- Historic Sites
The Hopi Way
Isolation ends for “the People of Peace”
February 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 2
Perched on the edge of a rocky mesa six hundred feet above the desert of northeastern Arizona is the Hopi Indian village of Hotevilla. A stronghold of Hopi traditionalists Indians who remain profoundly loyal to the religious teachings and values of their ancestors—the little settlement of fewer than a thousand people is something of an anachronism on the American scene, a remnant of another day and another way of life that defies many of the influences of the white man’s modern-day civilization and at the same time challenges it to do as well in providing mankind with enduring answers for an existence of happiness and contentment.
To the visitor Hotevilla appears to have some of the attributes of a true-life Shangri-la. One of twelve Hopi villages that are strung, at an altitude of six thousand feet, for some seventy miles along the southern escarpment of Black Mesa, it is a remarkable center of peace and serenity in a vast, silent land of stone cliffs and canyons, sandy wastes, and huge, dramatic stretches of painted desert. From a distance the town, like all the Hopi villages, seems to be a part of the landscape, the shapes and earth colors of the buildings blending with the rough terrain of the mesa top. The settlement is low and compact. Rows of flattopped stone buildings, some with two or three tiers, front on narrow sandy streets. In large open plazas are mounds of earth, covering kivas, the Hopis’ underground religious and social rooms, which are reached by ladders whose tops protrude from holes in the center of the mounds. Foxskins and bundles of feathers, part of the garb for the annual round of ceremonial dances and rituals, hang from the walls of some of the buildings.
The town is busy but quiet. Men with bangs over their foreheads and with their long hair in back tied up with a string work industriously repairing houses or packing wool sheared from their flocks of sheep into bags for market. Children and dogs romp past them. Women with pails of water or arms full of corn shuffle by. They have come up steep paths that lead from springs and gardens far below the mesa’s edge. From the lip of the mesa the view of the green patches of terraced gardens and the broad desert floor stretching into the distance is at once breathtaking and idyllic. Each garden plot, bordered by a stone wall around it, has been given to a family by the kikmongwi , the hereditary chief and spiritual leader of the village. The sandy lower slopes and valleys beneath the mesa are dotted with the dark green clusters of growing crops: squash, beans, melons, gourds, and cotton, as well as corn. Among and beyond the plots, extending in isolated little clumps of green across the desert, are peach trees. Summer rains and seepage from springs water the garden plots; winter rains and snow help the fruit trees. Above the gardens, on a bench of land part way down the mesa wall, a spring feeds a large pool from which the village women fill their pails.
All is outwardly quiet, harmonious, and contented. It is the routine of ages, but there is no sign of monotony. Nothing shrill breaks the peace—no quarreling, no anger. In the silence of the humans and the spaciousness of the unspoiled land one is aware of a closeness to nature: the presence of earth and rocks and growing things everywhere; the clambering down to the gardens and the clambering back up; the vastness of the view from the mesa; the dramatic thunderstorms, the dust clouds, and the movement of the sun that brings changing colors to the canyon walls; the rain, the springs, and the pool of water on which everything depends. But there is also a meticulous order here, day upon day, year after year, that comes from an unquestioned devotion to a timeless philosophy and plan of life. The wellspring of the plan was nature. Its author, the traditionalist Hopis say, was a god, and its goal is to help man to be good so that he will not destroy himself.
Several years ago the serenity of Hotevilla was temporarily profaned by the intrusion of some twenty hippies from San Francisco who, high on drugs, rolled into the village in their trucks and vans and proceeded to hold a raucous orgy at the edge of the Indians’ sacred pool part way down the mesa. The offended Hopis got rid of them, viewing them patiently as sick members of a stream of more respectful visitors who were coming from all quarters of the world to learn the traditionalists’ prescription for a happier and more meaningful life.
The stream since that time has swelled. A new interest in America’s minority groups has made the Indians the subject of many books, magazine articles, movies, and television programs, and accounts of their cultures are having an impact on a restless and changing world. To the disturbed and dissatisfied who are searching for new values and life-styles and for better relationships with their fellow men, the supernatural, and the earth, almost all the original Indian cultures arouse images of a more natural —and therefore a purer and more self-fulfilling—existence. But most of the native cultures have long since vanished, or been changed by the white man. Here and there in the Western Hemisphere tribes exist with much of the content of their original cultures intact, or almost so, but none of them are as accessible to outsiders as the Hopis, whose centuries-old beliefs are still carefully guarded and maintained by the traditionalists.