Dancing Gods, by Erna Fergusson, , at sacred-texts.com
The real return of the Katchinas is celebrated in Powamu, the Bean-Planting Ceremony: an elaborate ceremony, lasting eight days. On the first day, masks are brought to the kiva and renovated. Flat color is applied from the mouth, as a Chinaman sprinkles clothes; design is painted with a yucca brush. On the first day, also, messengers visit all the kivas and announce the ceremony quietly. This variation from the usual Hopi custom of making announcements at the top of the lungs is due to the convention that the names of the Katchinas must not be spoken aloud. The priests, in the kivas, are chanting the myth on which the rites are based. They emerge only to visit every home in which there is a tiponi, feathered wands which are owned by certain priests, or by women through whom the legendary family descends.
During these days the clowns are much in evidence. They are like the Zuñi Mudheads, with their clay-daubed bodies and their heads hidden in knobby sacks. They dash about, calling jokes, many of which are said to be in Zuñi, trip each other up, and cause laughter wherever they go. A part of their play is concerned with a basket plaque piled high
with wooden cones. They challenge the girls to lift the plaque without spilling the cones, a feat none of them can accomplish. Finally a youth does it; the clowns fall over as though dead from the shock, and must be revived by methods even more shocking to the few white people who have seen this rite--probably a sexual pantomime. Dr. Fewkes, always discreet, says that anyone of scientific attainment may learn all--presumably by proving an interest purely scientific. The treasure of the tray turns out to be seeds, which are distributed to the women to plant in the fields and so assure fertility.
On the third day youths bring in baskets of wet sand which they leave near the kiva hatchways. Later, as the actors enter, each man fills a basket or bowl with the sand, carries it into the kiva, and plants his beans in it. From then on, hot fires are kept going, attendants keep the sand constantly wet, and blankets are stretched across the opening so that every kiva becomes a regular hothouse in which the seeds are forced to an unseasonable sprouting.
Late on the fifth night Hahawuaqi, "mother of the terrifying monsters," appears upon the kiva roof and announces in her weird falsetto call that she has arrived and wishes to see the children. An answering voice responds that the children have all gone to bed and urges her to postpone her visit until morning. Thus are the children warned of the presence of the horrible and thrilling beings who bring gifts for good children and punishment for naughty ones. It must fill with trepidation many a little brown Hopi snuggled into blankets and fearfully eager for the coming day.
Yet the monsters and their mother do not emerge until
late afternoon, when they appear in procession. The mother, a man, leading, wears the black dress and a white mantle and leggings. Her mask is a flat black face, with hair in pigtails such as the women wear, feathers raying from the crown, and a fox-skin ruff. She carries a long Juniper whip, a whitened dipper, and a flat tray covered with gifts for the children: ears of corn, seeds, and bundles of sticks for little girls, and tiny snares of yucca fiber for little boys. The other woman figure, Soyokmana, is such a terrifying old witch as every people in the world seems to have invented to scare children into virtue. She is dressed like the "mother," but her hair is straggling, her clothes are old and dirty, and she carries a crook in one hand and a knife in the other. The others (Natacka) usually appear in Navajo velvet shirts, belted around slim waists with heavy silver belts, and with white buckskin mantles over the shoulders. They all wear terrifying masks: great snouts, bulging eyes, and horns. Each carries a bow and arrows in his left hand, leaving the right hand free to receive gifts, for this is a begging expedition.
There are three such groups, one for each village. They visit every house in their own village, and every house in the other two villages into which one of their men has married. For in Hopiland the custom still lingers of a man's going to his wife's people. So one meets them everywhere, hooting as they pass along the crooked streets and as the "mother" calls at every door or at the top of every ladder. Her queer cry always brings out women with food or children to be admonished. Children cling to their mothers or to each other, bright black eyes peering bravely over
blanket folds, or they stand sturdily to face the fearful being, determinedly not afraid.
During the following two days all sorts of queer happenings take place, all significant for the reception of the great spirits, but unaccountable to whites. Men run naked the length of the mesa, hooting, or lie full length on kiva-tops, making nosing motions at each other, grunting and groaning; they dash in and out of the kivas, naked and painted, feathered and jeweled, dance a few steps, and rush off again. Even Fewkes, the insatiably curious investigator, could not find out what it all meant.
Every fourth year, during Powamu, occurs the initiation of children, which is a whipping administered by the Flogger Katchina (Tunwupkatchina). The ceremony takes place in the late afternoon, when Tunwup enters the village from the west. His mask varies from year to year, but it always has bulging eyes, horns, and a mouth full of red tongue and teeth. His body is painted with stripes or zigzags, and he carries a bundle of yucca for a scourge. Arriving at the plaza, this creature prances up and down its limited length, making no sound except the weird inhuman cries of his kind. Children, both boys and girls, are brought in by their god-parents, stripped, and led up to the monster, who, still prancing, wields his whip vigorously, striking each little bare brown back until the child shrieks with pain and fright. Usually he gives five or six such strokes; sometimes, if a child seems unduly frightened, he merely
waves his whip and does not strike at all. Sometimes adults present themselves for the punishment, which is thought to have healing properties. In these cases the beating is apt to be vicious. Sometimes, especially if there are many children of suitable age, there is more than one flogger.
This is the Hopi revelation of "the secret of life": the knowledge that Katchinas are not really spirits, but men dressed to represent them. It is noticeable that younger children, who have not been flogged, are never permitted to look at the Katchinas when they come begging, though when they dance this care is not observed.
The final act of Powamu, the dancing, takes place in the nine kivas which dot the mesa. Every one has been freshly plastered for the occasion with a thin mud from a sacred spring, and each job of plastering has been signed with the print of the slim hand of the girl who did it.
We were permitted, one year, to enter one of the kivas and witness all the ceremonies of that last night. Our host, stopping on the kiva roof, spoke down the hatchway and was answered in Hopi words. Then we descended the ladder. Leaving the cold star-spangled air, it was like dropping into the very bowels of the earth, where there was a hot thick stench of unwashed people, and where the only light came from a smoky oil-lamp and a smoldering fire. Once inside, everything outside seemed impossible: there could be no crystal freshness of an Arizona night, no biting air that would cleanse the lungs. We were back in a time
when people lived underground in a darkness varied only by shifting gleams of a false light, when the only hope was in weird rites designed to reach incredible beings, themselves hampered by ignorance of the real powers.
Then, as we settled on our blankets, nonsensical notions gave way before the sight of familiar things. We sat at the eastern end of the kiva on a slightly raised platform, probably a foot higher than the floor at the fire-place end. A few women were there when we went in, and others drifted in from time to time, muffled in blankets, which they dropped as they sat, showing flat heads and faces with untidy twists of hair falling down their cheeks. Many of them were barefooted even on that cold winter night, and as they loosened their blankets, some of them brought to light perfectly naked babies. Men came down the ladder too, but they usually sat at the ceremonial end of the room, squatting on their haunches near the fire, stooping to pick up coals and light corn-husk cigarettes, exchanging remarks and chuckles with the men already there, busy with the manufacture of corn-husk flowers.
They smoothed the pale gold husks on their knees, tore them into the right shape, and then, dipping twisted yucca fiber into shallow pottery bowls, they applied a light-red paint to one half of each leaf. The work was apparently negligently done, while conversation went on, but the results were beautiful. Soon four petals were ready, and then they were quickly twisted into the shape of a big open flower, like a squash blossom, tied, and laid aside. Without any apparent effort or hurry each man soon had beside him a pile of pale-gold and red blossoms.
Then they began to dress. Lazily they rose from where they sat and, without the slightest embarrassment, removed their shirts, trousers, and shoes, neatly folding their things and laying them in corners. That left their smooth brown bodies exposed, the demands of propriety being satisfied by those modest curtains, front and back, which are the gee-string. Each man then painted his own body, making one leg, one arm, and one half the torso red, and the other one white, the same color scheme as that of the flowers, though the thin wash of white paint over the brown skin gave a different effect. Then each man gave a helping hand to others, painting the backs like the fronts. Chatter and laughter went on all the time. Each man loosened his own hair, and with a grass brush he curried and shook it until it lay in a shining black mane to his waist behind and fluffed out in bobbed puffs over his cheeks. Then he tied three of his flowers to his crown, making a chaplet of the big gay blossoms, most effective against shining black hair. Somewhere in this process white kirtles and sashes were adjusted, turtle-shell rattles, strings of shell and turquoise, and silver-studded baldrics were put on; and those ordinary young men in faded overalls and dirty shirts were suddenly brilliant and beautiful figures, studies in all the possible shades of red and gold and ivory-white.
