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Hopi Social Order (9-12)

9. Ceremonial Societies

The Hopi view of Hopi history is closely linked to mythology, but if it is true that the Hopi of late prehistoric and early historic times are the descendants of the ancient Mogollon and Anasazi peoples, then the migrations that archaeologists are now documenting in connection with the collapse of the ancient Anasazi world may be the real events that inspired the many Hopi tales about clans "wandering" and eventually "arriving" in the present Hopi lands at slightly different times.

In general, clans that are understood to be the earliest arrivals have the highest status, and, as we noted in connection with phratries, the myths speak of negotiations by later-arriving groups to live there. Since the land was not able to sustain a large population, every permission granted to a new group to settle involved potential sacrifice, even perhaps disaster, for the groups already established. Thus the myths represent the newly arriving groups as offering new and desirable resources, typically rituals capable of helping to ensure good crops or the suppression of sandstorms and droughts or of destructively torrential rains. A new group would "petition" for the right to live on a particular site in exchange for performing a ceremony for the group that was already in the area. The host group would demand proof of the efficacy of the ceremony as a condition of giving its permission. In the end the immigrant group might be allowed to settle. However, it never ended up performing the ceremony by itself, but always with the participation of the host clan or clans, or sometimes other clans. [Note]

Whether or not this is even a remotely accurate representation of history, it provides a charter for the importance of certain ceremonies, and for the differential role of different groups in them. For example the village of Sichomovi depends upon the village of Walpi for the knowledge and right to perform certain rituals, while Walpi, being a very small village, depends upon Sichomovi to provide enough personnel to perform the rites. Another example: The village of Shongopavi is understood to have been established on Second Mesa earlier than Shipaulovi. When wandering Crow clan people asked to be accommodated on the same mesa top, they were eventually allocated a spot at a defensive location and told to protect a shrine there. When they were eventually joined by other clans and evolved into the settlement of Shipaulovi, they retained the now obsolete guard function in the form of the continuing rituals associated with it.

Hopi ceremonialism is extremely complex, much too complex for a brief description to be at all satisfactory. In general, however, it involves men's societies concerned with initiation, or focused on rain, healing, or war (or clowning, which has an important function in censuring anti-social behavior), and men's societies involved with "calendrical" or regularly recurring rituals, such as the winter solstice rites. Any major rite is associated with (1) a sponsoring clan, which " owns" it, (2) a society that performs it, and (3) a kiva, or ritual space, where it is wholly or partially performed. Involved in all of this is the representation of kachinas (also spelled katchinas or katsinas), supernatural beings represented by beautiful "kachina dolls," but also often represented by masked players. [Note]

Hopi ceremonies are the property of particular clans, even though there are variations from one community to another as to which clan has come to be in charge of a particular ceremony, and even though in practice there is more flexibility than there is in theory. But ceremonies always require participation from several clans. And since they require detailed ritual knowledge, not just anyone in a clan is competent to perform them. In fact, ceremonies are actually performed by "ceremonial societies" with membership drawn from the men of the clans involved in the original charter event. For this reason, ceremonial societies come to have quite broad membership despite the fact that they perform clan-based ceremonies. As the system has evolved, it has produced extremely elaborate rituals, but with clearly defined jobs for particular participating groups, whose functions complement each other and do not compete or overlap. Naturally the result is that each participating group becomes necessary if the ceremony is to be performed correctly, and the clans must maintain good relations with each other or the ceremony, and hence the general welfare of everybody, is at risk.

What is to prevent some ceremonial societies from growing large and powerful over time and others withering on the vine? One answer is that initiation rites can involve cooperation between different ceremonial societies themselves, not just among the participating clans. For example, in the 1940s and 1950s four different men's societies participated in a single initiation referred to as the Wuwuchim initiation and the initiation of the kachina cult. This was an elaborate ritual and required a lot of work from a lot of people to carry it off. Since a common initiation was conducted by all four ceremonial societies, if, in a given year, one of them did not have enough initiates (and hard-working and contributing sponsors for the initiates), it might lack sufficient resources to participate; in that case the whole initiation would need to be postponed to a later year. Such a rule has a side effect of ensuring that each of the societies cooperating in the initiation maintain at least a minimum number of participants, and that way it tends to check any tendency for one ceremonial society to grow large and powerful while another vanishes inconspicuously.

