views updated Jun 11 2018


by Ellen French and Richard C. Hanes


The westernmost of the Pueblo Indian tribes, the independent Hopi (HO-pee) Nation is the only Pueblo tribe that speaks a Shoshonean language of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family. "Hopi" is a shortened form of the original term Hopituh-Shi-nu-mu, for which the most common meaning given is "peaceful people." The Hopis have also been referred to as the Moqui, based on what the Spanish called them. The Hopi reservation, almost 2.5 million acres in size and located in northeastern Arizona near the Four Corners area just east of the Grand Canyon, is surrounded completely by the Navajo reservation. The Hopis inhabit 14 villages, most of which are situated atop three rocky mesas (called First Mesa, Second Mesa, and Third Mesa) that rise 600 feet from the desert floor. Estimated at 2,800 in 1680, the Hopi Nation had 7,360 members in 1990, about 1,000 of whom lived off the reservation. The Hopies are ancient, having lived continuously in the same place for a thousand years. They are also a deeply religious people, whose customs and yearlong calendar of ritual ceremonialism guide virtually every aspect of their lives. Although some concessions to modern convenience have been made, the Hopis have zealously guarded their cultural traditions. This degree of cultural preservation is a remarkable achievement, facilitated by isolation, secrecy, and a community that remains essentially closed to outsiders.


According to Suzanne and Jake Page's book Hopi, the Hopis are called "the oldest of the people" by other Native Americans. Frank Waters wrote in The Book of the Hopi that the Hopis "regard themselves as the first inhabitants of America. Their village of Oraibi is indisputably the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the United States." While Hopi oral history traces their origin to a Creation and Emergence from previous worlds, scientists place them in their present location for the last thousand years, perhaps longer. In her book The Wind Won't Know Me, Emily Benedek wrote that "anthropologists have shown that the cultural remains present a clear, uninterrupted, logical development culminating in the life, general technology, architecture, and agriculture and ceremonial practices to be seen on the three Hopi mesas today." Archaeologists definitively place the Hopis on the Black Mesa of the Colorado Plateau by 1350.

The period from 1350 to 1540 is considered the Hopi ancestral period, marked primarily by the rise of village chieftains. A need for greater social organization arose from increased village size and the first ritual use of kivas, the underground ceremonial chambers found in every village. Additionally, coal was mined from mesa outcroppings, requiring unprecedented coordination. The Hopis were among the world's first people to use coal for firing pottery.

The complex Hopi culture, much as it exists today, was firmly in place by the 1500s, including the ceremonial cycle, the clan and chieftain social system, and agricultural methods that utilized every possible source of moisture in an extremely arid environment. The Hopis' "historical period" began in 1540, when first contact with Europeans occurred. In that year a group of Spanish soldiers led by the explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado arrived, looking for the legendary Seven Cities of Gold. After a brief, confrontational search produced no gold, the Spanish destroyed part of a village and left.

The Hopis were not molested further until 1629, when the first Spanish missionaries arrived, building missions in the villages of Awatovi, Oraibi, and Shungopavi. Historians speculate the Hopis pretended to adopt the new religion while practicing their own in secret. Hopi oral history confirms this interpretation. Rebelling finally against the Spanish yoke of religious oppression, the Hopis joined the rest of the Pueblo people in a unified revolt in 1680. During this uprising, known as the Pueblo Revolt, the Indians took the lives of Franciscan priests and Spanish soldiers and then besieged Santa Fe for several days. When the Hopis finally returned to their villages, they killed all the missionaries.

The Hopis then moved three of their villages to the mesa tops as a defensive measure against possible retaliation. The Spanish returned to reconquer the Rio Grande area in 1692. Many Rio Grande Pueblo Indians fled west to Hopi, where they were welcomed. Over the next few years, many living in Awatovi invited the Spanish priests back, a situation that caused a serious rift between those who wanted to preserve the old ways and those who embraced Christianity. Finally, in 1700 Hopi traditionalists killed all the Christian men in Awatovi and then destroyed the village. The destruction of Awatovi signaled the end of Spanish interference in Hopi life, although contact between the groups continued.


In response to the growing problem of Navajo encroachment on traditional Hopi land, President Chester A. Arthur established the Hopi reservation in 1882, setting aside 2,472,254 acres in northeastern Arizona for "Moqui and other such Indians as the Secretary of the Interior may see fit to settle thereon." The Hopi reservation was centered within a larger area (considered by the Hopis also to be their ancestral land) that was designated the Navajo reservation. As populations increased, the Navajo expanded their settlements well beyond their own borders, encroaching even more on the Hopi reservation. Despite the executive order, this situation continued for many decades. The Hopis complained, but the government failed to act, and the Navajo continued to overrun Hopi lands until they had taken over 1,800,000 acres of the original Hopi designation. The Hopis were left with only about 600,000 acres. Recognizing the problem, Congress finally passed the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act in 1974, which returned 900,000 acres to the Hopis. The dispute over resettlement and the remaining 900,000 original acres continues, however, as a number of Navajo families have refused to leave due to ancestral ties to the land. A 1975 film titled Dineh: The People, produced by Jonathan Reinis and Stephen Hornick, examined the relocation of Navajo from the joint-use area around the Hopi reservation, looking at the many sociocultural issues it raised. A more recent film, In the Heart of Big Mountain (1988), produced by Sandra Sunrising Osawa, looks at the background and history of the land dispute and the sacredness of the Big Mountain area to affected Navajo. Thomas Banyacya Sr. (b.1910), born in New Oraibi, became an outspoken traditionalist Hopi elder in opposition to Navajo relocation.

Another ongoing issue facing the Hopi concerns the preservation of the Hopi Way. Two 1980s films examine the Hopi Way. A 1983 film directed by Pat Ferrero takes an in-depth look at the Hopi Way, the ideal way of life from the point of view of many Hopi community members. Titled Hopi: Songs of the Fourth World, the film shows Hopi people in everyday life and contrasts Hopi society and worldview with other societies. The 1984 film Itam Hakim, Hopit, produced, directed, and filmed by noted Hopi filmmaker Victor Masayesva Jr., examines the life of a member of a Hopi storytelling clan and various periods of Hopi history.

These modern-day concerns have split the tribe into two factions, the Traditionalists and the Progressives. Traditionalists fear the erosion of Hopi culture by white cultural influences. Progressives feel that adoption of some aspects of modern American culture is necessary if the tribe is to survive and grow economically.

Acculturation and Assimilation


By the end of the twentieth century, the Hopi tribe was considered one of the more traditional Indian societies in the continental United States. As far back as they can be reliably traced by archeologists (to the period called Pueblo II, between 900 and 1100), the Hopis have been sedentary, living in masonry buildings. Their villages consisted of houses built of native stone, arranged around a central plaza containing one or more kivas. Hopi villages are arranged in much the same way today. During the Pueblo III Period (1100 to 1300), populations in the villages grew as the climate became more arid, making farming more difficult. The village buildings grew in size as well, some containing hundreds of rooms. During the Pueblo IV Period, the Hopi ancestral period from 1350 to 1540, the houses, made "of stone cemented with adobe and then plastered inside were virtually indistinguishable from the older houses of present-day Hopi, except that they were often multistoried," according to Page and Page. They added that the houses of that period contained rooms with specific functions, such as storage or grinding corn, and that kiva design was "nearly identical" to that of today. The houses and kivas of this period were heated with coal, which was also used for firing pottery. Today the Hopis occupy the older masonry houses as well as modern ones. The kiva remains largely as it was in ancient times: a rectangular room built of native stone, mostly below ground. "Sometimes," wrote Waters, "the kiva is widened at one end, forming the same shape as the T-shaped doorways found in all ancient Hopi ruins." This design is intended to echo the hairstyle of Hopi men, which generally forms a "T" shape. The kiva contains an altar and central fire pit below the roof opening. A ladder extends above the edge of the roof. When not in use for ceremonies, kivas are also used as meeting rooms.

The number four has great significance in the Hopi religion, so many ritual customs often call for repetitions of four. In accordance with Hopi tradition, both boys and girls were initiated into the kachina cult between the ages of eight and ten. Leitch wrote that the rite included "fasting, praying, and being whipped with a yucca whip. Each child had a ceremonial mother (girls) or father (boys) who saw them through the ordeal." She also noted, "All boys were initiated into one of the four men's societies Kwan, Ahl, Tao, or Wuwutcimi, usually joining the society of their ceremonial father. These rites commonly occurred in conjunction with the Powama ceremony, a four-day tribal initiation rite for young men, usually held at planting time." A tradition no longer observed is the prepuberty ceremony for ten-year-old girls, which involved grinding corn for an entire day at the girl's paternal grandmother's house. "At the onset of menses," Parsons wrote in 1950, "girls of the more conservative families go through a puberty ceremony marked by a four-day grinding ordeal." The girl would also receive a new name and would then occasionally assume the squash blossom hairstyle, the sign of marriageability.


A tradition of oral literature has been crucial to the survival of the Hopi Way because the language has remained unwritten until recent years. The oral tradition has made it possible to foster Hopi pride during modern times and to continue the custom, ritual, and ceremony that sustain the religious beliefs that are the essence of the Hopi Way. The body of Hopi oral literature is huge.


The Hopis have long been sedentary agriculturalists, with the men handling the work of cultivating and harvesting the crops. A great drought occurred from 1279 to 1299, requiring the Hopis to adopt inventive farming methods still in use today. Every possible source of moisture is utilized. The wind blows sand up against the sides of the mesas, forming dunes that trap moisture. Crops are then planted in these dunes. The Hopis also plant in the dry washes that occasionally flood, as well as in the mouths of arroyos. In other areas they irrigate crops by hand.

In the ancestral period, wild game was more plentiful, and Hopi men hunted deer, antelope, and elk. They also hunted rabbit with a boomerang. Page and Page listed corn, squash, beans, and some wild and semi-cultivated plants such as Indian millet, wild potato, piñon, and dropseed as staples of this period. They also noted that salt was obtained, although not without difficulty, by making long excursions to the Grand Canyon area. Barbara Leitch wrote in A Concise Dictionary of Indian Tribes of North America that the women gathered "pinenuts, prickly pear, yucca, berries, currants, nuts, and various seeds." Hopi women also made fine pottery, a craft that still flourishes today. The Hopis raised cotton in addition to the edible crops, and the men, Leitch wrote, "spun and wove cotton cloth into ceremonial costumes, clothing, and textiles for trade." In the sixteenth century the Spanish introduced wheat, onions, peaches and other fruits, chiles, and mutton to the Hopi diet.

The Hopis continue to depend on the land. Wild game had dwindled significantly in the region by 1950, leaving only rabbit as well as a few quail and deer. Modern Hopi farmers still use the old methods, raising mainly corn, melons, gourds, and many varieties of beans. Corn is the main crop, and the six traditional Hopi varieties are raised: yellow, blue, red, white, purple, and sweet. All have symbolic meaning stemming from the Creation story. A corn roast is an annual ritual, and corn is ground for use in ceremonies as well as to make piki, a traditional bread baked in layers on hot stones. A 1983 film Corn Is Life, documents the importance of corn to Hopi culture and its religious significance. The film shows traditional activities in planting, cultivating, harvesting, and preparing corn, including the baking of piki bread on hot, polished stone.


In earlier times Hopi men wore fur or buckskin loincloths. Some loincloths were painted and decorated with tassels, which symbolized falling rain. The men also raised cotton and wove it into cloth, robes, blankets, and textiles. These hand-woven cotton blankets were also worn regularly. The Hopis were reported in 1861 as being wrapped in blankets with broad white and dark stripes. At that time, women also commonly wore a loose black gown with a gold stripe around the waist and at the hem. Men wore shirts and loose cotton pants, covered with a blanket wrap. During the ritual ceremonies and dances, Hopi men wear elaborate costumes that include special headdresses, masks, and body paints. These costumes vary according to clan and ceremony.

Women had long hair, but marriageable girls wore their hair twisted up into large whorls on either side of their heads. These whorls represented the squash blossom, which was a symbol of fertility. This hairstyle is still worn by unmarried Hopi girls but due to the amount of time required to create it, the style is reserved for ceremonial occasions. The hairstyle for married women was either loose or in braids. The traditional hairstyle for Hopi men, after which kiva design was sometimes patterned, was worn with straight bangs over the forehead and a knot of hair in the back with the sides hanging straight and covering the ears. This style of bangs is still seen among traditional Hopi men.

Hopi women and girls today wear a traditional dress, which is black and embroidered with bright red and green trim. A bride, as in early days, wears a white robe woven of white cotton by her uncles. This bridal costume actually consists of two white robes. The bride wears a large robe with tassels that symbolize falling rain. A second, smaller robe, also with tassels, is carried rolled up in a reed scroll called a "suitcase" in English. When the woman dies, she will be wrapped in the suitcase robe.


Benedek wrote that "in spirit and in ceremony, the Hopis maintain a connection with the center of the earth, for they believe that they are the earth's caretakers, and with the successful performance of their ceremonial cycle, the world will remain in balance, the gods will be appeased, and rain will come." Central to the ceremonies are the kiva, the paho, and the Corn Mother. The kiva is the underground ceremonial chamber. Rectangular in shape (the very ancient kivas were circular), the kiva is a symbol of the Emergence to this world, with a small hole in the floor leading to the underworld and a ladder extending above the roof opening, which represents the way to the upper world. Kivas are found in various numbers in Hopi villages, always on an eastwest axis, sunk into the central plaza of a village. Following the secret ceremonies held inside the kiva, ceremonial dances are performed in the plaza. The paho, a prayer feather, usually that of an eagle, is used to send prayers to the Creator. Pahos are prepared for all kiva ceremonies. Corn has sustained the Hopis for centuries, and it plays a large role in Hopi ceremonies, such as in the sprinkling of cornmeal to welcome the kachinas to the Corn Mother. Waters described the Corn Mother as "a perfect ear of corn whose tip ends in four full kernels." It is saved for rituals.

