Hopi Legend Part 3: Wildfire of Purification and Old Spider Woman

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Mytho-Historical Prophecy: Facing certain destruction by a massive wildfire raging down from the high peaks, the Oraibi village leader consults Old Spider Woman on overcoming the state of koyaanisqatsi, or life out of balance, that had befallen the land.

Published in the Arizona Daily StarPivanhonkyapi: Destruction by Fire – Part 3

From Hopi Tales of Destruction, Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

For Part 1 See: Hopi Legend: Koyaanisqatsi and World Destruction,WilderUtopia.com.

For Part 2 See: Hopi Legend: The Yaayapontsa Dance of Fire, WilderUtopia.com.

Collected Translated and Edited by Ekkehart Malotki, Narrated by Michael Lomatuway’ma, Lorena Lomatuway’ma, and Sidney Namingha Jr. Legend edited here by Jack Eidt.

Pivanhonkyapi is the extinct Third Mesa village northwest of Old Oraibi on the Hopi Reservation in the region known as Arizona. Some believe after the Hopi’s appearance from the Underworld at the Grand Canyon, this was their first established settlement. Archaeologists speculate it was occupied in the 1200s and abandoned before the end of the 13th Century due to the great drought.  Following is Part 3 of the mytho-historical account of the annihilation of the village and a divine response to koyaanisqatsi or life out of balance.

The Legend (continued)

Aliska’i. A new day broke, and then it was night again. By now, the fire glowing from the high slopes of Nuvatukya’ovi (“Place of Snow on the Very Top” or San Francisco Peaks) was somewhat more visible. Some of those who were on top of the kiva watched and laughed, shouting instructions while villagers gambled at totolospi.That second day the spectators first became aware of the fire. Flames licked the sky near Nuvatukya’ovi. Occasionally, the spectators would mention the fire to the players down below, but no one listened, too entranced with their games.

Meanwhile, the fire kept burning, and its smoke reached the people, hanging over Pivanhonkyapi. Flames advanced upon the village. Again watchers tried to convince the players the fire was coming, but many called them liars despite the smoke. “No, you’re only saying that to make us stop,” one of the players, refusing to believe the fire was any problem. The smoke clearly wafted about, but they had no intention of quitting their totolospi.

Martin Gashweseoma, Caretaker of the Sovereign Hopi Nation: Our people were told of another race who would come to this land and claim it as their own land. We were told not to accept anything these people would offer to us, but it will tempt us and be hard to resist. They would be intelligent and the inventors of many things.


Finale of Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass.

On the fourth day, the firestorm had swept down the mountain, moving closer. The village filled with smoke, the smell intense. One more onlooker attempted to warn the players. They still did not believe it. Instead, the boys and men kept embracing the girls and women, all still gambling.

Finally one of the players came out to eat and realized the approaching danger of the fire. He dashed down the kiva ladder to tell the other players, out of breath. “It’s really true!” he yelled at them. “There’s a fire coming in!”

Hopi Elder Dan Evehema: We are much concerned about the climate. No one seems to be able to predict the weather accurately from day to day. However, we know according to our time markers that it is past due for certain seeds to be planted at their proper time. In the regions with different climates, things will happen in different ways. For instance, tropical land could become a land of ice, and the Arctic region could become tropical. This need not happen if we, the people, get our leaders to do something about the harmful things being done to the environment.

Now the players came out just as the fire engulfed the village. The first ones scurried, trying to grab a few treasures before running off. Those tardy were caught by the fire. Crying, people were running in all directions. Some failed to see their loved ones in the confusion. Only now did it occur to them to search for their neglected children. Fortunately, someone had rounded up the children the morning after the dance and taken them into shelters in Huk’ovi or Windy Point. Some were still in their houses when the fire engulfed them. Few managed to get away, but most were killed by the fire. Several absconded to an overhang with their children on their back. Some even hid in remote corners of their homes.

Next the village chief took the flaming paho tray he had received from the Yaayapontsa and placed it in the back room of his house. Right away the flame on the tray grew stronger. Just as it was blazing full force, the fire burning down from Nuvatukya’ovi reached the village. The two conflagrations merged and set everything aflame. Flames spread to the people hiding under the overhang, killing them from the intense heat. Thus, nearly the entire population of Pivanhonkyapi  was burned to death in the fire.

