The Hopi-Pawnee Connection

by Gary A. David
Copyright 2004 by Gary A. David

The Hopi were not the only people in North America to use the stars as a template for the geospatial arrangement of their communities. In particular, the now-extinct Skidi Pawnee developed a star cult in which the pattern of villages spread out across the landscape correlated to various constellations. A bundle sacred to the specific sidereal patron of each village was kept as a shrine in the chief’s house. Living in earthen lodges along the Platte and Loup Rivers of east-central Nebraska, this generally peaceful band of semi-sedentary farmers had many cultural similarities that correspond to the Hopi. Although the Pawnee themselves believed their origin was in fact the stars, some ethnographers think that the Pawnee migrated from the Southwest or possibly Mexico. There they might have exchanged theological ideas and rituals with the tribes already living in the south. "Customs are said to have been found among them closely resembling those of the Aztecs when first discovered by the Spaniards. Their mythology as well as their traditions would help to bear out the theory of their southern origin, for their religion shows an observance of the stars and a reverence for the heavenly bodies which, to a people of deep religious thought, would be the natural result of life in a dry climate and clear atmosphere."1

The major correlations between the Pawnee and the Hopi are as follows:

· Both peoples recognized intercardinal rather than the more common cardinal directions. The color and totemic symbology for both cultures is identical, except that the northeast and southwest are reversed— the relative directions that each culture from the other was located. In both cultures the northwest was represented by yellow and the mountain lion; the southeast by red and the wolf. For the Pawnee the southwest was represented by white and the wildcat, and the northeast by black and the bear; for the Hopi the southwest was represented by black (or blue) and the bear, and the northeast by white and the wildcat.2 "To the Skidi this animal [the wildcat, or bobcat] represented all the stars of the sky."3 As was stated, the symbolic direction of this creature lay to the southwest, where the Hopi lived.

· Stars were pictographically represented in both cultures by the same figure, i.e., a four-pointed cross where either two lines of equal length were drawn perpendicular to each other or two pairs of triangles opposed at their bases were perpendicularly arranged to point outward. In addition, the Pawnee and the Hopi both associated stars with warfare. Warriors of both tribes sometimes were painted with a bird’s-foot mark 4, or more specifically in the case of the Hopi a crow’s-foot, both of which resemble a modified equilateral cross.

· Both cultures used stellar observatories in two different types of structures. The Pawnee witnessed the stars through a smokehole in earthen lodge dwellings, whereas the Hopi watched the constellations and planets through a hatchway in the kiva. The circular shape of the former recalls the round kivas of the Mesa Verde and Chacoan Anasazi.

· Both the Pawnee and the Hopi used the firedrill to rekindle the source of light in a ritual that they termed the New Fire Ceremony. The latter called this the Wúwutcim.

· Both cultures maintained a sacred relationship to corn, held it in great reverence despite its mundane pervasiveness in numerous aspects of their cultures, and distinguished between green or sweet corn and mature corn.

· Both tribes acknowledged an ideological system of duality. For the Pawnee the west was considered feminine and the east was masculine. "In the east things were planned, in the west they were carried out. The two most important gods were the great red male star of the east, Morning Star, and the bright white female star of the west, Evening Star."5 This duality corresponds to Whorf’s distinction in Hopi culture between the yet "unmanifest" and the heretofore "manifested" respectively.

· Even though the Pawnee belonged to the Caddoan linguistic stock and the Hopi belongs to the Shoshonean, a number of semantic similarities exist. For instance, the supreme deity of the Pawnee was called Tirawahat or Tirawa, which literally means "sitting on top" or "this expanse" and refers both to the sky and the whole universe. The Hopi term Tawa means sun spirit and designates the Creator who has dominion over the powers of the Above in particular. One of the interpretations of the Pawnee term pa: hu: ka: tawa is "moon reflecting on the water," while the Hopi word paahu simply means "water." The Pawnee term hikusu’ means "breath," whereas the Hopi word hik’si refers to "breath body" or "spirit." The Pawnee word for "wind" is hutu:ru’ , while the Hopi terms huutu and huuhukya mean "breathe in" and "wind’s blowing" respectively. One of the variant meanings of the Pawnee word tahu:ru’ is "tough skin," whereas the Hopi term tahu’at means "muscle," "sinew" or "cartilage." The Pawnee word saku:ru’ refers to "sun" or "day," while the Hopi term sakwa means blue, the color of day. And finally, while the Hopi word for "star" is sohu (or soohu), perhaps it is no more than a mere coincidence (of the unmeaningful variety) that the Pawnee term for star is ho-pi (or ho-pi-rit.) 6

Or maybe a real connection does indeed exist between an extinct Nebraska tribe that once lived in the Southwest or Mexico, patterning its whole society around the stars, and a collection of ancestral clans who built villages at specific points on the high desert apparently to coördinate their society with the celestial realms.

End Notes

1. Natalie Curtis, The Indians’ Book: Songs and Legends of the American Indians (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1968, reprint 1923), p. 93.
2. a. Von Del Chamberlain, When the Stars Came Down to Earth: Cosmology of the Skidi Pawnee Indians of North America (Los Altos, California: Ballena Press, 1982), p. 97.
b. Stephen C. McCluskey, “Historical Archaeoastronomy: The Hopi Example,” A.F. Aveni, editor, Archaeoastronomy In the New World (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 34.
3. Chamberlain, When Stars Came Down to Earth, p. 254.
4. Gene Weltfish. The Lost Universe: Pawnee Life and Culture (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977, reprint 1965), p. 260 and p. 328.
5. Chamberlain, When Stars Came Down to Earth, p. 48.
6. a. Alice C. Fletcher, “Pawnee Star Lore” (1904), Io, editor Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Summer, 1969, p. 66.
b. Chamberlain, When Stars Came Down to Earth, p. 236.

Copyright 2004 by Gary A. David. All rights reserved
Any use of text without the author's prior consent is expressly forbidden.

Contact: e-mail islandhills@cybertrails.com