A Drumstick’s Story: Part 23

By Joe Liles
News From Indian Country June 2010

A Drumstick's Story: Part 22

With special thanks the Hopi Nation, the People of Peace.

In my last story, I told you how R.D. and I joined E-rock, R.I.P., and Don’t Worry on a road trip.  We went to visit Don’t Worry’s home in Shongopovi in Hopi country.  Don’t Worry’s mom gave us a great feast even though we arrived late at night.  The next morning, she told us stories as we sat around the breakfast table. “There are many different teachings about how the Hopi came to this land,” she said. “There are even different beliefs as to the location of the place we emerged from down below to where we are now, what we call The Fourth World.  But one thing is constant. This is the story of our migrations.

“As my son told you last night, the different clans of the Hopi set out in different directions. Each clan was told to make its way independently to each of the Four Directions and then return to find our promised land. We were told to leave the marks of our clans in the various places we traveled so those who came behind us would know we had been there. There are stories about how the clans went as far as the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, all the way to the frozen north, and all the way to the tip of South America.

“We were told to make a cornmeal offering to the Creator each time we reached the end of our journey to each direction. It was corn that sustained us on our journeys. We regard corn as our mother just as we do Mother Earth because corn is the milk of our mother that was made especially for us as a people.

“You might have to take a leap of faith in order to believe what I am about to tell you. Each clan was given something extremely powerful to aid them in their travels. This was a magic water jar. If a clan ever stopped in a place that did not have water, this jar was planted in a sacred way. Water would pour forth out of this new spring so our people could live there. This is the way we stayed strong throughout the years of our wandering.  Our life has been hard.  We had to depend on our prayers to survive.

“Philbert, why don’t you show your friends around our village and then you can come back here for some lunch.”

We all kind of chuckled to hear Don’t Worry’s real name. Philbert had a nice ring to it. I liked it.

Philbert took us outside, and we walked down the dirt road in front of his house. I rode in my customary place, stuck through one of R.D.’s belt loops. I noticed most of the houses were very old. They were made by stacking up rocks. The rocks fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The rocks were red, the dirt on the road was red, and the sky was blue. It was a beautiful day! The sunlight of early morning bathed the top of the mesa, the houses, and us, too. I noticed a surprising thing, though.  Some of the houses had rooms added onto them using another kind of rock. These rocks were fairly big and had perfectly square corners. They were laid out in neat alternating rows.  They were painted the same color as the natural rocks and the land that surrounded us.

Philbert interrupted my thoughts.  “Look up there on that house’s roof!” He exclaimed. Sitting on the roof was a mature eagle. I could hardly believe my eyes.

Philbert continued, “Some of our clan members raise eagles.  These eagles give us feathers to use in our ceremonies.  These feathers are very important to us.  It was the eagle that greeted us soon after we emerged into this land.  The eagle told us that it was the master of height. He told us to use his feathers to carry our prayers to the Creator.”

The eagle watched us as we walked by.  Philbert took us down the road to the plaza area we had passed in the dark last night. Near the middle of the plaza were some low buildings. There were ladders coming out of the rooftops.

“Those are the kivas of Shongopovi,” Philbert said. “The kiva is where we hold our ceremonies.  It is said that when you are in the kiva, it is like being in the womb of your mother.  When you climb up the ladder, you are emerging into a new world.”

All this took me back to the kiva at Laguna.  I wondered if all these kivas were related to each other. 

“We have a series of annual ceremonies in the kivas in most of the Hopi villages. These ceremonies are timed in accordance with the cycles of the sun, the moon, and the stars. These ceremonies are held to assure that new life comes to the world each year. In this way our crops and plant life and animal life all over the earth receive the benefit of our prayers. All parts of the Creation are remembered in our ceremonies. No part is left out. Our ceremonies are not just for the Hopi; they are for all the Earth and everything on it.

“We Hopis have help from beyond this world to help us with our ceremonies and to help our children grow up in the way given to us by the Creator. These are the Kachinas. Their name tells us what they are. In the Hopi language Ka means respect and China means spirit. We respect these spirits that have been with us since our migrations and are still with us today. They come down from their home in the San Francisco Mountains to attend our ceremonies during specific times of the year. They are intermediaries from the Star World.  They have helped us survive many hard times in the past.  We depend on them for the future.”

We circled the plaza with reverence. Some of the villagers were stirring in the morning. Several of them watched us carefully as we walked by. I think they recognized Philbert, but I could tell they were wondering about the rest of us.

We stopped at an outcropping of the red rocks.  I could see another mesa in the distance, or maybe it was an offshoot of this one.  I could see there was another village up there.  The houses looked small from where we were. It looked as if they were growing out of the top of the mesa.  All the guys took a seat, and we enjoyed this view for a while.

“There’s one more thing I want to share with you,” Philbert said.  “When the Hopi clans divided up to go on their separate migrations, they were given sacred tablets by someone we call Masaw. Masaw is the caretaker of this Fourth World and the one underneath us. Masaw gave the Bear Clan tablets that established the ancestral lands of the Hopi.  It is said that these lands run from the Colorado River in the west to the Rio Grande in the east.

“Masaw gave the Fire Clan another tablet.  It was a small tablet that was missing one corner. Masaw gave the corner piece to another race of people, the White People. We call them the Pahanas. We were told that there would come a time when the Hopis would be forced to live under the laws of a new ruler.

“Although it was said that these times would be hard, we were told to hold on to our traditions and our religion, but not to resist this new ruler. We were told that, when the time was right, our long lost White Brother, Pahana, would appear to us.

“We would know it was the true Pahana because he would come bearing the missing corner piece of the tablet. It was said that this reunion of brothers would bring about a new period of life for all people. The earth would see a time of peace and universal brotherhood.  We still have our part of the tablet.  We are waiting.

“The Hopis first encountered the White People when the Spaniards came in the 1800’s. They thought at first that the lost brother Pahana had arrived.  They had the tablet right there.  They were ready for the time of universal brotherhood.  But the Spaniards had no idea what the Hopi were talking about.  Instead they tried to force their religion on us.

“There was yet another time we thought the brother Pahana had come.  This time he showed up with a cannon.  It was then we realized that the time was not right.  We are still waiting.

“The translation of our name Hopi tells who we are.  Our name means People of Peace.  This has given us blessings in a life that is close to the Creator.  But it has also resulted in many people taking advantage of us as a People of Peace.  Our lands have been encroached upon by Indians and non-Indians.  There are those who destroy our sacred shrines we use to honor the Kachinas.  There are those who let their cattle and sheep muddy the waters of our sacred springs.

“But we are holding on.  We know we picked the short ear of blue corn.  We know our life will be hard, but we know we will survive if we do not abandon the ways given to us by the Creator.”

I felt I had learned much in a very short amount of time. It made me thankful that I am a drumstick.  Sure, there are many things I cannot do. Sure, I am dependent on people like R.D. to take care of me and use me in a good way. But I believe I can bring good things, good feelings to others. This is what the Creator gave me to do. I am thankful for all these teachings that keep coming into my life.

But I can’t help but wonder what is coming next.

. . . to be continued.

Comments and assistance:

Joe Liles
Faculty Emeritus
NC School of Science and Math
1219 Broad Street
Durham, NC 27705
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