The Influence and Role of Religion In Hopi Society - Society Essay Example

The Hopi are one of the groups of Native Americans known as the Pueblo People - The Influence and Role of Religion In Hopi Society introduction. 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 pueblos1. Living in established villages and utilizing intensive agriculture, the pueblos became distinguished from other Native Americans in the area who were nomadic or semi-nomadic2. 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.


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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 contact3. 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 unabated4. 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 wildcat5. In some accounts of the story, man was given supernatural assistance in reaching the fourth world. In these accounts, it was the Spider Woman6, 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 fourth7. 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. ).

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. . ). 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. 8 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 sky god then assigned different areas of the earth to be ruled by different gods.

Masau is the god of the surface of the earth and the dead, Muyingwa is at the center to guard the germs of life, Palolokong is god of the waters and nourishes life and Tawa, the sun and father of all the gods (Egan. 1994, p. 8). According to this story, the earth was already occupied by these deities before the arrival of man. This Hopi story of the earth’s creation can account for the distribution of land and the formation of the clan system for the Hopi. Egan contends that when the Hopi entered the Fourth world, they did not yet have clans (Egan, 1994. p. 10).

According to Egan, groups based on matrilineal units wondered around aimlessly in the Southwest and individual bands formed after profound events would occur to them (Egan, 1994. p. 10). The Bear clan found its name when it happened upon a dead bear during their wanderings (Egan, 1994. p. 10). The different clans that formed after emergence from the underworld roamed the Southwest for a considerable time. During this time, the Hopi acquired agriculture and then began to settle on the mesas. Egan states that, the Bear clan was the first to settle, acquiring a plot of land from the god Masau (Egan, 1994. p. 10).

Because the Bear were the first, they became the leading clan, as they are today, with their chief as the chief of the village and the clan being the owners of the village property (Egan, 1994. p. 10). As more clans began to arrive, they were given lands based on their performance of ceremonies to the Bear clan or on their ability to bring rain. Clan stature that still exists was taking its form. Hopi clans take their names from animals, plants or different aspects of nature and a powerful relationship exists between the clan and what it is named after. All the clans are interconnected through the practice of ceremony and ritual.

The Tobacco clan provides tobacco and pipes, the Badger clan provides roots for medicines, and the Sand clan provides sand for altars (Egan, 1994. p. 11). Each clan provides a necessary component for conducting proper ceremonies. Each clan is “essential to the religious system” (Schaafsma, 1994, p. 11). The structure of Hopi society is dependent on all the different clans and the clans have their origins in the Hopi cosmology. Evidence shows that a serious drought or some manmade event occurred during the thirteenth century in the Southwest (1276-1299), and that many of the Pueblos to the north of the Hopi mesas were abandoned.

These people moved south and were absorbed into the Hopi society. 9 It was the religion of the Hopi that enabled this absorption to occur. Hopi tradition tells us that as new clans arrived, the Bear clan chief assessed their abilities and they were granted a place to live accordingly. Hopi spiritual beliefs “integrate all aspects of Pueblo society and enhance the secret religious knowledge of the leadership, which was a major basis to their authority” (Adams, 1991, p. 155). The religion allowed a certain amount of control to be exercised over newcomers to the territory and prevented hostilities by allowing for cohesion and assimilation.

Hopi religion allowed for an integration of the newcomers. In the Hopi tales of man’s wandering the desert and settling the land, the relationships between the clans became established. Certain clans became closely tied together and regarded as kinsmen. These relationships exist and are respected today. The Bear, Spider, Rope and Bluebird clan are connected through similar profound events that were experienced when their clans were wandering the Southwest (Egan, 1994. p. 11).

Other clans, like the Cactus and the Lizard clan, are tied together by sharing a common territory (Egan, 1994. p. 1). These relationships between clans affect a great deal in the lives of the Hopi. The clan groups act to support each other in various ways. Ceremonies are held in the honor of other clans and great rivalries occur between them to outdo each other. Many ceremonies are owned by clans and it is that clan’s responsibility to supply the appropriate priests and to conduct the ceremony properly. These ceremonies in themselves do a tremendous deal to bind the Hopi people to their society. There is so much preparation to be done for ceremonies that it involves virtually everyone of the clan.

Ritual knowledge is not freely accessible for the Hopi. Each clan has its own piece of the ritual along with its own history and tradition. A division in ceremonial and ritual knowledge does not mean social inequality, but is an outcome of diversity (Glowaka, M. D. 1998, p. 2). All the different clans combined knowledge of ritual completes the calendar’s cycle of ceremonies. This cohesion between the different clans is facilitated by the religion. Marriage is not permitted within related clans (Egan, 1994. p. 12). Because the Hopi are matrilineal and matrilocal, loyalties and identities are distributed throughout the society.

