Saturday, February 9, 2013

Powamu Festival--The Hopi Bean Ceremony, Cycle of Renewal

 I was blessed last weekend to be invited by a sweet Hopi family, along with Ranelle Wallace,  to celebrate the Bean Ceremony with them.  Generally the Hopi ceremonies are closed to non-Hopi unless invited, so this was a once in a lifetime event for me.  I had been reading about the Hopi, their history, their way of life, their ceremonies, their prophecies, and the kachinas for years, and have always wanted to see the Kachinas dance.  This was on my bucket list, and I feel so blessed to have been a part of this.  We travelled down to the Hopi Cultural Center and motel, an hour south of Tuba City, Arizona, on Friday. 

We rose at 0-dark-thirty to get to our friends' house in Hoteville on the Third Mesa by 5:00 a.m.  They lived in a typical Hopi home; theirs had been built in the 1930s; small, rectangular, three rooms, built of yellow stone from the surrounding mesa walls.  They had family from out of town sleeping on the couch with their children.  This festival was like Thanksgiving or Christmas for us.  All of the family members that had left the reservation came back home to the mesa from Phoenix, Tucson and elsewhere for this important and sacred ceremony.  The homes on the mesa are small and simple, made out of stone, or a few out of cinder block, some with solar panels and some without electricity, some with running water and some having to get their water from the spring on the side of the mesa wall.  The Hopi Reservation is like a third world country.  They do not allow photographs of their villages or their ceremonies, but I took this picture from afar, where you can see the small stone houses behind the tree on top of the mesa.

Michelle, the matriarch of the home, was so excited to see us, and excited to take us out into the cold dark to wait for the first part of the ceremony.  I pray I get the facts of the ceremony and the symbolism correct, because her husband, who explained it to us, had had a stroke and couldn't speak well, and English was not his first language.  But I will relate it as I believe he told it.

They took us out, along with one of the children, and stood waiting (in the freezing cold) with a group of other Hopi waiting.  After a time, from the east came a Kachina, in shadow with a sliver of light behind her, because I believe it was the Kachina represented by this doll, the Crow Woman.  (Though the Kachina represented was a woman, all of the Kachinas are men of the tribe in mask and costume.  They become the essence of the spirit of the Kachina when they don the mask.  It is very sacred to them.)

The Crow Woman (Angwusnasomta) was walking very slowly and singing a chant, sounding somewhat like moans.  It was explained that she was crying, remembering the past, bringing it out and letting it go to be able to begin a new cycle.  This ceremony is representative of renewal, rebirth, and fertility--letting the past go and starting anew. 

Each person had a handful of sacred cornmeal that was sprinkled in front of Crow Woman, so that she would walk on sacred ground.  As she reached the group of villagers, they all lined up, sprinkled the corn meal, and made their request to the Crow Woman of health or happiness or whatever blessing they felt they needed.  Then the Crow Woman gave to them each bean sprouts, that they were to plant.  As the bean spouts grew it represented the blessings growing and being fulfilled.  We were not allowed to approach the Crow Woman, but they allowed us to watch.

When this was complete we came back to the house and Michelle fed us a delicious breakfast of eggs and potatoes and their delicious fry bread made from blue corn meal.  This little pot belly stove was their only source of heat.

It wasn't long before someone came in saying "The Kachinas are coming!"  The kids ran out as two Kachinas came up, giving the little girl a Kachina doll and the boy a bow and arrow and a gourd rattle, used in their dances.  These were hand made, beautifully crafted, traditionally made by their uncles, but the children believed they were gifts from the Kachinas.

The girls hang the Kachina dolls on their walls or from the beams of their house.  Each Kachina has a different purpose.  They represent the spirits sent to help them live the Hopi Way and to teach the children to be kind and obedient.  The Hopi believe that the Kachinas live in the San Fernando Mountains and used to come be with them, but because of disobedience they no longer come in solid form, so the men take on their spirits.  The children believe the Kachinas are the true spirits until they are around 8 to 10 years of age, when they are initiated at the Bean Ceremony, and taken into the Kivas where the Kachinas remove their masks and they see that they are actually their relatives and friends, representing the spirits.

The Kivas are underground ceremonial rooms, considered very sacred.  The Hopi ancestors were said to live underground until their world was destroyed and the ant people helped them climb up ladders onto the earth.  The Kivas represent the anthills of the Ant People, who continue to give spiritual help to the Hopi.  They enter and exit the Kivas through ladders.  There were six kivas in the village of Hotevilla.

Sixteen days before the Bean Ceremony, the initiated men and boys bring sand into the Kiva and plant bean seeds.  They showed us the seeds and they appear to be lima beans.  They keep the Kiva hot with a fire burning continuously, and moist, with a blanket over a hole to allow the beans to grow.  Besides the bean sprouts presented by the Crow Woman in the early morning, each family received a large handful of the sacred bean sprouts to make their ceremonial bean sprout soup with.  Here is Michelle preparing the bean sprouts for the soup, and I am cutting salt pork to add to the soup. 

We were blessed to share the meal of bean sprout soup and salt pork.  Michelle had also made piki bread.  Piki bread is a significant food both culturally and nutritionally to the Hopi, and is usually used in ceremonies. The technique used to make the bread is difficult to master and has been passed down from mothers to daughters for generations.  It is becoming more rare as it is difficult to make, so we were excited to experience it.

To make the bread, women finely grind blue corn—which is grown and harvested in the community—and blend it with the burnt ash of juniper berries. The corn meal is then blended with water to produce a light batter that the women spread on a hot, well-seasoned stone with their bare hands. They are placed on the stone while it heats and when they pop, the stone is warm enough to make the bread. The result of this process is a delicate, crispy wafer-thin bread that is is a beautiful grey, blue-green color with a blue corn flavor.

That afternoon we gathered on the streets of the village to see the Kachinas dance.  All of the villagers and their relatives brought out chairs to spend the afternoon.  Many were on the roofs of their homes.

The different Kachinas "lived" in the various six Kivas in the village.  The first ones came out of the first kiva and danced to each kiva as the Kachinas came out.  They danced around the village streets, from kiva to kiva, four times, and then went back the other way, with the Kachinas going back into their kiva the last time.  While they danced the streets many of the Kachinas were seeking out children and giving them the gifts of Kachina dolls and bows and arrows.  The gifts were all very detailed and very different, very beautiful.  The different Kachinas had different purposes.  Some Kachinas entertained, some chased each other and some of the spectators, some threatened violence to the disobedient, etc.  It was a delightful afternoon.

While we were waiting for the Kachinas to pass by between rounds, Ranelle balanced rocks.  The Hopi were fascinated.  One boy came and worked at it but didn't succeed.  A woman came by and gave Ranelle some bean sprouts to plant.  They were all very kind to us, though very white and strangers.

After the Kachinas finished dancing through the village, we found Grandfather Monroe's house, the last living traditional Hopi elder, now 100 years old, holder of the prophecies.

The 15,000 or so Hopis are a small nation, but their sense of burden is great. According to a 900-year-old religious tradition, the Great Spirit Maasau'u, Guardian of the Earth, assigned them the duty of preserving the natural balance of the world and entrusted them with a series of ominous prophecies warning of specific threats and providing guidance on how to avoid them. They tell the world to stop war and care for the earth, or a third disaster would come.  The first and second world wars fulfilled their prophecies with amazing detail.  Their prophecies state a third disaster will come, but the world can change it if they change their way of life and become one people and care for the earth.  Grandfather Monroe is deaf, but we could communicate by writing to him.  He was very concerned because of underground aquafers drying up because of improper use.  He kept saying no one will believe it.

Grandfather Monroe's family said that as a younger man he would run 14 miles a day back and forth to care for his corn fields.  We found out that the woman that gave Ranelle the bean sprouts was part of his family and cared for him.  They invited us in to eat of their bean sprout soup.  They were very gracious and kind, to invite us into their very small home with very many mouths to feed.

 The ceremonies then moved into the Kivas.  We were not allowed in the Kivas but were told we could watch from above.  However, the public dancing didn't start until 1 a.m. and we had a long trip back home the next day, so we chose not to participate.  We were told that this is when the Kachinas remove their masks and show themselves, dancing without their masks in the kiva.

This time with the Hopi will always be etched in my memory.  It will always remind me to cry and release the past and look forward to the blessings of the future.  It will remind me that everything comes and goes in cycles--relationships, trials, life events, and even the earth events.   I choose to work harder at living the way of peace and harmony with my fellow human family and with our Mother Earth. 

Until we meet again,
Dr. Judi