Jul
17

Controversy Involving the Hopi Indians: The Hopi Snake Dance

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This is the first in a series of three blog posts about Anne Evans’ article on the Hopi Snake Dance.

A recent controversy involving the Hopi Indians of Southwest Mexico reminded me that I had promised to write a blog post about the last of several articles, written by Anne Evans, that have come to light since the publication of her biography. The article, Hopi Snake Dance, was published in 1912.

Hopi and Eagles
The recent controversy was about whether the Hopi should be allowed to continue an age-old tradition. Each Hopi village raises a young eagle, feeding them with rabbits hunted by young boys, until the time of the Home Dance “when the Katsina spirits perform and the eagle absorbs their song-prayers.” When the ceremony is over, the eagles are taken to a quiet place and quickly suffocated. “Their spirits are sent home with the Katsinas until the following year, when both are petitioned to return with their blessing power. Their bodies are taken to the kivas, where feathers are carefully plucked and arranged by religious purpose.” The bodies are then buried with great reverence in a special cemetery, treating them exactly the same as human beings.

The Denver Post of May 26, 2013 carried a “pro and con” discussion of the issue. I believe Anne Evans would have deeply appreciated the viewpoint of David Whiteley, Curator of North American Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and a long-time student of Hopi culture and history, who wrote the “pro” side of the debate, (from which the quotes above are taken) supporting the Hopi right to carry on their ancestral tradition.

Whiteley notes that the Hopi have lived on the Colorado Plateau for at least a thousand years and that their whole culture, and interaction with their “landscape of little water,” is essentially conservationist “The strongest surviving indigenous tradition in North America, Hopi religion focuses on seasonal and daily attention to preserving the world in balance.” The real threat to the survival of raptors, he writes, lies in residential and municipal development in the region, and in industrial development throughout the West “Self-righteous blame of Hopi eagle-gathering is myopic scapegoating, and neglects true threats to those species and possible means to avert them.”

Anne Evans and the Hopi

Anne Evans wrote two articles about what she learned from her many visits to what she called “Hopi Land.” She made no secret of her sheer delight in this experience.

I understand that many good Americans when they die, are going to Paris. I’m secretly hoping that when one American dies, she may alternate Paris with Hopi land – about half and half, with a slight preponderance in favor of the latter.

Hopi potter Nampayo

Nampeyo at work painting a small pot, ca. 1905. Photograph by Edward S. Curtis. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/
fts/louisville_200704A15.html

I wrote about one of these articles in my biography of Anne Evans (pages 305-311)1. It was prepared for a 1920 presentation to the Denver Fortnightly Club. Her subject was The Art Impulse of the Hopi Indians2. In it she said that her intention was not to deal with the artifacts of Hopi culture, but to try to understand the “art impulse and the conditions which produce it.” After reviewing the life and accomplishments of the Hopi potter Nampayo – interwoven with the experience of choosing one of her pots to purchase, and have decorated by her husband – Anne Evans concluded that the mainsprings of the Hopi Art Impulse were “Contemplation, Concentration, and Vision.”

Perhaps, she says, these are universal wellsprings of art, but it is difficult in our complex “modern, everyday world” with its “mesh of native and foreign influences to be disentangled” to achieve what she saw in Hopi culture.

… their joy lies in their arts; in the patient production of pottery and textiles and baskets – in the songs which they sing at work and play and ceremonial – and in their dances and dramaturgies – all springing from a spontaneous desire of creation, so universal that no dividing line exists between audience and actor; between artist and creator.


1 Sternberg, Barbara E. with Jennifer Boone and Evelyn Waldron. Anne Evans – A Pioneer in Colorado’s Cultural History: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE. Evergreen: Buffalo Park Press with Center for Colorado and the West Auraria Library. 2011.

2 Anne Evans, “The Art Impulse of the Hopi Indians,” Denver Public Library, Western History Department, Denver Fortnightly Society Collection. 1920. 7.

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