Wednesday, March 9, 2016

About Hopi Myths and Religion


Because none of this material could be written down but was passed by word of mouth from generation to generation, changes naturally occurred. Often a tale traveled from one tribe to another and was incorporated, in whole or in part, into the tribal lore of the neighbor—thus adding something. And, we may suppose, some were more or less forgotten and thus lost; but, as Wissler  tells us, "tales that are directly associated with ceremonies and, especially, if they must be recited as a part of the procedure, are assured a long life."
Such of these tales as were considered sacred or accounted for the origin of the people, were held in such high regard as to lay an obligation upon the tribe to see to it that a number of individuals learned and retained these texts, perhaps never in fixed wording, except for songs, but as to essential details of plot.
Many collectors have recorded several versions of certain tales, thus giving an idea of the range of individual variation, and the writer herself has encountered as many as three variants for some of her stories, coming always from the narrators of different villages. But Wissler, while allowing for these variations, says: "All this suggests instability in primitive mythology. Yet from American data, noting such myths as are found among the successive tribes of larger areas, it appears that detailed plots of myths may be remarkably stable."
Intrusion of Contemporary Material
However there is another point discussed by Wissler which troubled the writer greatly as a beginner, and that was the intrusion of new material with old, for instance, finding an old Hopi story of how different languages came to exist in the world and providing a language for the Mamona, meaning the Mormons, who lived among the Hopi some years ago. The writer was inclined to throw out the story, regarding the whole thing as a modern concoction, but Wissler warns us that: "From a chronological point of view we may expect survival material in a tribal mythology along with much that is relatively recent in origin. It is, however, difficult to be sure of what is ancient and what recent, because only the plot is preserved; rarely do we find mention of objects and environments different from those of the immediate present."
A tale, to be generally understood, must often be given a contemporary setting, and this the narrator instinctively knows, therefore the introduction of modern material with that of undoubted age.
Stability, then, lies in the plot rather than in the culture setting; the former may be ancient, while the latter sometimes reflects contemporary life.
Boaz  argues that much may be learned of contemporary tribal culture by a study of the mythology of a given people, since so much of the setting of the ancient tale reflects the tribal life of the time of the recording. He has made a test of the idea in his study of the Tsimshian Indians. From this collection of 104 tales he concludes that: "In the tales of a people those incidents of the everyday life that are of importance to them will appear either incidentally or as the basis of a plot. Most of the reference to the mode of life of the people will be an accurate reflection of their habits. The development of the plot of the story, further-more, will on the whole exhibit clearly what is considered right and what wrong."
How and Why Myths Are Kept
There are set times and seasons for story-telling among the various Indian tribes, but the winter season, when there is likely to be most leisure and most need of fireside entertainment, is a general favorite. However, some tribes have myths that "can not be told in summer, others only at night, etc." Furthermore there are secret cults and ceremonials rigidly excluding women and children, whose basic myths are naturally restricted in their circulation, but in the main the body of tribal myth is for the pleasure and profit of all.
Old people relate the stories to the children, not only because they enjoy telling them and the children like listening to them, but because of the feeling that every member of the tribe should know them as a part of his education.
While all adults are supposed to know something of the tribal stories, not all are expected to be good story-tellers. Story-telling is a gift, we know, and primitives know this too, so that everywhere we have pointed out a few individuals who are the best story-tellers, usually an old man, sometimes an old woman, and occasionally, as the writer has seen it, a young man of some dramatic ability. When an important story furnishing a religious or social precedent is called for, either in council meeting or ceremonial, the custodian of the stories is in demand, and is much looked up to; yet primitives rarely create an office or station for the narrator, nor is the distinction so marked as the profession of the medicine man and the priest.
Service of Myth
As to the service of myth in primitive life, Wissler says: "It serves as a body of information, as stylistic pattern, as inspiration, as ethical precepts, and finally as art. It furnishes the ever ready allusions to embellish the oration as well as to enliven the conversation of the fireside. Mythology, in the sense in which we have used the term, is the carrier and preserver of the most immaterial part of tribal culture."
Hopi Story-Telling
There comes a time in the Hopi year when crops have been harvested, most of the heavier and more essentially important religious ceremonials have been performed in their calendar places, and even the main supply of wood for winter fires has been gathered. To be sure, minor dances, some religious and some social, will be taking place from time to time, but now there will be more leisure, leisure for sociability and for story-telling.

Figure 4.—Kiva at Old Oraibi.—Courtesy Arizona State Museum.
In the kivas (See Figure 4) the priests and old men will instruct the boys in the tribal legends, both historical and mythological, and in the religious ceremonies in which they are all later supposed to participate. In the home, some good old story-telling neighbor drops in for supper, and stories are told for the enjoyment of all present, including the children; all kinds of stories, myths, tales of adventure, romances, and even bed-time stories. Indian dolls of painted wood and feathers, made in the image of the Kachinas, are given the children, who thus get a graphic idea of the supposed appearance of the heroes of some of these stories.
The Hopi, like many primitive people, believe that when a bird sings he is weaving a magic spell, and so they have songs for special magic too; some for grinding, for weaving, for planting, others for hunting, and still others for war; all definitely to gain the favor of the gods in these particular occupations.
Without books and without writing the Hopi have an extensive literature. That a surprising degree of accuracy is observed in its oral transmission from generation to generation is revealed by certain comparisons with the records made by the Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century.


Gods and Kachinas
The Hopi live, move, and have their being in religion. To them the unseen world is peopled with a host of beings, good and bad, and everything in nature has its being or spirit.
Just what kind of religion shall we call this of the Hopi? Seeing the importance of the sun in their rites, one is inclined to say Sun Worship; but clouds, rain, springs, streams enter into the idea, and we say Nature Worship. A study of the great Snake Cult suggests Snake Worship; but their reverence for and communion with the spirits of ancestors gives to this complex religious fabric of the Hopi a strong quality of Ancestor Worship. It is all this and more.
The surface of the earth is ruled by a mighty being whose sway extends to the underworld and over death, fire, and the fields. This is Masauwu, to whom many prayers are said. Then there is the Spider Woman or Earth Goddess, Spouse of the Sun and Mother of the Twin War Gods, prominent in all Hopi mythology. Apart from these and the deified powers of nature, there is another revered group, the Kachinas, spirits of ancestors and some other beings, with powers good and bad. These Kachinas are colorfully represented in the painted and befeathered dolls, in masks and ceremonies, and in the main are considered beneficent and are accordingly popular. They intercede with the spirits of the other world in behalf of their Hopi earth-relatives.
Masked individuals represent their return to the land of the living from time to time in Kachina dances, beginning with the Soyaluna ceremony in December and ending with the Niman or Kachina Farewell ceremony in July.
Much of this sort of thing takes on a lighter, theatrical flavor amounting to a pageant of great fun and frolic. Dr. Hough says these are really the most characteristic ceremonies of the pueblos, musical, spectacular, delightfully entertaining, and they show the cheerful Hopi at his best—a true, spontaneous child of nature.
There are a great many of these Kachina dances through the winter and spring, their nature partly religious, partly social, for with the Hopi, religion and drama go hand in hand. Dr. Hough speaks appreciatively of these numerous occasions of wholesome merry-making, and says these things keep the Hopi out of mischief and give them a reputation for minding their own business, besides furnishing them with the best round of free theatrical entertainments enjoyed by any people in the world. Since every ceremony has its particular costumes, rituals, songs, there is plenty of variety in these matters and more detail of meaning than any outsider has ever fathomed.
The Niman, or farewell dance of the Kachinas, takes place in July. It is one of their big nine-day festivals, including secret rites in the kivas and a public dance at its close.
Messengers are sent on long journeys for sacred water, pine boughs, and other special objects for these rites. This is a home-coming festival and a Hopi will make every effort to get home to his own town for this event. On the ninth day there is a lovely pageant just before sunrise and another in the afternoon. No other ceremony shows such a gorgeous array of colorful masks and costumes. And it is a particularly happy day for the young folk, for the Kachinas bring great loads of corn, beans, and melons, and baskets of peaches, especially as gifts for the children; also new dolls and brightly painted bows and arrows are given them. The closing act of the drama is a grand procession carrying sacred offerings to a shrine outside the village.
This is the dance at which the brides of the year make their first public appearance; their snowy wedding blankets add a lovely touch to the colorful scene.
Religion Not For Morality
The Hopi is religious, and he is moral, but there is no logical connection between the two.
Mrs. Coolidge says: "In all that has been said concerning the gods and the Kachinas, the spiritual unity of all animate life, the personification of nature and the correct conduct for attaining favor with the gods, no reference has been made to morality as their object. The purpose of religion in the mind of the Indian is to gain the favorable, or to ward off evil, influences which the super-spirits are capable of bringing to the tribe or the individual. Goodness, unselfishness, truth-telling, respect for property, family, and filial duty, are cumulative by-products of communal living, closely connected with religious beliefs and conduct, but not their object. The Indian, like other people, has found by experience that honesty is the best policy among friends and neighbors, but not necessarily so among enemies; that village life is only tolerable on terms of mutual safety of property and person; that industry and devotion to the family interest make for prosperity and happiness. Moral principles are with him the incidental product of his ancestral experience, not primarily inculcated by the teaching of any priest or shaman. Yet the Pueblos show a great advance over many primitive tribes in that their legends and their priests reiterate constantly the idea that 'prayer is not effective except the heart be good.'"