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peoplebutton.gif (1940 bytes)Hopi

Hopi mother and child

Hopi mother and child, c. 1900. Click on image for detail. Photo NAU.PH.93.38.4 by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of Cline Library Special Collections, Northern Arizona University

The Hopi Indians of Arizona are the westernmost branch of the Pueblo Peoples who once occupied a large part of the Southwest. Their ancestors are referred to as the Anasazi by outsiders, although the Hopi call them Hisat-Sinom. The Hopi are an agricultural people, with evidence of occupation in the Hopi country [map] since around A.D. 500-700.

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Hopi cornfield at the village of Moencopi - 1941. Photo NAU.PH. by Bill Belknap courtesy of Cline Library Special Collections, Northern Arizona University.

The long and successful agricultural history of the Hopi has led to their being called the world’s greatest dry-farmers. According to the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, the Hopi view of agriculture, specifically corn, differs from academic interpretations. Since the emergence, this life is referred to as the fourth way of life for Hopis. As the Hopi moved from the third to the fourth way of life, they were offered corn by Ma'saw. The other peoples took the largest ears of corn and Hopis were left with the short blue ear. Each clan history explains how the Hopi received the short blue ear. The Hopis knew that their fourth way of life would be difficult and that they must submit to the corn as a way of life. The themes of humility, cooperation, respect, and universal earth stewardship became the lifeway of all Hopis. In this way, the Hopi believe that they have always had corn and agriculture.

The archaeological record shows that prehistoric agriculture was introduced to the northern Southwest from Mesoamerica as early as 1500 B.C. The Anasazi ancestors of the Hopi built a sophisticated agricultural civilization in many of the desert areas of the Southwest, including the southern Colorado Plateau. This era probably ended gradually in waves of drought, diseases, invasions and other crises, including a Great Drought that occured in the American west from 1276-1299. In the Four Corners region, most of these ancient population centers suffered a collapse and were abandoned at different times between 1100-1300 A.D.

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Old Oriabi, c. 1905. Photo NAU.PH.86.1.483 by Jo Mora courtesy of Cline Library Special Collections, Northern Arizona University

Hopi oral tradition records an era of wandering, destined to end with a return to the center of the Universe, the Black Mesa. This is where the Hopi live today, on three remote mesa tops at the southern edge of Black Mesa. The village of Oriabi has been continuously occupied since around 1100 A.D.

The Hopi have been able to adapt to their arid desert climate by using different agricultural methods. These methods include dry farming in the washes or valleys between the mesas as well as gardening on irrigated terraces along the mesa walls below each village. Some of the garden terraces at Paaqavi (Bacavi) have been in use since approximately A.D. 1200. Dry farming depends completely on natural precipitation--winter snows or summer monsoon rains. Terrace irrigation is possible because of the perennial springs at each village that originally permitted settlement. Today a combination of modern and traditional implements are used, including digging sticks, hoes, discs and tractors.


The Changing Physical Environment of the Hopi Indians of Arizona. This abstract from a classic 1942 paper by John T. Hack describes the geomorphology of the Hopi country,  their dry-farming methods, the effects of a recent period of arroyo-cutting, the use of sand dunes as a means of deciphering climatic change, and evidence for the effect of the changing physical environment on ancient farming.


______. "Hopi Agriculture: Introduction" [http://www.nau.edu/~hcpo-p/culture/agric.htm] 8/02/99.

Clark, S. P. 1928. Lessons from Southwestern Indian Agriculture. University of Arizona, Tucson.

Cooley, M. E., J. W. Harshbarger, J. P. Akers, W. F. Hardt, and O. N. Hicks. 1969. Regional hydrogeology of the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, D.C.

Courlander, H. 1971. The fourth world of the Hopis. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Dobyns, H. F., and R. C. Euler. 1971. The Hopi people. Indian Tribal Service, Phoenix, AZ.

Hack, J. T. 1942. The changing physical environment of the Hopi Indians of Arizona. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Hargrave, L. L. 1932. Oraibi: a brief history of the oldest inhabited town in the United States. Museum Notes of the Museum of Northern Arizona 4: 1-8.

Waters, F. 1963. Book of the Hopi: The First Revelation of the Hopi's Historical and Religious Worldview of Life. Penguin, New York.

Whiting, A. F. 1939. Ethnobotany of the Hopi. Museum of Northern Arizona.

Wilkinson, C. F. 1996. Home dance, the Hopi, and Black Mesa coal: conquest and endurance in the American southwest. Brigham Young University Law Review 1996: 449.