Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Hopi Mesas

From Williams we took I-40 east through Flagstaff, then headed north up Hwy 89 onto the Navajo reservation.  This is the largest Indian reservation in the US, covering 27,425 sq. miles of northeastern Arizona and slopping over into both Utah and New Mexico.  Some of you may recall that we spent 3 months working with the Navajos at the medical clinic in Chinle a few years back.  But smack in the middle of the Navajo land is another reservation, that of the Hopi tribe who claim 2532 sq. miles southeast of Tuba City as their ancestral lands and are buying more whenever they can get the funds together.  We parked our rig in Tuba City for 3 days specifically to visit the Hopi Mesas, which we had not done when we were here working.

It is natural to assume that the Navajos and Hopi are closely related since they were found living in more or less the same place.  But the Hopi are descendants of the ancient Puebloans.  Anthropologists estimate that their people have lived in this area for over 10,000 years.  Their language is related to that of the Aztecs in Mexico and they have their own culture and religion.  The Navajo, on the other hand, are relative johnny-come-latelies, having migrated to the area just in the last few centuries.  They originally came from northwestern Canada and eastern Alaska and their speech is derived from the Athabaskan family of languages and ultimately related to the tongues of eastern Asia.  The Navajo and Apaches traveled together and when they got to Utah and Arizona some groups learned farming from the locals while others continued to be primarily hunters.  The farmers were named by the Spanish as Apaches de las Nabahu, "Apaches of Cultivated Fields", which got shortened to Navajo.  Both groups refer to themselves as Na DenĂ© or "the People".

We signed up for a tour of the Hopi Mesas, of which there are three.  Each mesa is the traditional home of 3 to 5 clans.  While individuals may move to a different village or mesa, they can't change clans which are matrilineal, which means you are a member of your mother's clan.  The clan affiliation is announced with any introduction.  "My name is xxx, a Hopi of the clan of the Water Coyote."  We were never really educated as to what that meant in practical terms.  Apparently each clan has certain responsibilities within the overall tribe.  And one cannot marry a member of one's own clan.  It's like marrying your sister.  Eww!

Moenkopi Legacy Inn and Suites in Tuba City
The tour began at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites, a hotel which was built and is owned by one of the clans (not by the tribal council) and looks quite posh from the lobby.  We piled into a van with three other adventurers and headed for Hopi country.  On the way we stopped at Coalminers' Canyon, touted as the "Hopi Grand Canyon" (but they're kidding themselves).  You can see in the photo near the top layer is a black stripe.  This is almost pure coal and was mined here for awhile.  But they discovered the coal seam broadened out a few miles up canyon and mining operations moved there and continue to this day.  Enjoy these pictures.  Most of the reservation forbids photography.

Coalminer's Canyon

Oraibi circa 1899 - it looks considerably worse now
We visited Oraibi, once the largest of the Hopi villages.  Traditionally the Hopi built apartment-like structures 3 and 4 stories high.  Today the stone houses on the "ground floor" are actually what used to be the third floor, the lower levels having been gradually filled in and are now buried underground.  Most of the homes have no electricity or running water.  They are not absolutely opposed to these things but they feel strongly about disturbing the homes of their ancestors.  So some of the houses have solar panels and satellite dishes.  But they don't allow any holes to be dug to put in electric poles or water pipes.  Hopi who want modern amenities have to move away from the village, and there is a small enclave of modern homes with utilities out on the edge of town.  The year round population of Oraibi has fallen to less than 100, but during religious ceremonies tens of thousands drawn from the whole reservation will crowd into the village plaza to dance and eat and celebrate.

Hopi Taco
We ate lunch at the Hopi visitors center where we discovered that, foodwise at least, the Hopi and Navajo have much in common.  They eat the four things that can be dry farmed in this arid environment, corn, squash, beans and sunflowers.  After the Spanish arrived they also learned to herd sheep and when the American palefaces came and introduced them to wheat flour, they learned to make fry bread.  If you are a tourist, the main source of nutrition is "Hopi tacos" which look amazingly like the Navajo tacos you can get on the reservation next door. 

After lunch we went to visit a Hopi artisan who makes silver jewelry.  We watched as he produced a pair of Bear Claw earrings and it was, admittedly, fascinating to see how it is done.  He did have an electric polishing wheel but otherwise used hand tools and a blow torch for soldering.  One of the other ladies in our group nabbed the earrings he made while we watched but Vicki got a similar pair he had in his shop.

On the way back we stopped at a place called Prophecy Rock for a lesson in Hopi mysticism and superstition, then went to view a canyon full of petroglyphs dated to the 6th century AD.  These we could take pictures of but not publish.  I don't really consider this blog to be "publishing" in any meaningful sense of the word so here, enjoy a few petroglyphs.   What they mean is anybody's guess.
Petroglyphs circa 600 AD

Back in Tuba City we went to visit a Navajo museum that was originally designed as a traveling show but now sits permanently on the back lot of the Quality Inn hotel.  This is actually a very well done introduction to Navajo culture and religion and if you do ever actually find yourself in Tuba City for some inexplicable reason,  it is definitely worth an afternoon's exploration.  Associated with this is a small museum covering the Navajo Code Talkers from WWII.  We broke both the Japanese and German war codes in that conflict, which greatly contributed to our victory over the axis powers.  Not wanting to have the same thing happen to us, we recruited native Navajo speakers to develop a code using the Navajo language.  This was never broken and was a major factor in our island hopping victories in the South Pacific during the war.  Interesting stuff.

I guess it is fine that the Hopi choose to live by traditional means on their traditional lands but I can't escape the feeling that in the 21st century that traditional lifestyle translates as inconvenience and squalor.  I could chose to live like a 15th century European peon I suppose, but to me respect for my ancestors is just so much superstition and living like a serf was not really all that great.  No, I'll take my electric tooth brush and air conditioning, thank you very much.

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