Archeologists believe Hopi
Indians to be descended
from Ancient Anasazi, and
several other ancient
groups. Evidence suggests
the Hopi learned building,
farming, jewelry, pottery,
and basket making from
these early Indian peoples.
Larger population groups
became possible with
effective agriculture and
better ways to store
Because of a more stable
existence, the people could
devote greater amounts of
time to religious and artistic
|The Hopi (`H p ) name comes from Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, “Peaceful People.” They were originally
called the Moki (or Moqui) Indians.
The Hopi are the westernmost of the Pueblo peoples. First, Second, and Third Mesas are part
of Black Mesa, which is located in Arizona between the Colorado and the Rio Grande River.
Several Hopi villages, except for the Oraibi are of relatively recent construction. Hopi population was perhaps
2,800 in the late seventeenth century. It was roughly 7,000 in 1990. The Hopi Indian language is Shoshonean, a
member of the Uto-Aztecan language family.
Hopi ancestors have been in the same area for the last ten thousand years. During
the fourteenth century, Hopi became one of three centers of Pueblo culture, along with
Zuñi/Acoma and the Rio Grande pueblos.
Somewhere between the 14th and 16th centuries, three characteristics distinguished the Hopi culture: a highly
specialized agriculture, including selective breeding and various forms of irrigation; a pronounced artistic
impulse, as seen in mural and pottery painting; and the mining and use of coal (after which the Hopi returned to
using wood for fuel and sheep dung for ﬁring pottery). The Hopi ﬁrst met non-native Americans when members
of Coronado’s party came into their country in 1540. The ﬁrst missionary arrived in 1629, at Awatovi.
Although the Spanish did not colonize Hopi, they did make them swear obedience to the Spanish king and
attempted to change their religious beliefs.
For this reason, the Hopis joined the Pueblo rebellion of 1680. They destroyed all local missions and established
new pueblos at the top of Black Mesa that were easier to defend. The Spanish reconquest of 1692 did not reach
Hopi land, and the Hopis welcomed refugees from other pueblos who sought to live free of Spanish inﬂuence.
In 1700, the Hopis destroyed Awatovi, the only village with an active mission, and remained free of Christianity
for almost 200 years thereafter.
During the nineteenth century the Hopi endured an increase in Navajo raiding. Later in the century they came
across white Europeans.
The U.S. government established a Hopi reservation in 1882, and the railroad began bringing in trading posts,
tourists, missionaries, and scholars.
The new visitors in turn brought disease epidemics that reduced the Hopi population dramatically. Like many
tribes, the Hopi struggled to deal with the upheaval brought about by these new circumstances.
Following the Dawes Act (1887), surveyors came in preparation for parceling the land into individual
allotments; the Hopis met them with armed resistance.
Although there was no ﬁghting, Hopi leaders were imprisoned. They were imprisoned as well for their general
refusal to send their children to the new schools, which were known for brutal discipline and policies geared
toward cultural genocide. Hopi children were kidnapped and sent to the schools anyway. Factionalism also took a
toll on Hopi life.
Ceremonial societies split between “friendly” and “hostile” factions. This development led in 1906 to the
division of Oraibi, which had been continuously occupied since at least 1100, into ﬁve villages. Contact with the
outside world increased signiﬁcantly after the two world wars.
By the 1930s, the Hopi economy and traditional ceremonial life were in shambles (yet the latter remained more
intact than perhaps that of any other U.S. tribe). The Hopi people who could ﬁnd work worked for wages or the
tourist trade. For the ﬁrst time, alcoholism became a problem.
In 1943, a U.S. decision to divide the Hopi and Navajo Reservations into grazing districts resulted in the loss
of most Hopi land. This sparked a major disagreement between the tribes and the government that continues to
Following World War II, the “hostile” traditionalists emerged as the caretakers of land, resisting cold war
policies such as mineral development and nuclear testing and mining. The official (“friendly”) tribal council,
however, instituted policies that favored exploitation of the land, such as allowing Peabody Coal in 1970 to mine
According to legend, the Hopi agreed to act as caretakers of this Fourth World in exchange for permission to
live here. Over centuries of a stable existence based on farming, they evolved an extremely rich ceremonial life.
The Hopi Way, whose purpose is to maintain a balance between nature and people in every aspect of life, is
ensured by the celebration of their ceremonies.
The Hopi recognize two major ceremonial cycles, masked (January or February until July) and unmasked, which
are determined by the position of the sun and the lunar calendar. The purpose of most ceremonies is to bring
rain. As the symbol of life and well-being, corn, a staple crop, is the focus of many ceremonies.
All great ceremonies last nine days, including a preliminary day. Each ceremony is controlled by a clan or
several clans. Central to Hopi ceremonialism is the kiva, or underground chamber, which is seen as a doorway to
the cave world from whence their ancestors originally came.
Kachinas are guardian spirits, or intermediaries between the creator and the people. They are said to dwell at
the San Francisco peaks and at other holy places. Every year at the winter solstice, they travel to inhabit
people’s bodies and remain until after the summer solstice.
Re-created in dolls and masks, they deliver the blessings of life and teach people the proper way to live.
Katsina or kachina societies are associated with clan ancestors and with rain gods. All Hopis are initiated into
kachinas societies, although only men play an active part in them.
The Soyal, or winter solstice is the most important ceremony of the year for the Hopi Indian. It celebrates
the Hopi worldview and recounts their legends. Another important ceremony is Niman, the harvest festival. The
August Snake Dance has become a wellknown Hopi ceremony.
Like other Pueblo peoples, the Hopi recognize a dual division of time and space between the lower world of the
dead and upper world of the living. Prayer may be seen as a mediation between the upper and lower, or human and
supernatural, worlds. These worlds coexist at the same time and may be seen in oppositions such as summer and
winter, day and night, life and death.
