April 11, 2024 | Kaddy Gibson

The Hopi Tribe


Meet The Mysterious Hopi Tribe

The Hopi are one of world’s oldest living cultures. They migrated to Arizona in the 12th century, and now live on three majestic mesas in the northeast of the state. 

Known for their deep spiritual connection to the land and unique traditions, the Hopi have upheld their ancestral ways through generations—usually, by sharing little with outsiders

Now, we have a rare chance to learn more about this elusive tribe. 

The Hopi Tribe

Their Homeland

The Hopi Reservation is on their ancestral lands, called Hopitutskwa. Their villages are situated atop three mesas in the northeast of Arizona, about 70 miles from Flagstaff.

The reservation comprises about 2,531 square miles and is home to about 6,377 Hopi people.

Hopi TribeVisit Arizona

Their Way Of Life

The word “Hopi” is more than the name of the tribe; it’s also a way of life. To be “Hopi” is to be " one who is mannered, civilized, peaceable, polite”.

Hopi TribeAZ Central

Their Way Of Life (cont’d)

“Being Hopi” involves acting with a reverence for all things and people, and a desire to live in peace with the rest of the world. 

To that end, Hopi spiritual ceremonies are intended to benefit not only their community, but the whole world.Hopi TribeAZ Central

Following Their Mother’s Line

Hopi society is split into matrilineal clans, and when they get married, the man becomes part of the woman’s clan. 

Women also have a lot economic power in the clan, with daughters being the ones to inherit land and houses.

Illustration of a Hopi girl and her mother showing type of hair stylesWellcome Images, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Hopi Names

Hopi children are named after one of the women in their father’s clan.

When the child is 20 days old, each of their paternal female relatives brings a gift and a name for the child. The parents then choose from the list of names.

Hopi Indian dancer, 2 year old - 1949National Parks Service, Picryl

The Clans

There are 34 different Hopi clans, each with their own special traditions and origins stories. 

Though they are made up of several different lineages, Hopi consider everyone in the clan to be family. Because of this, they cannot marry someone from their own clan.

Photograph shows a male Hopi Indian, wearing a head band - 1920Library of Congress, Picryl

The Mesas

The Hopi lives on three mesas, each with several different villages. First Mesa is the oldest of the three and has been home to the Hopi since 900 CE

Walpi is the oldest village on the mesa and is still without modern comforts of running water or electricity. About half a dozen people live as their ancestors did, in the ancient stone dwellings.

Hopi pueblo of Walpi — northeastern Arizona - 1941Ansel Adams, Wikimedia Commons

First Mesa

The other two villages on First Mesa—Sichomovi and Tewa—were established after the Hopi revolted against the Spanish in 1680. 

Today, all three villages are governed by one chief, called a Kikmongwi, who is assisted by religious leaders from each village.

Hopi TribeRichard Franks, Adventure.com

Second Mesa and Third Mesa

Second and Third Mesa are where most curious visitors go. There, you can find a gallery to learn more about the area, as well as places to eat and rest. 

Second and Third Mesas are also where you’ll find traditional Hopi clothing and textiles, colorful yucca baskets, and katsina dolls.

Hopi TribeRichard Franks, Adventure.com

Katsina Dolls

Traditionally, katsina dolls were made of cottonwood root and portrayed elemental spirits called katsinas. 

Nowadays, many katsina dolls are created to be artwork or memorabilia for tourists and other members of the public.

Hopi TribeVisit Arizona

The Katsinas

Katsinas are the spirits that are found in all things and are the link between the Hopi and the supernatural world.

It is believed that they visit the Hopi to help them with everyday tasks.

Ahola Katsina Doll, Hopi, Arizona, C. 1885Daderot, Wikimedia Commons

The Katsinas (cont’d)

Katsinas are not worshipped, but they are venerated for their powers to help people. 

For example, some katsina can be called on to help bring rain or healthy crops, while others offer healing or protection.

Hopi TribeRichard Franks, Adventure.com

The Katsinas (cont’d)

The Hopi believe that the katsinas reside within the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.

During the first half of the year, the katsina may visit the Hopi villages. Many of the Hopi’s religious ceremonies are centered on the katsinas.

A Moki potter (Oraibe) - 1900Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

Katsina Ceremonies

The first katsina ceremony, called Powamu, takes place in February and is associated with planting beans and the growing season. 

The last katsina ceremony, called Niman, takes place in July and signifies the harvest. After Niman, the katsinas return to the San Fransico peaks.

