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Ceremonies of the Hopi People

written by: Bruno Kos • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/2/2012

Are you interested in the meaning of Kiva, Paho and other? Never heard of the Four Corners religious ceremonies? If you want to gain insight into the ceremonies of the Hopi people, all these terms (and much more) are covered in this article.

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    The Hopi people are a group of indigenous Native American people who currently live primarily in the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona. According to the 2000 US census, they have a population of approximately 7,000 members. The article will outline the most important Hopi ceremonies and corresponding terms.

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    Four Corners Religious Ceremonies

    The Hopi people come from the Four Corners, a region of the United States consisting of the southwest corner of Colorado, northwest corner of New Mexico, northeast corner of Arizona and southeast corner of Utah. They perform nine religious ceremonies that are inherited ancient rituals, and rather complex at that. Anyone interested to learn more about these ceremonies should be aware that it would take years to understand the meaning of the rituals themselves, including the preparation and spirituality. This is despite the fact that the songs, costumes and dances performed during the ceremonies are themselves simple.

    Regardless of many other ceremonies that are performed throughout the year (for example Wuwuchim - the first winter ceremony, followed by Soyal and Powamu), the Four Corners religious ceremonies represent the Hopi Road of Life.

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    Kiva is the most important part of many ceremonies. It is an underground chamber where the rituals are performed by the clan’s priests. Actually, Kiva represents the world wherefrom people emerged. As it is assumed, it is very large, so several clans can be situated there simultaneously.

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    Paho is a prayer-feather, usually being an eagle feather (although any kind of feather can be used). Paho must be well prepared, due to the fact that it is an essential part of the ceremonies.

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    Cornmeal has significant meaning and therefore it should be always included. Kachina spirits approach the village while following the paths of cornmeal, and the cornmeal is supposed to prevent the entrance of all living creatures inside the ceremony area during the night of the Wuwuchim ceremony. Cornmeal is also used for drawing the Road of Life in Kiva.

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    No Errors Allowed

    Hopi people put very much faith and perfection in performance during these ceremonies. Therefore, if only one word is omitted or misspelled, or if one mistake is done during the dance, the performer will be discredited. This would also mean that the entire village might suffer from misfortune. They also believe that wrong thoughts are known to the spirits.

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    Ceremony Announcement

    Every Hopi ceremony must be announced, which is something that is performed by a Crier Chief while standing on the roof of a house. Since tobacco is a sacred plant to the Hopi, it is understandable that smoking is an important part of every ceremony, used in several rituals.

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    Presence of Non-Hopi people

    Some Hopi ceremonies can be attended by non-Hopi people, but there are some strict rules to be followed. For example, non-Hopis are not allowed to shout, applaud, take photographs or record events with a camera. Observers should stand on the rooftop, where other Hopi people that are not involved with the ceremonies stand.

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    As it is the case with many other groups of indigenous Native American people, the Hopi have some unique customs that are a real treasure - not only to themselves, but to other people as well. Further, one can learn much from their way of life, as the name Hopi, derived from "Hopita," refers to people that are “peaceful ones". Consider their anti-war attitude, morality, ethics, and respect for all things: With the modern world striving to reach these values, it is hard to find a better start than getting acquainted with the Hopi and their customs.

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    Frank Waters: The Book of the Hopi, 1977

    Thomas E. Mails: The Hopi Survival Kit: The Prophecies, Instructions and Warnings Revealed by the Last Elders, 1997.