The kachinas are spirits with the power to pass on prayers for rain and are mostly benevolent. Humans dressed and masked as these spirits perform the kachina dances, which are tied to the growing season, beginning in March and lasting into July. Kachina dolls, representing these gods, are carved and sold as crafts today, although they were originally toys for Hopi children. One of the most important ceremonials is held at the winter solstice. This ceremony, Soyal, as the first ceremony of the year and the first kachina dance, represents the second phase of Creation. The Niman ceremony, or the Home Dance, is held at the Summer Solstice, in late July. At that point the last of the crops have been planted and the first corn has been harvested. The Home Dance is the last kachina dance of the year. Although other ceremonial dances are also religious, they are less so than the kachina rituals. These other dances include the Buffalo Dance, held in January to commemorate the days when the buffalo were plentiful and Hopi men went out to the eastern plains to hun them; the Bean Dance, held in February to petition the kachinas for the next planting; and the Navajo Dance, celebrating the Navajo tribe. While the well-known Snake Dance is preceded by eight days of secret preparation, the dance itself is relatively short, lasting only about an hour. During this rite the priests handle and even put in their mouths unresistant snakes gathered from the desert. Non-Hopi experts have tried to discover how the priests can handle snakes without being bitten, but the secret has not been revealed. At the conclusion of the dance the snakes are released back into the desert, bearing messages for rain. The Snake and Flute Dances are held alternately every other year. The Flute Dance glorifies the spirits of those who have passed away during the preceding two years. In addition, the Basket Dance and other women's dances are held near the end of the year. The Hopi ceremonial cycle continues all year. The ritual ceremonies are conducted within the kivas in secrecy. The plaza dances that follow are rhythmic, mystical, and full of pageantry. Outsiders are sometimes allowed to watch the dances.


Traditional ceremonies are performed as instructed in sacred stories and relate to most aspects of daily Hopi life. Such occasions include important times in an individual's life, important times of the year, healing, spiritual renewal, bringing rain, initiation of people into positions, and for thanksgiving. Hopi ceremonies included the Flute ceremony, New Fire ceremony, Niman Kachina ceremony, Pachavu ceremony, Powamu ceremony, Snake-Antelope ceremony, Soyal, and Wuwuchim ceremony.


Page and Page stated that much of Hopi healing is psychic but that the Hopis also utilize many herbal remedies. The Hopis are quite knowledgeable about the various medicinal properties of certain plants and herbs. Ritual curing, however, is done by several societies, including the kachina society. Parsons wrote, "The Kachina cult is generally conceived as a rain-making, crop-bringing cult; but it has also curing or health-bringing functions." She added that "On First Mesa kachina dances (including the Horned water serpent and the Buffalo Dance) may be planned for afflicted persons." In addition to holding dances expressly for sick people, for some illnesses the cure is administered by a specific society. For example, snakebite is treated by the Snake society on First Mesa, according to Parsons, and rheumatism is treated by the Powamu society, which then inducts the afflicted into the society. Other cures are less logical to an outsider. "On First Mesa," Parsons wrote, "lightning-shocked persons and persons whose fields have been lightning-struck join the Flute society. A lightning-shocked man is called in to cure earache in babies." Other rituals include the practice of "sucking out" the disease, usually when dealing with sick infants and children. Cornmeal is actually held in the mouth during this procedure, and then the curer "spits away" the disease. The Hopis also utilize modern medical science, doctors, and hospitals. A government hospital was established in 1913. Now, the Office of Native Healing Services is located in nearby Window Rock, Arizona. In the late 1990s a new health care center was planned for First Mesa.


The Hopis speak several dialects of a single language, Hopi, with the exception of the village of Hano, where the members speak Tewa, which is derived from the Azteco-Tanoan linguistic family. Waters noted in 1963 that "Hopi is not yet a commonly written language, perhaps because of the extreme difficulty in translation, as pointed out by Benjamin Lee Whorf, who has made a profound analysis of the language." Despite being unwritten and untranslated, the strong Hopi oral tradition has preserved and passed down the language. Most Hopis today, including the younger generations, speak both Hopi and English. Both Arizona state universities began developing a Hopi writing system with a dictionary containing over 30,000 words.


Some Hopi words and phrases include: tiva dance; tuwaki shrine in the kiva; kahopi not Hopi; kachada white man; Hotomkam Three Stars in Line (Orion's Belt); kachinki kachina house; Hakomi? Who are you?; and, Haliksa'I Listen, this is how it is.

Family and Community Dynamics


Hopi children gain their education through available formal school systems and through traditional educational activities in such places as kivas. Education is provided through local public schools, federal government schools, local village schools, private schools, and kivas. Between 1894 and 1912, schools were established near Hopi villages. But until the late twentieth century, children had to leave home to attend government-sponsored or private off-reservation boarding high schools. In 1985, new Hopi middle and high schools were opened for all tribal students. The on-reservation schools have facilitated traditional education by having students live at home, attending year-round village rituals and ceremonies. The traditional education begins in earnest around age of eight, with a series of initiation rites. The young are taught the Hopi Way, composed of traditional principles and ethics and the value of kinship systems.


The social organization of traditional Hopi society is based on kinship clans determined through the woman's side of the family. The clans determine various kinds of social relations of individuals throughout their lives, including possible marriage partners and their place of residence. Women own the farming and garden plots, though men are responsible for the farming as well as the grazing of sheep and livestock. Women are also centrally involved in Hopi arts and crafts. By tradition the women's products are specialized and determined by their residence. Women make ceramics on First Mesa, coiled basketry on Second Mesa, and wicker basketry on Third Mesa. Hopi men do the weaving.


Many marriage customs are still observed, but others have fallen into disuse. Fifty years ago, for example, courtship was an elaborate procedure involving a rabbit hunt, corn grinding, and family approval of the marriage. The bride was married in traditional white robes woven for the occasion by her uncles. The couple lived with the bride's mother for the first year. Today the courtship is much less formal. The couple often marry in a church or town and then return to the reservation. Since not all men know how to weave anymore, Page and Page pointed out that it may take years for the uncles to produce the traditional robes. They also described several marriage customs still in practice, however. These include a four-day stay by the bride with her intended in-laws. During this time she grinds corn all day and prepares all the family's meals to demonstrate her culinary competence. Prior to the wedding, the aunts of both the bride and groom engage in a sort of good-natured free-for-all that involves throwing mud and trading insults, each side suggesting the other's relative is no good. The groom's parents wash the couple's hair with a shampoo of yucca in a ritual that occurs in other ceremonies as well. A huge feast follows at the bride's mother's house. Once married, the bride wears her hair loose or in braids.

Clan membership plays a role in partner selection. The rule against marrying another member of the same clan has prevented interbreeding, keeping genetic lines strong. Although marriage into an associated clan was forbidden as well, Page and Page suggest that this tradition is breaking down. Marriage to nontribal members is extremely rare, a fact that has helped preserve Hopi culture. The clan system is matrilineal, meaning that clan membership is passed down through the mother. One cannot be Hopi without a clan of birth, so if the mother is not Hopi, neither will her children be. Adoption into the tribe is also extremely rare.


Old age among the Hopis is considered desirable, because it indicates that the journey of life is almost complete. The Hopis have a strong respect for the rituals of death, however, and it is customary to bury the dead as quickly as possible because the religion holds that the soul's journey to the land of the dead begins on the fourth day after death. Any delay in burial can thus interfere with the soul's ability to reach the underworld. The ritual called for the hair of the deceased to be washed with the yucca shampoo by a paternal aunt. Leitch added that the hair was then decorated with prayer feathers and the face covered with a mask of raw cotton, symbolizing clouds. The body was then wrappeda man in a deerskin robe, a woman in her wedding robeand buried by the oldest son, preferably on the day or night of death. Leitch wrote that "the body was buried in a sitting position along with food and water. Cornmeal and prayersticks were later placed in the grave." A stick is inserted into the soil of a grave as an exit for the soul. If rain follows, it signifies the soul's successful journey.


The Hopis have maintained historical relations with the Zuñi as well as the Hano and Tewa groups in the Rio Grande River valley to the east. During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Pueblo groups united to drive Spanish influence out of the region. Moreover, extensive trading networks existed among the groups prior to the revolt. The complex land issues with the Navajo have led to complex relations. The Hopi elective government have fought for defense of their original reservation, while traditionalists support the Navajo families' efforts to remain on the disputed lands.


Page and Page explained the special rituals observed when naming a new baby. A newborn is kept from direct view of the sun for its first 19 days. A few days prior to the naming, the traditional Hopi stew is prepared at the home of the maternal grandmother, who figures prominently in the custom. The baby belongs to her of his mother's clan but is named for the father's. In the naming ritual, the grandmother kneels and washes the mother's hair, then bathes the baby. The baby is wrapped snugly in a blanket, with only its head visible. With the baby's Corn Mother, the grandmother rubs a mixture of water and cornmeal on the baby's hair, applying it four times. Each of the baby's paternal aunts then repeats this application, and each gives a gift and suggests a name. The grandmother chooses one of these names and then introduces the baby to the sun god just as the sun comes up. A feast follows.


The Hopi religion is a complex, highly developed belief system incorporating many gods and spirits, such as Earth Mother, Sky Father, the Sun, the Moon, and the many kachinas, or invisible spirits of life. Waters described this religion as "a mytho-religious system of year-long ceremonies, rituals, dances, songs, recitations, and prayers as complex, abstract, and esoteric as any in the world." The Hopi identity centers on this belief system. Waters explained their devotion, writing, "The Hopis . . . have never faltered in the belief that their secular pattern of existence must be predicated upon the religious, the universal plan of Creation. They are still faithful to their own premise." The Pages stated in 1982 that 95 percent of the Hopi people continue to adhere to these beliefs.

According to oral tradition, the Hopis originated in the First of four worlds, not as people but as fractious, insect-like creatures. Displeased with these creatures' grasp of the meaning of life, the Creator, the Sun spirit Tawa, sent Spider Woman, another spirit, to guide them on an evolutionary migration. By the time they reached the Third

"S he knew it was the duty of the youngest member of a Hopi family to feed the family gods and she was the youngest present, but she was in a hurry to be off and would have neglected the duty had not her grandmother reminded her."

Polingaysi Qoyawayma, No Turning Back: A True Account of a Hopi Girl's Struggle,(University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1964).

World, they had become people. They reached the Fourth, or Upper, World by climbing up from the underworld through a hollow reed. Upon reaching this world, they were given four stone tablets by Masaw, the world's guardian spirit. Masaw described the migrations they were to take to the ends of the land in each of the four directions and how they would identify the place where they were intended to finally settle. And so the migrations began, some of the clans starting out in each direction. Their routes would eventually form a cross, the center of which was the Center of the Universe, their intended permanent home. This story of the Hopi Creation holds that their completed journeys finally led them to the plateau that lies between the Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers, in the Four Corners region. As Waters explained, "the Hopi . . . know that they were led here so that they would have to depend upon the scanty rainfall which they must evoke with their power and prayer," preserving their faith in the Creator who brought them to this place. The Hopis are thus connected to their land with its agricultural cycles and the constant quest for rainfall in a deeply religious way.

Employment and Economic Traditions

For more than 3,000 years the Hopis have been farmers in an arid desert climate, dry farming in washes as well as constructing irrigated terraces on the mesas, and supplementing their subsistence economy with small game hunting. Farm and garden plots have traditionally belonged to the women of each clan.

The federal government attempted to subdivide the Hopi reservation in 1910, assigning small parcels to individual Hopi. But the effort failed, and the reservation remained intact. Congress passed the Navajo-Hopi Long Range Rehabilitation Act in 1951, allocating approximately $90 million to improve reservation roads, schools, utilities, and health facilities. In 1966 the Hopi tribal council signed a lease with Peabody Coal Company to strip mine a 25,000 acre area in the Navajo-Hopi Joint Use Area. Traditionalists attempted to block the mining through the federal courts but failed; the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1998, the Hopis won a $6 million judgment that ordered the Navajo to share with the Hopi taxes collected from the Peabody coal mining operation in the Joint Use Area. That same year the Hopis signed an agreement with the federal government for almost $3 million of water and wastewater construction for the villages of First Mesa.

By the 1970s, farming income was declining and wage labor was gaining importance in the Hopi economy. An undergarment factory was established in Winslow, Arizona, in partnership with the Hopis in 1971 but failed in only a few years. By the late twentieth century, the Hopis had a diverse economy of small-scale farming and livestock grazing, various small businesses, mineral development royalty payments, government subsidies for community improvements, and wage-labor incomes. Many traditional Hopi objects were transformed from utilitarian and sacred items to works of art. Commercial art includes the making of kachina dolls, silver jewelry, woven baskets, and pottery. Cooperative marketing organizations and various enterprises for Hopi craftspeople, including Hopicrafts and Artist Hopid, are available on-reservation and off. In addition to arts and crafts shops, small businesses on-reservation include two motels, a museum, and several dining facilities and gas stations.

Politics and Government

The Hopis have always been organized according to a matrilineal clan system, which in the late 1990s was made up of some 30 clans. An elected Tribal Council has existed since 1934 to interact with the federal government, but its function is representative; it does not govern the tribe. The individual villages are each governed independently by a kikmongwi, or village chief. Susanne and Jake Page, in their book, Hopi, described this system as "a loose confederation of politically independent villages, rather like the city-states of ancient Greece, knit together by basically similar views of their history, [and] by similar religious beliefs and ceremonial practices." They noted also that the clan system is "one of the main forms of social glue that has historically held the separate Hopi villages together." Clan membership provides the singular Hopi identity.

The Hopis, protecting their sovereignty, never signed a treaty with the U.S. government. The Hopi Tribal Council and government was established in 1935 with a written constitution but disbanded in 1943. The government was reestablished in 1950, and the nation received federal recognition again in 1955, making available a range of social services and funding opportunities. With coal, natural gas, oil and uranium minerals resources, the Hopis are members of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes. Founded in 1975, the council speaks with a unified Native American voice to the federal government on mineral exploration and development policies and provides technical information to the member tribes.

Individual and Group Contributions


Don C. Talayesva (b.1890) was born on the Hopi reservation in Oraibi and was raised in the traditional Hopi Way for the early part of his life. After attending the Sherman School for Indians in Riverside, California, Talayesva returned to the reservation to resume the traditional Hopi way of life. He became the subject of study by anthropologist Leo Simmons in 1938, which led to the noted 1942 publication Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian, which has remained a popular account of Hopi life.

Elizabeth Q. White (c.18921990), also known as Polingaysi Qoyawayma, was born at the traditional village of Old Oraibi. She graduated from Bethel College in Newton, Kansas, after studying to become a Mennonite missionary at the Hopi reservation. She became a teacher in the Indian Service on the reservation, where she became a noted educator, eventually earning the U.S. Department of Interior's Distinguished Service Award. White wrote several books on Hopi traditional life and founded the Hopi Student Scholarship Fund at Northern Arizona University.


Traditional Hopi anonymity changed in the twentieth century as many individuals began to be recognized for their work. Nampeyo (18591942), born in Hano on First Mesa, helped revive Hopi arts by reintroducing ancient forms and designs she had noted in archaeological remains into her pottery. Her work became uniquely artistic. Nampeyo was used in promotional photographs by the Santa Fe Railway and others, and her pots were added to the collection of the National Museum in Washington, D.C. Nampeyo's daughters and granddaughter, Hooee Daisy Nampeyo (b.1910) carried on her artistry in ceramics. Her granddaughter Hooee also grew up in Hano, learning ceramics from her grandmother. She furthered Hopi and Zuni art in the Southwest, working in ceramics and silver.

Born at the traditional village of Shongopavi at Second Mesa, Fred Kabotie (1900-1986) attended the Santa Fe Indian School as a teenager, where his talent for painting was recognized. Kabotie became noted especially for his depictions of kachinas, which vividly portrayed supernatural powers. In 1922, Kabotie won the first annual Rose Dugan art prize of the Museum of New Mexico, and by 1930 his paintings were on permanent exhibit in the museum. Kabotie went on to become internationally recognized and his work was exhibited at such major museums as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. His work toured internationally in Europe and Asia. He received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 1945, and he was elected to the French Academy of Arts in 1954. In the 1940s, Kabotie founded the Hopi Silvercraft Cooperative Guild, teaching unemployed World War II veterans the art of silverworking. Charles Loloma was a noted student. From 1937 to 1959, he taught art back home in Oraibi, Arizona furthering a tribal artistic tradition. In 1958, Kabotie was awarded the U.S. Indian Arts and Crafts Board's Certificate of Merit. His son, Michael, co-founded Artist Hopid to promote Hopi artists.

Charles Loloma's (19211991) jewelry is among the most distinctive in the world. The originality of his designs stems from the combination of nontraditional materials, such as gold and diamonds, with typical Indian materials such as turquoise. He also received great recognition as a potter, silversmith, and designer. Loloma was born in Hotevilla on the Hopi reservation and attended the Hopi High School in Oraibi and the Phoenix Indian High School in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1939 Loloma painted the murals for the Federal Building on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, as part of the Golden Gate International Exposition. The following year, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board commissioned him to paint the murals for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1940, Loloma was drafted into the army, where he spent four years working as a camouflage expert in the Aleutian Islands off the Alaskan coast. After his discharge, he attended the School for American Craftsmen at Alfred University in New York, a well-known center for ceramic arts. This choice was unprecedented on Loloma's part, since ceramics was traditionally a woman's art among the Hopis. After receiving a 1949 Whitney Foundation Fellowship to study the clays of the Hopi area, he and his wife, Otellie, worked out of the newly opened Kiva Craft Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. From 1954 to 1958 he taught at Arizona State University, and in 1962 he became head of the Plastic Arts and Sales Departments at the newly established Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1963 Loloma's work was exhibited in Paris. After 1965, Loloma spent the rest of his years on the Hopi reservation, where he continued working and teaching his art to several apprentices. By the mid-1970s, his jewelry had been exhibited throughout the country and in Europe, and his pieces had won numerous first prizes in arts competitions. Loloma was one of the first prominent Indian craftsmen who had a widely recognized unique personal style.

Otellie Loloma (19221992), born at Shipaulovi on Second Mesa, received a three-year scholarship to the School of the American Craftsmen at Alfred University in New York, where she specialized in ceramics. At Alfred she met and later married Charles Loloma, an internationally famous Hopi artist. Otellie herself received world acclaim for her ceramics and was considered the most influential Indian woman in ceramics. Loloma taught at Arizona State University, at the Southwest Indian Art Project at the University of Arizona, and at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). She also performed traditional dance, performing at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico and at a White House special program. Her work has been internationally shown and is exhibited at a number of museums, including the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, the Heard Museum, and Blair House in Washington, D.C. One of her last awards was an Outstanding Achievement in the Visual Arts award from the 1991 National Women's Caucus for Art.


Eugene Sekaquaptewa (1925 ) was born on the Hopi reservation at Hotevilla. He earned an M.A. from Arizona State University before joining the U.S. Marines in 1941. He survived the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima and other intense battles. Sekaquaptewa returned to Arizona State University to teach education courses and participate in the university's Indian Community Action Project, in addition to teaching at the Indian boarding school in Riverside, California, the Sherman Institute. He has published a number of professional papers on Hopi education.


Actor Anthony Nukema was of Hopi and California Karok ancestry, and appeared in Pony Soldier (1952) and Westward Ho the Wagons! (1957). As independent filmmakers documenting experiences of the native peoples of the Southwest, Maggi Banner produced Coyote Goes Underground (1989) and Tiwa Tales (1991). The prolific Victor Masayesva Jr. produced Hopiit (1982), Itam Hakim Hopiit (1984), Siskyavi: A Place of Chasms (1991), and Imagining Indians (1992) among others.


An influential periodical publisher and editor, Rose Robinson (1932 ) was born in Winslow, Arizona and earned degrees from the Haskell Institute and the American University in Washington, D.C. in journalism studies. Robinson was a founding board member of the American Indian Press Association (later renamed Native American Journalist Association) before becoming its executive director. She also served as a member of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Indian Arts and Crafts Board, as information officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Office of Public Instruction, as vice president and director of the Phelps-Stokes Fund's American Indian Program, and in various leadership roles with the North American Indian Women's Association. Robinson guides publication of periodicals for the Native AmericanPhilanthropic News Service, including The Exchange and The Roundup. In 1980 she received the Indian Media Woman of the Year award.


Poet Wendy Rose (1948 ) was born Bronwen Elizabeth Edwards in Oakland, California and grew up in the San Francisco area. She studied at Contra Costa College and earned an M.A. in anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. Some early work was published under the name Chiron Khanshendel. Her work, which focuses on modern urban Indian issues, has been included in numerous anthologies, in feminist collections such as In Her Own Image (1980) and more general collections, including Women Poets of the World (1983), in addition to her own published collections, Hopi Roadrunner Dancing (1973), Lost Copper (1980), What Happened When the Hopi Hit New York (1982), The Halfbreed Chronicles and Other Poems (1985), Now Poof She Is Gone (1994), and Bone Dance: New and Selected Poems, 19651993 (1994). Rose has also served as editor for the scholarly journal American Indian Quarterly and has taught at Fresno City College, where she was director of the American Indian Studies Program.


Al Qoyawayma (c.1938 ) became a prominent Hopi engineer as well as a noted ceramic artist. Born in Los Angeles, he earned an M.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1966. Working for Litton Systems, Inc., Qoyawayma developed high-tech airborne guidance systems. He moved to Arizona, becoming manager for environmental services for the Salt River Project. As an understudy of his aunt, Polingaysi Qoyawayma (Elizabeth White), he has also become an accomplished ceramicist, with his works displayed at the Smithsonian Institute and the Kennedy Art Center in Washington, D.C.

A geneticist and the first Hopi to receive a doctorate in sciences, Frank C. Dukapoo (1943 ) founded the National Native American Honor Society in 1982. Duckapoo, born on the Mohave Indian reservation in Arizona, has specialized in investigating factors contributing to birth defects in Indians, among other research topics. He is also an accomplished saxophone player. Duckapoo earned his Ph.D. from Arizona State University and has taught at Arizona State, San Diego State University, Palomar Junior College, and Northern State University. Besides holding an executive position with the National Science Foundation from 1976 to 1979, he was also director of Indian Education at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, and executive secretary for the National Cancer Institute.


Louis Tewanima (18791969) was not only the teammate of the famous American Indian athlete Jim Thorpe, but a world-class athlete in his own right. Born at Shongopovi, Second Mesa, on the Hopi Indian reservation, Tewanima chased jackrabbits as a boy. He was on the track team of the famous Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania under legendary coach Glenn "Pop" Warner. Tewanima established world records in long-distance running. At one track meet, Tewanima, Jim Thorpe, and Frank Mount Pleasant of Carlisle beat 20 athletes from Lafayette College. The U.S. Olympic Team selected Tewanima and Thorpe without requiring them to undergo trialsa rare honor. In 1912 they sailed to Stockholm, where they became U.S. heroes. Thorpe was proclaimed "the greatest athlete in the world" by the king of Sweden, and Tewanima won a silver medal in the 10,000 meter race. His performance set a U.S. record that lasted more than 50 years, until Billy Mills, a Sioux distance runner, surpassed it in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Tewanima returned home to Second Mesa, where he tended sheep and raised crops. Just for fun, to watch the trains go by, he would run to Winslow, Arizona, 80 miles away. In 1954, he was named to the All-Time United States Olympic Track and Field Team and in 1957 was the first person inducted, to a standing ovation, into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame at a dinner given in his honor. The Tewanima Foot Race is run every September at Kykotsmovi. The tribe established a 2002 Winter Olympic Committee to mark a return of the Hopis to the Olympics and showcase Hopi arts and crafts.


Weaver Ramona Sakiestewa (1949 ) was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to a Hopi father. She attended New York's School of Visual Arts and specialized in the treadle loom. Sakiestewa combines ancient design elements with contemporary weaving techniques, establishing a unique tradition in Native American arts. She co-founded ATLATL, a national Native American arts organization. Her tapestries have been shown at various shows and galleries including the Heard Museum of Phoenix and the Wheelwright Museum of American Indian in Santa Fe.

Award-winning artist and teacher Linda Lomahaftewa (1947 ) was born in Phoenix, Arizona. She attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and earned an M.A. in fine arts in 1971 from the San Francisco Art Institute. Lomahaftewa's drawings and paintings reflecting Hopi spirituality and storytelling have been exhibited throughout the United States. She has received numerous awards and has taught at various colleges and universities, including University of California at Berkeley and back at the Institute.


The surrounding Navajo reservation established Navajo Communications, which provides various telecommunications services. However, the Hopis have no comparable utility and remained unconnected to the Navajo system.


A biweekly newsletter published by the Hopi Office of Public Relations.

Address: P.O. Box 123, Kykotsmovi, Arizona 86039.

Telephone: (602) 734-2441.

Organizations and Associations

Hopi Cultural Center.

Opened in 1970, the on-reservation facility houses various collections of Hopi arts and crafts and the Hononi Crafts shop.

Address: P.O. Box 67, Second Mesa, Arizona 86043.

Telephone: (602) 734-2401.

The Hopi Foundation.

The nongovernmental Foundation is based on Third Mesa, promoting cultural preservation led by Hopi professionals and laypersons.

Address: P.O. Box 705, Hotevilla, Arizona 86030.

Silvercraft Cooperative Guild.

Supports and sponsors Hopi artists.

Address: Box 37, Second Mesa, Arizona 86043.

Telephone: (602) 734-2463.

Museums and Research Centers

Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.

Established in 1989 to implement a 1987 tribal historic preservation plan protecting important Hopi sacred and cultural sites, including traditional subsistence gathering areas.

Contact: Leigh Kuwanwisiwma.

Address: 123 Kykotsmovi, Arizona 86039.

Telephone: (520) 734-2244.

Hopi Tribal Museum.

Address: P.O. Box 7, Second Mesa, Arizona 86035.

Telephone: (602) 234-6650.

Museum of Northern Arizona.

Hosts the Hopi and Navajo Arts and Crafts Show annually in June and July.

Address: Route 4, Box 720, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001.

Telephone: (602) 774-5211.

Sources for Additional Study

Benedek, Emily. The Wind Won't Know Me: A History of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Leitch, Barbara A. A Concise Dictionary of Indian Tribes of North America. Algonac, MI: Reference Publications, 1979.

Loftin, John D. Religion and Hopi Life in the Twentieth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Page, Susanne and Jake. Hopi. New York: Harry Abrams, 1994.

Parsons, Elsie Clews. Hopi and Zuñi Ceremonialism. New York: Harper and Bros., 1950. Reprint. Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint, 1976.

Waters, Frank. Book of the Hopi. New York: Viking Press, 1963.


views updated Jun 11 2018



Hopi is the shortened form of the tribe’s original name Hopituh- Shi-nu-mu. Its most commonly given meaning is “peaceful people.” The Hopi are sometimes referred to as the Moqui, a name given to them by the Spanish, who misunderstood and thought the Hopi word, móki, meaning “death”, was the tribe’s name.


The 2.5 million-acre Hopi federal reservation is located in northeast Arizona, just east of the Grand Canyon, in the Four Corners area, where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet. The Hopi inhabit 14 villages, most of them situated atop three rocky mesas (called First Mesa, Second Mesa, and Third Mesa) that rise 600 feet (183 meters) up from the desert floor. A mesa (the Spanish word for table) is a large hill with steep sides and a flat top. Some Hopi also live on the Colorado Indian Tribes Reservation in Parker, Arizona.


In 1680 there were an estimated 2,800 Hopi. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 11,791 people identified themselves as Hopi. By the 2000 census that figure had decreased to 10,336; of that number, 6,946 lived on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. According to 2004 tribal records 12,053 Hopi were enrolled as tribal members.

Language family


Origins and group affiliations

Scientists say the Hopi tribe has lived in its present location for at least one thousand years. Hopi tales tell how their ancestors developed from small creatures in another world. The Hopi are the westernmost of the Pueblo Indian tribes. The Hopi, however, are the only Pueblo people who speak a Shoshonean language of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Hopi living on the Colorado Indian Tribes Reservation share the land with the Mohave, Navajo (see entires), and Chemehuevi. Over the years the Hopi who live on the Hopi Reservation have struggled with the Navaho over land rights.

The Hopi people regard themselves as the first inhabitants of America. They excel at the challenge of farming and gardening in their extremely dry climate. According to this deeply religious tribe, their way of life focuses on humility, cooperation, respect, and caring for the earth. Their isolated location, customary secrecy, and the fact that their community remains largely closed to outsiders have helped preserve their culture.


Prior to Spanish contact

Most scholars believe that the region where the Hopi live has been occupied for at least ten thousand years. Evidence suggests that as far back as 1,500 years ago ancestors of the Hopi made use of ceremonies, technology, and architecture very much like that seen on the Hopi reservation in modern times.

