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The Pueblo Peoples

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The Pueblo peoples are Native Americans in the Southwestern United States who have lived in the time period of 100AD to present day. The Pueblo believed in a vast collection of mythology, known as Hopi Mythology. The Hopi religion maintains a religious tradition stretching back over centuries, though it is difficult to definitively state what all Hopis as a group believe. Like the oral traditions of many other societies, Hopi mythology is not always told consistently and each pueblo, or village, may have its own version of a particular story. But, even though regional variants exist, “in essence the variants of the Hopi myth bear marked similarity to one another”.

The creation story of the Hopi mythology is one such story, a myth through which the Hopi people define their identity as a people. The myth recalls the creation of the ancestors of the Hopi, who wondered the beginnings of the Earth and settled in the area that later became of the heart of the tribe. Hopi mythology centers around Tawa, the sun spirit. Tawa is the creator in Hopi mythology, and it was he who made the “First World” out of an endless space known as Tokpella. Tawa also formed the first inhabitants of this world from the same emptiness. Other accounts have it that Tawa first created his nephew, Sotuknang, whom he sent to create the nine universes according to his plan. In this myth Sotuknang created Spider Grandmother, or Spider Woman. Spider Grandmother served as a messenger between the creator and the people. In some versions of the Hopi creation myth, it is Spider Grandmother who creates all life under the direction of Sotuknang, rather than Tawa himself. The role of and identity of Spider Grandmother differs greatly from tribe to tribe, and has a presence in the Hopi, Navajo, and Ojibwe mythology. In a majority of Hopi myth, Spider Grandmother is the creator of humans and identified as the “Earth Goddess”. Hopi legend splits the universe into multiple planes of existence, with the pueblo people migrating from world to world, and that the current earth is the Fourth World to be inhabited. The story states that in each previous world, the people, though originally happy, became disobedient and lived contrary to Tawa’s plan. The most obedient were delivered by Spider Grandmother to the next higher world to live in a higher plane of existence and closer to Tawa. The most prevalent story of Hopi emergence into the Fourth World is that Spider Grandmother caused a hollow reed to grow into the sky, and it emerged in the Fourth World at the sipapu (portal from one world to another). The people then climbed up the reed into this world, emerging from the sipapu.

Masauwu, also known as Skeleton Man, was the Spirit of Death, Earth God, and the Keeper of Fire. He was also the Master of the Fourth World, and has an influence in the state of the Earth as it appears today, while Spider Grandmother has little control over this physical world. Masauwu is is often depicted as wearing a hideous mask, but again showing the diversity of myths among the Hopi, Masauwu was alternately described as a handsome, bejewelled man beneath his mask or as a bloody, fearsome creature. Other important deities include the twin war gods, the Child of Sun and the Child of the water, the kachinas, and the trickster, Coyote. Anthropological efforts to document the Hopi belief system have been largely unsuccessful, as many traditional stories and folktales are withheld from outsiders. As a result, it’s difficult to know what represents genuine Hopi beliefs and which are stories told to anthropologists while withholding sacred beliefs. As folklorist Harold Courlander states, “there is a Hopi reticence about discussing matters that could be considered ritual secrets or religion-oriented traditions”. In addition, Hopis have a history of assmilitating foreign ideas into their mythology (such as Navajo tradition and Christianity, even aspects of Aztec culture), making it difficult to tell when and how the Hopi mythology has evolved. The Hopi had contact with the Spanish as early as the 16th century, and many Spanish missions were built in Hopi villages from 1629 onward and were used for conversion of natives until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Up until the revolt many native practices (pueblo masks, prayer sticks, effigies, and Kachina dances) were banned and even punishable by death. However, after the revolt, the Hopi were able to keep the Spanish out of their villages permanently, repelling many attempts for nearly two centuries. As a result, the Hopi mesas are relatively untouched by European culture when compared to many other native tribes.

One major mark of European contact that has remained, however, is the persisting celebration of Catholic Holidays. For many Pueblos, their feast day is held on the day sacred to its Roman Catholic patron saint, Saint Dominic, established by missionaries to coincide with pre-existing Catholic traditions. Some Pueblos also hold sacred ceremonies around Christmas and at other Christian holidays. These ceremonies often feature traditional dances and native imagery combined with Christian traditions, and are usually held outdoors in the large common areas and courtyards. Public observances may also include a Roman Catholic Mass and processions, showing that despite the Pueblo Revolt’s success in repelling the Spanish from New mexico, their influence has remained for centuries to come. Because of the massive influx of outside tourists who have attended these dances in the pueblos since the late 20th century, such ceremonies are now open to outsiders by personal invitation only. Private sacred ceremonies are still conducted inside the Pueblos, though many are closed to outsiders.

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