Then, obeying the hints of the leader, given usually with the slightest bending of the head, they moved into two facing lines, shifted, stamped, rattled their gourds, and swirled into the dance. It was thrilling how quickly that hot underground room was transformed into a chamber of mystery as those gay creatures stepped and turned and
swayed with graceful precision. Shining brown skin slipped over muscles which were hard but never strained, bands and feet moved rhythmically, voices chanted one of those compelling songs so characteristic of the Indian. Then it seemed that there was real force in that underground prayer, a real relationship with all the glory of the starry night outside.
The dance was soon over, and the dancers left, climbing the ladder into blackness and departing in a dying jingle of bells. They had gone to visit another kiva, and soon another group entered ours, calling first at the top, and then dropping down the ladder with rattle of shells and sound of voices. During the night every kiva group visited every other kiva--a long succession of different dances and various costumes.
The night wore slowly on. The atmosphere in the kiva thickened, and we were frequently glad to accept our hosts' invitation to visit other kivas in order that we might breathe outside air and save our puny lungs from succumbing to the fetid reek, which apparently did not affect the Hopis at all. Going along the mesa on those expeditions, we encountered groups of dancers, jingling along under the stars, voices always musically gay and laughing, kirtles swishing softly, and bodies smelling of sweat as they brushed past us on the narrow stony path.
Early the next morning, all too soon after getting to sleep, we were roused. We lay in a row of bed-rolls on the
floor of a Hopi house in Polacca at the foot of the mesa. A kitchen stove, a box with a pail on it, a mirror, several lithographs, a row of Katchina dolls, and a phonograph were its furnishings. The dawn was just turning from pale gray to pale rose, and above us on the high point of Walpi rose a musical cry. It was, we knew, the call of a priest announcing that the Katchinas were in the village and would soon appear. Very soon the children in our house excitedly pointed to one of the Katchinas leaping down the mesa-side. Against the dun-colored rocks he was a brilliant figure of turquoise-blue and dull green. As he came closer, uttering his queer hoots, we picked out the detail of his costume: a turquoise-blue mask with snakes painted under the eyes, feathers sticking out of the ears, feathers on top, a collar of spruce. His body was painted green and yellow, and his moccasins were brilliant blue. Tousled youngsters trooped out to meet him, still struggling with sleep, but alert enough to hold out little brown bands for presents. He had brought dolls and gay-colored rattles for the girls, bows and arrows for the boys, and for both the long, pale-green sprouts of the beans which had been forced out in the over-heated kivas. All the time the dancer kept his feet moving in short jerky steps, a little as though to fight the cold; but we knew that this constant motion and the high falsetto boots were to create the illusion of a being of an other world. All through the three villages such figures were moving, and nearly all the morning they were busy bringing gifts to every child, especially the long, trailing streamers of pale green which were seen in every house, in every child's hands.
Later performances were not so pleasant for the children, and very upsetting for white visitors, filled with notions of the lasting effects of terror on the child mind. About noon the procession of monsters again came out of their kiva, the mother leading, six other ogres in animistic masks, and the witch-like creature with crook and bloody knife: Soyokmana. This group visited every house, hooting their request for food, presenting bean-sprouts, and receiving gifts, which they put into their huge bags. If the food offered was not enough, the Soyok whistled indignantly through her teeth, and the others gave hoots amounting to disgusted groans. Usually the racket worked and more food was forthcoming. At many of the houses Soyok, hideous old witch, used her crook to hook some child around the neck and hold him there, screaming in terror, squirming with horror, and clinging to his mother in an agony terrible to see.
Protests to our host were met with his quiet, gentle Hopi voice: "But that is our way. He has been naughty. His mother asked them to come." Altogether it was too much for the white visitors, and they left the mesa.
There was no dancing during the day. The masks disappeared into the kivas before mid afternoon, and we were told that when the final acts of smoking and the disposal of ceremonial things were properly attended to, there was great feasting. Certainly in every house big pots were stewing up messes in which the bean-sprouts were an important ingredient, that there might be great fertility in the coming spring.
So the Katchinas come in, every year. From that time
until the "going-out," in July, there are masked ceremonies constantly in all the Hopi villages. White people who have lived there say that there is hardly a week without its ceremony. They differ greatly from year to year; some are dying out, some new ones, so they say, are being brought even now from other peoples. Any and all of the gods may come and disport themselves as they, or their impersonators, please, until the season of the ancient gods comes round again.
WE woke in our borrowed Hopi house as dawn was breaking over Keams Canyon, and low-hanging clouds parted to let the sun rise. Indians were coming out of their houses in Polacca and starting up to Walpi, afoot over the trails, and up the road on horses or in wagons. Our car followed them, picking up several walking Hopis until we were well loaded. Everyone wanted a smoke and did not mind mentioning it if we seemed forgetful. Burros moved aside to let us pass, a Navajo couple on two wiry ponies whooped into a gallop and passed us on the rocky up-grade, breaking all the rules of horsemanship.
On the mesa, people were beginning to stir. As we passed along through Hano and Sichomovi, we saw people performing the most intimate details of toilet in the open, no more abashed than the scratching dogs and the chickens ruffling in sand baths. A few women were sweeping out, a few family parties were sitting on the ground around pots
of food, breakfasting. The inevitable Hopi smell hung heavy, even in the cool morning air. Blue sky, cloud-streaked, was reflected in the muddy water-holes. Many men and small boys were drifting slowly toward Walpi, and as we reached the narrow bridge, we heard chanting.
Peering over the rocks, we could see the dancers gathered on a flat stretch of sand sheltered by an overhanging rock. They were already dressed in dance kirtles and sashes, fringed brown moccasins, and flaring skirts of piñon boughs. Their bodies were smeared with corn-smut, a sort of dare to the gods to send rain and wash it off. On each torso were interlocking crescents done in white paint, symbols of friendship. The gaudy masks sat in a row on the rocks, waiting and looking curiously human.
Among the men were women figures, whose white buckskin legs made sturdy pedestals for the black squaw dresses, the red-bordered white blankets, and, finally, the masks which they were adjusting. The women's masks were flat painted faces hidden under red fringe, and parted black hair done in the squash-blossom swirls of virginity. To twenty-three men, there were seven women figures.
As they finished dressing, they chanted; whether in worship or in practice was not clear. A group of men sat on the rocks above, watching; but no women were there, as a Hopi woman is not supposed to look upon a Katchina without his mask. This convention is relaxed only when women come bringing food, women with food being welcome anywhere. Finally every man had adjusted his mask and they started up the trail, moccasined feet falling softly into the prints worn in the rock by many generations.
The Niman Katchina celebrates the going-away of the Katchinas, who are thought to return to their home on San Francisco Peaks. The ceremony is celebrated every year on all three mesas, but it varies greatly, as any Katchina fraternity may present any one of several ceremonies. The one we saw in 1930 was Humis Katchina, a favorite dance for Niman, as Humis is "the one who makes the corn grow high": a valuable gift in July, when first-fruits are ready to gather. Besides bidding farewell to the gods the ceremony is a grateful recognition of the good which has produced the crops. After its serious rite is over, young people picnic in the fields, gathering the crops and making merry.
As the dancers climbed over the rocks, we saw first the feathers and spires of headed grass which topped the masks. Each mask is in itself a cloud symbol and bears many symbols of cloud and rain and rainbow on its terraced top. At the back of each one a small Katchina doll stood on a carved ear of corn or on another Katchina. Around the neck was a ruff of spruce, a Katchina symbol, and each man carried spruce in one hand, the inevitable rattle in the other. Jingling and talking, they appeared, first the gay-colored masks, then the men, a long line. They stopped a moment at a shrine built of slabs of rock, added their quota of meal to the white scatterings already there, and then moved on across the causeway. In the middle of that narrow passageway lay a long cotton string to which were tied a white and a yellow feather: the traditional trail-marker to lead the gods and future blessings into Walpi. Every dancer's arms were filled with green corn-stalks, and several carried musical instruments: large hollow gourds
painted yellow and green, notched sticks to lay across them, and the deer-scapulæ which are the bows for these primitive fiddles.
Two priests in ordinary dress led the group. One carried a feathered stick and a bag of sacred meal, which he scattered before the dancers; the other a corn-cob. One called all the orders, repeated the words of the song, directed the shifting for position, gave the word for the dancing to start. The maskers danced first in the narrow plaza in front of the first house in Walpi. The first movement was simple: rhythmic pounding of the feet in perfect time, as the bodies swung now right, now left, showing front and back views of the weird masks, the swishing skirts. All the time the dancers sang, catching without error the frequent changes of tempo. To and fro they swung, to and fro, following the leaders' chant, intoning the deep droning prayer, curiously muffled under the masks.
Then they stopped and stood at ease while the leaders prepared for the second movement. First they arranged on the ground a row of folded blankets, dirty quilts, whatever they had or whatever women threw down from the housetops. On these the seven women figures knelt, facing the men. In front of each woman was a hollow gourd, and each one wielded the deer-scapula to bring out a hollow squawking, so perfect in rhythm as not to be unpleasant. Chanting, the Katchinas danced to this music, the steps a little more vigorous than in the first figure.
Finally the priests signaled for the end, sprinkled meal to indicate the line of march, and led their troupe to the second plaza. There the figures were repeated in front of
the Snake Rock, where for this occasion a small spruce-tree had been planted and decorated with a few floating breath feathers. The priests, as they scattered meal upon the dancers, threw pinches of it also at the tree. The dance was the same. A few more spectators had gathered. A woman, following the priests, quietly threw meal on all the dancers, especially upon the kneeling women figures, whose wigs were becoming well powdered with it. Then the whole party moved to the western plaza, where an interesting ceremony followed the dance.
At the end of the: second movement the dancers rested as a procession of about ten men and women approached them from the kiva. Evidently they were priests and priestesses; I wondered if they were the chiefs of all the Katchina clans, coming to bid farewell to the gods. They were all in some sort of ceremonial garb: the women in white mantles, the men bare-legged and either in velvet shirts or in very new ones from the store. Everyone had a breath feather floating from the crown. Two were blind--old men who came gingerly to the. top of the ladder, felt with bare feet for the stepping-stones, were handed canes by men following, and got themselves to the edge of the kiva and off the short step to the ground. Then, when they had located the waiting line of dancers, they laid down their sticks, put their hands into, their bags of sacred meal, and followed the line in its slow progress round the dancers. All sprinkled meal and murmured prayers. One man carried an ancient water-bowl, from which he flipped drops of water with an eagle-feather. One had a ceremonial pipe, from which he blew smoke, suggestive of clouds. The
women, instead of scattering meal, took hold of each dancer's hand and put the meal into it. All during the ceremony and until the priests had returned to the kiva, the dancers stood at relaxed attention. Then, following their director, they turned and filed back to the Snake Rock, where they danced again. So they danced their way back to the first Plaza and retired to their dressing-shelter under the rock. Women with food followed them.
This dance was repeated at intervals all day. Once in the late morning the dancers brought gifts: gourd rattles and bows and arrows for the boys, Katchina dolls for the girls. The rattles were painted turquoise-blue, the bows and arrows feathered and well balanced, the dolls perfect in every detail of costume--lovely gifts, such as children anywhere might enjoy. Every dancer had his arms full of these things, and many brought also bowls, baskets, or wash-pans of food. Traditionally these should be the first-fruits from the fields, and they did include small ears of corn, little red-cheeked peaches, melons of various kinds. But in the piles were also hard-boiled eggs, terrifically pink store cakes, iced with coconut, sticky chocolate, and pop-corn balls. Some brought piki bread, colored a delicate pink and tied in flat bundles like the pipes of Pan. Every dancer, peering with difficulty through the narrow slits in his mask, offered his gifts. Children came shyly forward, but only when they were sure they were called; there was no pushing or snatching, no effort to get more than was offered.
During the day the audience steadily increased, people following the dancing group or sitting on roofs to watch.
[paragraph continues] Older women still wear Hopi clothes, black dresses and bright shawls, with their hair falling over their breasts in twists. One woman, who spoke excellent English and had been to school, was dressed as one could hope all Hopi women might be. Her hair, done in the old-time queues, was shining soft instead of dull and stringy. Her skin looked clear, her garments fresh, but entirely in the traditional style. As well-groomed as a white woman, she retained the beauty and distinction of her Hopi dress. Looking at her, I wondered that the usual effects of civilization in Walpi are so curious. Usually, unfortunately, everything Hopi is being supplanted by everything American; yet the underlying ancestral dirt seems untouched.
The beautiful head-dress of the marriageable maid is no more, all the girls having been bobbed in the schools. Katy, a Walpi matron, told me about it, as I sat on her roof above Snake Rock.
"No more we make those squash blossoms," she said. "I wanted my daughter's hair to grow long, but the teacher won't let me. It don't have time to grow after she comes home. Too bad!" Katy sighed, probably thinking of the great day when she was a giggling débutante, stepping out for the first time with her hair in squash-blossom swirls, daring the swains.
From where I sat, I could see the modern virgins. They appear now in badly made calico dresses or sleazy silk ready-mades from the stores. Instead of well-fitting moccasins they wear French-heeled slippers of patent leather or imitation reptile-skin. A couple of young Carmens, draped in flowered shawls, sat on roof-edges, dangling silk stockings
and high heels and turning giggling away from the boys. The white woman's brand of coquetry is only beginning to supplant the more subtle quiet of the Indian maid. Katy's little daughter and her best friend trotted about wrapped clubbily in one shawl. Other little girls, eight or ten years old, carried babies hanging in shawls. There are no naked children on feast-days now.
The influence of modernity seems to stop, however, with dress. Food is handled in ways incredibly dirty. A woman ladled a steaming mess of corn-meal out of a buried pot with hands which had handled everything else. A mother with a child in her arms absently chewed up a mouthful of food and when it was well predigested, poked it with a dirty finger into the baby's mouth. Women and small girls occupied their fingers, as they watched the dance, with the Hopi woman's fancy-work of picking lice out of the baby's head. The whole village is always redolent of filth, a menace which only an Arizona sun could cope with.
As the day went on, the sun grew hotter, and more and more people gathered until the house-tops were loaded. A man from Winslow brought a traveling salesman out. They stood about for a few minutes in shining straw hats, gray summer suits, and left. A car from Ohio drew up, bearing a load of young people in overalls, high hats, and painful-looking sunburn. No other white people came, this being a little-known dance. Nothing modified that terrific burning sun, though great stationary clouds stood in the quivering blue sky, waiting. A few moved leisurely, making purple shadows across the dun mesas. An emergency
landing-field was marked by a sock, which was too hot and too unstirred by any breeze even to flap.
The dancers entered more frequently now, the leaders looking drawn and tired. The dancers must have been approaching exhaustion; yet the dancing was as lively, the chanting as quick as ever. Each time they brought presents, more and more presents, until every child in the three villages must have had piles of them at home. Finally, the children all being burdened, the dancers began making gifts to grown women. A matron sat near me, in black satin, with bobbed hair. She told me that she was Tewa and lived in Polacca. Her English was excellent and we talked. Then she was called to receive a Katchina doll that a masked man held up to her, which she accepted graciously.
By five o'clock the light had changed. Instead of clanging back viciously from a hot sky, it fell softly across the plain and caused the roof-beams to drop cooling shadows along hot walls, and the houses to make curtains of shade in every plaza. A breeze came to raise puffs of dust and to bring a different smell. About six o'clock the dancers made their final appearance in each of the three plazas.
"The brides are out," my Tewa friend whispered to me, and I saw that the crowd was making a quiet shift to the western plaza.
Each Hopi bride of the year, I learned, has been barred from seeing any dance until this Niman Katchina, which she may see, and her attendance is a rite. We reached the upper plaza in time to see them come out: four demure little Hopi girls, looking very young. They all had bobbed hair, but they wore black squaw dresses, wrapped leggings,
and the huge pure-white wedding-blanket. Each groom makes this for his bride, spinning and weaving the native cotton and wool; she wears it on certain ceremonial occasions after her wedding, and it finally serves as her shroud.
The girls looked tiny in the huge blankets, gentle, shy, rather Japanese. Beside each bride stood her sponsor, an older woman, wrapped in a bright shawl in which bobbed the bride's baby: a bright-eyed little mite in a white store dress with coarse lace. This group stood quietly on the low portal of a house just above the kiva, surrounded by a crowd, but still apart: the honored spectators.
The dancers finished their last figure, the priests and priestesses came out again to sprinkle meal and to remove the turtle-shell rattles. Then the Katchinas departed, leaving the village by the trail which goes down over the rocks to the west. Silently they moved now, a weirdly beautiful procession like a ballet which might by some enchantment have been condemned to wander forever over those gray rocks.
Still the gods were not altogether gone, for the next morning there was a short ceremony at sun-up. It seems to be a ceremony which is always performed at Niman Katchina, no matter what dance may be presented the day before.
