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Hopi Social Order (Appendix)

Appendix: The Origin of Our World

In his account of his stay among the Hopi, John Wesley Powell includes a brief retelling of what his informants told him about the "constitution of the world." Here is what he says (Powell 1875: 24ff):

… Their notion of the form and constitution of the world is architectural; that it is composed of many stories. We live in the second. Ma-chi-ta, literally the leader, probably an ancestral god, is said to have brought them up from the lower story to the next higher, in which we now live. The heaven above is the ceiling of this story, the floor of the next. Their account of their rescue from the lower world by Ma-chi-ta is briefly as follows: The people below were a medley mass of good and bad, and Ma-chi-ta determined to rescue the former, and leave the latter behind. So he called to his friends to bring him a young tree, and, looking overhead at the sky of that lower world, the floor of this, he discovered a crack, and placed the young and growing tree immediately under it. Then he raised his hands and prayed, as did all his followers; and, as he prayed, the tree grew, until its branches were thrust through the crevice in the lower-world sky. Then the people climbed up, in one long stream; still up they came until all the good were there. Ma-chi-ta, standing on the brink of the crevice, looked down, and saw the tree filled with the bad, who were following; then he caught the growing ladder by the upper boughs, twisted it from its foundation in the soil beneath, and threw it over, and the wicked fell down in a pile of mangled, groaning, cursing humanity. When the people had spread out through this world, they found the ceiling, or sky, so low that they could not walk without stooping, and they murmured. Then Ma-chi-ta, standing in the very center of this story, placed his shoulder against the sky, and lifted it to where it is now.

Still it was cold and dark, and the people murmured and cursed Ma-chi-ta, and he said: "Why do you complain? Bring me seven baskets of cotton;" and they brought him seven baskets of cotton. And he said: "Bring me seven virgins;" and they brought him seven virgins. And he taught the virgins to weave a wonderful fabric, which he held aloft, and the breeze carried it away to the sky; and behold! it was transformed into a full-orbed moon. The same breeze also carried the flocculent fragments of cotton to the sky, and lo! these took the shape of bright stars. And still it was cold; and again the people murmured, and Ma-chi-ta chided them once more, and said, "Bring me seven buffalo robes;" and they brought him seven buffalo robes. "Send me seven strong, pure young men;" and they sent him seven young men, whom he taught to weave a wonderful fabric of the buffalo fur. And when it was done, he held it aloft, and a whirlwind carried it away to the sky, where it was transformed into the sun.

I have given but a very bare account of these two chapters in their unwritten bible — the bringing up of the people from the lower world to this, and the creation of the heavenly bodies. As told by them, there are many wonderful incidents the t4avels, the wandering, the wars, the confusion of tongues, the dispersion of the people into tribes — all these are given with much circumstance.

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