Male relatives of the matriarchs become the chiefs. Each clan chief has a particular station to occupy (Egan, 1994. p. 12). One may be the village chief, one may be the war chief and one may be the Sunwatch chief (Egan, 1994. p. 12). Each chief has an important role in the society and ritual and together they function as a whole. Without any one part of the whole and the ritual and the society is not in proper order. Loyalties tend to be further crosscut by the fact that the women of the society own all the homes and fields, not the clans (Egan, 1994. . 12). The belief in the ancient stories of descent dictates which clan individuals belong to as well as who may marry who. The entire way in which Hopi society is structured is based on their spiritual beliefs and cosmology and the political structure is mirrored in the spiritual world. Another aspect of Hopi Spiritual belief that is pervasive throughout Hopi society is the Idea of Kachinas.

The word Kachina comes from the Hopi language and represents three interrelated concepts: spiritual beings, masked dancers/ceremonies and dolls (Adams, 1991, p. ). Adams states that, as spiritual beings, the Kachinas are a benevolent force that represent everything in the physical world (Adams, 1991, p. 4). The Kachinas live in the high country and springs, which surround Hopi land, from the winter solstice until late July (Adams, 1991, p. 4).

Between late July and the winter solstice, the Kachinas are living in their home in the third world or the underworld (Adams, 1991, p. 5). Adam’s shows that the Hopi believe the Kachinas enter the underworld using a ladder at the San Francisco Peaks (Adams, 1991, p. ). In the most general terms, a Kachina is a mediator between men and the various gods that control nature. The Kachina gathers the prayers of the Hopi that are sung, danced and performed and they take them to the gods who ultimately control the Hopi’s well being. Adams reveals that as spiritual beings, the Kachina has two levels: the priestly or chief Kachinas and the non-priestly or dancing Kachinas (Adams, 1991, p. 17). This plays itself out in Hopi society by each clan claiming descent from a particular chief Kachina.

Whatever the status and ranking of a particular Kachina is will be reflected in the status and ranking of the clan it is identified with, with the highest ranking Kachina associated with the highest ranking clan. The Kachina’s major function is to aid in the bringing of rain. They are also called upon to punish people. They live in the underworld in villages similar to those on earth and after hearing the prayers of the faithful; they climb out of the underworld and rise to the top of the San Francisco Peaks in the form of clouds (Adams, 1991, p. 17).

This is where the Hopi belief in the afterlife is woven into the belief in Kachinas. When a Hopi dies, their breath of life or hikwsi travels to the underworld to join its ancestors. Along the way, the hikwsi may be detained for punishment, based on behavior in the previous life. The punishment includes immersion in fire pits until purified, an excellent incentive for proper behavior while on earth (Adams, 1991, p. 17). Once in the underworld, the deceased continues Hopi life, existing off of the food offerings of the Hopi and answering their prayers (Adams, 1991, p. 8). Each day, the Hopi ancestors ascend the San Francisco Peaks in the form of clouds, and return to the Hopi, bringing rain to replenish the crops people and the land. The spiritual aspect of the Kachina is the basis of the Hopi’s belief in an afterlife and it is the afterlife, which is integral to Hopi religion. Because the Hopi depend on their religion to furnish them with rain, their spiritual beliefs are manifested in all of Hopi society.

Proper behavior and respect among villagers is necessary for Hopi to enter the underworld and this has lead to a system of cooperation among the Hopi. The second aspect of the Kachinas is the masked dancers and ceremonies. According to Hopi tradition, the Kachina used to visit the Hopi in person, but for reasons that remain unexplained, they ceased to actually visit in person. The Hopi were instructed that they could impersonate the Kachinas by wearing masks and costumes.

By doing this, they were told, the Kachinas would return to them in spirit to bring the rain and to answer prayers. 0 Since then, the Hopi have performed a cycle of elaborate ceremonies which include feasting, singing, smoking, dancing, performing and the donning of the Kachina masks and costumes by the initiated participants. The masked dancers have come to be referred to as Kachinas in the same way as the spirits are. Hopi men wear masks that they consider their friends (Adams, 1991, p. 20). The mask is a sacred object, made of cottonwood root, which represents the spirit of a specific Kachina. When the man wears the mask and costume, his spirit and the Kachina’s spirit are joined together as one.

He then can take the village’s prayers for rain or any other prayers to the gods that have jurisdiction in such matters. The dancers themselves represent a oneness of the Hopi and their religion. The ceremonies and masked dancing of the Kachina stratifies the Hopi society. Only men in Hopi society are permitted to wear Kachina masks and perform the dances (Adams, 1991, p. 15). Girls are inducted into the Marau and Lakon societies. At birth, children are kept in seclusion for twenty days, after which the mother presents the child to the sun god and gives it a name from her clan (Egan, F. 994, p. 13). When a boy reaches the age of eight to ten, a ceremonial father chosen by the parents initiates him into the Kachina cult (Egan, F. 1994, p. 13).

