Hopi Legend Part 2: The Yaayapontsa Dance of Fire

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Following the dances of the kachinas in the wayward village of Pivanhonkyapi, suffering the imbalance of Koyaanisqatsi, the dreaded Yaayapontsa arrive to purify the world with fire.

Hopi People, BoelterPivanhonkyapi: Destruction by Fire – Part 2

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

For Part 1 See: Hopi Legend: Koyaanisqatsi and World Destruction,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 2 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)

Aliksa’i. After the Pivanhonkyapi leader received the favorable response of help from the Yaayapontsa in dealing with his people who had suffered the cultural degredation or koyaanisqatsi, he set out for home. The Yaayapontsa were horrid-looking creatures with shaggy hair, bodies painted with ashes, masters of fire and the whirlwind who had agreed to appearing at a dance of the kachinas in four days.

On his way home, the leader stopped to visit the village chief at Huk’ovi or the Windy High Place, and invited him back to Pivanhonkyapi to discuss the situation tomorrow. Upon returning home, much to his disgust, he heard the shouting and laughing in the kiva from gambling at totolospi had not abated. He had to bring his baby son to his wife, who played along with the crowd, for breast feeding. Once a beautiful woman, her hair was now disheveled like all the other participants. As soon as the baby was suckled, he got out of there with his boy and sadly went to sleep.

Hopi Prophecy: If we dig precious things from the land, great disturbances will develop in the balance of nature, and we invite disaster.

A gourd of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans, where no grass can grow for many years, causing a disease that no medicine can cure.

The next day the chief and the crier from Huk’ovi arrived.  He explained the plan in four days for the plaza dance, wanting kachinas to come from Huk’ovi.  The men left, and the Pivanhonkyapi leader continued from kiva to kiva announcing the forthcoming dance. 

“From today on I want you to think about what type of kachinas you care to impersonate and start practicing.”  People became even more merry, planning for the kachinas they were going to perform.

Soon it was the morning of the dance day. That day, no one was playing totolospi. The people had calmed their gambling frenzy, knowing the dance was special. Kachinas were arriving; there were some representing the living spirit of stars, wind, thunderstorms, trees, birds, all the nature around them. They danced then moved on to another group, continuing throughout the day.

By now it was getting to be early evening. The last group was finishing and moved to the southeast side of the plaza where, traditionally, the final dance is staged.

It was time for the village leader to climb on the roof and wave the blanket into the air. The Yaayapontsa were waiting, saw the blanket, and descended the southwest side of the mesa. The kachinas were still dancing when spectators began turning to the northeast, seeing something, strange beings, nearing the village. No one had any idea who they were.

As the kachinas terminated their performance, four of the unfamiliar beings came up. No one in their life had seen these dreadful beings before. Their eyes were bloodshot, hair in disarray, bodies washed with white mud. They each wore tattered black woolen dress in the form of a kilt and held something in their arms. People cried in awe of their approach. The thing they held in their hands resembled a shield with prayer sticks. Along its edge, tiny flames flickered.


Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance is a 1982 visual tone poem directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass, Cinematography by Ron Fricke, Produced by Francis Ford Coppola.

The father of the kachinas called out, “Here is one more group,” bringing them into the plaza. None of the people of Pivanhonkyapi knew from where they came. The four dancers lined up, where the father sprinkled sacred cornmeal on them. They began to dance and their song went thus:

Yeeholyee holye. We for sure are children of the sun. Therefore we provide you here with heat. For this reason we were asked to dance. Hi’aa wi’aa wi’aa haa’a’a’a.

It is inevitable here now, that your homes will be enshrouded in a red cloud. Through thick smoke, people will be carrying each other throughout the village. Aa’ahaaha ii’ihiihi’i. Yeeholyee, yeeholyee, holyeyeyeye.

Look my mothers, my fathers, start doing all sorts of things. They should live a good life. Instead you allow your children to perish. Hi’aa wi’aa haa’a’a’a.

A handful of onlookers, whose hearts were not as closed as most of the villagers of Pivanhonkyapi, understood something terrible was amiss and sadness came over them.

When the dance ended, the group’s song starter handed the village leader of Pivanhonkyapi his tray of prayer sticks. Next, the dancer in front gave another tray to the village chief from Huk’ovi. Thereupon, each of the two village criers received their flaming paho tray. These four men were the only ones to get a gift. The Yaayapontsa were bidden farewell, receiving cornmeal and prayer feathers from the kachina father. Then they departed. This time they did not leave toward Oraibi. Rather they went along the ledge in a southwesterly direction, uttering their cries, “Aaw,aaw.” In due course, they descended the path directly southeast of Apoonivi and then went all the way home to Nuvatukya’ovi, the volcanic peaks of the San Francisco Mountains.

File:San Francisco Peaks 01.jpg

Nuvatukya’ovi or San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona, by Bernard Gagnon

Those remaining clear-headed Pivanhonkyapis understood with dread the unknown beings had not come without a purpose. At daybreak the next day, the two chiefs from Huk’ovi reappeared. Together they discussed the situation with the leader and crier chief of the Pivanhonkyapis. Finally, the latter leader said, “Those pahos you received I want you to carry to Nuvatukya’ovi. Deposit them there on both sides of the peak and then return.” With that, they set out toward Nuvatukya’ovi.

The same day, by early evening, the gamblers and crazy ones started all over again, each playing totolospi again.

Hopi Prophecy: Before the Purification a dwelling place above the earth will fall from the heavens with a great crash and burn. It will appear as a blue star.

When the Saquahuh (Blue Star) Kachina dances in the plaza and removes his mask, the time of the great trial will be here.

Turtle Island could turn over two or three times, and the oceans could join hands and meet the sky.

The two crier chiefs who had taken the pahos to the peak had returned, and all four of the chiefs engaged in a ritual smoke. The Pivanhonkyapi leader thanked them and said, “That’s the way it will be. I am glad we did what we did. You can return to your homes to wait for whatever events will unfold…”

Some time later, the two crier chiefs departed. That night, a light from a small fire could be seen shining from Nuvatukya’ovi, from the area around the mountain peaks. No one had any explanation. Only the two village leaders knew what it meant.

To Be Continued…

See: Hopi Legend Part 3 – Wildfire of Purification and the Old Spider Woman, 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