Social scientists have been intrigued with the fact that these men's ceremonial societies, because they cut across the system of matrilineal clans, help to create "cross-cutting" ties that bind the potentially competitive lineages and clans to each other in relations of co-dependence. Seen the other way around, the lineages, because they cross-cut the ceremonial societies, also help to minimize the competition between societies. Further, while the lineages and clans are clearly based on kinship, and specifically matrilineal descent, the men's ceremonial societies, although constrained by kinship, tend to recruit their personnel with primary attention to individual attainments and abilities. And their limitation to men and the political power that they give to men tends to "balance" the importance of women as the links in the system of descent.

One study of dislocations in modern Hopi life (Thompson 1950) warns of the dangers of disruption of the ceremonial system, since so much of Hopi personality, culture, and authority are linked to that system. Just as the creation of a Tribal Council was wrenching to patterns of traditional authority, she argues, so conversions to Christianity drawing individuals away from traditional ceremonialism undercut a major source of prestige and authority for men, a system which had evolved in balance with the principles of matrilineal descent and female authority at the household level.

Cross-cutting ties have proven to be a critical way in which human communities make people loyal to different groups simultaneously, such that each individual becomes both a potential peace-maker between the groups and a transmitter of knowledge about how they can cooperate.

10. Cooperation & Conformity: Hopi Morals and Manners

Throughout all of Hopi history that we are able to reconstruct, a tremendous stress has been placed upon harmony and cooperation, whether between household members, clan members, lineage members, or people in general. This extends from generosity and sharing to being even-tempered and controlling one's anger. Discomfort is part of life and must be endured without complaint. Fights, arguments, and grumbling are not at all the Hopi Way, and this point is taught early and stressed constantly.

We have seen that each Hopi village is a completely separate political entity; there is no "tribal" or "state" organization above it, and decisions made in a village bind only itself. In the absence of a state, there is no system of formal law or any system of punishment for wrongdoers. An individual can be controlled to at least a limited extent by the force of the opinions of his or her neighbors and family. Individuals can be reprimanded by their lineage or clan seniors; they can be gossiped about or teased or criticized in public. But if somebody still acts in ways that friends and relations think are wrong, there is little easy and formal resort. It is crucial, therefore, to create psychological orientations and cultural practices that motivate people to be sensitive to the opinion of other people, and to want to conform to the constraints of the Hopi Way.

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This is partly attained, of course, through the critically important clan memberships cutting across villages (because of the rules that require people to marry outside of their own and their father's clans and phratries) and through the ceremonial societies, which create ties across villages in quite other directions.

Supplementing these methods for trying to control people's actions are a range of beliefs about things, beliefs that don't at first seem to have anything to do with social structure or the problem of keeping the peace.

Hopi theories about illness, for example, are a force pressuring individuals to conform to the public will. Hopi believe that a person who persistently acts badly or even thinks anti-social or non-conformist thoughts becomes susceptible to illness, since illness can come from a perturbation in the harmony and balance that are so valued, and health depends in part upon behaving properly and upon having good thoughts. Frank Waters in his famous compendium of Hopi Lore, writes (1963: 11):

The first People knew no sickness. Not until evil entered the world did persons get sick in the body or head. … Sometimes the trouble was just a bellyache from uncooked food or a cold in the head. But other times it came "from outside," drawn by the person's own evil thoughts … .

Hopi healers use a wide range of means to treat ill people, ranging from use of plants, to the performance of rituals intended to restore proper balance to a person's mind, to prayers to spirits asking for the return of the individual's good attitude (and hence good health).

