Aug
01

Controversy Involving the Hopi Indians: The Hopi Snake Dance, Part II

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This is the second of a three-part blog post concerning Anne Evans’ article about the Hopi Indians, their art and their Snake Dance, which was discovered after the publication of her biography.

To read the previous article, click here.

Portrait of Anne Evans DPL Western History Collection

Portrait of Anne Evans DPL Western History Collection

Anne Evans concluded her Fortnightly Club paper with a sensitive and well-informed description of the the Hopi Snake Dance. This was the subject of an earlier article, The Hopi Snake Dance, a Religious Ceremonial, the third of those that have surfaced since the biography’s publication. This article was published in the Theosophical Quarterly in April, 1912. In both articles, Evans gave a brief description of her own experience of watching parts of the Snake Dance, or, as she preferred to call it, “the dramaturgy of the Sun-serpent Myth.” It is not easy to find a satisfactory definition of dramaturgy that fits the sense in which she is using it. Perhaps the best one is “shaping a story into a form that may be acted.” She wrote both descriptive pieces in the present tense.

The Snake Dance, she says, “is an elaborate nine-day prayer for rain that the crops may ripen and our children have food–then, afterwards that we too may have to eat.” In the Hopi world, the snakes are wise Elder Brothers who, because they live underground, have “intimate relations with the spirits of springs and the germinating seeds.”

Only the dramatic events of the eighth and ninth days are performed publicly, but she observes that the entire ceremony had already, in 1912, been witnessed and written about by scientific observers, who had gained the trust of the Hopi and so were freely admitted to the kivas where much of the first parts of the ceremony take place. As a broad generalization, Evans says, the first seven days are devoted to preparation and consecration.

  • Altars, symbolizing rainclouds and lightning and the serpents of the four world quarters, are painted with colored sands: always yellow for the North, green or blue for West, red for South and white for East.
  • Pa-hos or prayer sticks, of which eagle feathers are an indispensable part, are prepared and consecrated, and deposited by bearers at surrounding shrines on the plains.
  • The bearers, on four successive days, make a complete circuit around the base of the mesa. They visit the farthest shrines on the first day. The circuit is contracted on each succeeding day, in the hope that the gods may “likewise so approach, the dry river-beds be swollen with water and the farmers hear the pattering of rain.”
  • Four days are also allocated to the capturing of the snakes. The hunt is ritually conducted, one day each to the North, East, South and West. “…afterward these formidable Elder Brothers must perforce undergo the priestly purification by water, smoke and breath before being duly laid upon the altar.”

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The book may be obtained through Buffalo Park Press

For information, email info@anne-evans.com or call 303-894-0269.
This project is co-published with the Center for Colorado and the West Auraria Library.
© 2011-2012 By Barbara Sternberg. All right reserved.