One More for the Hopi

[The following post includes the first few pages of a new book that I am writing entitled Modern Encounters of the Hopi Past]

Introduction – One More for the Hopi

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Emory Sekaquaptewa, Photo courtesy of the Navajo-Hopi Observer

When I was a young scholar, I had the opportunity to speak with Hopi elder Emory Sekaquaptewa, who at the time was professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I had traveled to campus to interview for a faculty position in the Department of American Indian Studies, and he graciously took time out of his busy schedule to visit with me. He inquired about my family, and I shared with him school records that I uncovered about his father at the Sherman Indian Museum in Riverside, California.

He spoke to me as my elder. He was gracious, welcoming, and kind, but he was also very direct. He seemed disappointed that I wanted to return to Arizona so early in my career, explaining positive reasons for our people to spend time away from home. We discussed several topics during our visit. But there was one that proved especially meaningful to me and serves as the intellectual energy behind this book: “I want to write a history book with you that we can use back home,” he said to me, “for our teachers and students.” 

Emory knew the significance for Hopi people to write their own history. And he knew the importance for Hopi scholars to share that knowledge with a wide audience, including those in our village communities. Emory had grown up in the village of Hotevilla Screen Shot 2019-12-30 at 12.17.01 PMon the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona. His willingness to receive an education beyond the mesas and teach at a university, paved the way for other Hopi academics such as myself. He showed us how to excel at a research institution. And he demonstrated the importance for us to meet scholarly expectations while remaining closely connected to home.

Having navigated the world of our people and that of an American university, Emory was familiar with the academic and cultural terrain that lay before me and other Hopi scholars. He realized that for us to excel in the academy, we needed to publish our work. And he knew that for me to succeed as a Hopi historian, I needed to provide research that was meaningful and useful to my people. 

The co-author of books and numerous articles, Emory also understood the power of the printed word, and of its ability to carry the Hopi voice to a diverse and sometimes unexpected audience. Not long after I started working at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I taught a class on Native American religious traditions. Among the readings that I assigned to my students was a chapter by Emory entitled “One More Smile for a Hopi Clown.” In it, Emory explains the meaning of clowning in Hopi culture. He describes in great detail skits between the clowns, katsina dancers, and spectators in a village plaza.

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University of Illinois, Photo courtesy of E. Jason Wambsgangs, Chicago Tribune

The drama unfolding in the plaza and on the pages of Emory’s chapter captivated the minds of my students. Emory likely never imagined that forty years after he published the essay, students and a Hopi professor in Illinois would be contemplating his every word. He took us with him to a different world, a world of Hopi ceremony, laughter, and clowning. He forced us to consider the value of lightheartedness and the role of humor and self-awareness. And through story and by his example he taught us to not take life or ourselves too seriously. For as Emory so aptly reminds us, the “heart of the concept of Hopi clowning is that we are all clowns.”

To be continued…

Hopi clowning and the life of Michael Kabotie

This semester I am teaching a course on Native religious traditions.  Last week I assigned Emory Sekaquaptewa’s article “One More Smile for a Hopi Clown.”

After reading this article, one of my students sought additional information on Hopi clowning and discovered the above video on Youtube.

She wrote a really interesting post about it on her class blog.

The video is a fascinating look into Hopi clowning and the life of Hopi artist Michael Kabotie. Ed Kabotie, Michael Kabotie’s son, is the one giving the presentation.

Hopi children’s books at Walnut Canyon National Monument

Photograph by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

This past summer I took my family to Walnut Canyon National Monument in northern Arizona. When we entered the visitor center gift shop, my girls immediately ran to the shelves with children’s books and “oohed” and “aahed” over the glossy pages with colorful illustrations. At least half of the books in the gift shop were for young readers, and some of them were on the Hopi.

At Walnut Canyon, park officials mostly had books about the Hopi that non-Hopi people wrote. One of these books was Heather Irbinskas The Lost Kachina. While The Lost Kachina was written by a non-Hopi, the book was illustrated by Hopi artist Robert Albert (Sahkomenewa) from Moencopi. There was at least one Hopi-authored children’s book on the shelves, namely Michael Lomatuway’Ma’s The Magic Hummingbird, which he co-wrote with Ekkert Malotki, a non-Hopi linguist. There are other Hopi-written children’s books that park officials did not include in the  shop such as Polingaysi Qoyawayma’s The Sun Girl and Emory Sekaquaptewa’s (et. al.) Coyote and Little Turtle: Iisaw Niqw Yongospnhoy.

For the past several months my friend and colleague Debbie Reese from Nambe Pueblo has encouraged me to write a children’s book on the Hopi. Debbie authors a very successful blog titled American Indians in Children’s Literature. On her blog she critically examines children’s books about American Indians  and challenges authors to portray Native people in accurate and respectful ways. If you are not familiar with Debbie’s blog, be sure to visit it at the following address: http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/

My post is not intended to critique the books in the Walnut Canyon gift shop. Sahkomenewa’s illustrations in The Lost Kachina are quite remarkable, and I assume that he would not illustrate a book on the Hopi that he did not approve of himself. Perhaps one day I will take up Debbie’s challenge and write a children’s book of my own. We certainly need more Hopis today writing and illustrating children’s books. And we need more publishers, school librarians, teachers, and even federal park officials to make Hopi authored books available to children.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert