On a Sunday in Early March I was able to witness kachina* dances in two Hopi villages, Old Oraibi and Shongopovi (located on 3rd and 2nd mesa, respectively). Unlike the night dances, and the dances on First Mesa, these dances were open to Bahana (white people) as long as you are respectful. This respectful approach includes but is not limited to: proper dress (easy on a cold, windy day) reverence for the event, and no photography or note-taking. It was also helpful that the other volunteers I was with had established relationship with Hopi in each village who were kind enough to extend an invitation for us to join them. While my appearance stuck out, I did not feel unwelcome, as the attention of everyone in attendance was fixed upon the dancers. 

The blowing wind caused the sand to swirl through the central plaza and side streets. I had to shield my eyes to see without the sand pelting against them, and this only worked so well. At times I allowed myself the reprieve of closing my eyes, forcing my other senses to create a memory of the experience. The sounds featured prominently, as the strong wind blew away any of the smells associated with the foods being prepared in the homes which line the plaza. Noqwivi, a stew of hominy and lamb served with red and green chilis on the side, and piiki bread (a wafer-thin bread prepared from blue corn and bean ash) were two of the wishes that I had the opportunity to state. The richness of the stew, enjoyed within the warmth and tranquil air of our friends’ clan house, was the perfect source of nourishment on the blustery Sunday afternoon. 

I let the sights and sounds transport me to a foreign space. As the wind pressed against me, and blew sand at my face, the dancing, singing, and drumming, the noise of the bells and the uniform motions of the dancers and the shaking gourd rattles persisted; unaffected by the external forces of the world at large. Or was the wind a result of their timeless ritual, brought about by ceremony and emanating from this center of the world? I am unable to say. Regardless, the ceremony proceed. Bare-chested and clad in short, the dancers remained focused and coordinated in this something larger than themselves. 

The crowd too, while bundled up in coats and blankets, watched on with unwavering attention. Respect and tolerance, key values of the Hopi were on display. Respect towards the kachinas and the ceremony, and tolerance of the swirling wind and sand. If the children were complaining about the weather and sand, I did not notice it.

As the kachinas finished a round of song and dance, they filed out of the plaza to make their way back underground into the kiva. The crowd dispersed as well, returning to their homes for a brief intermission. As we left I gazed upon the myriad of figures cloaked in blankets, some featuring traditional designs, others with popular-culture references and cartoon characters. Dogs ran through the crowd hoping to find dropped or forgotten food. (The exchange of food plays a central role in the festivities)

We returned to the car parked on the outskirts of the village, and I proceeded to pick up y phone and check the score of my favorite basketball team’s game – they were losing, but I didn’t care. I put down the phone and reflected upon the day’s events and what they meant to me. Months later, I’m still sorting it out. I suspect it will take a while. 

 

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