* This develops a kinship relation between the boy’s clan and the ceremonial father’s clan, furthering cohesion within Hopi society. The boy is inducted into various societies and is given instruction in ritual. At around the age of sixteen, the boy is inducted into one of the four major men’s societies: Kwan, Tao, Wuwutsim or Ahl. After induction, the boy gains new status as a taka, “man” (Schaafsma 1992, p. 3). Each of the four men’s societies makes up a unit in the Kachina cult. Membership in these societies crosscuts clan boundaries. Not only does the Kachina cult initiate boys into manhood, but also has been a factor in the separation of men and women into different roles and acts to integrate the different clans into a cooperative unit. The Kachina ceremonies are massive social gatherings of friends and relatives. Their role in bonding the people in the community to each other is extremely important.

A ceremony will involve not only the participant, but also practically everyone in the village in which it is held. People not directly participating will sponsor the ceremonies by providing food for the Kachinas to distribute to the people at the ceremony. During ceremonies, every home in the village will have its doors open to visitors seeking food and conversation. The cycle of ceremonies begins when the Kachinas return from the underworld at the winter solstice and they are complete in late July. The primary purpose of the ceremonies is to acquire rain, but there are also other functions of ceremonies.

One other important function of the ceremonies is the redistribution of wealth. When the ceremonies begin at the winter solstice, many people in the Pueblos could face starvation. The ceremonies serve to save these people from starving. Often villages that are better off are called upon to supply the less fortunate with food (Adams, 1991, p. 157). Other functions of Kachina ceremonies include the organization of work parties to repair dams or to do other public works, to aid fertility, to deal with discipline, to initiate people into various societies or to heal individuals.

There are Hopi masks that depict parallel lines on the cheeks, warrior marks, suggesting that the Kachinas may have once aided the Hopi in war (Adams, 1991, p. 5). There are three major ceremonies. The first in the cycle is Soyalang at the winter solstice, welcoming the Kachinas back to the earth from the underworld. Soyalang is the most important ceremony, and as such, is owned by the Bear clan (Rushford & Upham, 1992, p. 40). The second is the Powamuya, held in February. This ceremony is when young men are initiated into the cult.

Powamuya is often referred to as the Bean dance. Food redistribution is particularly important during this ceremony. The third major ceremony is Nimanywu. This ceremony occurs just after the summer solstice and it is designed to send the Kachinas back to their home in the underworld. Standard Hopi ceremonies last for three entire days, but the three major ceremonies, Soyalang, Powamuya and Nimanywu, last for eight days (Adams, 1991, p. 9). Ceremonies are performed in the village square, surrounded by buildings often two stories tall an all sides (Dozier, 1970, p. 57).

The ceremonies are a public event, and staging them in the town square allows the population to easily observe from all angles on the rooftops. This public display of the elaborately dressed Kachinas, distinguishes who in the community is a member of the cult and who is not, thereby establishing for all who watch, who has sacred power and who does not (Rushford & Upham, 1992, p. 97). Not only do the ceremonies define the power structure, but because the Kachina cult is crosscut throughout the clans, it promotes stability by each clan contributing to the whole.

The third aspect of the Kachinas is the dolls. The dolls are miniature representations of the different Kachinas made from cottonwood root, by the Hopi (Adams, 1991, p. 6). The Kachina dolls are given to female children until they are initiated into women’s societies at the age of eight or nine (Adams, 1991, p. 6). The exact purpose of the dolls is disputed among experts. It is quite likely that they may have been used as tool to teach the children to recognize and distinguish between the different Kachinas (Adams, 1991, p 6).

Kachina dolls are a valuable way to reinforce the power structure of Hopi society as it is mirrored in the Kachina world. This must have been important to the Hopi if it is something that children are required to learn (Adams, 1991, p 6) Right from childhood when children are given Kachina dolls, Hopi life is intertwined, with a religion that organizes the structure of society. In the Hopi world, religion is present in all aspects of society. A person’s clan identity is centered on the belief in a cosmology that recognizes a particular ordering of the clans.

This brings stratification to the clans with the Bear clan at the top. The Hopi religion is intimately tied to the land and has dictated where each clan resides and was a powerful tool in controlling the integration of new arrivals without conflict. Clan identification based on religion also directs who is permitted to marry. Hopi religion pervades life at an early age with the introduction of the Kachina dolls. The religious indoctrination continues at puberty with the induction into the Kachina cult.

At death, the Hopi returns to the underworld to continue Hopi life there and to bring rain to the Hopi people. All aspects of society are given order by the religion. Religion connects the Hopi people to each other through the cooperative execution of ritual and ceremony. Hopi religion also aids in the initiation of the youth into adulthood. At the center of Hopi religion is the belief that Hopi life continues after death. This idea drastically affects the way in which Hopi people behave towards each other.

Cooperation between the Hopi and special attention to the detail of ritual during life is a requirement if the reward of living in the underworld is to be achieved. The participation in the various ceremonies by everyone adds to the cohesive nature of the religion. All the different societies that make up the Kachina cult act as a whole and are necessary for the proper conduction of a ceremony and to make the system work. It is the Hopi religion and particularly the Kachina cult that has acted to provide cohesion in Hopi society through its ability to crosscut other social organization such as the clan.

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