Hopi Mesas

Although this Expedition did not officially begin until October, we were invited to visit the Hopi Mesas and watch some traditional dance during the weekend of September 22nd. This was an opportunity not to be refused.

Our trip to the Hopi mesas was truly an invaluable experience. It began with us arriving in Kykotsmovi, on Third Mesa, (the seat of government for the Hopi Nation).

We had an appointment with the office of the tribal president, but our contact there had had an emergency and was "in the kiva". Kivas are the places where the most sacred and important rituals are held. We could only assume that it was very important that she be there.

So we decided to explore a little and find our meeting place for the next morning. By the way, we would like to mention that as guests we were very aware of the rules that govern non-Hopi visitors to the mesas: No photography, no sketching, no recording. These rules have been enacted to prevent the exploitation of the Hopi as has happened in the past. The Hopi are very welcoming people, but they deserve privacy.

As we wound our way up First Mesa we realized we were someplace very special. The road was narrow and had sheer cliffs on one side and sheer walls on the other. Arriving at the top we were greeted by throngs of people waiting in line to get parking permits for the upcoming festival. The first Hopi word we heard and recognized was "bahana" which refers to anyone non-Indian.

By the way, our host for the weekend, and our Expedition Expert in all things Hopi (and a Hopi herself), LouVina Maho, uses the terms Indian and Native American interchangeably. Because she grew up with the term "Indian" she’s used to it and uses it to refer to the people collectively. The people themselves, however, prefer to be referred to by their tribal affiliation such as Hopi, Navajo, Apache, etc.

As we wandered around the top of First Mesa, we were struck by its beauty. The ancient structures exude a feeling of warmth and familiarity. The soft reddish-brown color is part of the earth and reaches out to you. The people that we met were friendly, and as it turns out, one of them was a "clan-sister" to LouVina. After wandering for about half-an-hour, we located our meeting spot and decided to return to the Hopi Cultural Center campground for the night.

The next morning we arose before dawn and quickly packed up. It was time to meet the rest of our group for our visit to the village of Walpi on First Mesa. We met up with everyone at Ponsi Hall and proceeded with LouVina to her home in Walpi. Walpi is located at the far southwest end of First Mesa. At almost 1,000 years old, it is one of the three oldest inhabited villages in the North America.

That morning we were there to watch a sunrise run across the valley below the mesa, to the mesa top, and to the plaza, a distance of about five miles. Hopis have a long history of running, and have produced some excellent runners including an Olympic gold medallist. This particular run (and many others during the year) was to honor chosen others. If someone has helped you or suffered in some way, it is common to run in their honor. Viewers acknowledge their honorarium by thanking them as they run by. This day there were over 100 runners of all ages. All of them received recognition of their achievement in the plaza after the event.

After the run, we left Walpi for the Second Mesa village of Shongopovi. There, through the friendship of another instructor in native peoples, David Brandstein, we were able to view a healing ceremony called a momja, which is not usually open to visitors. This was a very solemn and spiritual dance and we felt very privileged to be able to attend.

After leaving Shongopovi, we returned to First Mesa to the "social dances" that were going on there. There were tribes from all over the southwest, all dressed in their ceremonial finest and dancing their respective dances to the beat of a drum and song. What a marvelous afternoon!

That evening we returned to LouVina’s home at Walpi, and enjoyed a traditional stew made from lamb and hominy. LouVina’s home is the traditional home of the water clan. Her grandmother was water clan and because she had no daughters, the house passed down to her son, LouVina’s father. All Hopi lineage is traced from the mother, so though LouVina lives in her father’s house of the water clan, she herself is roadrunner clan (from her mother’s side of the family). (See special section on Hopis)**

After dinner we took a stroll around the end of Walpi and First Mesa. The sun was setting and the color on the earth-brown walls was beautiful. It was not difficult to imagine life here as it must have been over the course of Walpi’s 900-year history. It was an absolutely beautiful and haunting sight and one that I am not likely to forget soon.


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