From 1350 to 1540 Hopi villages grew larger and required greater social organization. At that time chieftains, or heads of the villages, expanded their power. The period also saw the first use of kivas, underground ceremonial chambers found in every village. In addition coal was mined on tribal land, and the Hopi people were among the world’s first to use coal for firing pottery to strengthen it.

Other Native Americans call the Hopi, whose complex culture was firmly in place by the 1550s, “the oldest of the people.” The Hopi culture included an annual series of ceremonies and a social system based around clans (groups of related families that trace themselves back to a common ancestor). Their village of Oraibi dates back to at least 1550 and is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the United States.

Important Dates

1540: The Hopi first meet Europeans when Spanish soldiers led by Coronado arrive.

1680: The Hopi and other Pueblo tribes force the Spanish out of their area in the Pueblo Revolt.

1882: President Chester A. Arthur establishes the Hopi Indian Reservation.

1934: The Hopi Tribal Council starts to deal with Hopi-U.S. government relations.

1974: The Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act returns 900,000 acres to the Hopi that had been taken over by the Navajo.

1996 The Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Act allows more time for Navajos to relocate, but some stay and, with help of Hopi traditionalists, resist the desecration of Big Mountain.

Spanish impose Christianity

The Hopi had their first contact with Europeans in 1540 when a group of Spanish soldiers, led by explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (c. 1510–1554), arrived in Hopi territory. They were looking for the legendary “Seven Cities of Gold”—places that were supposed to be full of riches. When the Spaniards searched and found no gold in Hopi villages, they destroyed part of a village and left. The Hopi did not face further interference from the Spanish until 1629, when the first Spanish missionaries arrived. These Roman Catholics built missions in Oraibi and at two other villages. Most tribal members pretended to adopt the new religion while practicing their own in secret.

Some Spaniards had come seeking gold, and they believed the tribe knew where it was located. Hopi oral tradition tells that the people were tortured to extract this nonexistent information. In addition the priests banned Hopi rituals and ceremonies. The Hopi finally rebelled against Spanish rule and religious oppression when they joined the rest of the Pueblo people in a unified revolt known as the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. (For more information, see Pueblo entry.) During this uprising the Native Americans took the lives of Catholic priests and Spanish soldiers and kept up a several-day attack on Santa Fe, New Mexico. After the battle the Hopi returned to their villages and killed all the missionaries.

Spanish interference ends

To protect themselves from retaliation the Hopi moved three of their villages to the mesa tops. The Spanish returned in 1692 and reconquered the nearby Rio Grande area. (The Rio Grande is the river that separates Mexico from Texas.) Many Rio Grande Natives fled west to the Hopi lands, where they were welcomed. Over the next few years a number of the people who lived at the Hopi village of Awatovi invited the Spanish priests back. This situation caused a serious break between those who wanted to preserve the old ways and those who embraced Christianity. Finally in 1700 Hopi supporters of the old ways killed all the Christian men in Awatovi and then destroyed the village.

The destruction of Awatovi marked the end of Spanish interference in Hopi life. For the most part there was no further contact between the Hopi and white people until about 1850. At that time the U.S. government appointed an Indian agent to oversee the Hopi and other Native American inhabitants of their region. U.S. officials’ visits to Hopi lands caused a terrible smallpox epidemic that killed hundreds of people in 1853 and 1854. A drought soon after that reduced the population of Oraibi from eight hundred people to two hundred. When the American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who were opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [the South], who were in favor of slavery) began the military withdrew from the Southwest to fight the war. Without soldiers to stop them, the Navajo increased their attacks on Hopi villages.

Navajo intrusion

In 1882 aware that the Navajo were attacking the Hopi and taking over their land, U.S. president Chester A. Arthur (1830–1886; served 1881–85) ordered the establishment of the Hopi Reservation. He granted the tribe 2.6 million acres of land. But because of the wording of his order, Navajo takeover of Hopi land continued for nearly a century, until the passage of the Navajo-Hopi Indian Land Settlement Act of 1974. The act returned approximately half of the disputed land to the Hopi. Some land disputes between the Hopi and Navajo, however, still remain unresolved (see “Current tribal issues”).

In 1950 the U.S. Congress passed the Navajo-Hopi Act and spent $90 million to improve facilities on the reservation such as roads, schools, hospitals, water, electricity, and sewers. In 1961 the Hopi tribal council was granted permission to lease tribal lands to outsiders. As a result the council allowed the Peabody Coal Company to lease 25,000 acres of land for mining, a process that began at Black Mesa in 1970, and has brought some money to the Hopi. Since the 1960s farming has greatly decreased on Hopi lands, and by 1980 the major source of income had become wage labor (see “Economy”).

As of the mid-2000s most Hopi work at jobs in area coalmines, in the service industry, or as part of the tourist trade. Many also work as artists and craftspeople. One difficulty many Hopi find is that working for wages does not allow the necessary time for farming or participating in religious ceremonies. Nevertheless most families try to maintain their culture in spite of the changes brought about by modern living.


Dependence on the gods

The Hopi religion is a highly developed belief system. It has many gods and spirits including Earth Mother, Sky Father, the Sun, the Moon, and the many kachinas, or invisible spirits that inhabit living and non-living things. The religion features a yearlong schedule of rituals, songs, recitations, and prayers that are unusual and complex.

The Hopi have long believed that the non-religious elements of their lives must be based upon their religious patterns, the patterns of Creation. As of 1992 it was reported that more than 95 percent of the people remained faithful to their Hopi religious beliefs.

The Hopi believe that they are deeply connected to the Earth. They also have faith that if they perform their cycle of ceremonies successfully, the world will remain in harmony, the gods will be pleased, and sufficient rain will fall.

Kivas and prayer feathers

Central to the religious ceremonies of the Hopi are the kiva, the paho, and the Corn Mother. The kiva, an underground ceremonial chamber, is usually rectangular (although the ancient ones were circular) and is sunk into the village square. It symbolizes the place of emergence of the original Hopi people into this world. The kiva has a small hole in the floor that represents the entrance to the underworld and a ladder extending above the roof opening that represents the way to the upper world.

At the end of secret ceremonies held inside the kiva, ceremonial dances are performed in the square. The paho, a prayer feather, usually that of an eagle, is used to send prayers to the Creator. Pahos are used at all kiva ceremonies.

The Corn Mother and kachinas

Corn, which has sustained the Hopi for centuries, plays a large role in Hopi ceremonies. For example cornmeal is sprinkled to welcome the kachinas to the Corn Mother. The Corn Mother, who has been described as “a perfect ear of corn whose tip ends in four full kernels,” is saved for rituals.

Hopi kachinas are said to inhabit the sacred San Francisco Peaks. They come to live in Hopi villages for six months of the year to perform ceremonies and dances. They are mostly good spirits who have the power to pass on prayers for rain to the gods. Masked people dressed as these spirits perform the kachina dances, which are tied to the growing season, beginning in March and lasting into July.

The Powamu Ceremony and Bean Dance

The Hopi Powamu Ceremony is performed to request plentiful crops from the gods and to initiate children into a Kachina society. The sixteen-day rites begin during the new moon in February and prepare the Hopi and their dry lands for the upcoming planting season. Beans are blessed, planted in moist sand in boxes, then grown in the hothouse environment of underground kivas. Ceremonies that center on planting are very important since they help seeds sprout and thrive when warm weather comes.

The Bean Dance celebrates the germination of the seeds. Kachinas dance into the village square along a path of cornmeal sprinkled before them by priests. The dancers call on the mysterious forces of nature and stay in the village for six months, dancing for rain, fertility, and other blessings.

The Crow Mother Kachina walks through the village on the last day of the Powamu Ceremony, carrying a basket of fresh bean sprouts that germinated in the kiva. These signify the abundance of crops to come. The Crow Mother is accompanied by her two sons, called the Whipper Twins. With eyes bulging and hair flying, they bare their teeth as they pretend to whip the children of the village with yucca fronds.


The Hopi speak a single language, Hopi, a Shoshonean form of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Different Hopi groups have different dialects (varieties). For example the Hopi people of the village of Hano speak Tewa, a Pueblo language derived from the Azteco-Tanoan language family.

The Hopi language is difficult to translate, and only recently has it been written down. But the strong Hopi oral tradition preserved it and passed it down from generation to generation, so that today most Hopi, including the young people, still speak their language as well as English.

Hopi Words

  • tiva … “dance”
  • tuwaki … “shrine in the kiva”
  • kahopi … “not Hopi”
  • kachada … “white man”
  • Hotomkam … “Three Stars in Line” or “Orion’s Belt”
  • kachinki … “kachina house”
  • Hakomi? … “Who are you?”
  • Haliksa’i … “Listen, this is how it is”


Each independent Hopi village is governed by a Kikmongwi, or village chief. Villages are only loosely connected politically as a confederation, although they have strong cultural connections in their shared history and religion and the similarity of their ceremonies.

The Hopi tribe has always been organized according to a system of clans based on the mother’s ancestry. In modern times there are some thirty clans. Clan membership helps to provide a singular Hopi identity. Although an elected Hopi Tribal Council has existed since 1934 to deal with matters between the Hopi and the federal government, it does not govern the tribe. The council is made up of a chairperson and vice-president who serve four-year terms, and by council members who serve two-year terms. Every village has its own government, but the Hopi Tribal Council sets general policies and oversees tribal business and laws.

The Tribal Council represents the Hopi people in dealings with the external world, and the 12 Hopi villages hold the power within the tribe itself. Kikmongwi still lead many of the villages. Some of those also have representatives on the Tribal Council. One village now has a constitution and a western-style government.


For many centuries the Hopi stayed in one place and farmed. Men planted and harvested the crops, while women gathered other needed food. During a great drought from 1279 to 1299 the Hopi adopted inventive farming methods that took advantage of every possible source of moisture and are still in use today.

One Hopi irrigation method used wind to blow sand up against the sides of the mesas, forming dunes that trapped moisture. They planted crops in these dunes. Hopi farmers also planted in the dry washes (low ground that is flooded part of the time) as well as in the mouths of the streams. They sometimes irrigated crops by hand. The Hopi raised cotton in addition to edible crops, and men spun and wove cotton cloth into clothing and textiles for their own use and for trade.

In modern times small farms and cattle and sheep ranches are a major part of the tribal economy. A number of people work on the reservation in the construction industry, either for private developers or for the tribal government. The tribe has renovated the Hopi Industrial Park and the Hopi Cultural Center Museum and built a shopping mall and motel-restaurant complex. Tourism is also important as visitors come to see Hopi historical sites such as Oraibi Village. Coalmining, arts and crafts, service businesses, and tribal government employ many people. Some have left the reservation to pursue professional careers.

Daily life


Parents gave their children much love and attention to teach them the Hopi Way of peace and kindness. If a child or adult did not act according to these values, the tribe shunned them until they changed their behavior, but they quickly forgave those who repented. When children were bad, a scare-kachina with bulging eyes and long fangs often frightened them into better behavior.


For centuries Hopi villages were composed of houses built of local native stone and arranged around a center containing one or more kivas. Villages in the early twenty-first century are set up in much the same way.

From 1100 to 1300 the climate became drier, and people were forced to move into villages. It became difficult for farmers to grow enough food for everyone. To house the growing population, buildings in the villages grew larger, with some containing hundreds of rooms. Houses built from 1350 to 1540 ce were made of stone cemented with adobe (pronounced uh-DOE-bee; a sun-dried mud made of a mixture of clay, sand, and sometimes ashes, rocks, or straw) and then plastered inside. They were very similar to the older houses of present-day Hopi, except that they often had many stories. The houses of that time were heated with coal.

In the mid-2000s the Hopi live in both older-style houses and modern ones. The kiva remains largely the same as in ancient times: a rectangular room built of native stone, mostly below ground. Sometimes kivas are wider at one end, to form the same T-shape as the doorways found in all ancient Hopi ruins. Kivas contain an altar and a central fire pit below the roof opening, with a ladder extending above the edge of the roof. They also serve as meeting rooms.

Clothing and adornment

In earlier times Hopi men wore fur or buckskin loincloths (flaps of material that covered the front and back and were suspended from the waist). Some loincloths were painted and decorated with tassels, which symbolized falling rain. The men also wove robes and blankets out of the cotton they grew. Observers who were in the region around 1861 reported that women wore loose black gowns with a gold stripe around the waist and at the hem, while men wore shirts, loose cotton pants, and a blanket around their shoulders.

Married women wore their long hair straight or in braids. Unmarried girls wore their hair in large twists on either side of their heads in a shape that resembled squash blossom, a symbol of fertility. Unmarried women wear this time-consuming hairstyle today, but only for ceremonies. Some Hopi men still wear the traditional male hairstyle with straight bangs over the forehead and a knot of hair in the back with the sides hanging straight and covering the ears.

In modern times some Hopi women and girls still wear the traditional Hopi dress, which is black and embroidered with bright red and green trim. For ceremonies and dances Hopi men wear elaborate costumes that feature special headdresses, masks, and body paints. The costumes vary according to clan and ceremony.


In earlier days the staple crops of the Hopi were corn, squash, beans, and some wild and semi-cultivated plants such as Indian millet and wild potato. Salt was obtained during long, difficult excursions to the Grand Canyon area. Hopi women gathered piñon, prickly pear, yucca, berries, currants, nuts, and various seeds. In the sixteenth century the Spanish introduced wheat, onions, chilies, mutton (sheep meat), peaches, and other fruits into the Hopi diet.

Many modern Hopi farmers still use the old methods of cultivation. They primarily raise corn, melons, gourds, and many varieties of beans. The six traditional Hopi varieties of corn include yellow, blue, red, white, purple, and sweet. Corn is ground for use in ceremonies, such as the annual corn roast, as well as to make piki, a traditional bread baked in layers on hot stones.

Hundreds of years ago wild game was more plentiful than it is today, and Hopi men hunted deer, antelope, and elk. They also hunted rabbit using boomerangs (flat, curved sticks that can be thrown so that they will return near the thrower). By 1950 wild game had dwindled, leaving only rabbit and a few quail and deer.


The Hopi made use of the original “interactive method” of learning—speaking and listening. This was their main method for teaching their children about the Hopi ways. In modern times Hopi children are educated at six elementary schools, a junior high school, and a high school on the reservation as well as at a boarding school in Kearns Canyon and a community college nearby.

A partnership between Northland Pioneer College, Northern Arizona University, and the Hopi Nation allows students to take college classes while they are in high school. When they graduate they may have as many as thirty college credit hours; this allows them to skip several college semesters. Not only does this program called “Two Plus Two Plus Two” encourage students to go on to college, but it also lowers the costs of getting a college education.

Healing practices

Many Hopi healing methods rely on the power of suggestion—the fact that people often feel better if something is said or done to make them believe they will get better. The Hopi are also knowledgeable about the healing properties of certain plants and herbs.

There are several healing societies that perform curing rituals; some concentrate on only one type of illness. For example snakebite is treated by the Snake Society on First Mesa, while rheumatism (muscle or joint discomfort) is treated by the Powamu Society.

Sometimes people become members of curing societies after suffering an accident or illness. For example lightning-shocked people and those whose fields have been lightning-struck join the Flute Society, whose members can cure earaches in babies. Other healers can suck out diseases from infants and children by holding cornmeal in their mouths and symbolically “spitting away” the disease. Certain kachina dances (including the Horned Water Serpent and the Buffalo Dance) are held specifically to help afflicted persons.

In addition to these age-old healing techniques, modern-day Hopi use medical science, including doctors and hospitals. There are health clinics on the reservation and hospitals nearby. The U.S. Indian Health Service provides mental health services and substance-abuse programs.


Hopi women make fine multicolored pottery. They also produce traditional textiles for trade or sale, Hopi kachina dolls, hand-woven baskets, and ornate jewelry.

Oral literature

Hopi stories present tribal knowledge in such a way that both children and adults can learn something new at each hearing. Each clan has its own stories with information valuable to its members, and people learn only the stories of their own clan. The stories contain more than enough truth to ponder for a lifetime. The Hopi consider their stories sacred and private.

Hopi Origin Tale

Hopi myths teach that their people originated in the first of Four Worlds, not as people but as insect-like creatures who fought among themselves. Displeased that the creatures did not grasp the true meaning of life, the Creator, the Sun spirit Tawa, sent Spider Woman, another spirit, to guide them on a journey. By the time they reached the Third World, they were human beings. They reached the Fourth, or Upper World, by climbing up from the underworld through a hollow reed.

When the Hopi reached the Fourth World, they were given four stone tablets by Masaw, the spirit that protected the world and taught the people the proper way to live. Masaw described the travels they were to take—to the ends of the land in each of the four directions and how in time they would find the place where they were meant to settle.

As the migrations began, various clans started out in each direction. Their routes eventually formed a cross, the center of which was the Center of the Universe, their intended permanent home. According to this Hopi story of creation, their journeys finally led them to the plateau that lies between the Colorado River and the Rio Grande, in the Four Corners region (where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico join). The Hopi believe they were led there so that the scanty rainfall would encourage them to pray and remain close to the Creator to fulfill their needs.

Because the number four holds great significance in the Hopi religion, many ritual customs often call for repetitions of four.


Naming ceremonies

Newborn babies are kept out of the Sun for their first 19 days, then a naming ceremony is held. A baby belongs to its mother’s clan, but it is named for the father’s. Since one cannot be Hopi without a clan of birth, if the mother is not Hopi, neither will her children be.

For the ceremony a traditional Hopi stew is prepared at the home of a baby’s maternal grandmother (mother’s mother). During the naming ritual, the grandmother kneels and washes the mother’s hair, then bathes the new baby, who is wrapped snugly in a blanket with only its head visible. Using the baby’s special ear of corn called the Corn Mother, the grandmother rubs a mixture of water and cornmeal into the baby’s hair, applying it four times. Then each of the baby’s paternal aunts (from the father’s side) does the same, and each gives a gift and suggests a name. The grandmother chooses one of the names. Then she introduces the baby to the Sun god just as the Sun comes up. A feast follows the naming ceremony.


Both boys and girls are initiated into a kachina cult between the ages of eight and ten. The initiation ceremony includes fasting, praying, and a light whipping with yucca leaves. Each child is assigned a ceremonial mother (for the girls) or father (for the boys), who sees them through the ordeal. Boys usually join the society of their ceremonial fathers. There are four such societies—Kwan,Ahl,Tao, or Wuwutcimi. Joining one of these groups is part of the Powamu ceremony, a four-day tribal initiation rite for young men that traditionally takes place at planting time.

Ten-year-old girls once took part in a ceremony that involved grinding corn for an entire day at the girl’s paternal grandmother’s house. Some girls ground corn for four days to mark their first menstrual period, received a new name, and adopted the squash blossom hairstyle (see “Clothing and adornment”).


The cycles of Hopi rituals are conducted in secrecy within the kivas. The dances that follow in the village square are rhythmic, mystical, and colorful. Outsiders are sometimes allowed to watch them.

One of the most important Hopi ceremonies is held at the Winter Solstice (the time when the Sun is farthest south of the equator). This ceremony, called the Soyal, is the first ceremony of the year and the first kachina dance. The people believe this ceremony will make the Sun return sooner. The Niman Ceremony or Home Dance, the last kachina dance of the year, is held in thanksgiving at the Summer Solstice (when the Sun is closest to the equator). By this time the last of the crops have been planted and the first corn has been harvested.

Other dances of less religious importance are the Buffalo Dance, held in January to commemorate the days when buffalo were plentiful; the Bean Dance, held in February to ask the kachinas to bless the next planting; and the Navajo Dance, which celebrates the neighboring Navajo tribe.

The relatively short (one hour) Snake Dance is preceded by eight days of secret preparations. During this rite priests handle and even put snakes in their mouths. The secret of how they do this without being bitten has never been revealed to outsiders. At the end of the dance, the snakes are released back into the desert to ensure that the rains will come. Alternating every other year with the Snake Dance is the Flute Dance, which honors the spirits of people who have died during the preceding two years. Women’s dances, like the Basket Dance, are held near the end of the year.

Courtship and marriage

Some of the ancient Hopi marriage customs still survive, but many have fallen into disuse. For example around 1950 courtship was still an elaborate procedure that involved a rabbit hunt and corn grinding, and marriages could only take place with family approval. A bride wore a traditional white tasseled robe, woven for the occasion by her uncles. She carried a similar, smaller white robe rolled up in a type of suitcase. This gown later served as her burial clothes. The young couple lived with the mother of the bride during their first year together.

In modern times courtship is much less formal. Couples are often married in church or by a town official and then return to the reservation. Since many men no longer know how to weave, most uncles do not make the traditional robes.

There are several Hopi marriage customs still practiced in the early twenty-first century. A bride-to-be stays with her future in-laws for four days. During this period she grinds corn all day and prepares the meals to show that she knows how to cook. Prior to the wedding the aunts of the bride and groom participate in a good-natured free-for-all, throwing mud and trading insults, each suggesting that the other side is no good. Then the groom’s parents use yucca for a ceremonial washing of the couple’s hair. A huge feast follows at the house of the bride’s mother.

Clan membership continues to play a role in partner selection. There are still rules that discourage marrying into one’s own clan, but such marriages are no longer forbidden. The fact that marriage to non-tribal members is extremely rare has helped to preserve Hopi culture.


Among the Hopi it is desirable to grow old because the journey of life is almost complete, and the soul will go on to a better place. Because they believe the soul’s journey to the land of the dead begins on the fourth day after death, bodies are customarily buried as quickly as possible. Any delay in burial could interfere with the soul’s ability to reach the underworld.

A paternal aunt washes the hair of the deceased with yucca shampoo, then she decorates the hair with prayer feathers and covers the face with a mask of raw cotton that symbolizes clouds. The body is wrapped—a man’s in a deerskin robe and a woman’s in her wedding robe. The oldest son buries the corpse in a sitting position along with food, water, and cornmeal. Finally a stick is inserted into the soil of the grave, creating a place for the soul to exit. If rain follows, it signifies that the soul has experienced a successful journey.

Current tribal issues

Land claims

When the Hopi Reservation was originally established in 1882, nearly 2.5 million acres were set aside in northeastern Arizona for the Hopi and whatever other Native Americans the federal government settled there. The Hopi Reservation was centered within a larger area that the Hopi considered to be their ancestral land, but it was designated the Navajo Reservation.

As their population increased the Navajo expanded their settlements beyond their own borders, and pushed onto the Hopi Reservation. The situation went on for many decades. Although the Hopi complained, the U.S. government failed to act. In time the Navajo took over 1.8 million acres of the land originally designated for the Hopi, leaving the tribe with only about 600,000 acres. Recognizing the problem, Congress passed the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act in 1974. The act returned 900,000 acres to the Hopi. But as late as the 1990s the dispute over resettlement and the remaining 900,000 original acres continued. Finally in 1996 the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Act reaffirmed that the land belonged to the Hopis, but allowed more time for Navajos to relocate. Some Navajos remained, however.

Preserving the Hopi Way

Concerns about the preservation of the Hopi Way have divided the tribe into two factions: Traditionalists and Progressives. Traditionalists, who want to keep the old ways, fear that white influence will break down Hopi culture. On the other hand, Progressives feel that adopting some aspects of modern American life is necessary if the tribe is to survive and grow.

Hopi people are disturbed that the privacy surrounding their rites and practices has been violated for the benefit of non-Hopi people. For example stories told to visitors and photographs of rites have been published in books without permission, observers have taped Hopi ceremonies and sold the tapes to the public, clothing and ceremonial dance steps have been copied and sold in non-sacred settings, and designs from Hopi potters and kachina doll makers have been reproduced without their permission.

Environmental concerns

Coalmines have changed the Black Mesa area. They pump a huge amount of water daily from the ground. Large sinkholes have opened in the ground, some as deep as thirty feet. Experts say this could indicate that the water is drying up. If so, it could mean forced relocation for the tribe. As of 2005 the Navajo Nation Council voted to stop the water pumping done by Peabody Energy, which should help with the problem.

Reclaiming the land stripped by the mines is another ongoing project. Holes are filled with dirt and rocks, then reshaped so they look similar to the original landscape, then twenty pounds of seeds per acre are sown. But it will take many years before the land is restored. Meanwhile new areas are being mined that will also require extensive clean up and reclamation.

Notable people

Louis Tewanima (1879–1969) was a world-class Hopi athlete. He won a record-setting silver medal in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, in the 10,000-meter race. Tewanima returned to his home on the reservation to tend sheep and raise crops, but still kept active well into his nineties. In 1954 he was named to the All-Time United States Olympic Track and Field Team. In 1957 he was the first person to be inducted into the then-new Arizona Sports Hall of Fame.

Hopi Charles Loloma (1921–1991) designed jewelry that is among the most distinctive in the world. His unique designs combined non-traditional materials like gold and diamonds with typical Native American materials like turquoise. He also received great recognition as a potter, silversmith, designer, and painter of murals.

Other notable Hopi include: geneticist and the first Hopi to receive a doctorate in sciences, Frank C. Dukepoo (1943–); traditional artist Fred Kabotie (c. 1900–); the “single most influential Indian woman creator in clay,” Otellie Loloma (1922–1992); award-winning artist and teacher, Linda Lomahaftewa (1947–); a ceramicist who helped revive Indian arts, Nampeyo, (c.1860–1942); influential periodical publisher and editor, Rose Robinson (1932–); anthologized poet Wendy Rose (1948–); and weaver Ramona Sakiestewa (1949–).

Anthony, Alexander E., Jr., David Neil Sr., and J. Brent Ricks. Kachinas: Spirit Beings of the Hopi. Albuquerque, NM: Avanyu Publishing, 2006.

Benedek, Emily. The Wind Won’t Know Me: A History of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Bonvillain, Nancy. The Hopi. Minneapolis, MN: Chelsea House Publications, 2005.

Fewkes, Jesse Walter. Hopi Snake Ceremonies: An Eyewitness Account. Albuquerque, NM: Avanyu Publishing, 2000.

Indian Reservations: A State and Federal Handbook. Compiled by the Federation of American Indians. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 1986.

Kavasch, E. Barrie. Enduring Harvests: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season. Old Saybrook, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1995.

Leitch, Barbara A. A Concise Dictionary of Indian Tribes of North America. Algonac, MI: Reference Publications, Inc., 1979.

Mails, Thomas E. Dancing in the Paths of the Ancestors: The Culture, Crafts, and Ceremonies of the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, Laguna, and Rio Grande Pueblo Indians of Yesterday. Berlin: Marlowe & Company, 1999.

Page, Susanne, and Jake Page. Hopi. New York: Harry Abrams, 1982.

Parsons, Elsie Clews. Hopi and Zuñi Ceremonialism. New York: Harper and Bros., 1950. Reprint. Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint, 1976.

Ryan, Marla Felkins, and Linda Schmittroth. Tribes of Native America: Hopi. San Diego: Blackbirch Press, 2003.

Silas, Anna. Journey to Hopi Land. Tucson, AZ: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2006.

Thompson, Laura. Culture in Crisis: A Study of the Hopi Indians. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1969.

Voth, H. R. The Traditions of the Hopi. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006.

Waters, Frank. Book of the Hopi. New York: Viking Press, 1963.

Wright, Barton. Clowns of the Hopi: Tradition Keepers and Delight Makers. Walnut, CA: Kiva Publishing, 2004.

“Hopi Community Planning and Economic Development.” The Hopi Tribe. (accessed on August 1, 2007).

“Hopi Pueblo Pottery Collection.” ClayHound Web. (accessed on August 1, 2007).

“Hopi Tribe.” Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. (accessed on August 1, 2007).

Hopi Words“. Native American Language Net: Preserving and Promoting Indigenous American Indian Languages. (accessed on August 1, 2007).

“The Official Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.” Northern Arizona University. (accessed on June 1, 2007).

Ned Blackhawk, Associate Professor, Department of History, American Indian Studies Program, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Laurie Edwards

Laurie Edwards


views updated Jun 27 2018


LOCATION: United States (Arizona)
POPULATION: estimated 14,000 enrolled tribal members
LANGUAGE: English; Hopi
RELIGION: Traditional Hopi
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 2: Native North Americans


The Hopi are a Pueblo people, most likely descending from the Hisatsinom (Hopi for "people of long ago") who lived among the cliffs of what is now the Southwest desert as much as 2,000 years ago. A prolonged drought from ad 1275–1300 apparently forced the Hisatsinom to relocate. They split into several different bands that settled in different areas of the region and have since developed into the various Pueblo peoples. The Hopi chose the westernmost area, in northeastern Arizona, and built their homes on the tops of almost inaccessible mesas. This inaccessibility kept them largely protected from the invasions by Spanish and then European American conquerors. Therefore, the Hopi have been able to maintain their traditional ways of life and beliefs almost uninterrupted up through the present day.

