- Historic Sites
The Hopi Way
Isolation ends for “the People of Peace”
February 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 2
From that conviction of man’s obligation sprang the full richness of the Hopis’ religion, including their myths, legends, prophecies, and annual cycle of ceremonies all designed to illuminate and help them follow the proper and pure way of life so that the balance of the universe would not be disturbed. The welfare and good fortune of people everywhere demanded harmonious attunement to the spiritual world, and the Hopi legends made vividly real the origin and nature of that demand. Man, according to the legends which differ slightly in details from one village to another had earlier lived in three different underworlds. Each time some of the people had grown corrupt and evil and by their wrongdoing had caused dissension and social disorder. Disgusted with the people’s fighting, the supreme deity had destroyed each of the underworlds, attempting to wipe out the evil ones, and each time some of the good people had escaped and moved on to the next underworld, where the mistakes were repeated. Finally, those with good hearts had ascended into the present world through a place of emergence known as sipapu . They had been welcomed by the deity Massau’u, the earth’s lone occupant at the time. Entrusting the care of the universe to them, he had given them instructions in the proper way to live, as well as prophecies of what would come to pass, and had started their different groups on long migrations, at the ends of which they would come to the place where they should settle, the very center of the universe. Further legends told of the migrations and of the arrival of the individual groups of migrants, one after another, at the Arizona mesas, the universe’s center, where they finally built their villages. But at the heart of all the legends was the theme of the Hopi way of life, the plan that Massau’u had given them. Its essence, the key to its present-day appeal to peoples other than the Hopis, was simple: brotherhood, love, and peace.
In their own Shoshonean language the word Hopi suggests “one who follows the path,” or, in the expression of traditionalists, “one who is good.” It has also taken on the connotation of peace, and most Hopis consider themselves today “the people of peace.” But, more accurately, Hopi implies peace as a value and goal and, like Christianity, which similarly invokes the ideal of peace, has seen violence committed in its name and in its behalf. Throughout their history Hopis have fought, though scarcely ever with aggressive intent. Warfare and war societies among them have been justified traditionally as defensive in aim, and when Hopis killed enemies, they went to great pains to purify themselves of the bloodshed. Similarly, while anger, violence, and crime among themselves have not been unknown, they are generally traumatic to all the people and arc considered grave threats to their social order. Their laws are those of their spiritual beliefs, and penalties for infractions arc ridicule and social ostracism rather than punishment or imprisonment.
Both the order and the serenity of the life of the presentday Hopi traditionalists reflect their continued faith in the instructions of Massau’u and their spiritual conviction that they are interrelated with, and responsible for the well-being of, nature and everything in the universe. But the legends also tell them that a few of the evil ones managed to enter this world along with the good people, and Hopi history has been darkened many times by conflicts with forces that jeopardized the people’s continued observance of Massau’u’s plan and threatened the destruction ol this fourth world.
In the past such threats came from raiding Utes, Apaches, and Navahos, who had to be fought off, and from Spanish priests who tried unsuccessfully to convert the Hopis to Christianity. In 1700 one of the most contradictory and violent episodes in the Hopis’ history occurred when a Franciscan missionary managed to convert almost half the population of the village of Awatovi. This resulted in so much dissension and internal conflict among the Hopis that the future of all Hopi life was considered threatened by those who remained loyal to their ancient beliefs. Finally, in a desperate attempt to save the Hopi way of life, the kikmongwi of Awatovi appealed to other villages to wipe out his town and all its people, good and bad, himself included. The towns of Oraibi and Walpi responded and totally destroyed Awatovi, killing all its inhabitants, Christians and non-Christians, and clearing the earth of this threat to the Hopis’ well-being. It was a terrible experience for the tribe, and even today no Hopi likes to talk about it.