Hopi in New Mexico

Date January 14, 2008 at 11:00 PM

Categories Culture

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The Hopi, the westernmost branch of the Pueblo Indians, are believed to be descendants of an ancient people who built a sophisticated civilization in the desert areas of the American Southwest. The Hopi and their ancestors have lived in the area of northern Arizona and neighboring states since the time of the birth of Christ. Their ancestors are referred to as the Anasazi by outsiders, although the Hopi call them Hisat-Sinom or Hisat-Senom. (Many Native words have pronunciations with non-English, or between-English sounds. These words frequently appear in different publications with various spellings. There is not necessarily a single, “correct” spelling for a word like this.) This group survived, thrived, and built impressive urban centers and settlements in the middle of a desert, over an extended period, through a number of climatic changes and crises. These people have generally practiced a quiet, settled agricultural lifestyle over a two-thousand year period, with a long history of farming and waging peace against neighbors and invaders, alike. The great, Golden Age of the Anasazi ended gradually in droughts, waves of disease, alien invasions, or other crises, leading to a great discontinuity and a loss of name and traditions for most of the peoples of the group.

Most of the urban tribal population around the Four Corners relocated and left their ceremonial centers during the years after 1100-1300. The civilization, its practices and cultural traditions were disrupted during a series of great stresses. Oral records and traditions were lost, and new sets of legends and traditions were begun. The Spanish Period was a second great time of tribulation. The inroads of the modern world have again stressed the continuity and constancy of the native community, creating a third great crisis. Although the Hopi have been traditionally “peaceful,” the elders of the group have generally not been open to change, or to the “progress” of the White Man.

They speak the Hopi language, which belongs to the Uto-Aztecan branch of the Aztec-Tanoan linguistic stock, at all their pueblos except Hano, where the language belongs to the Tanoan branch of the Aztec-Tanoan linguistic stock. They occupy several mesa villages in NE Arizona and numbered 6,624 in 1988. In 1540, they were visited by some of Francisco Coronado's men under Pedro de Tovar, but because of their geographical isolation they remained more independent of European influence than other Pueblo groups. The Spanish began to establish missions in 1629 at the pueblos of Awatobi, Oraibi, and Shongopovi. These missions were destroyed in the revolt of 1680 and when the residents of Awatobi invited the missionaries to return, the other Hopi destroyed their village. After the revolt, pueblos in the foothills were abandoned and new villages were built on the mesas for defense against possible attack by the Spanish. The pueblo of Hano was built by the Tewa, who had fled from the area of the Rio Grande valley that the Spanish reconquered.

During the 18th and 19th cent., the Hopi were subjected to frequent raids by the neighboring Navaho. The region was pacified by the U.S. Army in the late 19th cent. and a Hopi reservation was established in 1882, but the ambiguous status of much of the reservation enabled Navaho populations to encroach on traditional Hopi lands. By the 1960s and 70s, Navaho expansion on lands set aside for joint use provoked court action and a definitive partition of the disputed land. The court-ordered relocation of over 10,000 Navaho and fewer than 100 Hopi from the partitioned lands remains incomplete and is a source of bitter conflict.

The Hopi are sedentary farmers, mainly dependent on corn, beans, and squash; they also raise wheat, cotton, and tobacco, and herd sheep. Each village is divided into clans and is governed by a chief, who is also the spiritual leader. Political and religious duties revolved around the clans. The Badger clan, for instance, still conducts the kachina (fertility) ceremony, and the Antelope and Snake clans perform the famous snake dance at Walpi and other pueblos. A Hopi tribal council and constitution was established in 1936, but internal dissension has limited tribal unity.

See J. Kammer, The Second Long Walk (1980); S. Rushforth and S. Upham, A Hopi Social History (1992).

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