just as July Fourth is celebrated for something more than parades and firecrackers, and Thanksgiving was instituted for other considerations than the eating of turkey, so the Hopi Snake Dance, for instance, is given not so much to entertain the throng of attentive and respectful Hopi, and the much larger throng of more or less attentive and more or less respectful white visitors, as to perpetuate, according to their traditions, certain symbolic rites in whose efficacy they have profoundly believed for centuries and do still believe.
Concerning the Pueblos (which include the Hopi), Hewett says: "There can be no understanding of their lives apart from their religious beliefs and practices. The same may be said of their social structure and of their industries. Planting, cultivating, harvesting, hunting, even war, are dominated by religious rites. The social order of the people is established and maintained by way of tribal ceremonials. Through age-old ritual and dramatic celebration, practiced with unvarying regularity, participated in by all, keeping time to the days, seasons and ages, moving in rhythmic procession with life and all natural forces, the people are kept in a state of orderly composure and like-mindedness.
"The religious life of the Pueblo Indian is expressed mainly through the community dances, and in these ceremonies are the very foundations of the ancient wisdom...."
Dance is perhaps hardly the right word for these ceremonies, yet it is what the Hopi himself calls them, and he is right. But we who have used the word to designate the social dances of modern society or the aesthetic and interpretive dances for entertainment and aesthetic enjoyment will have to tune our sense to a different key to be in harmony with the Hopi dance.
Our primitive's communion with nature and with his own spirit have brought him to a reverent attitude concerning the wisdom of birds, beasts, trees, clouds, sunlight, and starlight, and most of all he clings trustingly to the wisdom of his fathers.
"All this," according to Hewett, "is voiced in his prayers and dramatized in his dances—rhythm of movement and of color summoned to express in utmost brilliancy the vibrant faith of a people in the deific order of the world and in the way the ancients devised for keeping man in harmony with his universe. All his arts, therefore, are rooted in ancestral beliefs and in archaic esthetic forms."
Surely no people on earth, not even the Chinese, show a more consistent reverence for the wisdom of the past as preserved in their myths and legends, than do the Hopi.

IX. HOPI MYTHS AND TRADITIONS AND SOME CEREMONIES BASED UPON THEM


The Emergence Myth and the Wu-wu-che-ma Ceremony
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.
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 day.
Thus we have at least three distinct points in this one myth that account for three definite things we find the Hopi doing today: (1) 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." (2) 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. (3) 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 agree.
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 immortality.
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 en-route. 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[23] two variants of this legend.
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 the underworld.
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 here.
It begins: "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 seen since."
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 new-comers."
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 settle there.
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 chosen: "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 rain.
"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.
Figure 5.—Flute Ceremony at Michongnovi.
Figure 5.—Flute 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. (See Figure 5.)
Figure 6.—Flute Boy before Costuming.
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 (See Figure 6) who walked between them, in each of the two fraternities. Even this ceremonial costuming was accompanied by solemn singing.
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 spring.
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.
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.
Figure 7.—Hopi Girl in Butterfly Costume.
Figure 7.—Hopi 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.
Other Dances
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 Hopi themselves.
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 Shungopovi. (See Figure 8.)
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.