Hopi Culture: Exploring the Life and Lands on Three Mesas, Navajo County, AZ

Sunday, October 25 to Saturday, October 30, 2015 (includes driving time)
Nearby Route 87 provided a direct route north to Second Mesa and the Hopi Cultural Center. With a stop in Winslow to “stand on the corner” and watch the one car go by, we gave tribute to the Eagle’s song before entering La Posada Hotel on the same US Route 66, jog off 87.

With friend, Margie whom I had invited to join me, we admired the La Posada — the last of the Harvey Houses built along the Santa Fe Railroad. I especially wanted to visit this 1929 Spanish hacienda designed by architect, Mary Jane Colter. Also recognized for her magnificent buildings at the Grand Canyon, she outdid herself here when she designed not only the spacious building but decorated the interior, planned the gardens and oversaw construction to meet her fine standards of light, color and materials. After strolling the gardens and the interior open spaces, we enjoyed a pause in the Turquoise Room dining area. The big plus was the fact that this woman had accomplished such a distinguished career in the 1920s and I wanted to see her designs.

Continuing then, due North on Route 87 on our 230-mile journey, several mesas came into view far ahead on this very long straight highway.  We didn’t know then which was First, Second or Third Mesa of the Hopi, but we do now.

In late afternoon we met some of the other 24 participants in this Road Scholar educational and cultural program, including Program Coordinator, Ray Coin, a native Hopi, who provided our outstanding experiences.

Located in high desert at 6,000-foot elevation
Hopi Cultural Center
Our room plaque with turtle design symbolizing water (each room,different symbol)

Little did I know that Margie had a specific reason for visiting the Hopi. She managed to provide an awesome “moment” for all of us to add to our overall enjoyment. More later.

Ray Coin, cultural lecture (and program coordinator, van driver, etc.)

Knowing very little about the Hopi, I was interested in Ray's lecture. All of my "take-aways" from Ray's talk below are very abbreviated and oversimplify some very complex issues.
1) they are an ancient (5 A.D) indigenous nomadic people whose original land usage stretched from Chinle to Flagstaff to Supai to the Mogollon Rim.

2) in 1950, the US government requested proof of land owned and took 80% of the Hopi's traditional use areas. Hopi philosophy didn't include ownership but rather sustainable use of that which was available. The remaining allocation of land to the Hopi has been contentious ever since because of Navajo encroachment. A peaceful, non-materialistic people, the Hopi have had difficulty navigating the politics of Washington, D.C., to their own advantage. Their lack of political clout may also be attributed to their autonomy; not all villages send representatives to the Hopi Tribal Council - formed to deal with such issues. Mostly, I think they don't spend their energy focusing on gaining power in D.C.

3) the word "Hopi" refers to people who are perfectly behaved; it is not a tribal name but means Life (and way of life).

4) Hopi culture today consists of 12 autonomous villages, a few of which choose to continue living without water and electrical services. The most recent census counted 13,157 Hopi living in 12 villages comprised of 33 clans that are matrilineal with marriage within a clan forbidden. Women exercise control over real estate and social fabric.

5) their creation myth tells of emerging from the Underworld. Elders in the underground kivas listened to a Yellow Warbler who heard their prayer. Hopi now live in the 4th level of their religion which was found by another bird - a Shrike that found an opening in the sky. 

6) Hopi is all about Life (and how to live it) and Water; that is their religion. They are known for their dry farming techniques, relying on their prayers for moisture.

Before each day's activities got underway, I tried to get out for a stroll through the land surrounding the Hopi Cultural Center with binoculars and camera in hand. I was beginning to relate to these very friendly Hopi who live by farming.

Before breakfast, moon setting
House Finch
A lot of trash on the ground bothers me wherever it is. Here it accumulates from careless people plus "res dogs" who just wander about and apparently get into the trash cans at night. The dog below, one of about five that were loose on the grounds, followed me as if "protector" each morning. It walked beside me and stopped when I did.

Free-roaming well-mannered dog 
Each morning we watched various artists demonstrate their techniques of pottery making, jewelry (silver overlay) and Kachina doll carving.