Very evidently we saw only half of the rite, the rest of which was hidden in the kiva. First appeared four figures, three of them dressed like the dancers of the day before,
with the addition of white mantles. The fourth wore a white shirt, knitted leggings, and the usual kirtle, sash, and fox-skin. He carried a digging-hoe, such as may be seen in the oldest pictographs, and a small water-jar. He also carried a small green bush from which dangled four tiny disks colored to represent the points of the compass and decorated with puffs of down. His mask looked like a flour-sack with holes for eyes and mouth, and a sprig of green on top. This man stood at the north, the others at the other cardinal points.
Then a priest appeared at the kiva hatchway and there followed a complicated business of moving from point to point, throwing meal, pouring water down the hatchway from the bowl. Finally the bush with its disks was banded into the kiva. Then the rest of yesterday's dancers, the priests, and the priestesses all came out of the kiva, silently climbing the ladder and moving in solemn parade around the plaza. The whole ceremony was in utter silence with the exception of the steady droning prayer of the priest who stood at the top of the ladder.
At the end of the prayer the whole procession moved away, following yesterday's path over the rocks, disappearing just as the sun rose. The gods were gone.
(following J. Walter Fewkes)
The Snake people at Walpi tell this story.
Once a chief's son sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon, wondering where all that water went. He thought that he
might be able to help his people if he should follow it; so, on the advice of his father, he built a boat, inclosed like a box, and set off down the river. He had many adventures as he floated on toward the ocean, and finally he came to the home of the Spider Woman, who gave him food and good advice and who finally went along with him, hidden behind his ear.
They met, in turn, a panther, a bear, a wildcat, a gray wolf, and a rattlesnake. Each of these beasts tried to stop the young hero, and each was pacified by the gift of a prayer-stick which the Spider Woman gave him. At last they came to a snake kiva, over which stood the bow standard, just as it stands over the snake kiva nowadays when the priests are praying within.
Inside there were both men and women. The chief gave the young man a pipe, saying: "Smoke, but swallow the smoke." This seemed impossible, but the friendly Spider Woman, still sitting behind the youth's ear, removed the smoke from behind, thus making it possible for him to pass the test. Then the men and women all dressed themselves in snake-skins which hung on the wall, and were at once, miraculously, changed into snakes. The hero was instructed to catch one; and, encouraged by the Spider Woman, he made a set at the youngest and prettiest maiden, who had been changed into a yellow rattler. She was vicious, but the Spider Woman gave him medicine to spit at her, and so he caught her. Immediately she became very meek and pleasant and brought him piki bread, melons, and peaches to eat.
This seemed to end the young chief's initiation, but he
still owed his initiation fee of beads. So he and the Spider Woman set off to get it. They went to the house of an ugly old hag, to whom the youth gave prayer-sticks. She then changed herself into a lovely young woman, with whom he spent four happy nights. At the end she gave him a bagful of beads and shells which she said would increase all the way home if he did not open the bag. If he looked, they would all disappear. So the youth returned to the snake kiva, where he wed the snake maid, and after four days set out with her for his home.
Like all legendary heroes, the young man, terribly tempted in the matter of beads, peeped into the bag, which had been steadily growing heavier. The beads, according to the prophecy, disappeared; and that is why--so the Hopis say--they have so few beads now. He observed all the rules regarding his wife, however, and got her home safely; whereupon she bore many little snakes. These baby snakes were not popular with the Hopi children, whom they bit, so the young chief and his wife were forced to move. Thus they came to Walpi. After that the snake maid bore many human children, who were, of course, related to the snakes, and so founded the Snake clan.
The young father, who had brought all the paraphernalia necessary for the snake ceremonies from the original kiva, then made the "tiponi." For four days he hunted snakes, bringing one from each direction. Then he found a hollow cottonwood root, in which he placed one snake, and the rattles of the other three. He bound the bundle with buckskin, tying on eagle-feathers and the plumes of the oriole, bird of the North, the blue-bird of the West, the parrot of
the South, the magpie of the East, and the feathers of two other birds, typifying above and below. This is the marvelous tiponi still owned by Harry Shupela, the chief Snake-priest at Walpi, and carried by him in every snake-dance. It is about twenty-seven inches long, including the feathers, and it is so potent that the dance, to this day, is wilder and more fervent at Walpi than in any of the other villages.
Of all southwestern Indian ceremonials the Hopi Snake-dance attracts the most shivering attention. Everyone wants to see it, and every year more white visitors crowd the villages, threatening the frail roofs, making crude and loud comment, squirming in an agony of pleasant horror to see men handle venomous snakes. Thousands see the dance every year, in spite of threats on the part of the Indian Office to put a stop to it. One Indian commissioner went so far as to threaten its suppression on the ground that handling snakes was a "loathsome practice"--presumably to him. Friends of the Indian protested, and the dance was saved.
If it had been stopped, it would have meant the end of a pure totemistic rite, dating from the earliest era of human life. Undoubtedly the Snake-dance is the most ancient ceremony we still may see, for it is the direct worship of the clan ancestor, who is the snake. Fewkes, who holds this opinion, says that the dance was also originally a water ceremonial, snakes being the traditional guardians of
springs. While all dancers are not members of the Snake clan, probably the important priests are presumed to be descended from the legendary pair who introduced the rite, and are actually descendants, through the female line, of the people who brought the cult to Hopi. They are always assisted by the Antelope clan, whose ancestors came at about the same time. The Flute Ceremony, which follows the Snake-dance, is performed by members of the Horn clan, who, in legend, married girls of the Snake clan. Those mythical youths lured their maidens by playing on flutes, as they still do in the Flute Ceremony.
The Snake-dance is performed on all three mesas: in odd years at Walpi and Mishongnovi, in even years at Hotevilla and Chimopovi and Shipaulavi. The Flute Ceremony is held on the mesa which does not have the Snake-dance.
The dance itself is the final act of a sixteen-day ceremony, which begins a few days after Niman Katchina. The last nine days are filled with open and secret rites, both snake and Antelope-priests meeting daily in their kivas. As the men are very busy in the fields, usually only a few conduct the earlier ceremonies, the kivas filling up toward the end. The usual preparatory activities go on: the making of prayer-sticks, the preparation of dance paraphernalia, the erection of an altar, and the drawing of sand paintings.
The altar in the antelope kiva tells the whole story of the significance of the dance to one who understands something of Indian symbolism. The painting is of lightning in the form of snakes, and clouds in the colors of the four
directions. The altar, also in symbolic shapes, is finished with bowls of water from a sacred spring, tall green corn. stalks, and trailing vines of melons and beans. Anyone, god or man, ought to know what it means. "We wish," it says quite clearly, "storm and rain from every direction, that our springs may be filled, that these life-giving plants may grow, that there may be plenty of food for our children." It is notable that in all prayers food for children is mentioned first: "then, when our children have eaten, may there be food for all."
On the last four days the Snake-priests hunt snakes, often very small boys going with them. Teachers in the Indian schools say that boys of the Snake clan catch and handle snakes without fear from the time they are tiny tots. The trick is to find your little brother, be he whip-snake, bull-snake, or rattler, under a rock or bush, stroke him with a feather until he straightens out of the dangerous coil, and then nab him just behind the head. Brother though he is, this is wise, for then he cannot mistakenly turn and bite you. The priests, stripped to the loin-cloth, leave the kiva before dawn. Each man's face is painted a light rose-red, a line of the same color runs from the shoulder down over the breast, and a red feather is tied to his crown. He is armed with a digging-stick and a snake whip, a rod to which are tied two eagle-feathers. It is used to make the snakes straighten, and the digging-stick comes into action if enough snakes are not found above ground, but must be dug out of their holes. Each man carries a bag of sacred meal with which to sprinkle the snakes, and a buffalo-skin bag to put them in. The hunters stay out all day, going in
a different direction each day: first north, then west, then South, and finally east.
On the sixth day, before dawn, the Antelope-priests present a brief drama in their kiva. Few white men have seen this, but Dorsey, writing for the Field Columbian Museum, describes it most effectively. When the morning star rises, priests begin to stir about their altar, and two of them go out and return leading two children of about fourteen years old: a boy, who is the snake youth, and a girl, who personates the antelope maid.
Working quickly, the priests remove ordinary garb from these two, who stand quietly relaxed, moving and turning as told, yielding themselves like dolls to be dressed. The girl's arms and legs are whitened and her lower face is painted black, with a sharp white line running from lip to ear, and she is dressed in white ceremonial garments, with loosened hair and much jewelry. She holds an ancient ceremonial jar filled with trailing bean and melon vines. The boy is similarly painted, with the addition of white lines on his bare upper body. He wears a white kirtle and sash, and his hair hangs loose. He holds the tiponi on his left arm, and a live rattlesnake in his right hand.
