Southwest Road Trip: We are on Hopi Time

The Hopi Nation is situated atop three magnificent mesas in eastern Arizona, about an hour-and-a-half across the New Mexico border. They are in their own time zone — Mountain Standard Time — where time never changes and we have been confused since we arrived here! Mostly because the rest of the surrounding world is an hour later. Our phones and computers are confused, too. My phone records MST while my computer records Mountain Daylight Time. We are constantly doing a time check.

Zuni dancers visit Hopi pueblo for Harvest Festival

The same has been true in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, where time also never changed until this year when Mexico did away with daylight savings time. Before that, we were always asking, Is it Teotitlan time or Oaxaca city time when making dates and appointments! I’ve said repeatedly over the years that the Mayas believed that those who controlled time controlled the world. Here, this is true, too.

Today, when we visited katsina carver Eli Taylor at his humble home between the Second and Third Mesas, he told us, Hopi time is when you are good and ready. Time does not stand still, but it is definitely not a priority to mind the clock in indigenous culture. Life has its own rhythms based on planting and harvesting, tribal celebrations and rituals, community and family commitments.

On Sunday afternoon, we arrived on the Hopi Second Mesa, checked into our room at the Hopi Cultural Center, then made our way to the Hopi Veteran’s Memorial Hall for the fall harvest celebration that included traditional dancing and a artisan trade fair. We were the only Anglos there! It was an amazing gathering of tribal arts that included food, jewelry, pottery, painting, and clothing. We saw handmade moccasins. We met artisans from the region, but also those who traveled from the Zuni, Kewa and Navajo nations to sell. The prices were amazing because they were selling to each other and not to a tourist audience.

On Monday, we had scheduled a morning meeting with basket maker Marvene Dawahoya and her husband, Nuvadi who carves katsina’s from cottonwood root. I had met them at the Free Indian Market in Santa Fe in August a couple of years ago. When we drove up, we were greeted by them and the sight of native corn drying on racks in front of the house. We learn that the corn is grown using the dry farming method: the seeds are planted a foot deep and three feet apart. Leaves are stipped from the stalk, leaving only three at the pinnacle, so that all the energy goes into making the kernels. This is ancestral corn, adapted to a dry climate, a technique passed down through the generations. Useful for global warming? I think so! The ancients have much to teach us.

Marvene goes into the valley below to cut the yucca leaves. She soaks and strips them, colors them and then weaves them. Nuvadi makes the rim ring from sumac branches using traditional methods.

Nuvadi comes from the Spider Clan. Marvene is from the Bear Clan, recognizing the power of the region’s Black Bear. All of the Shungopavi village leaders must be members of the Bear Clan. When a man marries, he becomes part of his wife’s clan — lineage is passed through the mother. But it is the man who who has the honor and responsibility for naming the children.

They explained to us that Hopi people believe they emerged from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a sacred place for them.

We spent several hours with them at their humble home in Shungopavi village as they talked about their craft and their culture, gifting us with field grown squash and Piki, a Hopi-style blue corn bread made from meal that is cooked on a hot stone (like a comal) so it has the thin crunchy consistency of phyllo leaves, then rolled to look like a taco. Marvene said it can be crumbled into water to eat like a pudding, or just eaten hand to mouth as we did. Delicious!

After a picnic lunch, we set out to find Eli Taylor, a katsina carver who I also met at the Santa Fe Free Indian Market. He is building a one-room concrete block home on land his grandmother gifted him, just outside the gates of the Veteran’s Memorial building. Eli, who is almost age 70, is doing all the construction himself. He’s been carving and painting cottonwood root since age ten, a skill he learned from his uncle, and uses mostly natural pigments. He tells us the story of his original name: Wajshi (we don’t really know the spelling). When his father was born, the hospital couldn’t pronounce the family name, so they gave him the last name of Taylor on the birth certificate! And, so it goes.

Eli shows at the Heard Museum in Phoenix and is considered to be one of the finest katsina carvers in the region. He farms, grows watermelon, and gave us a melon as a gift when we departed.

I made a mental note of this similarity to Oaxaca. Often, in Teotitlan del Valle, I am given a gift of eggs or avocados or squash or chocolate as a thank you for visiting.

Of course, we left with treasures that we will cherish forever (or for the remaining years of our life!). I think one of the greatest pleasures we have is to meet artisans and support them where they live and work, ensuring that 100% of the cost of what they make goes directly to them.

Tomorrow, October 3, we will be on the road, first to Tuba City and the Painted Desert, then on to Monument Valley. To be continued.

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