This is not to say that the Hopi have suffered no effects from the European invasions of their lands. Between 1519 and 1650, ten previously flourishing Hopi villages were wiped out by disease and bloodshed brought to their lands by the Spanish from Mexico. Conflicts between the Spanish and Pueblo peoples continued throughout the 17th century. The Spanish conquered all the Pueblos by the mid-17th century and built Catholic churches in every village. They forced the Pueblo people to convert to Christianity, using extreme torture as a persuasive tactic. At the Hopi village of Oraibi in 1655, Spanish Friar Salvador de Guerra caught a Hopi in what he called "an act of idolatry" (in other words, following his own Hopi Way). De Guerra whipped the Hopi in front of the whole village until the Hopi was covered in blood. Then de Guerra poured burning turpentine over him. By these methods, Spanish made nominal Christians of the Hopis and other Pueblo peoples and drove Native religious practices underground.

On 10 August 1680, the Pueblos revolted and drove out the Spanish. This was the first time the Pueblo peoples had acted together. Once the Spanish were gone, the Pueblos returned to their independent ways. Therefore, when the Spanish returned in 1692, they met no unified resistance and reconquered the Pueblos fairly easily. The Hopi lived in such a remote area that they remained mostly untouched by this second Spanish conquest. Other Pueblo peoples fled to the Hopi lands and took refuge there. The Hopi moved all their villages to the very tops of the mesas after the 1680 revolt and so were virtually impregnable. In 1700 the Hopi made it very clear to the Spanish that they were not interested in Christianity when they destroyed the mission church in the village of Awatovi (killing the priests and other Spanish in residence, throwing their bodies over the edge of the mesa). No other Christian missions were established in Hopi territory until the 1890s.

In modern times the Hopi have had to fight European American industry and expansion. On 15 May 1971, the Hopi filed suit to stop the Peabody Coal Company from strip mining for coal on 100 square miles of the Hopi reservation. The Hopi consider Black Mesa to be sacred land, and strip mining would be a sacrilegious invasion of that holy place. Ten years later, in 1981, the Hopi sued to stop construction of a ski resort in the San Francisco mountains, another sacred place. The Hopi lost this suit.

The Hopi have only acted as a "tribe" since 1936, when the European American writer Oliver La Farge wrote the Hopi constitution. Before that time, the Hopi were simply people who followed the Hopi Way. The name "Hopi" is a shortened form of Hopisinom, which translates as "people of humility, respectful of their environment and earth stewards." Today, Hopi translate their name as "one who follows the path," or "one who walks in the right direction." As the late Hopi elder Percy Lomaquahu of Hotevilla explained it:

Hopi means "good in every respect." Humbleness means peace, honesty—all mean Hopi. True, honest, perfect words—that's what we call Hopi words. In all the languages, not just in Hopi. We strive to be Hopi. We call ourselves Hopi because maybe one or two of us will become Hopi. Each person must look into their heart and make changes so that you may become Hopi when you reach your destination.

(In Stephen Trimble, The People… Santa Fe: School of American Research, 1993, p. 58.)


The Hopi currently live in 12 villages located along the southern rim of Black Mesa in northeastern Arizona. Theirs is the driest of any of the Pueblo lands. Over the centuries, the Hopi have developed a reputation as the most skilled dry-farmers in the world. Ecologists have called them "environmental wizards." The village of Old Oraibi has been inhabited since at least ad 1150, rivaling Acoma as the longest continuously inhabited village in the United States. Old Oraibi was for centuries the "capital" of Hopiland. Today it is a village of just over 100 people, but still highly respected by the Hopis of the third Mesa.

Black Mesa is divided by washes into three separate mesas, named in order of approach from the east: First Mesa, Second Mesa, and Third Mesa. Hopiland (or the Hopi reservation) is entirely surrounded by the much larger Navajo reservation. Hopiland encompasses 1.6 million acres over 3,862 square miles. While there are over 10,000 members of the Hopi tribe in the United States, only 7,061 of them live on the reservation (according to the 1990 U.S. Census). Modern Hopi communities are located at the bases of the three mesas. The ancient villages remain on the mesa summits. The area receives about ten inches of rain per year.


The Hopi language is a member of the Uto-Aztecan family of Native North American languages. It is related to the languages of the Ute and Paiute peoples. It is not related to any of the other Pueblo languages. Each of the three mesas in Hopiland has its own dialect of the Hopi language. The first Hopi dictionary is currently being compiled in the Third Mesa dialect. Because the Hopi have lived in an inaccessible region, protected from most of the invasions by Spanish and European American peoples, the language has remained alive into the present day. It is also required that a young Hopi speak the Hopi language in order to be initiated into adulthood.

The dictionary currently in process is the first attempt to create a standard written system for the Hopi language. Hopi has never before been a written language, so the oral tradition has grown strong and rich. It has become so poetic and dramatic that it is difficult to write down. Any written material in Hopi will necessarily have lost something in the translation. The dictionary compilers hope that by making a standard written system available, the Hopi people will begin to develop a literature that is their own. It will take some time, however, to adapt the language to written forms.

Ritual forms of the Hopi language are used by an exclusive group of priests and priestesses who keep this ritual language secret. This form of the Hopi language remains unknown to those outside the group.


All Hopi stories begin with a formal opening: Aliksa'i. There is no exact English translation, but it means something like "Attention!" or "Let's take up the story where we left it." Because time for the Hopi is cyclical rather than linear, the Hopi care more about where a story happened than when.

The Hopi have an emergence-type creation story. The First Way of Life, or First World (Tokpela, meaning "Endless Space") was an infinite void until the Creator created finite forms, including human beings. For a time, all lived peacefully there, until some humans lost sight of the true way and fell into decadence. The Creator allowed those humans who still had sight of the truth (and those who were willing to follow them) to emerge into the Second Way of Life, or Second World (Tokpa, "Dark Midnight") before he destroyed the First Way of Life with fire. The same course of events took place in the Second Way of Life, which the Creator then destroyed with ice after allowing the people to emerge into the Third Way of Life, or Third World (Kuskurza, an ancient name with no modern translation). When the same corruption began to occur in the Third World, representatives from all forms of life held a council and decided the Third World had become out of balance and it was time to migrate to the Fourth Way of Life, (Tivongyapavi, "The Earth Center"). The Creator allowed the peoples to choose a food before destroying the Third World with water. The Hopi chose a short blue ear of corn. Blue corn requires more work to grow, so the Hopi chose a life of hardship and humility. But blue corn is also heartier, so they also chose a life of strength and health. Blue corn symbolism runs throughout Hopi life. Blue corn is sometimes equated with the Hopi Way: planting, tending, and harvesting, it follows the path of the ancestors and fulfills the contract made with Ma'asau, keeper of the Fourth World who allowed the people to emerge into this Fourth World if they agreed to act as its caretakers. It allows the Hopi to reexperience the creation of the world. The Hopi must perform certain rituals and follow religious rules set out for them by Ma'asau if they are to keep this Fourth World in balance. Since the time of contact wiTheuropeans, the Hopi feel this world has lost its balance. They call it koyanisquatsi, "life out of balance." Because of this, they must perform their rituals and follow the Hopi Way even more diligently to regain and maintain this world's balance.


The Hopi believe themselves to be the caretakers of the earth, of this Fourth Way of Life (Tivongyapavi, "The Earth Center"). They perform certain rituals and follow a set of religious rules in order to keep this world in balance. These rules and rituals are called "the Hopi Way." Hopi ceremonies focus on creating community harmony, bringing rain for the crops, and honoring katsinas and Hopi ancestors. Katsinas (often called kachinas by European Americans) are spirits who live in the San Francisco mountains near Hopiland. The Hopi do not worship katsinas; rather, the katsinas act as intermediaries between the forces of nature and human beings. The katsinas visit Hopi villages for six months every year, arriving in December for the solstice ceremony (Powamuy) and leaving after the Home Dance (Niman) in July to return to the San Francisco peaks. Throughout the months between December and July, the katsinas dance frequently, bestowing gifts on the people. In Hopi villages, katsinas, represented by katsina societies, dance in the village plaza for all to see. Other Pueblo peoples allow only the initiated to see the katsinas dance.

The plaza of each village is the "heart-place," the center of the world for those villagers. It is the place where all four directions come together, where all the balanced forces of the world meet: north-south-east-west, the Sun above and Earth below, winter-summer, male buildings and female space, etc. A half-buried rock surrounded by offerings of corn meal and feathers marks the exact center of each village. The sacred place for the Hopi and other Pueblo peoples is the kiva, an underground chamber entered and exited by a ladder through a hole in the roof. Religious rites and other activities are held in the kiva. The traditional religious leader of the Hopi is called the kikmongwi and is often a member of the Bear Clan, the first clan to arrive in Hopiland, according to Hopi legend.

All Hopi are initiated into katsina societies at about age 9– 11. As adults, Hopi may be initiated into priesthood societies (called wuutsim) priestess societies, or Snake societies. Young children are given katsina dolls as teaching tools to learn about the katsinas. Until they are initiated into the katsina society, children are not permitted to learn about esoteric matters.

Another character in the Hopi Way is the sacred clown. Clown dancers break all the social and religious rules, performing acts that the people are forbidden to perform. By showing life as it should not be but often is, clowns allow the Hopi to laugh at themselves and to see how they need to improve their behavior.

During the 1880s, the U.S. government divided up the Native North American reservations between religious groups. The Hopi were assigned to the Mennonites (and Baptists). The Reverend H. R. Voth arrived in 1893 and tried to destroy the Hopi Way and replace it with Mennonite Christianity. The Hopi despised him; modern Hopi still remember Voth and what he attempted to do.


There are no holidays in the Hopi calendar.


When a child is born, a perfectly formed ear of white corn, representing its spiritual mother, is placed next to the newborn child and left there for 20 days. During this time, the child is also kept in darkness because it still belongs to the spirit world. On the 20th day, the mother passes the ear of corn over the child four times and names her or him. All the aunts who wish to be the child's godmother do the same. Then the mother and her mother (the child's grandmother) take the child outside toward the east before sunrise. When the sun comes up over the horizon and shines on the child, the child becomes fully human, belonging completely to the earthly realm from then on until death. The child is called by all of the names given to it by its aunts for the first few years of its life. Eventually, whichever name seems to stick becomes the child's name.

The corn ritual is repeated at the time of the child's initiation into the katsina society at age 9–11 and again at her or his initiation into Priest, Priestess, Snake, or other societies at adulthood. Boys grow their hair long when they are initiated into adulthood. Boys' initiation rites include a ceremonial hunt using the ancient Hopi "throwing stick," modeled after the sparrow hawk's wing. Sparrow hawks hunt by diving down onto their prey (such as a rabbit) and stunning it by hitting it on the back of the head with their wings. They then kill the prey with their talons.


The Hopi Way teaches that all of creation is interdependent wiThevery living being enmeshed in an intricate web of relationships with all other beings. This means that interpersonal relationships must be approached with care and respect to maintain harmony. The Hopi live very closely together in their small, isolated villages and so have learned to deal wiTheach other delicately. They are known as a simple agricultural people.


Many Hopi still live in traditional pueblos in either the ancient villages at the tops of the mesas or in the more modern communities at the mesas' bases. The Hopi build their pueblos of stone, rather than adobe as do the rest of the Pueblo peoples. Each pueblo begins as a single room with rooms of other families directly attached. As a family grows and new families are created through marriage and child-bearing, the pueblo grows upward as new rooms are added above. Some pueblos may reach four or five stories high. Traditional pueblos had no door or windows. They were entered and exited by a ladder through a hole in the roof. Modern pueblos have both doors and windows (though not all windows are covered with glass or screens). Many modern pueblos have modern conveniences, including running water and electricity. Some Hopi today live in housing provided by the federal government. About 20% of the housing in Hopiland was built before 1940. More than half was built before 1970. At least 75% of Hopi homes have running water from a public water system. About 8% have wells, and the other 17% haul their water from other sources. A study conducted in 2000 showed that about 30% of Hopi households did not have electrical service.

The Hopi are a very adaptable people, managing to maintain their traditional ways while adopting worthwhile elements from neighboring cultures. In Hopiland, traditional healing arts are used in conjunction with modern Western medicine. Those diseases that cannot be cured with traditional medicine are treated with Western medicine and vice versa.


Clans are vitally important to the Hopi. Clan membership is inherited through the mother. Women own the houses, food, seed for next year's planting, springs and cisterns, and the small gardens near the house (which they tend). Men do the herding, hunting, and larger-scale farming away from the house. Men also gather and haul fuel, do the spinning and weaving, and make moccasins. Women tend to exercise their responsibility at home rather than in public life. Recently, however, more Hopi women are claiming authority outside the home, serving on tribal councils, etc.

In general, Hopi do not discipline their children physically. Instead, they use lectures and teasing to teach children the Hopi Way.


Hopi today wear Western-style clothing except for ceremonial purposes. Traditionally, unmarried Hopi girls wore their hair in a style unique to the Hopi, protruding from both sides of the head in the shape of a squash blossom.


Corn is the center of Hopi life. They care for it as they do their children—diligently and tenderly. Many of their religious ceremonies focus on bringing rain so that the corn will grow. In the dry desert where the Hopi live, planting corn, melons, squash, beans, and other crops shows faith in life.

The Hopi adopted wheat, melons, apples, peaches, pears, tomatoes, and chiles from the Spanish and Mexicans. They gathered piñon nuts and acorns, wild roots, grasses, and seeds to supplement their diet, especially when the rains did not come and the planted crops failed. They also kept flocks of tame turkeys for meat. All of these foods still figure largely in the Hopi diet.

On most ceremonial occasions and at other special events, the Hopi serve piki bread, paper-thin bread made from blue corn meal. The thin batter is spread on a hot polished stone and then peeled off when it is cooked. Several layers of cooked bread are rolled together while still warm. These layered rolls become crisp when cool.