Standing at the head of the sand painting, these two make a lovely picture as the flat white morning light steals down the hatchway, bringing out the beauty of the painting, the sinewy bare backs of the priests, the drifting blue smoke of the ceremonial pipes. The ceremony consists only in blowing smoke wreaths to the six directions, sprinkling meal and water over the painting, and chanting the long legend. It is a matter of several hours, during which the young
people stand quietly and the light changes gradually to day, as represented by a patch of sunlight just under the hatchway, and sharp black shadows from the ladder-poles. The service ends with a solemn prayer for rain, growth, and fertility. At the end the children are disrobed by the same priests. Each one takes water from a gourd and blows it into his hands to wash. A woman comes to dress the girl's hair in squash blossoms. Then the two leave the kiva, and the priests resume the endless business of making prayer-plumes.
On the eighth morning before dawn two priests emerge from the kivas and place the standards. Each is an ordinary bow, about three feet long and decorated with horsehair stained red, skins of the skunk and the weasel, and eagle-feathers. This takes the place of a short eagle-feathered stick which has been the earlier announcement that the priests were within. Two strange figures then come out. They are the warriors; their bodies are painted black, their faces red; and they wear brown leather kirtles painted with snakes and edged with metal bugles. One carries the whizzer, which typifies thunder, and the other a contrivance which shoots out like lightning. The whizzer, or bull-roarer, is merely a shaped stick which is whirled on a string to make the humming, roaring sound of low thunder. The lightning is simulated by a more elaborate device: a jointed frame which folds down close to the man's hands or shoots out in a long zigzag like lightning. Gravely they turn to each direction, making thunder and lightning. Then a priest, in a long, musical call, summons the runners, and the warriors trot off into the darkness, going to a sacred
spring about two miles from the village, where the race is to start.
At the spring, cloud symbols of meal are made on the ground, ceremonial smoking is indulged in, the feet of the runners are rubbed with mud from the spring to induce the rain to come more quickly, and finally the warriors signal for the start.
Races occur on the last two mornings. Racers may be any man or boy of the villages, though usually members of the Snake and Antelope clans do not enter. Sometimes as many as sixty or seventy runners appear. They make a fine sight as they streak across the plain just before sunrise, their naked brown bodies straining and shining with sweat, their bells jingling, white teeth flashing as they give occasional yells, panting up the last difficult slope to the mesa.
Meanwhile boys and girls have gathered on the lower terraces, usually dressed for the occasion in their best. Boys are stripped, painted, and hung with jewelry. Girls wear ceremonial wraps or bright blankets, and their hair, until the late epidemic of bobbing, was always in the swirls of virginity. The boys carry armfuls of green corn-stalks, and as the runners reach the mesa, the girls scramble for them. Often the outcome seems uncertain, but eventually the girls get the corn and carry it to their homes. The winner of the race, as he passes the priest, is handed a ring and a prayer-plume, both of which he plants in his field to assure a good crop. He is then received at the kiva, and a short ceremony is performed inside.
On each of the last four mornings the priests visit certain springs, a different one each day. One year I was fortunate enough to see this rite. As I slept in camp at the foot of Second Mesa, I woke just before dawn, when that early stir calls people awake. I lay still a moment, and then I heard, in the dark, voices and a low faint jingle. Slipping from my blankets, I moved to the edge of the rock and sat where I could look down on the spring, guarded by its rude stone terraces. There I saw six Snake-priests, their dark bodies defined by white loin-cloths. One, the leader, bent over the water, casting sacred meal upon it while he chanted a low prayer, which was repeated or replied to by the other men. Then, solemnly, they moved around the spring, one of them flipping water with his aspergill at each cardinal point.
They turned then and came rapidly up the trail toward me. I sat still as they passed through our camp, threading their way between blanketed figures. They made no sound except the jingling of shells and their low voices, which replied pleasantly to my greeting. Later, when we went down to the spring, we found, just as we expected, prayer-sticks planted there, and the ground white with sacred meal.
On the eighth day the village is busy getting ready for the Antelope-dance, which will occur in the late afternoon. Every dancer and nearly every inhabitant of the village is shampooed. All priests are now spending all their time in the kivas, occupied in serious preparations, or
sleeping either within or on the roofs. Some time during the day a patient little burro will be seen trotting into the plaza almost hidden under a load of leafy cottonwood. From this is built the kisi, the shrine which will hold the snakes. Supported on four uprights driven into the ground and tied at the top, it is a conical bower, open on one side, where a blanket, a skin, or a piece of canvas is hung. In front of this opening is dug a shallow hole, possibly a foot deep. A board is laid over it, and the ground smoothed until the board is hardly visible. This is sipapu, the entrance to the underworld, where dwell the spirits whose attention must be attracted during the dance, and to whom the snakes will finally carry the prayer. Some time during the afternoon a long bundle of greenery is carried into the kisi, thus completing arrangements for the arrival of the priests.
The plaza of Chimopovi on a hot August afternoon. The houses, so soft a gray as to be almost white, are dusting off at their edges and leaving protruding stones which make odd broken stairways to the roofs. Every house is a study in broken lines; all together they make a beautiful. unit. The plaza is dusty, only the green kisi relieving the dull tone. All doors stand open, and most windows are unglazed. If one looks into a house, it is cool, but smelly, and light voices usually speak an invitation to enter. By mid afternoon people begin to gather on the shady side of the plaza. Compared with the brilliance of an Indian audience in New
[paragraph continues] Mexico, these people seem poverty-stricken almost to sordidness. The same Indian freedom from confusion prevails. Women nurse their babies without concealment. One fills her mouth with water from a gourd and bathes her child by squirting water over the wriggling little brown body. Older children play quiet little games in the sand. A few white people show up, but as most of the crowd goes to the more advertised dances at Hotevilla or at Walpi, Chimopovi is usually predominantly Hopi. Navajos come in, a few at a time, drinking pop from bottles. Sometimes Zuñis or people from the Rio Grande pueblos bring turquoise to trade for ceremonial garments.
A little before sunset the performers appear. First the chief Antelope-priest emerges from his kiva and calls a greeting, which is probably in Keresan, a recognition of the Antelope clan at Acoma. He speaks down the hatchway of the snake kiva, asking if all is ready, then re-enters his own kiva. When he comes out again, he is in full ceremonial regalia and carries his tiponi and his rattle. His chin is blackened and outlined by a sharp white line from ear to ear, his body is painted with the zigzag lines of lightning, and his legs are whitened to the knees. He wears feathers in his hair, white kirtle and sash, fox-skin, beaded arm-bands holding feathers, and beaded anklets. The other priests are the same, except one who wears a wreath of cottonwood leaves on his head and carries a bowl of water resting on another wreath. The men who do not carry special objects carry two rattles. These costumes vary from year to year, from village to village, even from man to man; but in essentials they are the same.
The antelope men stand near the kiva until all are out. Then they rattle vigorously, and, following their leader, they advance quickly into the plaza, which they circle, almost touching the walls of the houses as they pass. As each man reaches sipapu, he stamps hard with one foot, not missing his step, and producing a hollow sound. He sprinkles meal as he passes the kisi, his rattle calling, his kirtle swishing with the rapidity of his movement. Four times the men circle the plaza, each time making a smaller ellipse, and finally lining up in front of the kisi, where they stand in relaxed immobility, as effective as their former rapid movement.
By this time the Snake-dancers are ready to enter. Their chief, coming out of the kiva, takes down the bow standard, which he carries with him. His assistant brings the antelope standard. The general effect of the snake costume is dark brown and black. Dark-brown bodies are spotted with dirty white, the dark-brown kirtles are painted with the snake symbol in white and black, the hair is smeared with white and feathered with red-stained feathers. Each man wears a turtle-shell rattle below the right knee, but otherwise anklets and armlets, jewelry and bandoleers are worn without absolute uniformity. Each man carries his snake whip and bag of sacred meal. Their entrance is even more thrilling than that of the antelope men, probably because of the dark forbidding effect of the costumes, and the dense silence and solemnity of both actors and audience. Four quick circuits of the plaza, every man stamping upon sipapu, and the snake priests line up facing the Antelope-priests, the chiefs being at opposite ends of the lines.
