Who was Kokopelli ?

Hopi association with Canyon de Chelly

"Tribal judge Delfred Leslie invites me into his office.  A black-and-white photo of the terraced houses of Walpi hangs on the wall.  The judge knows I'm here to learn about the Hopi connection to Canyon de Chelly.  He begins by telling me that the Kachina Clan, Asa Clan, and Flute Clan have traditions linking them to the canyon. As you know," he says, "all the major places where the Flute Clan stopped are said each year during winter solstice.  The names are repeated in prayer, songs, and rituals.  Each major place has a name - the West, the North, the East, the South, and places in between.  In the clan houses they repeat the names; it's like revisiting them."

Continuing, he ties in the present ceremonies to the clan migrations of the past.  "The Flute Clan made a circuit, beginning in the south, then west, north, and east, coming back to the south.  They were always seeing this light in the sky that would light up in the direction they should go.  They would remain in place until the light appeared again and then continue on their way.  Other problems, drought or trouble between families, might force them to move, but they kept following the light."

One of their stopping places is called "the place of running water," Canyon de Chelly.  "They were at Canyon de Chelly," he says, "when they saw a light again in the west.  They moved in that direction, ending at Walpi."

They now say prayers at a shrine set in the direction the canyon lies.  Del says the Hopi are afraid to visit the actual location because it's controlled by the Navajo and overrun with tourists.  But flute player symbols mark the cliff walls where they once lived. 

The judge, a member of the Flute Society, expresses his concern over the continuing confusion between the flute player and Kokopelli.  "The Asa Clan owns Kokopelli," Del says.  "They agree that most of the figures on walls are not Kokopelli." 

Tano people from New Mexico, he says, came to Hopi to help fight the Utes and other nomadic tribes.  They formed the Asa Clan but didn't respect the Hopi ways.  "How can I say the word?" he wonders, searching for the English equivalent.  "They were offensive.  They had many wives.  Men would go with men; women would go with women.  Kokopelli represents that kind of lifestyle.  The Tano clan was asked to leave.  Some went back to New Mexico, some to De Chelly, some joined the Apache or Navajo, some stayed.

"Maasau-u saw them leaving," he continues, mentioning a key Hopi deity.  "He met them and asked why they're leaving.  'Our way of life is unacceptable to the Hopis,' they said.  'But you did a lot for the Hopis,' he told them.  'I think you need to stay here.'  He led them back.  On the way, he stopped at a rock and had them do a petroglyph of themselves.  They did a war shield and then a Kokopelli -- their other side.  It's part of our history."

The following is taken verbatim from notes that Scott Thybony made on 27th February 1996 recording a conversation between himself and Hopi Flute Clan Delfred Leslie. Scott published an article describing this in "Rock Art of the American Southwest."


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