The Hopi are very concerned wiTheducation. They realize that Western education is necessary for survival in today's world, while a traditional education in the Hopi Way is as vital for the world's survival as ever. Therefore, they want their children to have both Hopi and Western educations. From 1887 to 1911, Hopi children were forcibly taken to boarding schools by the U.S. government to be trained in European American ways. Though Hopi students are no longer forced to attend boarding schools, many still do because of a lack of adequate schools at home. Most Hopi children today attend local public schools, which have a majority of Native North Americans enrolled. These schools receive much less funding than schools with a majority of European American students. For example, from 1976 to 1979, the Cibola County school board spent $38 per student at the Laguna-Acoma High School (which has a majority of Native North American students) and $802 per student at Grants High School (with a European American student majority). Justifications for this difference put forth by European Americans, such as the argument that Native North Americans do not pay taxes on tribal lands, simply do not hold up to examination (Native North Americans pay heavy taxes on other things, such as mining revenues, etc.).

In 1986, after years of campaigning and preparation, Hopi High School opened on the Hopi reservation. It is a federally funded Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) school, and its school board is made up entirely of local Hopi. The school's aims are to give children the opportunity to be more involved in cultural activities at home and to give parents the opportunity to guide their children in day-to-day matters. Students are allowed to be absent on Friday, the day of preparation for ceremonial dances, whenever their village is holding a dance that weekend. The school board hopes eventually to establish a regular four-day school week, so that all students (and faculty) will have Fridays off as a matter of course.

Hopi students have a difficult time in Western educational settings because the Hopi Way is based on cooperation, not competition. Western education values competition, and most grading systems are based on it. So Hopi students are not prepared to be competitive in class, and many fail because of it. In 1990, for those Hopi over the age of 25, 37% had no high school diploma (17% had less than a ninth-grade education). Only about 3% had finished college to receive a Bachelor of Arts, and less than 2% had graduate degrees.


According to the Hopi Way, everything in life is approached as an art. Cooking, farming, raising children, singing, dancing, praying, weaving, making pottery and jewelry—all are forms of art. Traditional Hopi crafts are pottery, weaving, basketry, and carving katsina dolls. Recently, the Hopi have also taken up painting (although the inside walls of kivas have always been decorated with paintings) and silverwork, particularly silver overlay. In ancient times Hopi men wove, Hopi women who lived on First Mesa made pottery, while women on the Second and Third Mesas made baskets (Second Mesa women made coiled baskets, and Third Mesa women made wicker baskets). These trends are still true today, although exceptions do exist. In the late 19th century a Hopi woman named Nampeyo revived the ancient art of pottery after seeing pottery artifacts dug out of the ground during an archaeological excavation. Hopi pottery is made by coiling the clay, then smoothing the surfaces with a polishing stone. The same designs are used today to decorate the pottery as were used by the ancient Hopi.

The Hopi art form best known, perhaps, to non-Hopi is the carving of katsina dolls. The dolls, called tihu in Hopi, are given to Hopi children as teaching tools to learn about the katsinas and the Hopi Way. Some Hopis object to the sale of katsina dolls. However, certain Hopi artists have developed their carving skills into a fine art and can sell their dolls to top galleries for thousands of dollars. Traditional katsina dolls are carved out of cottonwood root. Modern dolls for sale may be made of wood or other materials.

A group of five Hopi painters who were trained in Western art schools formed Artist Hopid in 1973 to try to bridge Western and Hopi cultures through art. Hopi photographer and filmmaker Victor Masayesva, Jr., has made two films about the Hopi: Itam Hakim, Hopiit (1984) blends narration in English and Hopi with other sounds and images to tell a mythic version of Hopi history, and Pott Starr (1990) mixes animation with real-life action to poke fun at commercial tourism in Hopiland and non-Native fascination with Hopi artifacts.

Since there has never been a standard written Hopi language, there is no literary heritage among the Hopi. The oral tradition is very well developed, however. Hopi oral literature is richly poetic and dramatic, defying translation into English or onto paper.


The Hopi are shrewd businesspeople and have always been highly adaptable. There are many skilled laborers among the Hopi who are able to find work in non-Native businesses off the reservation. Yet, the unemployment rate in Hopiland has remained steady at 30% since 1990. The crafting of traditional Hopi arts for sale to tourists, galleries, and collectors provides more income than any other source on the reservation.


Hopi play many of the same sports enjoyed by all North Americans.


Each Hopi village sponsors religious dance ceremonies during the months of August through mid-October. These dances celebrate the harvest and give young Hopi a chance to mingle. These dances are open to men and young unmarried women with no children. Young children of both sexes may also attend. The most popular dance is the Butterfly Dance for which men wear embroidered kilts and velvet shirts with ribbons.

The first Hopi radio station, KUYI 88.1 FM, debuted on 20 December 2000. KUYI programming includes Hopi language, internships for Hopi high school students, national and local news, and traditional and contemporary Native American music.


All Hopi crafts are approached as forms of art. Hopi artisans have developed their skills to the level of fine art and can sell some of their pieces for thousands of dollars to top galleries and collectors.


The Hopi are a peaceful, cooperative people who have learned to live closely together in a respectful way that maintains social harmony. The most serious conflicts among the Hopi themselves arise from the disagreement between Americanized Hopi who campaign for Western "progress" and traditionalists who wish to stay closer to the ancient Hopi Way. The Hopi tribal council was created, at the initiation of the U.S. government's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), by a handful of Americanized Hopi in 1935. The council represents only a minority of Hopi, and many traditionalists actively oppose it. The village of Shongopavi even sued the council in tribal court over proposed development projects.

Conflicts with non-Hopi center on land-use issues. Since 1974 the Hopi and Navajo have been embroiled in a conflict over what was known as the Joint Use Area—a region they have shared since the late 19th century. In 1974, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that partitioned the area between the Hopi and Navajo, requiring about 100 Hopi and thousands of Navajo to relocate. Many of these people had been living peacefully together on that land for generations. After years of wrangling wiTheach other, the Hopi and Navajo are beginning to realize that it is not they but the Peabody Coal mining company that wants this land partitioned (the coal company wants access to the coal located there). So the Hopi and Navajo are now joining together to solve the question of land use in this area, leaving the federal government and mineral companies out of the negotiations.

The Peabody Coal Company is the subject of another Hopi conflict. When Peabody signed the first land-use lease in 1966 to strip mine for coal on Black Mesa, the Hopi tribal council agreed to this lease without consulting the rest of the Hopi. Nearly all Hopi except those on the council oppose strip mining, particularly in the sacred lands of Black Mesa. The coal mine also uses a great deal of already scarce water to transport mined coal down pipelines. This puts tremendous strain on the desert environment—the water table has dropped 70 feet since the mine went into operation. Water is precious to the Hopi; they will not survive if the water table drops much lower.


The Hopi view gender as a balance of oppositions: male and female. Female aspects of the natural environment include earth, life, fertility, summer, south, west, plants, and soft substances. Male aspects of the natural environment include sky, death, winter, north, east, and hard substances. Male and female forces of nature and the environment must be kept in balance, and these two forces rely on each other for completion. In the Hopi view of gender, females have a single nature: that of a life-giving mother. Males have a dual nature: as fathers who provide and protect as well as potential killers.

There are two stages in the life cycle for females and males in Hopi society. For females, mano are unmarried girls. Mano become wuhti, women, when they marry, which traditionally was between the ages of 16 and 18. A boy, tiyo, becomes a man, taka, when he is initiated into a ceremonial fraternity around the age of 18.

Infant girls are given tithu, kachina dolls, by their maternal uncles. The tithu (plural of tihu) are representations of the Hopi deities, or katsinam that are portrayed by adult males in the ceremonial dances. Tithu are not sacred and young girls are allowed to play with them. Infant boys are given miniature bow and arrow sets to prepare them for their roles as providers and protectors.

Hopi social organization is organized by gender. Hopi villages are made up of matrilineal clans. Buildings within the Hopi village are also organized along gender lines. Hopi households are uxorilocal; meaning that a group of related women form the core of the group and their husbands come from other clans. Women own homes and are the heads of households. Kivas, on the other hand, are male centered. When the kivas are not being used for ceremonial activities, they serve as places where adult men can hang out.


Bonvillain, Nancy. The Hopi. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2005.

Champagne, Duane, ed. The Native North American Almanac. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.

Dutton, Bertha P. American Indians of the Southwest. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983.

Eagle/Walking Turtle. Indian America: A Traveler's Companion, 4Thed. Santa Fe: John Muir Publications, 1995.

Gattuso, John, ed. Insight Guides: Native America. Boston: APA/Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

Portago, Andrea. Classic Hopi and Zuni Kachina Figures. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2006.

Reddy, Marlita A., ed. Statistical Record of Native North Americans, 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.

Silas, Anna. Journey to Hopi Land. Tucson: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2006.

Trimble, Stephen. The People: Indians of the American Southwest. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press; Seattle: Distributed by University of Washington Press, 1993.

Waldman, Carl. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. Facts On File, 1988.

—revised by J. Williams


views updated May 18 2018


ETHNONYMS: Moqui, Tusayan


Identification. The Hopi are an American Indian group in Arizona. The term "Hopi" means "one who behaves" or "one who follows the proper way."

Location. The Hopi lived aboriginally in the same location they now inhabit, the northeastern quadrant of Arizona. Their reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajo reservation.

Demography. The Hopi tribal enrollment was 6,624 in 1988. At first contact in 1540, there may have been a similar number. The population estimate in 1887 was about 2,200. Until recently, intermarriage with outsiders was rare, with only an occasional Navajo or person from another tribe marrying in.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Hopi language belongs to the Shoshonean branch of Uto-Aztecan. There are minor dialectical differences among the three Mesas (First, Second, and Third) on which Hopi villages are situated.

History and Cultural Relations

Hopi culture as known from the time of first contact came out of long tradition of Pueblo and pre-Pueblo culture, known archaeologically as Anasazi. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado's expedition in 1540 brought them their first contact with the Spanish. After a few other brief contacts, three missions were established, the first in 1629. These were destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680; after that date, there was little effort toward resuming contact and the Hopi were left alone. Contact with Americans began in the early nineteenth century and became intensive after 1850. An agency under the Department of the Army was established at Keams Canyon, near First Mesa, in 1873, and a reservation was set up in 1882. The first school was opened in 1887, and schooling became a central issue in the early factions of "Hostiles" and "Friendlies," or those opposed to or favorable toward accommodation with the Americans. Oraibi, the largest Hopi village, split in 1906 with much acrimony over this and other issues. A tribal constitution was adopted in 1936, providing for a tribal council with elected representatives from each village.


The Hopi lived in compact villages, ranging in population from less than a hundred to perhaps two thousand persons. In 1850 there were seven villages; now there are eleven. Today as formerly, houses cluster about a central plaza where public ceremonies take place. Interspersed among the houses are kivas, or ceremonial chambers, which function as centers for esoteric ceremonies and as clubhouses for men. Traditional houses were built of stone and plastered with mud. Today, many people live in housing constructed of modern materials.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Aboriginal Hopis were horticulturalists, hunters, and gatherers. The major crop was maize. Hopis traded widely with neighboring peoples and were well known for the textiles that men wove of the cotton they grew. European articles were accepted and traded; and after coming under American rule, Hopi participated enthusiastically in wage labor and established Numerous small businesses. Today, wage labor, commercial cattle ranching (begun in the 1920s), pensions, and welfare are major economic resources for those who live on the reservation. Commercial craft production has been a supplementary source of income for both men and women since the 1860s, and tourism is a major source of income for a small percentage of the population. Dogs were used for hunting aboriginally. Sheep and cattle supplemented hunting until the early twentieth century.

Industrial Arts. Cotton garments were woven for home consumption and external trade. Basketry was important for home use and for ceremonial exchange. Painted pottery, a traditional craft that had fallen into decline, was revived as a commercial craft in the late nineteenth century. Modern clothing, tools, and household goods began to be used in the late nineteenth century. Today, the traditional crafts are made for ceremonial use, sale, and to some degree household decoration.

Division of Labor. Men did most of the subsistence labor, in addition to weaving textiles and working wood and leather. Women performed mainly processing tasks and made pottery and baskets. After contact, both sexes took advantage of wage labor opportunities on and off the reservation. Today, women and men hold a variety of jobs in teaching, administration, clerical tasks, and commerce as well as skilled and unskilled labor. Both sexes did and do perform ritual activities. Land Tenure. Land close to the village was owned by clans and was divided up among matrilocal clan households. Men cultivated land they received through their wives, and the harvested crops belonged to their wives. In addition, plots of land accompanied certain ceremonial positions. Since the horse and wagon and later the pickup truck were introduced, men have cleared fields in unclaimed territory farther from the village. These become their private property, which is often passed on to their sons.


Kin Groups and Descent. Hopi society is divided into exogamous matrilineal ranked clans, the number varying over time. Clans are associated into exogamous phratries. Clans own farmland close to the villages and claim eagle-nesting grounds away from the village where eagles are captured for ceremonial use. High-ranking clans control ceremonial and traditional political offices and are in charge of ceremonies. Clan affairs are directed by a male and female pair, the clan elder and the clan mother. The elder is responsible for directing any male activities and ceremonies controlled by the clan and for representing the clan to the village, particularly in land boundary disputes. The clan mother directs female activities and ceremonies, makes the final decision in clan land distribution, and is responsible through prayer and ritual for the well-being of clan members. Although most clans are represented in most of the villages, each clan is a corporate group only within its village. Today, the importance of clans has diminished as land ownership and political office are achieved through other means, although clans are still active in Ceremonial matters and exogamy is still the norm.

Kinship Terminology. Hopi kin terms follow the Crow system.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage was monogamous and was believed to last into the afterlife. In theory, people chose their own spouses, but high-ranking families to some extent controlled the marriage choices of their children. The marriage Ceremony involved a short period of groom-service by the bride and an elaborate exchange of goods from both sides. The leading families of high-ranking clans tended to intermarry. Today, social class rather than clanship is a factor in selecting mates as it is in mainstream society, and some persons marry Whites or Indians of other tribes whom they meet at college or at work. Matrilocal residence was the rule. By the mid-1920s, a number of people lived in neolocal households, which predominate today. Marriages dissolved with some frequency. Sexual fidelity was expected, but infidelity was known and often a subject of gossip and conjecture. It was not punished, though separation frequently resulted.

