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Definition: Hopi from Philip's Encyclopedia

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.6,000 Hopi live in Arizona.


Summary Article: Hopi from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Member of an American Indian people living in southwest USA, especially northeast Arizona, since prehistoric times. They are descendants of the ancient Anasazi, and their language is a branch of the Uto-Aztecan family. A Pueblo Indian people, they live in villages of multi-tiered stone or adobe dwellings perched on rocky plateaus, or mesas, where they farm and herd sheep. Their religious heritage revolves around the Kachinas, or Katsinas (spirits representing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth). Ceremonies include the snake dance, a rain ritual involving live snakes. Hopi culture is regarded as one of the best-preserved in North America. Their population numbers about 11,000 (1995).

Society and culture The Hopi have a strong matrilineal clan system (membership passing through the mother's line). Marriage is forbidden within a clan or with a related clan. When a man marries, he moves to his wife's village, although he is still responsible to his own clan mother. Land is communally owned and is given to the clans, which then apportion it to the various families, who hand it down to the women of the clan. Women own the houses, gardens, and furnishings, whereas the men own such property as horses and sheep, and are responsible for herding, farming, and activities away from the villages. Hopi villages are autonomous units.

Hopi culture reflects their settled lifestyle. Textiles and pottery are highly developed arts; Hopi mimbres pottery, a mottled, cream-coloured ware often decorated with black, red, and white designs, has an international reputation. Religious artworks include Kachina dolls and masks, carved from cottonwood and decorated with shells and feathers; and murals for their ceremonial kivas (underground chambers). Until mass-produced cotton textiles were introduced, Hopi men wove cloth and made clothes for their families. Women traditionally wore a manta of black wool, a rectangular piece of cloth tied on one shoulder and with the seam partly sewn. Married women wore their hair simply braided, while those available for marriage wore an elaborate ‘squash blossom’ hairstyle arranged on a shaped frame to demonstrate their household's skill; the style could take over an hour to produce. Traditionally shells were often used for currency, and were worn in necklaces as a sign of wealth.

Religion Hopi religious life centres on the Kachinas, spirits who move among the Hopi from December or February, depending on the mesa, and return in July to their spiritual homes on the Waynemai and Kisaiu mountain peaks. All Hopi men belong to a particular Kachina cult, each with its own kiva. The spirits are represented by Kachina dolls or impersonated by male dancers during prayer and dance ceremonies.

Rituals deal with the coming of age, the bringing of rain, and the well-being of all living creatures. During the snake dance, performers dance with snakes in their mouths to encourage the rains. According to their mythology, Hopi clans ascended from the underworld, each clan acquiring its name from some incident that occurred during the journey. Each clan also brought with it a sacred object and knowledge of ceremonies with the power to bring rain. They see themselves charged with maintaining the balance between the upper and lower worlds. Through an elaborate cycle of festivals and rituals, the Hopi keep these worlds in harmony, thus ensuring the continuity of life on Earth. The name Hopi means ‘peaceful people’ and they seem to have been long revered by other American Indians for their priestly role. The Hopi are the chief religious exponents of traditional American Indian religion, although in recent years traditional Hopi culture has begun to disintegrate as the younger Hopi migrate to the cities.

History The Hopi village of Old Oraibi is the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America, dating from AD 1100. The Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado reached the area in 1541, but the Hopi remained relatively free from outside contact until 1629, when the Spanish began to build missions in the area. In 1680 the Hopi destroyed the Spanish missions and moved from their riverside villages to remoter mesa-top Hopi communities, accessible only by steep trails through the cliffs. The Navajo began to invade Hopi lands in the 1820s, and land disputes between the two peoples still continue. A Hopi reservation was established in 1882, although it was not accepted by all the Hopi groups until 1906, and its boundaries with the Navajo reservation have been frequently redrawn.

Government Contemporary Hopi society has two forms of government: a traditional form based on the divine plan of life laid out by the Maasau, the guardian of the fourth world of the Hopi, which places all religious and secular authority in village elders; and a form based on the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The power of village elders is limited, however, because important decisions are made by consensus.

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