6/8/04: No More Hopis?
was busy cleaning the glass counter tops to the jewelry cases
when I heard the little brass bells ring, letting me know that
someone had just come through the front door. I had only been
working in the gallery for a few months and was anxious to make
a good impression on a would-be customer. I smiled and greeted
the couple as they came up the short flight of old wooden stairs
leading into the main parlor. They were obviously getting on
in age and appeared to be local. I noticed them as they browsed
around the shop, admiring various pieces of artwork and thumbing
through the library of books on topics ranging from modern art
to Hopi history. It was the latter that seemed to interest the
with all of our visitors, I approached and asked if I could help
them find something in particular or if they had any questions
I could answer for them. I was hoping that this might open up
an avenue for conversation and provide an opportunity for small-talk
if nothing else. He looked up from the book he was holding, smiled
at me, and asked, "Have you read any of these books?"
I replied that I had read some of them, but most I had only read
portions of. "Well, what did you think of what you've read?"
he asked, he was still smiling. I could tell this was leading
up to a trick question, but I wanted to see where he was going,
so I put it back on him. "I don't know. I've read a lot
of stories that don't always agree. What do you make of all of
looked down at the book again and flipped through a few pages,
as if here were reminiscing about the time he last read the volume
he was holding. As he placed it back upon the shelf, he laughed
softly and looked back up at me. He had a more serious look in
his eyes. "Unfortunately the stories have been told so many
times by so many different people and written down in so many
different ways, there's really nothing left that's accurate."
I could tell by this statement that he was more disappointed
than amused by the collection of writings that exist on the subject
of Hopi history and culture.
next assumption was that he was Hopi, since he seemed to have
some knowledge of the subject and certainly had an opinion. "So
you're Hopi then?" I inquired. "No
paused and looked away, "No, I'm not Hopi." He looked
back at me again with that soft smile. I was confused. If he's
not Hopi, then he must be Pueblo and probably married into the
Hopi tribe. "So where are you from?" I asked. "My
wife is from Shungopavi," he said. "Oh so, she's Hopi
then," I tried to confirm. He laughed softly again and shook
his head, "No, she's not Hopi either." By now, he could
tell I was perplexed.
he said something that I will never forget, "There are no
more Hopis." Obviously the next question out of my mouth
was "What do you mean there are no more Hopis?"
I was getting frustrated, but at the same time I was even more
curious. Although I probably shouldn't have pressed him with
so many questions, he must have felt that I was sincere, because
his posture relaxed as he leaned up against one of the cases
and began to explain. "Hopi is a way of life - more than
it is a skin color or tribal affiliation." He continued,
"Hopi is to possess true charity. It is without enmity,
jealousy, greed, or guile. Are you Christian?" he asked.
I replied in the affirmative, and he said "To be Hopi is
to be Christ-like." I began to understand. As a result of
my own religious upbringing I had always been taught to strive
to develop a virtuous character, much like the one he had just
described. He pointed at me and nodded his head, "You could
be Hopi." I thought about that for a moment and realized
that this man probably was Hopi according to the tribal roster
but possessed an elevated sense of self-awareness that prevented
him from declaring that he truly was Hopi, much like many
Christians would probably refrain from believing that they had
it became clearer to me that Hopi was an aspiration -
a philosophy. It was an ideal that he believed was supreme. To
him it meant purity of heart. The irony was that he was probably
closer to being Hopi than most others but was the first to realize
that he still had a long way to go. I suppose it hasn't helped
that our Western ways have encroached many Native peoples and
their ways of life. With money, alcohol, technology, and politics,
it's easy to become distracted. It's easy to lose focus.
this is the reason behind these great works of art. The true
sense of Hopi is yearning to be preserved. It's longing to be
embraced. I see it in the delicate jewelry lines and elaborate
pottery murals. It is in the fluid motion of a kachina carver's
masterpiece. The beauty, elegance, grace - and purity is still
alive. Although there are still some who possess many of the
characteristics and attributes of a true Hopi, I realized that
"Hopis" are vanishing all over the world. In a day
and age where we are overcome by convenience and indulgence,
I'm grateful for the opportunities that I have to pause and reflect
on the real beauty in life - the love of family and friends and
the glorious creations of both God and man.
there always be Hopi.
Without Reservations: Index