Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Hopi Cultural Center

Now for something different. From Zion Canyon we took a fairly long drive, about 300 miles, backtracking into Arizona to visit the Hopi Cultural Center at Second Mesa in the heart of the Hopi Nation. On the way we stopped briefly at Glen Canyon Dam, before powering on, so to speak, to the Hopi Nation which curiously, is surrounded by the lands of the Navajos. Gotta find out how that happened.

As Sharon observed at lunch, shortly after entering this land we felt like we should have passports. This is a different culture and one that has very carefully chosen what elements of mainstream culture to accept and what not, and often the decision has been made village by village. One of the things made clear in several of the villages is that, while we were welcome to visit, there are rules including prohibitions on photographing and sketching. I hope tomorrow to find out why, whether it is some sort of cultural, religious thing or a deasire not to be misrepresented. While I totally respect that limitation, I found myself looking at buildings hungrily, wanting desperately to photograph them, not because they were picturesque (they aren’t) but because they represent a culture so very foreign to us.

So, one of the things we decided to do is something I don’t think we have ever done in our travels, not even in China (which is as exotic as we have gotten) and that is to hire a guide for tomorrow. But, not content to simply laze about this afternoon, we decided to ramble on our own and ended up visiting a rather interesting village. Old Orayvi Village on the second mesa dates itself back to 900AD, though others mark it as more recently settled, in ~1100 AD. The village is purely traditional, and that means that the governing council has decreed no power lines, no running water, because to do so would disrupt the air and the ground of their ancestors. What led us there was the gallery of Sandra Hamada, which is reknowned for exquisite arts we spent a bit of money on a traditionally carved and wrought Katsina as well as some other small objects. When we return home I’ll do some images of our katsina, but for now the delicate figure is wrapped up. Sandy also educated us in the history and culture of the village, then and now.

As we emerged we were invited by one of the men of the village to visit his mother’s pottery and to see some figures that he and a friend had carved and painted. I am ashamed to say that I do not remember his name, even though I bought a signed piece of his work. I’m too lazy now to go out to the car to retrieve it. But the main event, as it were, was a fifteen minute lecture on traditional pottery making. Only later did we find out that she is a retired teacher (figures), and so she taught and demonstrated how traditional pottery is made in the ways that she learned from her grandmother.

To the outside eye, this village would look primitive, ramshackle and impoverished. It would seem to reinforce all the stereotypes of native Americans as victims, but without anyone saying it the message is clear, these are people, many of whom are educated, who have chosen to limit many of the modern conveniences in order to preserve their heritage. I don’t want to minimize the plight of Native Americans in mainstream society, or to overly romanticize, but their lives in many ways represent a balancing act that I centainly did not understand until this afternoon.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving through a bit of the rest of the Hopi nation, and as we headed back, I cheated and used about 1200 mm of real and digital telephoto to capture images of a village from a distance. These are the villages of the first mesa, as opposed to the traditionalist second mesa and they look more like the images of “impoverished” Native America we are used to seeing.

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