Immorality and disaster are linked ideas not just in understanding illness experienced by an individual person, but in interpreting events that affect the larger society. Recall the line in the opening quotation of this essay: "At the point when nothing is left to consume anymore, the famine is on. Not until a god has compassion for the people and rights the wrong committed by them can recovery begin." In other words, sin can bring famine.

Although beliefs about illness and healing and famine are illustrative, most of the beliefs that are most obviously linked to themes of cooperation are well illustrated in the understandings that guide Hopi ceremonialism. Hopi ritual is focused heavily upon pacifying natural forces with the hope of avoiding disturbances of nature, and particularly those that might threaten crops and the normal delivery of water. We have seen the way it inevitably involves groups of people cooperating across kinship lines as well as following kinship lines. However, it also inevitably reinforces core values of Hopi culture, especially the value of interpersonal harmony and cooperation. By logical necessity, the needs of group life entail the subordination sometimes of individual impulse or desire. Stress is placed upon inhibiting human aggressiveness and potential competition between people or groups, and upon the privilege and responsibility of group membership. As an illustration, we turn briefly to the ritual of initiation.

11. Childhood & Initiation

Children are treated with great attention and indulgence for the first couple of years of their lives, when almost any behavior is tolerated or regarded as charming. By the time a child can walk and begin to talk, about the age of two or so, adults begin to consider that it should be responsible for its actions. picture link That means that it must begin to manifest the Hopi values of generosity and control of anger and the ability to endure discomfort. It is important to a household or lineage to be sure that its children are well instructed in these obligations, since positions of ritual leadership depend importantly upon the general community view that an individual is competent and dependable in the lore of Hopi life, and no household or lineage wants to lose a position of leadership in any ritual because its candidate was judged incompetent. An important lesson for children is to endure hardship without complaint.

Powell describes a pre-breakfast activity for young men that was practiced during his November visit in 1871. It was quite cold, but water was plentiful enough that there were pools inside the village where he was living. He writes (1975: 22):

The young men gather in the court about a deep fountain stripped naked, except that each one has a belt to which re attached bones, hoofs, horns, or metallic bells, which they have been able to procure from white men. These they lay aside for a moment, plunge into the water, step out, tie on their belts, and dart away on their morning races over the rocks, running as if for dear life. Then the old men collect the little boys, sometimes with little whips, and compel them to go through the same exercises. When the athletes return, each family gathers in the large room for breakfast.

But what about the child who does misbehave? It is lectured by household members, and sometimes by its mother's brother or grandmother's brother as well when they visit. Children are also threatened with the prospect that frightening supernaturals may come and beat them or abduct them. Sometimes men dressed in frightening costumes walk through the villages and parents tell their children to hide so as not to be caught by them. If a parent particularly wants to impress an errant child, the masked visitors may even be invited in advance to come to the house, find the child, and scold or beat it.

In her autobiography (pp. 23-29), Helen Sekaquaptewa recounts her memory of a ceremony called Kachínvaki, a child's first step into the world of initiation and ritualism. It is also called "the whipping," since it is intended to drive out everything "bad" by force if necessary. The target initiates are seven or eight years old The initiation centers on the kachinas. Small children, still uninitiated, are told that the kachinas are supernaturals living in the San Francisco Peaks of northern Arizona, who come to participate in rituals. Very small children are allowed to see the costumed dancers who represent them only from a distance, so that they will not suspect that they are human.

For Sekaquaptewa's Kachinvaki initiation she, like each other child, was linked to a "godmother," who would accompany her in the initiation, who would present a kachina doll to her, and who would remain in a special relationship to her throughout her life. It was her godparents who escorted her down into the kiva where the initiation took place. Each child — about thirty in all — entered the kiva in order and sat with his or her godmother's husband. Sekaquaptewa reports having been terrified. Eventually a story teller told them about the lore of the kachinas.