Hopi TribeExperience Scottsdale

Hopi Spiritual Beliefs

The Hopi have many different traditions, oral histories, and religious beliefs across the three mesas. 

They’ve also adopted many Christian traditions into their cosmology, which makes it hard to define a set of beliefs that are followed by all Hopi. 

However, there are still some figures that show up in most Hopi beliefs, no matter how diverse.

Hopi chanters. Women grinding corn - 1933Grand Canyon National Park, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Hopi Origin Stories

In many Hopi creation stories, the Hopi were tasked with caring for the land by Masauwu, the Spirit of Death and Earth God. 

He is also the Master of the Fourth World and helped the Hopi settle at Oraibi. In some myths, he wears a gruesome mask, while others portray him as a handsome man.

Hopi Native Demonstrators At Desert View Watchtower - 1933Grand Canyon National Park, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Creator God

Tawa, the sun spirit, is the creator god in most Hopi creation stories. 

The Hopi believe there are four worlds, and each was created by Tawa. The First World was made up of insect-like creatures who lived in caves. 

Tawa wanted to improve their lives, so he sent Spider Grandmother to lead them to the Second World.

Five Young Hopi Indian Girls Standing In A Row In The Village Of Shonguapavi, Ca.1901Pierce, C.C. (Charles C.), Wikimedia Commons

The Second World

Once the creatures made it to the Second World, they turned into bears and wolves. They still didn’t seem happy, so Tawa sent Spider Grandmother to bring them to the Third World. 

By the time the reached the Third World, they were people.

Grand Canyon Historic Hopi House 1932Grand Canyon National Park, Wikimedia Commons

The Third World

For a time, life in the Third World was good. Spider Grandmother taught the humans how to weave and make pottery, and a hummingbird showed them how to make fire. 

But eventually, evil began to spread through the world, so Tawa created a fourth and final world.

Hopi TribeExperience Scottsdale

The Fourth World

There are two different stories about how humans got to the Fourth World, the one we call Earth. 

In the first version, Spider Grandmother lead “the people with good hearts” to a hallow reed that was growing at the opening of the Third and Fourth World. 

Many Hopi believe that the Grand Canyon was this opening.

Grand Canyon of Arizona - Group of Indians, Hopi HouseThe Newberry Library, Picryl

The Fourth World (cont’d)

The second version of the story is more common in the village of Oraibi. In this story, Tawa sends a massive flood to destroy the Third World. 

Spider Grandmother put the kind-hearted people in boats made of hollow reeds, and the eventually used the reed to sail to the coasts of the Fourth World.

Hopi Indian family at the ladder leading to the entrance of their dwelling, ca.1900Pierce, C.C. (Charles C.), Wikimedia Commons

A New Way Of Life

In the Fourth World, the god Masauwu taught the people how to live properly. 

He also told the Hopi that the land is sacred, which is why taking care of the environment is so important to the Hopi worldview today.

Hopi Indian Husband And Wife Sitting Outside, Ca.1900Pierce, C.C. Wikimedia Commons

The Kiva

The four worlds in Hopi mythology resembled structures called kivas. A kiva is a large circular room underground. 

Many kivas were used for spiritual ceremonies, but archaeological evidence also suggests that some may have been used as dwellings.

Hopi Tribe KivaWikipedia

The Snake Dance

The “Snake Dance” is a Hopi katsina ceremony that has drawn the attention of tourists. 

The ceremony is held every August, hosted by the towns of Walpi or Mishongnovi in odd-numbered years and Oraibi in even-numbered years.

Hopi Man Weaving A Kochina Sash For A Ceremonial Kilt, Arizona, Ca.1898George Wharton James, Wikimedia Commons

Preparing For The Dance

Before performing the Snake Dance, Hopi dancers gather snakes from each of the four directions and then clean the snakes with yucca root suds.

Spiritually, this makes the animals clean enough to carry the peoples’ prayers for rain to the ancestors in the underworld. 

Practically, it makes them clean enough to be held in the dancers’ mouths.

How To Make Indian And Other Baskets (1903)Internet Archive Book Images, Wikimedia Commons

The Dance

During the dance, men from the Snake Clan perform with the snakes, wrapping them around their necks and putting them in their mouths. 

At the end of the dance, the snakes are released back in the four directions they came from, with the hopes that they will find rain.

The Hopi Snake Dance Ceremony At Its Height - circa 1898James, George Wharton, Wikimedia Commons

Lots Of Snakes

Up to 100 snakes are used during the ceremony. 

Garter snakes, bull snakes, and even poisonous rattlesnakes are just a few of the types of snakes that are handled during the dance.

Performing Hopi Snake Dance At Pueblo Of Oraibi, Arizona, Ca.1896George Wharton James, Wikimedia Commons

Part Of The Whole

The Snake Dance is only a small part of the Snake-Antelope Ceremony, named for the clans who run the ceremony. 

While the dance is performed in public, the rest of the ceremony is carried out privately, in a sacred kiva.

Line Of A Dozen Hopi Snake Priests Singing Songs And Prayers - 1898George Wharton James, Wikimedia Commons

What Do They Eat?

Traditionally, the Hopi have lived as subsistence farmers. Maize was their staple crop, but they also grew many other fruits and vegetables, like beans, squash, and melons.

Hopi TribeAZ Central

Men’s Responsibilities

Traditionally, men performed much of the farming and construction in Hopi communities. 

They also performed most of the ceremonies and helped make things like woven blankets and moccasins.

Hopi TribeAZ Central

Women’s Responsibilities

Women took care of the home, which involved raising children and looking after the elderly. They were also responsible for gardening, making pottery, and weaving baskets.

A female Moki Basket Weaver - circa 1900Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

The Hopi Economy

Nowadays, many Hopi have jobs outside the Hopi Reserve. The Hopi economy is also supported by making and selling Hopi art, like katsina dolls, ceramics, and jewelry.

Hopi TribeRichard Franks, Adventure.com

First Encounters

The Hopi’s first encounters with Europeans occurred in 1540. A conquistador named Francisco Vásquez de Coronado were warmly met by Hopi and Zuni people in the ancient Hopi village of Awatovi. 

There are a few other recorded encounters between conquistadors and Hopi, and for a time, visits from the Spaniards were infrequent and uneventful.

Male Hopi Weaver At Moenkopi, Arizona, Ca.1898George Wharton James, Wikimedia Commons

A New Religion

Things changed once the Spanish had successfully colonized the area around the Rio Grande. In 1629, 30 Catholic friars of the Franciscan order arrived in the Hopi territory, along with dozens of missionaries. 

They built a church in the village of Awatovi, marking the beginning of a time of suffering rather than salvation for the Hopi people.

Alcatraz Light, original, and Hopi inmates - circa 1890Work of a Federal Government Employee, Wikimedia Commons

Harsh Times

Most of the Hopi refused to convert so the Spanish punished them for practicing their spiritual ceremonies. They also enslaved many Hopi, putting many to do forced labor and requiring farmers to hand over all their harvests. 

Abuse was also rampant, leading other Pueblo to plan a revolt. The Hopi supported that plan.

Group Of Hopi Indians Roasting Corn In An Underground Furnace, Ca.1900Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

The Pueblo Revolt

In 1680, the Hopi joined with other tribes of Pueblo peoples to drive out the Spanish colonists. 

They burned Awatovi, pulling churches and mission buildings down stone by stone. In the end, all the Spanish soldiers, priests, and missionaries were put to the sword.

 It would be twenty years before the Spanish fully subdued the tribes near the Rio Grande.

Hopi priests after taking the emetic during a Hopi Snake Dance Ceremony, Arizona, ca.1896George Wharton James, Wikimedia Commons

Hopi Sovereignty

The Hopi are a sovereign nation with the United States, with the Hopi Reservation acting autonomously of the Federal government and beholden to the tribe’s constitution and laws. 

The reservation is governed by the Hopi Tribal Council.

Hopi Reservation, AZ - 2008biotour13, Flickr

The Tribal Council

The tribal council is made up of elected officials from the different Hopi villages. The council is led by a Chairman and Vice Chairman and has 22 other legislative members from the six largest Hopi villages.

Tom O'halleran With Hopi Leadership - 2020United States House of Representatives - Office of Don Young, Wikimedia Commons

Remembering The Old Ways 

Though they are all beholden to the Tribal Council, the system of leadership within individual Hopi villages may vary, and some villages follow traditional systems of governance that date back 1,000 years

The details on these ways of ruling are still kept secret from outsiders.

Ancient Hopi Village Of Wolpi - 1972Terry Eiler, Wikimedia Commons

Final Thoughts

The Hopi tribe stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of Indigenous cultures in America. Throughout the centuries, they kept their rich traditions, deep spirituality, and unwavering connection to the land. 

They have also maintained their sovereignty, which has led to an incredible living legacy that should be honored and preserved for generations to come. 

Hopi (Moqui) Indians. Snake dance - 1890Library of Congress, Picryl


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