One of those tense moments of suspense, which all Indian dancers manage with theatrical skill. Then the antelope men rattle rapidly, and the snake men make angular movements with their whips. Then begins a sonorous, growling chant, so low as to be scarcely heard. It seems to come from the earth, rather than from those two lines of men, whose bodies move back and forth, their feet not leaving the ground, except as each man raises his right heel to shake his turtle rattle with a nervous insistence. Then the singing is suddenly stilled, while the antelope men rattle and the snake men shake their whips. It is a queer alternation of sound: now the rattles while the snake whips rise and fall, then the deep-voiced, almost inaudible chant accompanied by the very different note of the turtle rattles. Eight times this is repeated.
Then the snake men move back from the kisi, keeping their line as before, and one snake man and one antelope man leave the group, the snake man's arm resting on the antelope man's shoulder as they move in small circles in front of the kisi. They are followed by other couples, and all make the circle four times. Then one antelope man ducks into the kisi and comes out carrying a bundle of corn and bean plants, which he holds in his mouth as the snake men will tomorrow carry the snakes. The snake man holds up the end of the bundle in his right hand. The rest of the men, again in line, move rhythmically back and forth, and the antelope men chant, their first low mutter growing louder and louder and wilder and wilder until the act is over and the bundle passed back into the kisi.
Suddenly then the Snake-dancers wheel in unison and,
reversing the movement of their entrance, make four circles, each one larger than before, until they leave the plaza and retire into their kiva, the jingling of their bells growing fainter as they disappear. The priests restore the bow standards as they go. Then the Antelope-priests leave with the same ceremony.
Later women come to both kivas with food. This is the Snake-priests' last meal until after the next day's ceremony. An interesting touch is the appearance of men to hang fox-skins on the ladder-poles. This is not ceremonial, just sartorial, for the fur is said to stand out more fluffily when well aired.
The Day of the Snake-dance
On the ninth, as on previous mornings, ceremony begins in the kivas before dawn. By this time all the dancers are spending all their time in the kiva, and work in the fields has been suspended for the time of this more important observance. At dawn eight prescribed songs are chanted, ashes are taken from the fire-place, spat upon, and thrown up the hatchway by each dancer, who thus exorcises any evil charm which may lurk about. Before dawn, as on the day of the antelope race, the runners are called by that clear musical cry which flows from the kiva-top over the desert. The priests make their last ceremonial visit to the spring, and the race is run. This time the winner's trophy is a jar of water, which he later pours over his field to bring rain. Traditionally the racers should run naked in order that they may be seen by the gods, who see only the essential man, never his trappings. The hair should flow loose,
symbolizing the falling rain. Both these customs are changing under the tendency to wear underwear instead of bare skin, and to have short-cut hair.
It is a busy day in the snake kiva. Priests enter carrying bags which are said to contain herbs for making the emetic. Some of them go out to the fields to catch black beetles for the same stew. Ceremonial smoking, chanting, final work on their costumes, keep the men busy all day. Their principal business, however, is the lustral washing of snakes: a ceremony described by both Dorsey and Fewkes, who are among the few white men who have been permitted to see it.
The reptiles are washed in a large jar into which water is carefully poured in six gourdfuls. A herb is added, but neither scientist could identify it. The men all wash their hands before handling the snakes, which they take in wriggling handfuls from their bags, dip in the bowl, and then throw upon a bed of clean sand, which young boys have prepared for them. The boys then guard the snakes, squatting on their bare haunches around the sand-bed and making a great game of keeping the reptiles where they belong. It is all fun; there is no sense of fear or revulsion. Using their snake whips to prevent coiling, the youngsters, some of them no more than nine or ten years old, keep the snakes within bounds, allowing them to crawl about their naked bodies, between their legs, over their bare feet. Finally the snakes are gathered into a huge bag, in which they are carried to the plaza and placed in the kisi, where they are left in charge of the warrior who will hand them out to the dancers. The water in which the snakes were
washed is carried out and poured off the mesa in the four directions.
There are other rites in the kiva, which no white man has seen. Certain traders who have seen the dance many times believe that the Indian's apparent immunity to snake-bite is due to the fact that the poison is extracted from venomous reptiles before they are used in the dance. A snake could be rendered harmless, biologists say, by forcing him to strike repeatedly and so exhaust his supply of poison. Certainly something, whether practical or mystical, frees the Snake-priests of all fear.
A feature of the last day is the initiation of new members, usually small boys, who are ceremonially shampooed, given a white ear of corn and a snake whip as symbols of their new dignity, seated at a corner of the sand painting while prayer and smoking go on, and finally greeted by terms of relationship and the new names of their membership.
By mid afternoon all this is finished and the men dress for the dance. Each man makes up and dresses himself, exchanging brotherly assistance at getting at the middle of his back. Bodies and faces are blackened with soot, the chin is whitened in an effect unaccountably weird, pinkish spots are painted on forehead, arms, body, and legs. Owl- and eagle-feathers are tied to the hair, which is also whitened. Snake kilt, bandoleer, arm and ankle bands, and moccasins are all dark brown. Altogether these dancers are the wildest figures to be seen in any southwestern dance. Everything about them, even about the smallest boys, is darkly forbidding, wildly straggling.
All day the audience has been gathering. The crowd is worst at Walpi, for the plaza there is small and its dance is the best-known. Yet it must be described, for only Walpi has the original tiponi; only Walpi has the Snake Rock, which plays no direct part in the service, but which has appeared in almost every painting or photograph of the ceremony. Many people come for the Antelope-dance; as many, one would think, as that small plaza could hold. Yet all the day of the Snake-dance the roads across the plain are black with cars, scuttling along like so many beetles, each one bringing its load of white visitors. "Dudes" come in droves, usually shepherded by professional "dude-wranglers," who wearily answer question after question, who fight a hopeless fight against dust and heat and glare and tepid drinking-water to make comfortable people who cannot be made comfortable short of real comfort. Parasols and wide hats, fans and thermos bottles of clinking ice-water, venders with pink pop; the clashing Navajo jewelry, which is almost the badge of an interest in the Indian; loudly called greetings between Arizona townspeople who come every year to see each other; Indian Service people, knowing everybody. Long rows of Indian wagons coming up the road which is closed to automobiles, dudes rocking precariously on chairs tipping in wagon-beds, scrawny little horses tugging terribly, being beaten. Navajos arriving on horses, always haughtily aloof, always quiet, always laden with the most beautiful turquoise and silver, specially priced for eastern buyers. The mob gathering slowly,
crushingly, in the little plaza, bulging against the inadequate rope which has been strung along the edge; small boys squirming through, fat women sweating unpleasantly, men coatless, fanning themselves with straw hats, Hopis selling the same roof-space again and again, collecting before delivery, and then calmly disappearing when rival parties of swearing, jangling whites arrive to claim their "reserved space." Men boosting fat old ladies on to roofs, occasional prehistoric beams giving way and tumbling a struggling mass of human beings into dusty debris, unpleasant, but soft enough to prevent broken bones. Movie stars in white veils, women novelists picturesquely distributing peacock-feathers among good-looking young Hopis, tall drivers in international costumes of English riding-boots and breeches, cowboy hats, and Russian blouses. Bitter complaint from women without parasols against women with parasols. So the white man comes to see the Snake-dance.
In time, a long time, the warning rattling is heard and the antelope priests appear, walking quickly. They repeat the evolution of the day before, and their costumes are the same, but the effect somehow is much more tense. The whole crowd is held silent, watching for the snake men, and also watching the clouds in the sky, for traditionally it always rains after the Snake-dance, bringing an immediate response to the prayer.
When they finish their four turns round the plaza, which
they make by actually pressing against the crowd, the antelopes line up before the kisi and, swaying slightly, await the arrival of the Snake-priests. By this time the tension is vibrant and no sound is heard as the Snake-dancers enter with a long swinging step, definite, quick, hard, and circle the plaza the appointed four times, stamping their insistent call upon sipapu and scattering their sacred meal each time. Finally they come to rest, facing the line of antelope men, and link arms. Then the two platoons sway from side to side, making only enough motion to cause the rattles to sound, and chanting that terrible low thunderous murmur, which never sounds as though human beings made it, but seems to come from the very bowels of the earth. Louder and louder it grows, as the bodies rock. Then suddenly it ceases, the men release each other's arms and swing into a rapid vigorous dance which shakes all the rattles and which is paralyzing in its unexpectedness. Time after time this transition is made from the low humming growl to the insistent beat of the dance, and back again. Finally it is over, and the groups break into dance formation for the handling of the snakes.