Dorothy Ami and husband, Emerson, potters

My friend, Margie, who brought a ceramic bowl for identification
Over twenty years ago, Margie had purchased a "lot" of items at an estate sale for under twenty dollars when she had noticed the Indian-looking bowl among them. She sensed that it was Hopi but really didn't know. Dorothy confirmed for her that it was indeed Hopi and identified the artist whose name was barely visible on the bottom. In her own friendly manner, Margie was later telling the story of her bowl to the woman who ran the Museum on the grounds. Long story short, that woman told her it was made by her own Mother's sister!  Garnet Pavatea, who had made the bowl, used to give demonstrations at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff where much of her work can still be seen.

Each afternoon we took field trips to explore the life and land of the Hopi. Photography was prohibited on these trips. Monday's trip took us out by Keams Canyon where we could view the land and villages we passed. We would discover later that the bed springs leaning against many homes are used for drying corn since they allow air to pass below the corn spread on top.

Another example of extreme resourcefulness are these cutting tools for silver overlay made by honing the tips of masonry nails. Fern makes the tools because she can't handle store-bought tools for her very fine art.

Fern, the silversmith, played many roles during the week. 

Each afternoon she drove one of the vans transporting us to various spots like the Walpi Village on First Mesa, the piki bread-making house and Oraivi Village tour and visit. At Oraivi I was thrilled to hear a Rock Wren and then see it when it popped up on top of a nearby rock doing its little curtsy from time to time. Generally speaking, birds were scarce except for Common Ravens. But, this wasn't a birding trip so there may be many more around that just weren't visible on our excursions.

Fern Lomayestewa, silversmith, during one of our afternoon trips. I liked her long hair.
John Fredericks, Katsina carver
It takes two weeks to complete one.

Some of John's Katsinas
Highlights of the trip for me beyond what I learned about the Hopi:

1) Visit to Walpi Village located on the very very narrow First Mesa. It is one of three villages on First Mesa and most closely resembles what we might call a "pueblo". The houses are built of stones hauled up from the desert floor below. The villagers decided to keep their place intact by not installing electricity or water. So, the majority of them built houses below the mesa (our guide's house was directly below in front (east-facing). But the village is used for many festivals when families treat it as "camping out" to go up to the old houses. Of interest, a few young men have decided to take up residence in the original Walpi village and now live there.

2) The Hopi are not tidy by our standards. They let their old dilapidated houses continue to decay while they live in new concrete-block structures, some with facades of stucco. Electricity to many homes is provided by solar panels. Energy is stored in batteries and is used judiciously to run TVs, iPads, iPhones, etc.  Sometimes that means not using any other electricity while running the microwave for several minutes!

3) The Hopi petroglyph archeological visit to Dawa Park was the most extensive view of petroglyphs in one place I've ever seen. 
Took only close-ups including this one showing birds

Some participants viewing petroglyphs on natural rock varnish
4) Visit to a piki bread-making oven. This, as I recall, was on Second Mesa. Many homes have separate small piki houses where the bread is made from one of their colorful corns: red, blue, white, yellow - depending on the celebration. Pam Ovah  treated us to some blue-corn piki that she had made previously. She also was a server in the dining area at the Hopi Cultural Center, keeping us full of coffee, scrambled eggs, blue-corn pancakes, etc. at breakfast.

Piki bread house with deep-set natural oven with stone-top for spreading the paste "dough"
Pam, demonstrating the 3-ingredient batter for the piki bread
Pam at the oven pit using her bare hand to spread the paste that becomes piki bread
Rolled, this blue-corn piki bread was served our final evening when we all gathered at a long table for a homemade meal from Ray and his wife, Lorraine, (who had prepared the meal) consisting of hominy stew, peppers, fry bread and hot tea with this wafer-thin blue-corn piki bread and watermelon for dessert.

Most of our group at the long table for our homemade meal

My visit exceeded expectations and several of the Hopi women who were with us off and on during the week extended an invitation to return to see some of their ceremonies. Propitiously, it rained just before we left.


Ferruginous Hawk along Route 180 west of Concho, AZ

Western Grebe at Lyman Lake (rain)

Western Bluebird, female; Lyman Lake

Two Sandhill Cranes at marsh-end of Lake Lyman in rain

Sage Thrasher, Lyman Lake

Western Meadowlark, singing and posing, Becker Lake
We would make other birding stops at Greer and Sunrise Ski Resort on the way home for target birds that didn't show up!  Sunrise, again, was closed off even though it was a weekend!

It was a marvelous trip with diverse and interesting participants. At mealtime, on the vans and at our discussion groups in the evening we got to know one another quite well. 

Hopi never say "good-bye" so I'll use their expression, "Until we meet again".

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