Traveling thousands of miles from the north, the Athabascan peoples of Alaska and Canada migrated to the warmer climates of the Southwest over many centuries, settling in the rich and fertile valleys of the desert’s many great canyons as early as 900 AD. The Grand Canyon and Little Colorado River Gorge are just two of these geological wonders that have drawn settlers to the region over the years, resulting in new cultures and blended communities. The descendants of these ancient peoples call themselves Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, “the Peaceful People” or “Peaceful Little Ones.” They also are a melting pot of many cultures, bringing together tribes of all regions and living together peacefully as one people.
Geographically this is somewhat fitting as the Hopi Reservation is an island in a sea of Navajo land. This nation within a nation is completely surrounded by the Navajo Reservation and although there have been tensions throughout the years, today the Hopi live quietly and peacefully amongst their Pueblo cousins, holding fast to their traditions and culture while working together with the Navajo on matters affecting them both.
The Ancient Hopi.
The Hopi began arriving in the southwest near the end of the first millennium A.D. Various tribes migrated south, seeking warmer climates, better soil for farming and valleys to support developing communities. Traditionally settling in the mesas, the Hopi became known as town dwellers, building elaborate communities consisting of cliff homes, common buildings and protected boundaries. When the Spanish first arrived in the Northern Arizona area the summer of 1540 they discovered as many as seven villages. These villages were collectively referred to as the First Mesa, followed by the Second and Third Mesas during subsequent explorations by the Spaniards over the next three hundred years.
Students of Hopi culture will note that the order of the Mesas has nothing to do with their development, but rather when the villages were discovered by the Spanish explorers. In fact, the village of Old Oraibi, located on Third Mesa, was established in 1100 A.D. and remains the oldest continuous settlement in the United States.
The arrival of outsiders was a difficult time for the Hopi. Holding fast to their cultural and spiritual beliefs they resisted the Spanish missionaries. Fearing occupation from Spanish soldiers, they were forced to move from the deeply fertile mesa bottoms to the easily defended mesa tops. Still, the resilience and peaceful nature of the Hopi remained. They accepted these new challenges with style and grace, further aligning themselves with their spiritual mandates to remain peaceful inhabitants of Mother Earth.
Hopi Traditions and Culture.
To be Hopi is to be in communion with the Earth and all her people. Deeply rooted spiritual values direct the social behavior of the Hopi people, who remain anti-war, fierce environmentalists and social justice advocates. Their spiritual view of morality and ethics require them to be live in complete reverence to the Earth, protecting it, honoring it and doing everything in their power to remain at peace.
As such, the Hopi culture focuses largely on the traditional ceremonies surrounding the cycle of agriculture and the weather. These ceremonies follow the lunar calendar and are celebrated by all of the Hopi villages. There are ceremonies inviting the rain to invigorate their crops and ceremonies to honor the establishment of the ancient villages. The naming of a Hopi child involves the entire community, with women from the father’s clan offering names and gifts to the child 20 days after they are born. There is a strong tradition of worshiping ancestors and while many of today’s Hopi practice Christian faiths, the traditional Hopi religion is polytheistic, honoring many gods who have blessed the people and allowed them to prosper.
The Hopi are an artistic people, with emphasis on elaborate weaving and pottery. Visitors to the Hopi reservation can find stunning examples of blankets and kilts, as well as functional and ornamental pottery designs. The most dramatic of the Hopi arts, however is the creation of the Kachina Doll. Contrary to their name, the Kachina is not a “doll”, but rather a hand carved religious icon, masterfully carved from the root of the cottonwood tree and meticulously painted to represent elements of Hopi mythology.
Although other Indian nations sell Kachinas, the tradition of the Kachina is unique to the Hopi, who use the icons to teach children about their faith and to tell the stories of the ancient Hopi. It can take a Kachina carver years to master the skill and learn the various religious traditions,and today these pieces of art are highly sought after by traditionalists and collectors alike. Made by only a handful of true Hopi Kachina artists, make finding one of these Hopi treasures high on your to-do list when visiting the Hopi people.
The Hopi Today.
Like their cousins, the Navajo, the Hopi strive to maintain their traditional cultures while earning their livelihoods from the economic opportunities of the southwest. Many Hopi practice the traditional arts, however just as many work off reservation in modern industries. The reservation boasts a medical center and higher education, providing jobs and modern services to the nearly 7,000 Hopi residents.
Visiting the Hopi.
A trip through the Hopi Reservation is unlike any other southwestern destination. Moving through the reservation visitors find themselves leaving the modern era behind, immersing themselves in the traditions and peaceful calm of earlier times. The village at Walpi is a historic must-see, with high rise dwellings and some of the most beautiful sunsets in Arizona. Old Oraibi takes visitors back to the earliest settlements, giving guests a feel for life in a 12th century village that has endured
the test of time.
Many of the tribal ruins and ceremonial rooms, or kivas, located throughout the reservation are off-limits to non-Hopi visitors, however the tribal headquarters are located in Kykotsmovi and here visitors can learn about the traditions of the Hopi while viewing authentic Hopi arts and crafts. A Veteran’s Memorial is also located here and recognizes the sacrifices of Native Americans for the greater United States.
Even though they guard their traditions fiercely, the Hopi are welcoming people and many village ceremonies remain open to the public. The traditional snake and flute ceremonies are private, however social dances and some Kachina dances can be found throughout the reservation. Visit the tribal headquarters for a list of villages allowing respectful non-Hopi visitors to observe these sacred rites.
Fine Hopi overlay jewelry, intricate baskets woven from yucca and cacti reeds, and artfully carved Kachina dolls can be found in every village, with gift shops offering only the best of the traditional crafts to visitors. Local silversmiths display their wares in galleries such as the Honani Gallery in Polacca on the Second Mesa and Monongya Gallery in Kykotsmovi. Kachina House, located
in nearby Sedona, is another must-see stop for the avid collector looking to find that one of a kind piece of Hopi art.
The Peaceful Ones welcome you to the Hopi Reservation. Bring your sense of exploration with your reverence for things past and enjoy a day communing with the earth. It will be an adventurous journey through time you won’t soon forget!