In all aspects of Hopi ritual, ideas of space, time, color, and number are all interrelated in such a way as to
provide order to the Hopi world.
Traditionally, the Hopi favored a weak government coupled with a strong matrilineal, matrilocal clan system.
They were not a tribe in the usual sense of the word but were characterized by an elaborate social structure,
each village having its own organization and each individual his or her own place in the community. The “tribe”
was “invented” in 1936, when the non-native Oliver La Farge wrote their constitution.
Although a tribal council exists, many people’s allegiance remains with the village kikmongwi (cacique). A
kikmongwi is appointed for life and rules in matters of traditional religion. Major villages include Walpi (First
Mesa), Shungopavi (Second Mesa), and Oraibi (Third Mesa).
Hopi children learn their traditions through katsina dolls, including scare-katsinas, as well as social pressure,
along with an abundance of love and attention. This approach tends to encourage friendliness and sharing in
In general, women owned (and built) the houses and other game such as deer, antelope, elk, and rabbits. The Hopi
also kept domesticated turkeys.
Women gathered wild food and herbs, such as pine nuts, prickly pear, yucca, berries, currants, nuts, and seeds.
Crops were dried and stored against drought and famine.
Farming technology included digging sticks (later the horse and plow), small rock or brush-and-dirt dams and
sage windbreaks, and an accurate calendar on which each year’s planting time was based. Grinding tools were
made of stone.
Men wove clothing and women made pottery, which was used for many purposes. Men also hunted with the bow
and arrow and used snares and nets to trap animals.
The Hopi obtained gems, such as turquoise, from Zuñi and Pueblo tribes. Shell came from the Paciﬁc Ocean and
the Gulf of Mexico. They also traded for sheep and wool from the Navajo, buckskins from the Havasupai, and
mescal from various tribes.
The Hopi made pottery using designs based on ancient geometric patterns, which were made by women. Men spun
and wove cotton into costumes and clothing, for domestic use and for trade. Designs were generally
asymmetrical but balanced between objects and color to render an idea of harmony.
Personal decorations included jewelry of dentalium shell, bone and animal teeth, and face paint. Men wore long
looped necklaces, often decorated with abalone shell. Women tended to wear abalone in their braids.
Silversmithing was introduced by the Navajo in 1890.
Clothing was usually made of cotton and included long dresses for women and loincloths for men. Both wore
leather moccasins and rabbit-skin robes as well as blankets and fur capes for warmth. Unmarried women wore
their hair in the shape of a squash blossom; braids were preferred after marriage. War and Weapons is now
Men farmed and hunted away from the village. These unmarried Hopi women wore their hair in the shape of a
squash blossom especially in the early 1900’s. But braids were preferred after marriage.
Special societies included katsina and other men’s and women’s organizations concerned with medicine, clown
rituals, weather, and war.
Following a death, the deceased’s hair was washed with yucca suds and decorated with prayer feathers. The
Hopi had his face covered with a cotton mask, to evoke the clouds. He or she was then wrapped in a blanket and
buried in a sitting position, with food and water. Cornmeal and prayer sticks were also placed in the grave, with
a stick for a spirit ladder.
Distinctive multi-story housing was made of sandstone and adobe walls and roof beams of pine and juniper,
gathered from afar. The dwellings were entered via ladders through openings in the roofs and were arranged
around a central plaza. This architectural arrangement reﬂects and reinforces cosmological ideas concerning
emergence from an underworld through successive world levels.
Hopis have been expert dry farmers for centuries, growing corn, beans, squash, cotton, and tobacco on
ﬂoodplains and sand dunes or, with the use of irrigation, near springs. The Spanish brought crops still used
today, including wheat, chilies and melons. Men were the hunters and farmers.
The Hopi Indian Reservation was established by the U.S. in 1882. It began with almost 2.5 million acres, and
was reduced to just over 1.5 million acres in 1995. Thirteen Hopi villages now live on three mesas. A tribal
council was created in 1936, although only two of the villages were represented in 1992. Hopis are also
members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation
Hopis farm for their food just as they have for centuries. Sheep and cattle are raised for food.
Art, pottery, and jewelry are important for the tourist trade— especially silver jewelry, katsina dolls, and
pottery—bring in some money. Seventy percent of the tribe’s operating budget comes from coal leases, but
mineral leases remain exploitative, and their effects include strip mining, radiation contamination, and
depletion of precious water resources.
The tribal council has also invested in factories and in a cultural enter/motel/museum complex. The Hopi
Reservation included three villages of Navajos who were living on Hopi lands (settlers and refugees from U.S.
Controversy with the Navajos
Technically the land belongs to the Hopis, but it has been homesteaded since the mid–eighteenth century by
Navajos because, in their view, the Hopis were just “ignoring” it.
The Hopi council wants the land for mineral exploitation. Hopi traditionalists want the Navajos to remain, out
of solidarity, friendship with their old enemies, and their inclination to share. They would prefer that the land
remain free of mineral exploitation.
In 1986, the United States recognized the squatters’ rights by proclaiming 1.8 million acres of “joint use
area”: Each tribe got half, and those on the “other” side were to move. In effect, the Hopis lost half of their
original reservation to the Navajo. More than 100 Hopis moved, but many Navajos remained.
The conflict continues today. The Hopis are trying to keep their land. Many Indians believe that coal company
proﬁts are at the root of the dispute and forced relocations.
White Bear, O. The History of the Hopi From Their Origins In Lemuria. 2011
Water, F. Book of the Hopi. 1977.
|Hopi children learn their traditions through katsina dolls (pictured here), as
well as social pressure, along with an abundance of love and attention. These
dolls, carved out of cottonwood, represent the various masked katsinas.