The line of antelope men breaks, leaving the kisi entrance open, and a Snake-priest stoops into it and emerges with a snake, which he places between his teeth, and sets off. He is accompanied by another priest, whose left hand rests on the carrier's shoulder, his right hand holding the snake whip to stroke the snake and prevent the dangerous coiling. Dancing in unison, this pair starts on a circuit of the plaza, stepping rhythmically to the accompaniment of the antelope chant. Other pairs follow until the plaza is
crowded with them. A third man trails each couple, unobtrusively. When the circle is complete, the dancer drops his snake, which at once tries to get away. Then the third man, the gatherer, comes into action. Quietly, with alert mien, he watches his snake. Sometimes with his whip he stirs up a little puff of dust which causes the snake to turn away from the crowd. He never lets it get among the people, though many squealing women anticipate it. Then, when the time is exactly right, he touches the snake with his feathered wand, accurately drops meal on it, and, making a graceful swoop with his whole body, catches it just behind the head. Swinging the undulating reptile the length of his arm, the man's body and the snake make a flashing bronze statue for one unforgettable moment. Then, nonchalantly, as a woman carries a shower-bouquet, he lays the snake across his arm and goes after another one. Meanwhile the whole group of fifteen to thirty men has broken up into similar threes. The plaza is filled with dancers who follow no regular line. Snakes curl about men's necks, their heads are often seen against a man's cheek as though biting it; sometimes a small whip-snake makes a rosette of itself on a mans ear, sometimes a long bull-snake is so heavy that the two men have trouble holding it. Sometimes a small boy priest gets his legs all tangled up in a snake longer than he is and has to be released by a kindly antelope man. Rattlers are handled with no more concern than the smallest whip- or garter-snake. Gatherers never lose sight of their particular snakes, even when the dance is at its height and the ground is covered with wriggling reptiles trying to escape, being turned back and finally caught. When a
gatherer gets more snakes than he can conveniently handle, he honors some man in the crowd by banding him an armful, or he gives them to the swaying, chanting Antelope-priests, whose arms are soon filled with them. Each dancer handles many snakes, sometimes fifty or sixty being used in an afternoon.
At last, when the bag of snakes is emptied, the chief Snake-priest makes a large circle of meal on the ground. Moving with the quick definiteness of the whole ceremony, he strews meal from the six cardinal directions toward the center of his circle; and then the gatherers approach and throw in the snakes, a writhing mass. Women and girls, covered with white ceremonial mantles, have been standing ready with plaques of meal. They approach and scatter meal on the wriggling pile, their quickness lacking the careless fearlessness of the priests and having more the quickness of nervousness. They disappear, losing no time. Then the snake priests all dash into the circle, gather up the snakes in great armfuls, and rush out of the plaza. Way is made for them with no hesitancy and they disappear down the four trails and out on to the plain, carrying the snakes to certain shrines where they are released to carry their message to the underworld.
Meanwhile in the plaza the Antelope-priests make their four circuits again in reverse, the asperger puts meal, water, and his cottonwood wreath in the kisi, and they all go out. This ends their participation and they return to their kiva merely to undress and to eat the meal which women have been bringing in huge steaming pans and bowls and in piles of piki bread.
The snake men come straggling back, panting from their race, and one by one they reach their kiva, where they openly strip and bathe. Women of the Snake clan bring bowls of the emetic, whose taking is the final public act of the ceremony. The men not having eaten since the previous day, the results are not so loathsome as might be expected. Every dancer drinks and leans, retching, over the edge of the kiva until he is entirely purified. This is said to be to purge the dancers of any snake-charm which might be dangerous to other inhabitants of the village. As each man finishes vomiting, he enters the kiva, where ceremonial smoking is the prelude to a feast, which must be eagerly anticipated.
Meanwhile, if the gods are good--and if all has been done well, the gods are good--rain is coming. As the late afternoon light wanes, dusk is usually hastened by the gathering of huge clouds, streaks of rain appear over distant mesas, dude-Wranglers marshal their charges into cars, eager to "cross the wash" before floods fill it, Hopis from neighboring villages get themselves and their families loaded into cars; and then comes the long, swishing, sweet-smelling rain, pouring in cleansing floods from the roofs into the streets and over the edge of the mesa, bringing hope and confident assurance that hearts were pure and the work was pleasing in the sight of the unseen ones.
The Snake-dance always brings rain.
We sat outside the goat kiva in Walpi on a dark night. It was September eleventh, and the Lalakonti was to be danced the next day. Percy had squired me up the mesa--Percy, my Hopi host, short and bandy-legged and with a steady flow of incorrect English.
"White people call it Basket-dance," he told me, "but it means hail. It brings hail and cold wet for the ground, so things grow next spring."
A few women passed us, stepped up on the kiva roof, and disappeared down the ladder. Then a man went in. All the time we could hear chanting: a low melodious singing, with women's voices predominating, but men's voices distinguishable too. It sounded curiously like a Catholic chant, as though blue nuns might be singing somewhere underground.
A head appeared over the roof edge behind us, dimly outlined against deep-blue sky. "Hello," said my friend Norman. "Did you bring parrot-feathers?"
I had brought parrot-feathers, so that was all right. Norman and his family were all sleeping on the roof, they explained, the chicken-bugs having taken the house. They rolled out of blankets to come and sit on the edge of the roof and chat. They preferred not to discuss the ceremonies going on within the kiva, so we talked of other things.
From my reading I knew that the kiva ceremonies of this women's rite do not differ much from those usual in the men's fraternities. Most village people of the southwest have women's dances, conducted by women priests, with
just a man or two around, as a Mason attends the doings of the Eastern Star. Lalakonti is celebrated by women of many clans, headed by four priestesses, whose office is hereditary. One Hopi said that they must always belong to the Bear, the Sun, the Spider, and the Eagle clans. The kiva ceremonies are the same as in the men's rites: the making of prayer-plumes, the erection of an altar, the painting of a sand picture, the preparation of costumes, even ceremonial smoking. The participants stay in the kiva day and night, and during the last four days they eat no salt or meat and nothing raised within the year.
About three o'clock, while it was still dark, the chief priestess, an old woman, emerged from the hatchway. Her roughened hair and blanket-draped figure were outlined for a few minutes against the starry sky as she considered it intently. She was, I knew, making sure that Orion had reached a certain position. Then she backed down the ladder, and soon a procession came out of the kiva, twenty-six women and two men. They filed silently into the little plaza in front of the Snake Rock and formed a circle open to the east, that nothing might come between sipapu and the point of sunrise. About a half-hour of chanting, very low and ghostly in the darkness. Then the man moved; and, without quite seeing, we knew that he was digging out the hidden board which conceals sipapu. He carefully cleaned out the hole under it and put in freshly made prayer-plumes, and then the whole procession filed round, chanting all the time, and every woman dropped in a feathered twig. Then sipapu was closed, the ground was smoothed and stamped hard, and the party returned to the kiva. The few watchers on the
house-tops disappeared like wraiths before the earliest streaks of dawn.
Just before it was light enough to see clearly, one of the men and a slim little girl of about ten years old came up the ladder and went away over the edge of the mesa. We could see that the child was wrapped in a white blanket which was fastened around her waist with a white sash. Four black feathers were tied to the blanket on her back, and one floated from her bobbed head. Her feet and hands were black and so was her chin, outlined by a sharp white line from mouth to ear. She carried a plaque, her trophy as the winner of yesterday's race, which we had not seen. She and the priest were going to a shrine in the near-by foothills, where they would make medicine with meal and water, and where the man would give the starting-word for the race of young men.
Since earliest light the runners had been trotting off down the trail to the starting-point: all slim and all excellent runners, as Hopis always are. At sunrise they started at a point hidden by the trees around the schoolhouse, so we did not see them until they appeared well along the trail, swiftly moving dots, running in close formation and showing well their training, especially when they came to the steep pull up the narrow rocky trail.
Just as the runners reached the foot of the mesa, the women came out of the kiva. All were barefooted and bareheaded, and all wore their hair parted and twisted, except the schoolgirls, who were bobbed. The older women wore black squaw dresses and some sort of wrap, white ceremonial mantles or bright shawls. A few girls were in gingham
dresses. Each of the four priestesses carried feathers in addition to the plaques or baskets which all had. The plaques seemed to be of no special design: butterflies and wind symbols, the lightning and various Katchina patterns were among them. There were seventeen mature women and ten girls. Forming an open circle as they had the night before, they waited for a signal from the chief priestess and then began their chant. They are said to have fourteen different melodies, to which different words may be sung each year, if poetic fervor runs so high. As they sang, they raised and lowered their baskets with a quiet even movement, making two downward gestures from each shoulder in recognition of the four directions. As they sang, the whole group swayed slightly, eyes downcast, feet still, voices faultlessly following the soft cadences of the song.
Then the first runner appeared, coming in from the west end of the plaza. The tradition that a runner must be naked in order to be seen by the gods was modified to the extent of long, white underwear. Yet the youth was slim and graceful, a little taller than most Hopis. As he entered the plaza, the men gathered there murmured approval. He was immediately followed by the little girl in white with the winner's plaque. She presented it without ceremony and went on into her kiva, while the winner disappeared through the archway into the north street. The chanting women paid no attention to this or to the arrival of the other runners, except to open a break in their circle through which all passed as they came panting in--about twenty of them. Then, at the end of the song, the women turned and went into their kiva.
"Breakfast now," said my Hopi friend. "You have breakfast now too."
So we went down the mesa to the home of Hopi Baptists which had been rented to us for the day. It had many religious texts on the wall, one especially suitable for a guesthouse. "Even Christ," it assured us gently, "pleased not Himself." So, trying to be becomingly meek, we went across the street to the nearest kitchen stove, made our coffee, broiled our bacon, then washed up, brought fresh buckets of water, and swept our crumbs off the freshly plastered floor with a Hopi besom. Our hostess, speaking no English, made up for it by repeated use of "Askwal, askwali," the Hopi, "Thank you," and by chuckling delightedly at everything we did.
On the mesa again about ten o'clock we found waiting Hopis getting impatient because the priestesses came so late. Women and children sat on roofs, leaving the plaza to men and boys. We were warned that we should be safer above ground, and space was hospitably made for us on a roof. Only two Navajos came to this show, a tall young man, made taller by high heels and a very high hat, and his squaw, in a brilliant orange and black skirt and a dull-green velvet blouse. Everybody was chatting. Men were smoking and leaning over the edge of the, mesa to watch a group of small boys who had chosen that as their point of vantage. Finally, about eleven, word went forth: "They are coming." Many more Hopis suddenly materialized
from nowhere until the plaza was crowded. We were the only white visitors.
Then the women entered, formed their open circle as before, and began chanting. Still all eyes turned to the kiva, and then we saw Lakone and the two Lakonemana. Lakonetaka was a yellow and white figure: his face, body, and arms and legs were painted yellow with the sunflower pollen, and he wore white ceremonial garments. He carried a small plaque piled high with yellow corn-meal. They told us that yellow was the color of the North. The two women were similarly dressed in skirt and bodice made of ceremonial kilts. Their faces were yellow, with black lines drawn across the eyes from temple to temple and across the mouth from ear to ear. They wore anklets, of yarn, masses of jewelry from the chin to the waist in Zuñi fashion, and hair hanging loose. Their head-dresses were coronets of turquoise-blue and black, with rain-cloud symbols above, symbols of the sunflower on the right, and a horn on the left, tall eagle-feathers and headed grain, and a fluffy mass of small feathers at the back. The faces were so thickly covered with yellow paint and so impassive and the head-dresses were so elaborate that the effect was mask-like.
The man, advancing, strewed yellow meal on the ground to make cloud symbols, which were like the figure used to play tit-tat-toe. Then the two women, standing side by side, each threw two ears of corn at it: a white, a blue, a yellow, and a red. Each was feathered with two eagle-quills like the shuttles for battledore and shuttlecock. The man picked them up, handed them back, and, advancing a few steps,
made another cloud. The figure was repeated four times, which brought the group into the circle of women, who had steadily continued their chant.
When the Mana were well within the circle, we could see that each one had on her back a bulging pack. She eased it down to the ground, assisted by her companion, two men followed with more bundles, and the throwing began. Then we knew why young men and boys had so eagerly crowded the plaza. This was their game. Each woman took from her pile article after article and pitched it out into the crowd, maintaining her impassive expression, but hurling vigorously. We saw packages of popcorn flying through the air, tin pie-pans, boxes of matches, scattering their contents as they broke, Hopi plaques, store dishes, sacks of salt, bags of candy, yards of calico or gingham weighted with a stone and flapping like queer long-tailed birds. Once in a while one of the women, picking up something precious like a pottery bowl or a pressed-glass dish would shamelessly hand it to a favored man in the crowd. Sometimes one of them would cast a canny eye round the crowd and pick out some man to whom she would toss a bundle of Bull Durham. One woman especially was a hard, straight thrower, and she spun her tin pans flashing through the air to the very house-tops. Occasionally something flew so close to the edge of the rock as to make the breath pause for fear some eager young man would go over. But no: Hopis learn to balance on the edge of that rock in very early youth. Once in a while something did go over, to be caught by the foresighted youngsters who had been waiting among the rocks on just such a chance.
Finally the sacks were empty and the two Mana withdrew, the crowd giving place quietly to let them pass. This performance was repeated eight times during the day, with intervals for rest and food. The gayest episode was just after noon, probably because the Mana made more of a game of it, feinting a throw in one direction and then hurling the gift in another. One plaque seemed to make an especial appeal, for many men grabbed it. In the confusion it was several minutes before we realized that about twenty men were struggling. They made a hard compact mass above shifting feet and below heads thrown back openmouthed and gasping for air. They staggered from one end of the plaza to the other and were pushed back by bystanders just before they pitched over the cliff or knocked down a house. Back and forth, round and round, they fought, choking out guttural calls, welded to each other as though they never could be pulled apart. Occasionally bits of plaque flew through the air, long straw bunches, torn loose in the fracas. Finally the struggle narrowed as man after man fell off, looked himself over for torn shirtsleeves and lost hat, wiped his wet face, and joined the spectators. At last only three or four were left, grunting, straining savages, holding on with amazing endurance. Then the most powerful one began throwing his body back and forth in his final effort to throw off his opponents. They hung on like bulldogs, coming away every now and then with more straw. At last the winner was acknowledged, Harry Shapala, a store-keeper in Polacca whose very modern truck stood at the causeway. What he had for his pains was a small remnant of battered plaque, a shirt torn half
off his body, a face running with perspiration, and a sharp triumphant grin showing white teeth under his keen aquiline nose. Everybody seemed satisfied.
Meanwhile the group of women continued their singing. Sometimes they were bumped by the fighters, sometimes little girl chanters had to be rescued by men standing near. Always they kept the chant going, eyes down, hands moving regularly and softly from shoulder to shoulder, shaking down the snow for which they prayed. In the midst of the rioting they kept on with their fundamental task as women must always be concerned with fundamentals while men struggle about them, testing their strength in exhausting, exciting, but not-so-necessary fights.
A friend from Shipaulavi sat next to me on the roof, smoking my cigarettes. He had been overseas, he had written several Hopi legends which I must see. I had evidently picked up one of the Hopi intelligentsia. He watched the dance closely, giving me bits of information about the chanting, the meaning of the dance, various matters.
Finally he sighed. "I don't see why they do it so early. This dance brings hail and snow. They shouldn't do it so early. Walpi should not do this. What if we got a cold storm now?" he asked me anxiously.
What indeed? Here was Walpi, quite inconsiderate of her neighbors, regardlessly calling for hail and winter storms before the crops were in, before a suitable time. I was worried myself for fear there should be a storm and spoil things. Walpi, obviously, shouldn't do that.
Soon we had a horse-race; not that it had anything in particular to do with the day's activities, but any kind of
race any time is always welcome to Hopis. This one started a good half mile from the foot of the mesa, where the ground had been cleared for a landing-field. We saw the men going out, sitting easily on their barebacked ponies, bare-legged or in the ubiquitous underwear. They gave their mounts little try-outs up and down the field while waiting for all to get there. Meanwhile their grandstand was full of comment. They sat along the edge of the mesa, dangling a fringe of tennis-shoes, moccasins, and stiff boots. Behind them stood another row of men, a few youngsters were on the very tops of the houses, and women were on all the terraced roofs between. A gay and happy crowd, calling, as the race started, greetings in both Hopi and English. "Get going! You'll have to do better than that! Keep it up! Stay with it!" When the racers reached the trail, they slid off their horses and made the rest of the way afoot, abandoning their steeds where they stood and letting later comers get around them anyway. The winner of this race had a plaque too.
By six o'clock the women had made their last appearance and the day's ceremony was over. Most young men in the three villages must have had gifts. But they were not destined to keep them. The girls who had sat so demurely all day watching the struggle were going to get those things yet. The next day, I learned, would be held one of those Hopi free-for-alls, when the girls would race the young men and get the yards of calico, the plaque or basket, the shiny tin pan, the beautiful bowl. Old people sitting on roofs love these games, and they shout encouragement and criticism as the race goes on. Young men dash round
houses, dodge from side to side of the kivas, disappear through an opening, shout tauntingly from upper terraces; and the girls swarm after, giggling, grabbing, tearing shirts, taking the same swift turns and dashes; finally and inevitably getting the spoil.