Happy Valentine’s Day! I am reminded that this is the time of year I would be heading out to Arizona for the annual Hopi Powamu Ceremony, commonly referred to as the Bean Dance. The first time I attended this ceremony was in 1988 and I had never experienced anything like it. I had met a young Hopi woman at the Sacred Materials Conference held at the Buffalo Bill Historical Society in the fall of 1985. I was there to present a paper on the repatriation of sacred materials stored in museums. My friend was there representing the Hopi museum on Second Mesa. We have been dear friends since and through her friendship I have learned so much about Hopi cultural traditions and been able to participate beyond being a tourist. Throughout the years I have received gifts from both my friend and her parents that I will cherish forever.
But, back to the Powamu Ceremony. The Hopi ceremonial cycle is an annual cycle that consists of two major periods, that of the masked and that of the unmasked ceremonies. The masked dancers, called katsinas, arrive in January or February, depending on the calendar and the village. The first great ceremony of the year is the Powamu, when children are initiated into the katsina and Powamu societies. The Powamu is held in February in Hotevilla where my friend lives. The masked katsinas visit different houses where they scold children who have not been behaving. They also symbolically open the kivas (ceremonial chambers) where beans and maize are ritually planted to assure good harvests and to demonstrate the “Good Heart” of the participants. Small boys and girls are who are to be initiated are ritually whipped with yucca leaves as the katsinas move about the village. Innocent bystanders and tourists might also be whipped. The young initiates are taken to the kiva where they attend a performance of unmasked dancers and learn that the katsinas are their relatives and other villagers. The last night of the ceremony is the most important for the young initiates because they attend the all- night dances that take place in the kivas.
I was very fortunate to be able to attend these night dances with my friend and to sit at the front of the kiva where the katsinas dance. There are a number of different kivas in the village and the one I was in was in is a square shape surrounded by a short adobe bench along the wall where we sat. The masked dancers came down a ladder from the rooftop to the center of this area and then danced around this part of the kiva. As I sat there, I could see them coming down the ladder and the first group included about twenty Angak’china (Long Hair) Katsinas. As they danced around this part of the kiva singing in a low voice, I could feel the fringe on their sashes move rhythmically across my lap as each one danced by. This group would leave and there would be a break before the next group of dancers arrived from another kiva.
At dawn we left the kiva and went back to my friend’s parent’s house where we slept for a couple of hours. After a brief nap we got up and went to work making a special blue corn bread that was baked in a pit in the back of the house and preparing the bean sprout stew. After a lovely lunch with my friend’s family I headed back to Taos, New Mexico, where I was living at the time. My heart was filled with fond memories of one of the most powerful experiences of my life. This particular year there were no initiates, but I have been fortunate to attend when some of the young people in the village were being initiated. I look forward to when I can visit Hopi again. I learn something new every time.
Wising you all a Happy Valentine’s Day!
Shelby J Tisdale