Kokopelli, American Indian demi-god, is one of America's most famous American Indian petroglyphs, and continues to arouse interest today. His image, of a hunch-back flute-player, is found in rock art and pottery, fifteen hundred years old, throughout the American Southwest.
And yet, both his personality and his depiction are confusing. He can appear with a flute, staff or cane. His head is variously normal, with feathers, gazelle type horns or ram horns while his body is trianglular, rectangular or straight, with or without a hump and sometimes sporting an phallus improbable size (and shape). His role ranges from trader and trickster to fertility and rain god.
Some senior Hopi believe that we have mixed up Kokopelli the fertility katchina, who does not have a flute, with the symbol of the Hopi Flute Clan at Walpi which does. They claim that Kokopelli never has a flute, and that images such as the one above do have religious significance which they would prefer to remain undisclosed. Whether those flute-players are Kokopelli or not, is in a sense irrelevant as there are so many of them that they are interesting in their own right, and clearly have some fertility based significance.
All of this makes it rather difficult to identify a "Kokopelli", and makes it likely that he is a composite figure, made from different influences in different regions.
In Rock Art Pictures, you will see pictures of Flute Players and Hunched back figures. You may well say "This is definitely not Kokopelli" and you will be quite correct in many cases. A flute-player and a hunchback do not a Kokopelli make. Nevertheless, these images are there as they exhibit Kokopelli-like characteristics. It is likely that in early times there were only a few important deities. People moving into an area, bringing with them knowledge and legends of their own deities, will likely have met with the response - "You must be talking about … who does that", and from that point, pictures a likely to appear with composite characteristics.
The purpose of this website is to demonstrate the different types of flute-player and hunchback images by looking at pictographs and petroglyphs, and ultimately by comparison identify distinct influences. I believe that it is practically impossible to interpret these pictures with incontrovertible historical accuracy, so I will leave it up to the observer to make up their own mind how Kokopelli developed, and what Kokopelli is.
To this end, your help is appreciated - if you have another flute-player or hunch-back picture, whether on pottery or rock, I would be interested to see it and to display it with an appropriate credit. The bulk of the images are not mine and displayed with the kind permission I obtained from the copyright owner.
David Milne © 2001
Flute Player, Trickster. Fertility Symbol
Pictures of Petroglyphs and Pictographs