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elk The Hopi Indians

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, ... more

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Significance of Ritual in North American Indian Religion




Significance of Ritual in North American Indian Religion


Submitted by: Dan Xxxxxxxx,
November 12, 1996
Submitted to: Dr. John X. Xxxxxxx
RELST 110.6.01


When scholars study religion, the tendency exists to focus on the
mythological aspects of the religion in an attempt to understand the major
underlying concepts present.  However, an equally rewarding study often can be
accomplished through the careful analysis of the religion's ritual aspects.
This is especially true when studying North American Indian religions where
there is an abundance of elaborate rituals that play a significant role in their
culture.  By closely examining the details and symbolism of ritual movements, we
can gather some basic understanding of what is seen to be of value in a certain
theology.  While most Native American rituals tend to be mono-cultural, there
are a few rituals that frequently appear in many different regions and tribes
across North America.  Two of these widespread rituals are the ritual of the
"sacred pipe," and sweat lodge ceremonials.  The sacred pipe ritual is loaded
with symbolic meaning, and offers a generous insight into Native American belief
systems.  This essay will first look at the dynamics of the sacred pipe ritual
and offer some explanation into its religious significance, then draw some
parallels to the more common sweat lodge ceremony.  If a recurring spiritual
theme appears in separate rituals, it can be considered evidence of a consistent,
structured belief system.

The use of smoking pipes in Native American cultures is a popular and
very ancient practice.  Direct predecessors of the modern pipe appear 1,500
years ago, and other less relevant pipes can be found as far back as 2,500 years
ago.  The distinguishing characteristic of the sacred pipe is that the bowl is
separable from the long stem, and the two parts are kept apart except during
ritual use.  The pipe is seen as a holy object and is treated with much respect.
This type of ceremonial pipe was used by tribes ranging from the Rocky Mountain
range to the Atlantic, and from the Gulf of Mexico to James Bay.  It did not
penetrate into Pacific coast or Southwest cultures, where tubular pipes were
preferred.  Inter-tribal trading helped the practice of this particular ritual
spread rapidly, because in order for peaceful trade relations to take place some
form of ritual had to be observed.  Respect for the sacred pipe ritual, as well
as a gift exchange, was central to peaceful trade in North American culture.

The whole sacred pipe ritual revolves around the pipe itself, and as the
pipe passes around the circle, so passes the center of attention.  Fundamental
to the spiritual understanding of the ritual is the pairing of female and male
powers which when combined, results in creation.  The pipe itself consists of
two parts; the bowl which is symbolically female, and the stem which is male.
The pipe is potent only when the two components are fitted together, and for
this reason it is only joined at the beginning of the ceremony, and its
separation indicates the end of the ritual.  With only a few exceptions, the
pipe bowl is made of stone or clay, because the Earth and all things Earthen are
also seen to be of a female nature.  Similarly, the stem is usually wooden, made
from trees that were procreated by the joining of the male Sky and the female
Earth.  The pipe stem can be decorated with a striped design symbolic of the
trachea, and eagle feathers may be hung from the stem to further symbolize the
sending of the smoke, songs, and chants to sacred ancestral and nature spirits.

During the course of the ceremony, the pipe is seen as the center of the
cosmos, and all directions radiating out from this center each have their own
symbolic significance.  East traditionally represents birth or beginning,
originally taking this meaning from the rising of the sun.  The significance of
the direction west also is derived from the sun, this time the path the sun
follows represents the path of life.  The interpretation of these two directions
seldom varies from tribe to tribe, since the sun is always of great spiritual
importance to primitive cultures.  Most commonly the direction south is seen as
representing growth and nurturing, which implies a female gender.  The primary
smoker in the ceremony offers smoke in all directions by pointing the stem of
the pipe towards each spiritual recipient, which can be done either before or
after lighting the pipe.  In addition to the four horizontal directions, smoke
is also ... more

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