Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Kokopelli: Ancient Myth/Modern Icon

Book Review: Kokopelli: Ancient Myth/Modern Icon – by Wayne Glover (Camelback/Canyonlands Publishing, 1995)

This short book was concise yet informative and a good introduction to the famed humpback flute –player shared by several ancient and modern native tribes of the American Southwest. Kokopelli is most often considered a spirit-mediator between humans and gods. In Hopi lore he is a Kachina. He is associated with rain and fertility, of paramount importance in the area where droughts could be devastating and life and health was dependent on successful farming. 

Kokopelli is depicted in rock art of the Southwest. He is well-liked among several tribes and his image adorns gift shops and he is known and popular among many Native American tribes. The ideas about Kokopelli are quite varied and the lore and legends surrounding him vary quite a bit among tribes and clans. His popularity among tourists has brought mixed feelings to Native Americans, says the author, who has Native American ancestry. The author notes that Kokopelli may be the synthesis of several different characters, both mythical and real, according to the different tribes and clans.

He begins with a quick chronology of human history in the Americas. It is thought that humans first came to the Americas from Siberia beginning possibly 30,000 to 40,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch, possibly chasing game across ice and tundra. Between 9500 and 9000 B.C.E. the North American Southwest had lush grasslands, wetter weather, and more abundant game than today. By around 8500-8000 B.C.E. the Southwest had become similar in climate to today with only a few exceptions (mainly a brief period around 2000 B.C.E). Mastodons were likely hunted to extinction by 6000 B.C.E. The so-called Desert Archaic period began in 7000-6000 B.C.E. with the Cochise Culture. The fire drill, the grinding stone (called a metate) was developed and foraging for seeds, grains, berries, and tubers was practiced. Semi-permanent dwellings appeared. By around 3000 B.C.E. much of the big game was gone. Hunting for small game in groups was now thought to be the trend. Running game off cliffs was common and the atlatl was the hunting weapon of choice as the bow and arrow was still a long way off, appearing here around the year 0 or possibly even later around 500-700 C.E. Corn was being developed from Teosinte grass by 5000 B.C.E. and reached the Southwest by 3000 B.C.E. Agriculture was known in the Southwest in the Anasazi culture by 1000 B.C.E. and began in earnest about 500 B.C.E. when domesticated corn, beans, and squash traded from Mesoamerica came north. The Anasazi was probably the first primary coherent agriculture-based culture in the Southwest followed by the Hohokam and Mogollon cultures whose lands were adjacent with some overlap. 

With agriculture among the Anasazi came a more sedentary lifestyle. The Anasazi were short and stocky in build and suffered from some quite horrible maladies. Due to the use of the metate there was often grit in their food which caused their teeth to become ground down, often to the gums, with abscesses quite common. Their high carb/low protein diet likely also caused malnutrition issues, particularly among children. Osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, and respiratory problems from the smoke of their fires are also believed to have plagued them. Parasites like lice and pinworms were also likely among them due to their close living conditions. Arthritis was a huge problem. People lived only into their 40’s and child mortality was very high, likely over 30%. Harsh winters could kill. Clothing was of stitched hides and yucca leaves. Yucca also provided fruit, roots for soap, and fibers for many things including shoes. Along with farmed foods they ate rodents and rabbits, often with the fur still on. They did not eat fish, amphibians, or reptiles, possibly due to spiritual taboos. They lived in pit houses. Many burned. Pottery making was introduced to them between 400 and 600 C.E. Around this time they also began their rock drawings. Their area was vast – encompassing parts of Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Around 700 C.E. their pit houses were expanded to kivas, which were communal ceremonial buildings. They concentrated heavily in the Mesa Verde area, living at the top of mesas. They did not move to their famous cliff dwellings at Chaco Canyon until about 1200 C.E. and only lived there for about 100 years. The Mesa Verde area was abandoned by 1300 C.E. likely due to extended drought and soil erosion. They then moved south into what are now Hopi and Zuni areas in the Rio Grande Valley. The Anasazi were known for their cliff dwellings – the largest multi-family dwellings in America. They made hundreds of miles of roads, 20-30 feet wide. It is not known why they made such an elaborate road system. They were traders and became good potters as well. The Mogollon were especially known for their pottery and the Hohokam for their water management systems. About 50,000 Anasazi sites have been identified in New Mexico and Arizona with thousands more likely awaiting discovery.