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She vividly describes the kachina dancers and their terrifying moves. The children tried to be brave, but many were crying as kachinas came with bundles of yucca to serve as whips. We are told that the first child in the line, a boy, stood naked, held by his "godfather," to receive four hard strokes with the yucca as the other children looked on in horror. The godfathers could sometimes place a leg in the path of the whip to protect their charges partially. As each whip was worn out, a new one was brought into service. Meanwhile the "mother whipper" would shout from her place at the sidelines, "Whip him hard. He is naughty. Don't be lenient with him" (p. 28).

The initiation culminated several days later in an all-night kachina dance where the kachina dancers no longer wore their masks so that the initiates would realize they were not gods, but jovial friends and neighbors. Some writers speculate that the discovery that the frightening kachinas are the friendly adults in one's life should be a great relief, for one no longer needs to be afraid of being visited by these terrifying creatures. Sekaquaptewa experienced not relief, but a frightening realization: Not only were the kachinas she had seen not really magical (a disappointment at how mundane it all was), but these disciplinarians were fellow Hopi, the very people she needed to depend upon as protection against distress. The message was clear: The price of human companionship is conformity to the needs and demands of the human community. There are no other options.

Can people really be taught to suppress their own impulses and sustain a constant attitude of cooperation with everyone around them? This has been a difficult question to answer. Clearly some societies which have depended upon this adaptation have been "good enough" at it that they continued to exist, if not forever, at least for long enough periods for us to see them in the historical record. And it is tempting to imagine that this is how many stable, "pre-state," farming societies elsewhere in the world may also have functioned. Equally clearly, even Hopi society has experienced periodic internal disruptions.

The full interpretation of the evolutionary effects of an ethic of amiability and cooperation is not easy. In the introduction to a book about the tensions which led to the 1906 splitting of the Hopi settlement of Oraibi, Jarrold Levy summarizes some of the debate among mid-century students of Hopi life who sought to wrestle with this problem:

Although the Hopis have generally been described in the anthropological literature as peaceful, sober, and cooperative, for a time there was considerable disagreement about the existence of covert aggression and hostility, and the degree to which Hopis may be psychologically maladjusted. On the one hand, Laura Thompson and Alice Joseph (1947) were of the opinion that most Hopis actually lived up to social ideals and that their typical personality was gentle, cooperative, modest, and tranquil. Not only was the society highly integrated, but values and world view were consistent and harmonious. Dorothy Eggan (1943) and Esther Goldfrank (1945), on the other hand, concluded that the maintenance of such a highly integrated society was achieved at considerable psychic cost to the individual. These observers have described Hopi personality as marked by covert aggression, tension, suspicion, anxiety, hostility, and even competitive ambition.

… Aberle (1967) suggests that Hopi society was capable of displaying both sets of features depending upon the degree of stress a given community was undergoing at the time it was observed. According to Aberle, these contrasting features are closely related to one another and the truth does not lie somewhere in between but rather in understanding how these two aspects are bound together. Aberle, it seems to me, is placing emphasis on the often observed discrepancy between ideal and actual behaviors, noting that during hard times it is more difficult to live up to the ideal than it is during good times. The traits that fall short of the ideal would appear to be the unavoidable consequences of life in a generally harsh environment. (Levy 1992: 11-12, citations deleted)

How to understand the psychological "costs" of different systems of values is a continuing issue in cross-cultural psychology and psychological anthropology.

12. Closing Observations

Hopi life has depended upon a view of the world and a related code of values, internalized from childhood and enforced directly and indirectly through social interaction and religion, that has spread the risks of a harsh environment across large, cooperating, cross-cutting units. picture It has also depended upon enough demographic stability to prevent rising population levels from exceeding the carrying capacity of the severe northern Arizona landscape (an issue not treated in this essay). And finally it has depended upon the ability of the Hopi to defend themselves both physically and culturally against occasional human competitors who appeared in the Southwest after the Hopi way of life was largely established, including especially the Navajos, Apaches, and Utes starting from the XIIIth century, to a minor degree the Spanish from the 1600s, and most recently and influentially, modern Americans moving into the area from the East, especially after Arizona statehood.

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