The Hopi Indians and their Religion

The Hopi Indians and their Religion

In the southwestern United States, above northern Arizona, are three mesas. The mesas create the home for the Hopi Indians. The Hopi have a deeply religious, isolated, tribal culture with a unique history.

The Hopi stress group cooperation. The tribe is organized around a clan system. In a clan system, all the members consider themselves relatives. The clans form a social glue that has held the Hopi villages together. Clan membership provides a singular Hopi identity.

The Hopi have a highly developed belief system which contains many gods and spirits. Ceremonies, rituals, dances, songs, and prayers are celebrated in year-round. The Hopi believed they were led to the arid southwestern region of America by their creator, because he knew they had the power to evoke rain with power and prayer. Consequently, the Hopi are connected to their land, its agricultural cycles and the constant quest for rainfall, in a religious way. The religious center of the community is the kiva, which is an underground room with a ladder protruding above the roof. The kiva is very important for several reasons. From the kiva, a connection is made with the center of the earth. Also, the kiva is symbolic for the emergence to this world. The room would represent the underworld and the ladder would represent the way to the upper world. In fact, a room is kept in the house to store ceremonial objects. A sacred ear of corn protects the room and symbolizes the ancestry of the family members. Kachinas are also a focal point of the religion. For a Hopi, they signify spirits of ancestors, dieties of the natural world, or intermediaries between man and gods. The Hopi believe that they are the earth's caretakers, and with the successful performance of their ceremonial cycle, the world will remain in balance, the gods will be happy and rain will come. Because they think of their crops as gifts, the Hopi Indians live in harmony with the environment.

Art is also used for ritualistic purposes. Men's loincloths were painted and decorated with tassels to symbolize falling rain. Men also wore elaborate costumes that include special headdresses, masks, and body paints during ritual ceremonies and dances.

The Hopi follow a seasonal sense of time. Depending on the season, different preparations were used for collecting the rain. Droughts required the Hopis to adopt new farming methods that are still in use today. An example of an adjustment they made was to plant crops on the sides of mesas. The mesas would trap sand and create moisture for the crop. Coal was mined from mesa outcroppings. The Hopi were among the first people to use coal for firing pottery. An example of buildings in the Hopi culture would be the kiva and houses. The houses are made on the same plan, are made of clay and stone, and can be up to three stories high.

Although this technology was in place, a written language was not. Any clan member had access to informal knowledge. Without a written language, formal knowledge was difficult to obtain.

Initially, villages were purely communal, but with a small group of highly respected elders of their center. Later, chieftains rose because of a need for greater social organization due to increased village size.

Most Hopi houses are comprised of an elder woman, her husband, their daughters, and unmarried sons. When a man marries, he lives with his wife's family, but still keeps strong ties to his relatives. The senior woman has the greatest influence over all other members. The eldest daughter assumes the mother's duties when the elder women is away from home. The eldest daughter will become the household leader after her mother's death. The division of labor was based on gender. Men were "Jacks of all trade". They made tools for farming, weapons and shields for warfare and wove baskets used for carrying or storing food and equipment. Women did work in the household. They prepared corn, made pottery, bowls, cared for children, and plastered walls with mud. Both men and women gathered various foods and plants. Men and women based their relationship on balance and reciprocation.

The Hopi were simple hunter-gatherers. They hunted deer, antelope and elk. Corn, squash, beans, pinenuts, prickly pear, yucca, berries and other wild food were collected. All these possessions represented wealth because the Hopi used a barter system.

To conclude, The Hopi Indians are a tribal civilization who have survived for hundreds of years. They regard themselves as the first inhabitants of America. They may also be some of most interesting inhabitants of America.

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