The Hopi Way

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Today visitors to the mesa villages are coming in large numbers—husbands and wives and whole families, longhairs in vans, single girls and groups of women, professional men fed up with urban life, and television crews from the United States and abroad—trailing to the stone houses of the gray-haired Hopi elders for interviews and discussions and attending the clans’ religious observances in the plazas, studying in awed silence the rituals.

What do they want? A young woman real-estate agent watching the Flute Ceremony of the Hopis’ Gray Flute and Blue Flute societies in the village of Shungopovi last summer drew her two children closer to her. She had driven them in her white Mercedes from Sunset Beach, California, and would return after a week in the villages. “I’m looking for inner peace, and these people seem to have it,” she said. “Maybe I can learn something from them.” She paused, studying the clan members in their white blankets fringed with red and black who were reenacting the Hopis’ emergence and migration myths. “I didn’t want my husband to come with me,” she added. “He wouldn’t understand.”

At Hotevilla a young man and his girl, both from Santa Fe, came out of the home of David Monongye, an elderly village spiritual leader. They walked slowly, with the pleased, faraway look of believers who had found what they had come to see. “Did you notice him?” the girl said. “He stopped talking in the middle of a thought and started to pray. And it came from so far down, like it was deep inside of him, like every part of him felt it. We should pray like that. It was beautiful.”

Not all the Hopis are traditionalists and participate in the clan ceremonies or pray in the same manner as David Monongye. Government schools and Christian churches established in some of the villages have turned many of the people away from the beliefs and ways of their ancestors. Known as progressives, to contrast them with the conservatives, or traditionalists, they live like white men and raise and educate their children to be successful in the white man’s world. But many of them are defensive and know that they retain Hopi values that they will never shed, and some of their children, becoming militantly antiwhite, have gone over to the traditionalists and eagerly sought instruction in the old ways.

The traditionalists exist in every village, though they are strongest at Hotevilla, which they founded in 1906 after a split in another village, Oraibi, between themselves and those who wished to follow the ways of the white man. To the outsider there is ample evidence that the traditionalists themselves have not found all of those new ways bad. They have welcomed the material comforts and conveniences of modern civilization and, as individuals, have made choices of what to accept and what to reject. Sewing machines, canned foods, automobiles, and Grand Rapids furniture are among many of the white man’s products that are commonplace on the mesas. But the people of Hotevilla have kept electricity out of the village and have no sewerage. To some it makes no sense; to the traditionalists who made the choices such decisions had a relationship to what really mattered —not the adoption of material conveniences, but the maintenance of age-old beliefs and values and the opposition to changes that might tend to undermine and destroy those values. They will drive everywhere in automobiles, wear sunglasses to protect their eyes, and use dime-store supplies for a hundred practical needs. Why no electricity in Hotevilla? It may baffle an outsider. But the traditionalist has considered, and has rebuffed what he believes to be a threat. There is only one thing important to him: in his home and clan kiva the Hopi must keep alive the myths, legends, and prophecies on which rests the pattern of his life. It is an intertwining of religion and philosophy that he calls “the Hopi Way.”

The roots of that plan for existence reach far back toward the very dawn of the human habitation of North America. It is known that at some distant period, possibly during the Ice Age, ten thousand years ago or more, the earliest ancestors of all the Pueblo people of the Southwest —of whom the Hopis arc one group -migrated from the north. Eventually the groups spread across the rough and arid plateau country that is known today as the Four Corners area, where the present states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. Other migrants from more developed areas came among them, bringing them new ideas and skills, and they began to live in circular pit houses, often constructed in large caves or in rock overhangs of cliffs.