The Hohokam were the people of the Sonoran Desert and probably started as a culture by around 300 B.C.E. They may have migrated up from Mesoamerica. Their pit houses were made of caliche, a hardened soil. The Hohokam are known for their sophisticated irrigation systems with dams, headgates, and canals – over 300 miles of major canals, and over 1000 miles of feeder canals. They probably began them around 500 C.E. Over the next few hundred years they were growing corn, cotton, beans, barley, and agave. Later they added tepary and lima beans, tobacco, pumpkins, squash, and amaranth. They also ate prickly pear and cholla cacti, saguaro cactus fruits, and protein-rich mesquite beans. They were known for their shell crafts. They harvested shells from the Gulf of California a couple hundred miles from their homeland. They traded them extensively. A piece of Hohokam pottery is painted with the image of Kokopelli and his female counterpart Kokopellimana. The Hohokam had some differences to the cultures around them. They were the only ones to practice cremation of the dead. They played a ball game, an early form of Poc-Ta-Poc, a Mesoamerican sport. Their ball courts date from 700 C.E to 1200 C.E. The Hohokam are thought to have ceased to exist as a distinct culture by about 1400 C.E. due to problems with silting and salting of their water management systems. 

The Mogollon people had a homeland that was very large, larger than the Anasazi and Hohokam. They were likely descendants of the Cochise people. Their area included harsh deserts, forested mountains, and grassy valleys. Their distinct culture is thought to have formed around 200 B.C.E. Their dwellings were similar to the Anasazi and Hohokam and they practiced some irrigation. They were likely the first in the area to learn pottery making. They grew the same food as the Hohokam and also ate pinyon nuts, walnuts, acorns, sunflower seeds, and hunted game. The Mimbres people, the Mogollon people that lived in the Mimbres Valley, were great potters. They were known to place an upside-down bowl over the head of the deceased with a hole on top, presumably for the spirit to escape. Many believe that by the 1400’s the Mogollon and Anasazi combined to form the Western Pueblo culture which probably later became the Hopi and Zuni peoples. Some may have joined to become the Tarahumara culture in Mexico.  
Spanish explorers came beginning in the 1500’s (overall maybe 200,000 of them over the years) to claim lands, riches, and to spread God to the godless. De Vaca searched for the famed seven cities of Cibola, with streets paved with gold. In 1539, the Viceroy of Mexico sent Fray Marcos de Niza along with a black man, a Moorish slave, named Esteban, to seek out the cities of Cibola. The legend is that Esteban was killed for insulting the village elders by asking for turquoise and women. Some stories say he was cut into pieces, some that he was stoned to death, and some that he was shot full of arrows. But all the stories say he was killed for seducing women. Legends of Kokopelli also say that he was known for seducing women. For this reason, some think the legend of Esteban and similar legends of Kokopelli are the same. This seems doubtful to me and to the author, especially since Kokopelli is known to long pre-date the Spanish explorers. However, Esteban may have been incorporated into existing myths, especially since Kokopelli was often depicted as black and as a trader or traveler coming from afar. In 1540, Coronado led the largest expedition into the American Southwest. He estimated there were 85 pueblos. 19 pueblos remain today. The zeal and coercion of missionaries eventually caused some lore and spiritual practices to be forgotten. In 1610 the Spanish settlement of Santa Fe was founded. By 1680 the Pueblo Indians revolted, led by a medicine man named Pope’. They ruled Santa Fe for 12 years and relinquished control back to the Spanish without a conflict. Mexican independence from Spain came in 1821. The Santa Fe Trail was established in 1821 and in 1880 the Santa Fe railroad came. Estimates are that when the Spanish arrived the Southwest was populated by up to 1.5 million Native Americans. By the late 1800’s there were about 250,000, much reduced by disease. 

Kokopelli is a recurring figure in Southwest rock art. The highest concentration of Native American rock art is in the Southwest. The two types of rock art are petroglyphs carved into rock and pictographs painted onto rock. Pictographs tend to be found in caves and overhangs where they are somewhat protected from the elements. Petroglyphs and pictographs are often found together. They could depict images seen in a vision by shamans, clan symbols, astronomy, or recording of history. It is difficult to date rock art, both types. General ranges can be given. Currently and in the recent past, vandalism of rock art is a big problem. 

“Researchers believe that the earliest flute playing figures came from the Anasazi Basket Maker III period which was between 400 and 700 A.D. The early depictions were of stick figures who were often shown seated, often alone, but sometimes in pairs.” 

He appeared in frequency with the form of the humped-back and the presumed flute in Anasazi rock art and pottery decorations after 1000 C.E. It is as yet unclear if they represent real people or mythical images. The first depictions show “him” with a flute or possibly a flute-like profusion but without the humped back or erect phallus. The erosion of much of the rock art make it difficult to determine for certain that he is playing a flute. I think he is. Others think it could be a whistle, a prayer stick, a smoking device, or some other ceremonial item. Others think it is a snout. There are kachinas and supernatural beings said to have beaks and snouts. The flute among Southwest peoples goes back to around the time of Christ. The Anasazi made flutes from bone and wood. Bird-wing bone flutes were popular. Many flutes have been found in burials. The Hopi, Zuni, and other Pueblo people hold the flute in high regard. The legends of the humped-back flute player seem to have developed in these areas in the upper Rio Grande area. Kokopelli lore is suspected to be most central to these people. It has been suggested that Kokopelli was an ancestor of the Callahuayo Indians of the South American Andes, who were known to go from town to town with wares to sell in their backpacks and playing their flutes. Closer is perhaps a similar story told about the Pochteca traders from Mesoamerica. Pochteca were known to play a flute to announce their arrival and to be womanizers – a common attribute of Kokopelli. The Pochteca stayed or camped in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Their timing coincides with the development of rock art. The Yuma Indians of Mexico associate the flute with courting. Among the Hopi, Kokopelli is said to borrow a flute from the flute kachina, Lenang. Kokopelli is a fertility kachina. 

“At Zuni, he is equated with Ololowishkya {a winter plaza fertility dancer}, Chu’Lu’Laneh {a flute playing fertility figure}, or Paiyatyamu (the Zuni deity of flowers, butterflies, and music). Paiyatyamu uses a flute, and in Zuni legends, his magical butterflies along with his music result in methods of seduction.”

The Hopi belief is that playing the flute in summer promotes flowers and growth. Some think Kokopelli represents an insect, possibly a locust or a dragon fly. Legend says that locusts play the flute to melt snow. Locusts are patrons of the Hopi flute societies. It was the locust that played the flute guiding the Hopi peoples from within the earth to their earthly existence. Flutes are used for courting, competition, to call rain and flowers, to announce the arrival of traders, and to lure mountain sheep into bow and arrow range. 

Humped figures are common in Anasazi rock art. Could they be humans afflicted with arthritis and/or tuberculosis? Several kachinas play flutes, some have phalluses, only a few have hunch backs, but several carry things on their back which was common among the people as well. 

“At Hano, the Hopi Tewa village, it is believed that Kokopelli’s hump is filled with buckskin for making shirts and moccasins which are traded for brides.” 

In another Pueblo there is a story of Kokopelli the wanderer carrying a bag of songs on his back to trade. There is also Ghaan’ask’idii, the Navaho hump back who is said to keep seeds, mist, and rainbows in his feathered hump or that his hump is made of rainbows. The Mayan deity Ek Chuah is sometimes said to be an ancestor of Kokopelli. He wore a back pack. He is the patron of beekeepers, hunters, traveling merchants, and cacao growers. 

Early images of Kokopelli have an erect phallus which associates him with fertility. The phallus can also be associated with life-giving rain. Both male and female figures occur in rock art with exaggerated genitals, Kokopelli and his sister Kokopell’Mana included. 

“In Navaho culture, there is a deity called be’Yotcidi, which means One-Who-Grabs-Breasts, who allegedly had intercourse with everything.”

The Christian Europeans labeled these tales obscene. The Hopi kachina dances included the tale that Kokopelli would come to try and seduce the women. Other Hopi say Kokopelli carries a burden basket of babies to give to the married women. His sister spirit Kokopell’Mana is said to come in spring to pursue men, chasing them at great speed in order to mate with them. There are races and if men get away they are rewarded with sweet food. 

Kokopelli has been shared among Southwestern tribes for at least a thousand years. Views of him vary among the different groups. The Spanish in the 1500’s noted that the Pueblo people often played flutes in ceremonies and for signaling different groups. The Tewa of Hano (likely Anasazi who settled there in the 1500’s) have a story about Kokopelli as a black man named Nipokwaiye who carries buckskin in his sack for shirts and moccasins. Acoma, called “sky city,” sits atop a 365-foot sandstone mesa and is thought to have been continuously occupied since 900 C.E. possibly making it the oldest continually inhabited village in the U.S. – although the Hopi make the same claim for their town Oraibi. The Acoma people are thought to be descended from Chaco Canyon Anasazi. They have a story of the Dapopo brothers seducing the war chief’s daughter. The vain daughter would not relent to any man’s advances. (Apparently, the Hopi have several stories about pretty women who are vain). The older brother told the younger to dig a hole at the side of the mesa and wait until the girl came there to relieve herself in the evening. Both brothers apparently “scored” (sorry, maybe not best term). When the girl became pregnant (with two babies, one for each brother) the chief wanted to find the father(s) so he had men present flowers to the babies and if they accepted that would be the father. Thus were the Dapopo brothers found out and eventually went to live at the daughter’s house. The Acoma also have another kachina called Naiyu who are said to look up women’s dresses during ceremonies, giving sexual desires to the women.

The Hopi are considered intensely religious. Many other Native Americans consider them elders. They are experts at dry land farming. The Hopi and Zuni are closely related, sharing homes in times of trouble and drought. The Hopi were the most resistant to the Spanish missionaries. They are now acknowledged as great craftspeople. The Hopi and more so the Navaho reservations are big with many mythically famous land features. The Hopi kachinas are said to live amidst the San Francisco peaks north of Flagstaff, Arizona. It is where they make rain. Among the Hopi, Kokopelli is often called a fly, specifically the Assassin or the Grey Desert Robber Fly kachina. He is also called a rain priest who calls the rain clouds with his flute. In Hopi creation myths it was the locust that found the entrance to the upper world (earth world). As he emerged lightning bolts shot through him but he continued to play his flute. Another Hopi legend of Kokopelli has him offering young girls gifts at the plaza, holding them up for them to grab so he can seduce them. However, it is said he never catches them this way. Another Hopi story from Oraibi seems a variation on the Dapopo brothers’ story except it is Kokopelli that digs a tunnel, makes a pipe of reeds, and sticks his quite lengthy penis in it so that after the girl does her business he can pleasure her. She became pregnant and it was later found in a similar manner to the previous story that he was the father. After this, there was jealousy from the ‘Feces Kiva’ group who plotted to take his pretty wife from him. They invited him to spin yarn with them with the plan to conceal weapons, put out the fire, and beat him to death. He found out about the plot and consulted his grandmother who sent him to Spider Woman. She gives him medicine to spurt all around when the fire is put out – medicine that will make all the men there hump-backed. She tells him to jump up and hang on to the rafters. The men killed and injured one another but Kokopelli was unharmed. After this they went to live away from the village with his grandmother.

The Zuni are thought to be descendants of Chaco Canyon Anasazi and Mogollon people. They have a myth of the dreaded swallower of clouds – probable indication of the droughts that they suffered. The Zuni see Kokopelli as a rain priest. They say his picture painted on rocks serves to call the clouds.

The Navaho people who call themselves Dene are thought to have been Athabascan people that settled later in the Southwest, following the Rocky Mountains down from Alaska and Western Canada. Apache and Kiowa are also Athabascan. During the 1680 Pueblo revolt some of the Pueblo peoples sought refuge with the Navaho. The Pueblos taught the Navahos to farm the region and it is thought the Navaho also adopted many Pueblo customs. The Navaho also have a hump-backed deity, Ganaskidi, related to mountain sheep. His hump is said to be made of clouds containing seeds. He wears horns and carries a staff. Thus he is thought to be both a mountain sheep spirit and a shepherd.
As mentioned before, Kokopelli is often associated with Pochteca traders who brought things like copper bells, pyrite mirrors, and macaw feathers to trade for turquoise and other items. 

“Deities and legends that parallel Kokopelli can be found in the cultures of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. It’s believed that many parallels exist between the Aztec rain god cult of Tlaloc and the Pueblo kachina cults. Many of the Aztec deities are interestingly equated in Pueblo kachinas.”

In summary, Kokopelli was regarded as “priest, kachina, warrior, shaman, lecher, trader, hunter, and god.”

The writer notes that he is a writer, artist, Southwest merchant, and a person of Native American descent. He acknowledges the ambivalence about whether commercializing Native American icons is beneficial or not but hopes for the best. This book is a well-done summary, concise yet very informative.

No comments:

Post a Comment