Hopi: The Peaceful People

For Native American artisans, their creations flow out of a centuries long tradition. Woven into their pottery, jewelry and other art are the threads of their culture, their landscape and their history. It is this connection that makes their art a tangible reflection of who they are and how they see the world. Beauty is more than a concept. It is an integral part of their artistic eye. Considered one of the most traditional societies in the United States, this is especially true of the Hopi.

Many view them as the oldest of the people. Their history is a long one. Oraibi, one of the Hopi villages still existing today, is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the US. Hopi villages are constructed today much as they have always been. Native stone houses encircle a central plaza with one or more kivas, or ceremonial rooms.

There is some disagreement today between those who would hold exclusively to their traditional ways, eschewing any influences of Anglo culture, and those who adopt the attitude that some aspects of modern American culture should be embraced if they are to continue to thrive and grow. In spite of this argument, the Hopituh-Shi-nu-mu, or the Hopi as they are known today, have maintained their culture and beliefs in a modern world. The name means “the peaceful people” and generosity, humility, respect, and concern for the needs of the whole community are the values their culture embraces.

That culture’s roots were largely in place by the 1500s and it has remained constant through their long history. For the Hopi, the concept of giving and the requirement to help those in need are integral elements of the ceremonies and their daily lives. To them, giving creates a bond between individuals and communities. “The very cornerstone of Hopi society is the exchange of mutually beneficial gifts, and relationships reconfigured by those exchanges. Gifts are communications in a language of social belonging.”

Hopi culture has uncovered another language to communicate who they are through art. Their attention to detail and eye for beauty have been a part of their history. Pottery styles such as black on white and black on red were created by the Hopi ancestors. A belief in self-reliance is reflected in the technique used to create their pottery. All true Hopi pottery is handmade using a technique known as coil and scrape. Pottery wheels and molds are not used. Clay is dug from the Hopi mesas and hand processed for use in the pottery. Ancient designs are still used for decoration. Designs are hand painted on the pottery using yucca leaves. Finished products are fired in open firing areas.

Hopi jewelry reflects the same history and culture. Jewelry designs incorporate religious or cultural ideas, and artists often mark their work with a signature such as their clan or village to show authenticity. In the 1940s, Hopi artist Fred Kabotie (1900-1986) ensured the continuation of the tradition of silversmithing by founding the Hopi Silvercraft Cooperative Guild. The Guild taught silversmithing to unemployed WWII veterans, including famed artist Charles Loloma. Through these efforts, a new generation of Hopi artists were born.

Other artists contributed to the revival of Hopi arts as well. Nampeyo (1859-1942), a potter from Hano, integrated ancient designs she had found on archaeological artifacts into her pottery. Growing outside demand for such pottery fueled the revival of Hopi arts as well.

Today the Hopi continue to produce beauty for themselves and for the rest of the world. And they continue to be a thriving community. The land of the Hopi consists of a million and a half acres in the northeastern part of Arizona. There are twelve Hopi villages which are located on three mesas. Together these villages are home to 14,041 tribal members (as of September, 20140). They also house the long history of the Hopi, standing as a geographical reminder of their ability to maintain their values and their beliefs in a modern world. Their art has spread all over the world, sending the beauty of their culture to lands far away. Their commitment to teaching their craft to each generation will allow people everywhere to enjoy the beauty of Hopi.