 

Dan Evehema: Let us take a look into the future through the eyes of our prophets. Hopi were instructed to tell of the Great Purification just ahead of a time when Humankind would once again become highly civilized, tending to become careless and leading us to self-destruction. They said that, along the way, the industrialized world will have certain problems. People will be uncomfortable because of the changing times, and they will have to make adjustments to find new life styles.

The wildfire spread toward Oraibi. Their village leader spotted it and cried out, “Oh my, there is going to be a disaster. I love my children. I have to ask someone for help.” With that he ran toward Poqangwwawarpi, the abode of the Old Spider Woman.

A voice bade him enter. Inside, the Old Spider Woman welcomed him. Two Poqangw Brothers (Little War Gods, sons of the Sun) were fighting, throwing each other down all over the place. They did not listen to their old grandmother until she yelled for them to stop. The village leader from Oraibi implored, “There is a fire approaching, with whose planning I had nothing to do. I greatly love my children. Maybe with your help they will not be burned to death. This is my wish.”

Old Spider Woman assured him, “Don’t worry. Tomorrow morning, when it is time to address the sun in prayer, you must make two arrows. Fletch them with feathers of the red-shafted flicker. As soon as you’re done, ram one into the ground southwest of Oraibi, the other a little northwest of Atsamali. Now hurry.” Old Spider Woman urged him. “The fire will be here soon.”

Dan Evehema: Industrialized nations will become careless in getting more the resources out of the earth. Believing all these things will last forever, soon natural resources will be depleted. Fuel shortages will occur; industrial machinery will come to a standstill. The machinery used for planting, harvesting and transport will become useless. Supermarket shelves will become empty of farm produce. The farmers and those who grow their own food will not sell their produce. Money will become worthless. The white man with all his intelligence and technology will not be able to repair the damage. We will see extraordinary events in Nature and Earth, including humans.”

The Oraibi chief returned to his village where he prayed and smoked for a time. Then he made his bed and laid down to sleep. The following morning, while people greeted the morning sun in prayer, he dressed and did as instructed by the Old Spider Woman. He fashioned the arrows, whereupon walking them to the appointed locations and stuck them into the ground. Soon, the two Poqangw Brothers and Old Spider Woman arrived.

“Very well,” said the latter, who began to weave a web between the two inserted arrows. Spun tight, four layers were woven on top of each other. Then she turned to the Poqangw Brothers and said, “All right, your turn.” She pointed to the massive mirage created in the sky from the shimmering heat of the fire that seemed to grow higher and higher. “Chew that mirage medicine down and spit it onto the web. It’s bound to turn into solid rock then.” The two did as bidden, spitting the magical substance onto the web, making it solid as a rock.

By now the fire wall had moved in just southwest of Oraibi. Old Spider Woman explained, “When the fire comes upon this barrier, it will jump over your houses to the other side. The fire cannot overcome this wall.” Hence, they all went on their way, the brothers home with their grandmother, and the village leader returned to Oraibi.

Dan Evehema: Modern man looks upon old wisdom and knowledge as dead, useless and no longer respected. Modern man depends on the money system and no longer on Mother Earth for food. According to prophecy when this happens Mother Earth will hide her nourishment because of the view that ancient food is poor man’s food. When all food disappears, modern man will try to correct his mistake, the conditions he caused upon the earth through his inventions. He will try to achieve some kind of method to heal the wound, but this will not be possible when we reach the point of no return.

At this moment the firestorm surged over the horizon. It was headed straight for the rocky barrier. The minute it arrived, instead of jumping it deflected. Veering off its path, it ran along the northwest side of Oraibi and continued northeast. The fire spread for a while southeast of Bacavi. But climbing terrain, it eventually burned itself out near Palapso. For this reason, the rocks between Pivanhonkyapi and Oraibi still look burned today. The same is true northeast of Oraibi near Bacavi.

This is how the village leader from Pivanhonkyapi purged the dark hearts of his people. These events truly took place. In this manner, Pivanhonkyapi fell into ruin. No one lives there anymore, for the fire killed all the villagers. And here the story ends.

For Part 1 See: Hopi Legend: Koyaanisqatsi and World Destruction,WilderUtopia.com.

For Part 2 See: Hopi Legend: The Yaayapontsa Dance of Fire, WilderUtopia.com.

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See: Extreme Weather: Arizona Wildfire Blazes Out of Control, WilderUtopia.com.

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt