Hopi - 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.

User Contributions:

Report this comment as inappropriate
Sep 17, 2011 @ 2:14 pm
just wondered if the hopis co existed with the mayans , i know they may have been miles apart but there seems to be a close religeous resemblance! i have been lightly studying the mayan culture and the new age starting in 2012 . could mayan languge be understood by hopi and vice versa? also have they any religeous ceremonies concerning hot springs ! specifically what is now called yellowstone park? i have many questions ! will ask later , thank you and await your responce! regards ! ron burroughs
Report this comment as inappropriate
May 2, 2012 @ 3:15 pm
I just learned yesterday from my acupuncturist who has traveled to Tibet more than once that the Hopi language is so similar to Tibetan that they can understand each other. I found that to be very interesting.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 12, 2012 @ 4:16 pm
Actually, Ron, the Hopi and Mayans had such a resembling language, they can understand each other. I would know, I'm Hopi, and my mom told me a story about a lady who understood a dirty joke three Mayan men were telling that happened two years ago!
Report this comment as inappropriate
May 8, 2013 @ 4:16 pm
The Tibetans are from the Sino-tibetan language family. The Hopi are from the Pueblo language family. They do not speak mutually comprehensible languages.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Oct 16, 2013 @ 4:16 pm
Hello Mike, Since you are a Hopi, I was wondering if you can help me. I would like to know what does the afterlife means for a Hopi. I am doing a school research about the afterlife Hopi myth. If you know any link where I can find out the info that I need, I would really appreciate it!!
Report this comment as inappropriate
Nov 24, 2014 @ 4:16 pm
Does someone know if the Hopi culture had a famous religions?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 18, 2015 @ 9:09 am
Report this comment as inappropriate
May 27, 2015 @ 6:18 pm
Wow! I have learned lots of new things today! Before I had read this I did not want to write my essay, but now I know so much and it will be easy to write it becouse I know all this information.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Sep 7, 2015 @ 6:18 pm
This is an awesome site! I am getting so much information for this one project I am doing in school.
Alexandra O.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Nov 2, 2016 @ 7:19 pm
What tools do the Hopi use? What jobs do they have?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 7, 2017 @ 11:11 am
The Hopi people are of the Uto-Aztecan Language family. Not the Pueblo Family?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Sep 26, 2018 @ 8:20 pm
I was wondering how does the Hopi people do their system of tribute to their cheifs?

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: