The Influence and Role of Religion In Hopi Society.

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The Influence and Role of Religion In Hopi Society

Barry Campbell

Religion 379

Instructor: Colleen Irwin

The Hopi are one of the groups of Native Americans known as the Pueblo People. The Pueblo People consist of around twenty-five tribes of Native Americans who reside in permanent, established villages in Northern Arizona and Western New Mexico (Dozier, 1970, p. 17). This area is known as the southern extension of the Colorado Plateau and is a land of high altitude and arid conditions (Whiteley, 1987, p.45). The word pueblo has its origins in the expeditions of the Spanish explorer Coronado, whose group were the first Europeans in the area. Pueblo means “town or village” in Spanish and at first referred to the buildings and architecture, but over time, the Spanish began to apply the term to the people inhabiting the pueblos. Living in established villages and utilizing intensive agriculture, the pueblos became distinguished from other Native Americans in the area who were nomadic or semi-nomadic. The Hopi are particularly geographically isolated to Northeast Arizona with their villages spread over three elevated, table-top like land features, known as “mesas”. Today there are approximately 9 500 members of the Hopi tribe (Anthony, A.E. & Ricks, J.B., 1993, p. 6.).

The Hopi are of particular interest in the study of religion. Their geographic isolation has left their society relatively unmolested (compared to their closest neighbors) by European encroachment (Dozier, 1970, p. 156). The Hopi’s neighbors to the East, the Zuni, and Laguna, have been the focus of Spanish missionary aims as well as Protestant missionary aims since European contact. Native religious practices in New Mexico were forced underground due to their being perceived as threats and competition to Christianity. However, the Hopi, due to their geographic isolation, in Arizona, were able to maintain their religious practices unabated.

The focus of this paper will be that the Hopi belief system and their belief in Kachinas are woven into and crosscut every segment of Hopi society. This integration of religion and Hopi society affects all aspects of how that society is organized. To the Hopi, the driving force of their religion has always been the need for rain. Rain is desperately needed in the arid conditions of Northeast Arizona for consumption, agriculture and to replenish the dry land. The Hopi religion provides spiritual assistance in the control over an extremely harsh environment through the performance of complex ceremony, prayer and offering. To the Hopi, religion is of the utmost importance and is pervasive in everything. Politics, agriculture, personal relations and all aspects of an individual’s life, from birth to death are intertwined with the spiritual beliefs of the Hopi. Religion is what bonds the Hopi people to each other, to their clans and to their pueblos. As new peoples entered the pueblos, it was religion that was paramount in distributing land and maintaining order. A detailed analysis of the cosmology of the Hopi and an analysis of the concept of Kachinas will reveal that spiritual beliefs are integral to life for the Hopi. They are intertwined throughout every facet of Hopi life and dictate the social organization of the Hopi people.

In Hopi Cosmology, an account of man’s creation is provided in a story of four worlds. Mankind went through many trials and tribulations, progressing through three worlds before making it to the present world. In Hopi belief, each world is layered on top of the previous world, with the fourth at the very top. Before emerging into the fourth and present world, man did not have his present form, but had other forms such as a mountain lion and a wildcat. In some accounts of the story, man was given supernatural assistance in reaching the fourth world. In these accounts, it was the Spider Woman, the creator of salt and mother of the Twin War Gods who protect the Hopi, who helped the Hopi climb the ladder from the third world to the fourth. In other versions of the creation story, it was the Hopi chief who led his people up the ladder to the fourth world (Schaasfsma, 1992, p. 7). The Hopi entered the fourth world through what they refer to as the sipapu, an entrance and exit to the underworld, which is located in the Grand Canyon near the mouth of the Little Colorado River (Dozier, 1970, p.204). The Hopi had been instructed not to allow any witches or evildoers to ascend the ladder, but knew they had failed in this as one of the Hopi’s children died in the journey. The guilty witch was detected and she bartered for her life using the information that the child was not dead, but had gone back to live in the third world. This story is the foundation for the Hopi belief in an afterlife. They believe that their dead return to the third world and live as the living do and feed off of offerings and mediate between the Hopi and the gods. These dead ancestors are referred to as the Kachinas.

This story of creation is central in the ongoing Hopi belief that people do not cease to live when their body dies. Death merely marks a “transition from one state of being to another” (Glowacka, 1999. p. 1). The Hopi see man as possessing both a body and a soul. To the Hopi, all things have two forms: the spiritual and the physical. This sense of dualism creates a balance between mass and energy. As M. D. Glowacka described in the article “The Concept of Hikwsi In Traditional Hopi Philosophy”, a person’s soul is embodied in his or her breath and referred to as the hikwsi (p.1.). On the fourth day after death, the hikwsi leaves the body and travels to the third world or the under world, a place that cannot be experienced with the senses. Glowacka contends that the third world is considered to be where the hikwsi came from before it was embodied (p.3.). This belief in an afterlife has an all-encompassing affect on the Hopi people and their lives in the present fourth world. Great care must be taken by all not to break any taboos that may offend the gods. All ceremony and ritual offerings must be undertaken in the proper, ascribed manner. Failure to follow the correct path may result in a time of punishment before a soul may reach the underworld. Glowacka’s article reveals that certain behaviors on earth guarantee the hikwsi will not enter the underworld. Women who marry illegally or unmarried women may not enter the underworld at all because they lack the required wedding garments (Glowacka, 1998, p.6). Children, who die prior to puberty, cannot enter the underworld and their hikwsi stays on earth until another child is born or until the mother dies and it can accompany her to the underworld (Glowacka, 1998, p.7.). Incorrect behavior during life has a direct affect on the disposition of the soul. This belief dictates the way that traditional Hopi people live their lives.

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Hopi cosmology also provides a story dealing with the creation of the earth.  In the Hopi story of creation, a pantheon of gods existed before anything else. In Fred Egan’s account, the sky god created a virgin who was so beautiful that she caused chaos and rivalry between the other gods (Egan, F. 1994, p.8). Seeing this, the sky god made the virgin into the earth, with her eyes becoming the springs, her hair becoming the forests and her secretions becoming the salt, according to Egan’s account (Egan, 1994. p.8). Egan’s version of the story continues, to state that the ...

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