- Historic Sites
The Hopi Way
Isolation ends for “the People of Peace”
February 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 2
Slowly their population grew and demanded more complex and sophisticated systems of society. After about A.D. 700 they began to build contiguous rooms aboveground, constructing them of stone mortared with adobe or of poles and adobe and arranging them in straight lines or crescents. Member families of clans joined their rooms together, and social and religious organizations developed. Pit houses became subterranean ceremonial chambers and meeting places for the men, and gradually as their culture expanded and flourished through a series of advancing stages, there developed an increasingly formalized religious system, centered on nature and agriculture and including a pantheon of deities, many legends, myths, and prophecies, and special rituals and ceremonies. The overall intention is to maintain harmony and order in the universe by keeping everything in balance, thus bringing rain, ensuring crop fertility, and warding off natural disaster.
The culture of all the Pueblo peoples, including the ancestors of the Hopis, reached a radiant climax in the Southwest in the years from about A.D. 1100 to 1300. Their settlements stretched all across the red rock canyons, valleys, and juniper-covered hills of the Colorado plateau; some like those at Mesa Verde and Canyon de Chelly were built in huge, arched recesses of cliff walls, while others were constructed on mesa tops or in the open valleys. From time to time there were great movements of people, but the greatest occurred during the latter part of the thirteenth century, when groups abandoned t heir dwellings in one area after another and moved elsewhere. Various theories ascribe the sudden exodus to a twenty-threc-year drought, to pressure from hostile neighbors, or to other reasons, but the true cause is not known. Many of the peoples migrated to the Rio Grande and established new towns, where the Spaniards later found them and named them the Pueblos. Others moved elsewhere across Arizona and New Mexico, settling in different sites.
The people who became the Hopis seem to have stayed where they were, for the earliest of their present villages date to well before 1300, and Oraibi, the oldest continuously inhabited town in the United States, is believed to have been first settled in the eleventh century. Both before and after the dispersal, however, the inhabitants of these communities received many newcomers into their midst, including peoples of other tribes and different languages, so that in time the Hopis became something of a mixture of strains. In their isolation, far to the west of the main bodies of Pueblo peoples, they continued their cultural rise and, as the years went by, wove new legends and sacred beliefs and enriched their civilization with additional ceremonies based on fast-receding memories of early migrations and events of a distant age.
The philosophic foundation on which their society rested was by that time ancient. It was an understanding, permeating every phase and moment of their life, that man was only one element in a delicately balanced universe in which every component interacted and interrelated in harmony. Everything that the Hopi people could comprehend -the rain, the rocks, the growing crops, the natural forces around them, the ideas in their heads, the birds, reptiles, and animals, every act and action -was part of a great living power and contained a spirit that existed everywhere. Everything was in balance, but man alone by wrong living or evil deeds could upset this balance and bring disaster. Therefore man had to live a prescribed way of life the Hopi way —which had been given to their ancestors by a deity when the first people had entered this world.