Domestic Unit. During the early nineteenth century, the small extended family was probably most common. By the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth, the matrilocal stem family was the accepted form, with usually the youngest daughter remaining as older daughters and their husbands built houses contiguous or near to the maternal home.

Inheritance. Clan land and ceremonial and political positions pass within the clan. Livestock usually goes from Parents to children of both sexes, most commonly sons. Daughters inherit houses.

Socialization. Early socialization was permissive. After about age four, children were expected to begin to do small tasks and were shamed or threatened if they did not obey. Boys were treated more harshly than girls, the preferred sex. From the 1880s to about the 1920s, there was much conflict over sending children to school, and even children eager to go were sometimes taken out to work on the family farm or to prevent them from being acculturated. In recent years, education has been recognized as valuable.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Hopi community could be seen as a federation of ranked clans. Upward mobility by a clan occurred when a lower-ranking clan took over the position of a higher-ranking one within the phratry. Women were equal to men, each gender having its own area of control: women controlled most aspects of the economy through their control over land and produce, and men controlled most aspects of village decision making. The ideology of gender gave women a higher value than men. Sexual equality still exists, although gender roles have changed considerably.

Political Organization. Prior to the late nineteenth century, each village was autonomous and was governed by a chief and a council of elders from the leading clans. The major areas of political discussion were clan land disputes, over which the chief had final adjudication, and warfare. Every man belonged to a kiva, which he used as a social club; and through kiva discussions the village leaders could read village opinions. Women played an active, although indirect, role in decision making, as men represented the wishes of sisters and wives as well as their own. The traditional system was undercut by the reservation system and suffered a death blow with the establishment of an elected tribal council.

Social Control. Before contact, control was probably informal: gossip, teasing, fear of being labeled a witch, and mocking by ceremonial clowns at village ceremonies. Today, local crimes and misdemeanors are handled through the Tribal court system. Serious crimes like murder are adjudicated in federal court.

Conflict. Before American domination, war sometimes erupted between villages over land boundaries or vengeance. Navajos raided Hopi villages from the 1700s until they were pacified in the late nineteenth century. Warfare involved all village males under the leadership of the hereditary war chief. Since American pacification, much conflict within and between villages is expressed in terms of acceptance or rejection of accommodation to White ways, although its causes may lie elsewhere. In recent years, conflict with Navajos has intensified as the two tribes dispute their share of jointly held land, but this time the conflict is being resolved through the U.S. federal court system rather than by warfare. The Hopi have a reputation for nonviolence, but domestic and other forms of interpersonal violence seem to have increased in recent years.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Hopi universe consists of earth, metaphorically spoken of as "our mother," the upper world, and the under world from which the Hopi came and to which their spirits go after death. Although the concept of original creation is unclear, there are various accounts of the Emergence into this present world from three preceding ones, the place of emergence, or the sipapu, being located in the Grand Canyon. Each of the preceding worlds came to an end because of some evil done by witches, and the present world will someday come to an end also. In order to forestall this and to keep the world in harmony, ceremonies are performed by ceremonial societies and by kiva members. The universe is balanced between a feminine principle, the earth, and a masculine one, manifested in the fructifying but dangerous powers of sun, rain, and lightning. Evil is caused by the deliberate actions of witches, called "two-hearts" because they have bargained away their hearts for personal gain and must steal another's heart to prolong their own lives. When a ceremonial leader is believed to "steal" the heart of a relative to ensure that the ceremony will be successful, there is an element of magical human sacrifice in this belief.

There are three major classes of supernatural. The most individualized are the gods and goddesses, each having his or her special area of concern. Figures or impersonations of these deities are used in ceremonial activity. The next category is the kachinas. A few of the kachinas are individuals, but most of them are classes of beings each with its different character and appearance. In kachina dances the dancers wear the costume appropriate to the kachina type they portray. Some types are more popular than others; new ones are invented and old ones drop out of use. Finally, there are the generalized spirits of natural objects and life-forms, who will be offended if one of their earthly representatives is treated improperly. Thus, when a game animal is killed, its spirit, and the generalized spirits of that animal type, must be placated.

Religious Practitioners. The leaders of the clans that control ceremonies are the chief priests or priestesses of these ceremonies and clan members take leading roles in them. Every Hopi is initiated into one of the two kachina societies, which are responsible for putting on the kachina dances. In former times, every man joined one of the four fraternities that put on the Emergence ceremony, and most women joined one of the three sororities. There are also special-purpose societies, controlled by clans but open to membership to anyone in the village, which conduct ceremonies. Villages vary in the number of societies still in existence, but all put on kachina dances, which are organized through kiva membership.

Ceremonies. The Hopi follow a ceremonial calendar determined by solar and stellar positions. The ceremonial year begins with Wuwtsim, the Emergence ceremony, in November. Soyal, occurring at the time of winter solstice, is conducted by the village chief, and its officers are the men holding the leading ceremonial positions in the village. It is at this time that ceremonial arrangements for the coming year are planned. Powamuya, in February, is a planting festival in which beans are sprouted in the kivas in anticipation of the agricultural season. This is a great kachina festival, with many types being represented. Kachina dances begin after Soyal and continue until July, when Niman or Home Dance is held. This celebrates the return of the kachinas to their unearthly homes in the mountain peaks and the under world. Snake-Antelope and Flute Dances alternate biennially in August, the first emphasizing war and the destructive element and the second emphasizing the continuity of life after death. In September, Mamrawt, or the principal women's ceremony, is held. This contains many elements found in Wuwtsim. The other women's societies hold their ceremonies in October. Along with these ceremonies, there are some that are held only from time to time and others that have been defunct for many years. In addition, there are many small rituals. Accounts of the late nineteenth century indicate that hardly a day passed without some ritual activity taking place somewhere in each village. While ceremonies have specific purposes, all are in some way thought to bring rain, which is valued both for itself and as a symbol of abundance and prosperity. The kachinas, especially, are rain-givers. Kachina dances are joyous public events, consisting of carefully choreographed dance sets interspersed with comical performances of clowns. The clowns, like ignorant children, mock everything and understand nothing. Social deviants are shamed by the clowns' mockery.

Arts. Traditional objects are produced as art objects as well as for use. Kachina dolls, nonsacred representations of kachinas given to girls and women as symbols of fertility and for toys, became tourist items in the late nineteenth century and have undergone several stylistic revisions since then. Modern techniques of silverwork were introduced by American artists associated with the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff in the 1920s. Using Hopi designs, this is a flourishing craft. There are several contemporary Hopi painters in oil and other media, as well as poets and art photographers. Aesthetic standards for dance, song, and costume are high and clearly articulated.

Medicine. Sickness can be brought on by witchcraft, by contact with dangerous forces like lightning, or, more commonly, by sad or negative thoughts, such as anger or jealousy, which disturb the harmony of the body. Curing is done by shamans who diagnose and heal the ailment or by members of ceremonial societies that control the cures for certain diseases. Today, most Hopis make use of government hospitals along with native home remedies and shamanistic treatment.

Death and Afterlife. A peaceful death in old age is a natural death. Other deaths may be attributed to witchcraft or the other factors causing disease. Burial by a son or other close relative is completed as soon as possible outside of the village. During its journey to the under world, the spirit of the dead may try to induce others to come with it, and various rites protect against this. Once safely in the under world, the dead are friendly to the living and will return to earth along with the kachinas to bring rain.


Laird, W. David (1977). Hopi Bibliography. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Nagata, Shuichi (1960). Modern Transformations of Moenkopi Pueblo. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Schlegel, Alice (1977). "Male and Female in Hopi Thought and Action." In Sexual Stratification, edited by Alice Schlegel, 245-269. New York: Columbia University Press.

Titiev, Mischa (1944). Old Oraibi: A Study of the Hopi Indians of Third Mesa. Papers of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, 22(1) Cambridge.



views updated May 11 2018


HOPI. The name Hopi is derived from the word Hopituh, which best translates as people who are mannered, civilized, and adhere to the Hopi way. The Hopi way is a marvelous and complex system of relationships, behavior, language, industry, philosophy, and thought. Hopis believe that humankind emerged into the present world from another place. The emergence story begins with a covenant made with Maasaw, a deity who first occupied this world. The story recounts the time when Hopis asked Maasaw for permission to live on this land. Maasaw responded, "It is up to you. All I have to offer you is my planting stick, a pouch of seeds, and a gourd of water. My life is simple but hard. If you commit to this way of life, you may live here with me." Maasaw laid several ears of corn before the different groups of people who emerged with the Hopis and asked the leaders of each group to choose one ear of corn apiece. The Hopi leader did not rush forward but waited until others made their selection. The only remaining ear was a short ear of blue corn. Maasaw said to the Hopi leader, "You did not rush forward, you have shown patience and humility, which is symbolized by this short ear of corn. Here, take this and become my people." The Hopis took the stubby ear of blue corn, which represented a long life but one full of challenges and hard work. They agreed to live according to Maasaw's instructions, which became a spiritual covenant that has guided Hopis since the earliest times to the present.

Hisatsinoms (Earliest People), the ancestors of present-day Hopis, built and occupied communities throughout the greater Southwest. Monumental architectural remains can be seen at locations such as Mesa Verde in Colorado, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and Wupatki in Arizona. These and other sites were settled by extended families or clans who, over time, migrated to the center of the Hopi world. Clans remain as the single most important unit of organization and identity for Hopis. Bear, Tobacco, Sand, Snake, Flute, Roadrunner, Sun, Snow, Corn, and Spider are examples of clan names. Each has its own history, specializations, and ways that it inter-acts with other clans. The last point is particularly important as one can only marry outside of one's clan. To do otherwise would be considered incest.

In the twenty-first century, the Hopis resided in twelve independent villages in northeastern Arizona. Oraibi, the oldest of the villages, is also considered the oldest continuously inhabited community in all of North America.

The villages range in age from Oraibi, which is more than a thousand years old, to communities such as Polacca, which was settled in the early part of the last century. Most of the villages were established on mesas or escarpments that extend southward from a larger land formation known as Black Mesa. These village sites were strategically selected according to a plan that would help to protect residents and their way of life from marauding enemies and unwanted visitors.

In 1540, Spanish soldiers reached the Hopi area and defeated a group of Hopis who were defending an early village site. During the next 140 years, the Spanish attempted to colonize and missionize the Hopis. In 1680, indigenous populations over a wide geographical area staged a revolution against the Spanish government, and its military, missions, and civilians. For the Hopis, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was not only a revolution against a colonial government, it was a concerted effort to rid the area of forces that threatened Hopituh and their covenant with Maasaw. Colonial jurisdiction over the northern reaches of New Spain remained until 1821, when Mexico declared independence from Spain. Hopis lived under Mexican rule until 1848, the year that also marked the signing of a treaty between the United States and Mexico at the close of the Mexican War. In 1882, the Hopi Indian Reservation was established by executive order of President Chester A. Arthur. The reservation land base is nearly 3,000 square miles. The Hopi Tribal Council and Government was organized in 1935, and its constitution was approved by the secretary of the interior in 1936. Hopis are now federally recognized as "the Hopi Tribe."

In 2001, the Hopi Tribe's Enrollment Office reported a total population of 11,095. Between 75 and 80 percent of this population lived in the Hopi area. Others lived and worked in urban areas or were in college or military service. Hopi children attended community schools staffed by Hopi and non-Hopi educators and governed by local school boards. At about age eight, boys and girls begin their traditional Hopi religious education and training with the supervision of a close adult adviser.

Agriculture is central to Hopi culture. In fact, Hopi culture is often referred to as a "corn culture." With an annual precipitation of twelve inches or less, the Hopis have employed dry farming technology to sustain themselves and adjust to an arid land that can be harsh and unpredictable. Dry farming requires patience, humility, hard work, and most of all, a heart full of prayer. Harvest time is a joyful time and everyone partakes of the new crops.

The Hopis are among the most studied groups of people in Native North America. In 1980, there were well over 3,000 books and monographs published about Hopis. Since 1980, that number has probably increased exponentially. Recent scholarship has involved a number of Hopi scholars. The Hopi Dictionary published in 1998, for example, is a monumental work that includes more than

30,000 terms and was developed by Hopi and other language specialists. Hopis speak a Shoshonean language that is a branch of a larger language family known as Uto-Aztecan. The Hopi Dictionary is intended to help Hopi speakers to write and read the language. The Hopi Tribe publishes the newspaper Hopi Tutuveni, which uses both English and the Hopi syllabary. In 2001, the first Hopi public radio station went on the air. The station's call letters, KUYI, symbolically translate to water.

The Hopi artistic expressions in jewelry, pottery, painting, textiles, and basket making are well known to the art market and the world of collectors. Visitors are welcome to visit the Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa and may also arrange for guided tours of some of the villages. However, the Hopi people also desire to protect their rights to privacy and safeguard their religious knowledge and ceremonies. The Hopi Cultural Preservation Office is charged with the responsibility of representing Hopi interests both within and outside the Hopi reservation. This responsibility requires the involvement not only of the Hopi government, but also of the Hopi villages, clans, and religious societies, which must cooperate with each other as well. This is in keeping with the covenant between Maasaw and Hopituh.


Hopi Dictionary Project. Hopi Dictionary/Hopìikwa Lavàytutuveni: A Hopi-English Dictionary of the Third Mesa Dialect. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, c. 1998.

James, Harry C. Pages from Hopi History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994.

Ortiz, Alfonso, ed. Southwest. Vol.9of Handbook of North American Indians. Edited by William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979.

Secakuku, Alph H. Following the Sun and Moon: Hopi Kachina Tradition. Flagstaff, Ariz.: Northland Publishing, 1995.

Hartman H.Lomawaima


See alsoAgriculture, American Indian ; Indian Languages ; Indian Oral Literature ; Indian Religious Life ; Pueblo Revolt .


views updated May 29 2018

Ho·pi / ˈhōpē/ • n. (pl. same or Ho·pis) 1. a member of a Pueblo Indian people living chiefly in northeastern Arizona.2. the Uto-Aztecan language of this people.• adj. of or relating to this people or their language.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Hopi Shoshonean-speaking tribe of Native Americans. They are famous for having retained the purest form of pre-Columbian life to have survived in the USA today. Today, c.6000 Hopi live in Arizona.