The Hopis and the Famine
Tell me a story...
(A song/chant in the Hopi language)
NOW WE TAKE IT UP.
NOW THE ROAD BEGINS LONG AGO.
THERE WERE VILLAGERS AT HOPI
AT LUU HAY
A RAIN PRIEST, A YOUNG MAN, HAD HIS FIELDS
AND AT HOPI THEY WERE GOING TO HAVE THE
They were going to dance
and the dancers were meeting for practice.
They were living this way, meeting for practice
and the young man always went to his fields, that's the way he
The day before the dance
when the young man returned from his fields
was with her lover.
she had a lover.
She went with her lover to his house and there she washed and
combed his hair
and when the young man came home to his in-laws his wife was
Her elders told him she had gone out to the neighbors
to fix their hair.
When the young man
had eaten he went over to the neighbors.
was fixing her lover's hair.
He found out.
He found out.
The young man got angry.
He got angry when he found out and returned to his own house.
He took out his bundle of feathers.
was the day before the dance.
The young man took out his bundle of feathers
and went to his fields at Luuhay (northeast of the Hopi villages of First Mesa).
When he got there he started work on his prayer sticks.
He worked on his prayer sticks until he finished.
Finishing them, making them good
he painted the sticks with clay from the place where Newness Was
When he had finished them, made them good
he went into his field
into the center of his field.
There in the center
he planted the sticks. Famine was to come.
were to end.
He sent in the prayer sticks
there would be no rain, but
for his own fields there would be enough to plant yearly.
And at Hopi they danced and danced and danced until it was
The next year
the people planted
what seeds they had.
They planted until there were no more, and by the fourth year
the earth was completely HARD. The earth was completely hard
dispersed because of hunger.
Some went to Acoma
and some to Laguna
because of hunger.
The young man's
wife, who had a lover
got married to her lover.
THEY LEFT HER TWO SMALL CHILDREN
WITH THEIR OLD GRANDMOTHER AND THEIR OLD
while they went to Acoma because of hunger.
And the young man was getting along well in his fields.
JUST AS HE HAD WANTED IT
it was a time of famine
there was nothing to eat.
It had been a year since the people left, it had been a year.
His two children were still small then, they were
on the cradle board.
After four years
(sighing) there was really
The young man thought, "I'll go to my
village and see whether my children
or perhaps dead.
Who could be alive after all this?" he thought, and the young man
left his fields. After leaving his fields he went on to Hopi.
grandfather and the grandmother
and the sister and her
were barely able to live, but still living, and the very old Hopis
were all in one kiva (a ceremonial chamber), LYING AROUND ALMOST DEAD
They were lying around this way
when the young man came.
On their roof, in the sun
together with their grandfather
the two small children
(straining to see) When he was far off, "Someone is coming."
So the little boy said. "Where is he?" "There he comes."
"Well it must be someone who eats well," their grandfather said.
He came closer.
"It looks like our father."
"Where is he now?" "Well, there he comes."
"Yes, that's him."
They were all sitting there this way
when their father came.
came closer and it really was him.
"Yes indeed that's our father.
Perhaps he's living well
and that's why he's coming."
They were sitting
sitting there when he came up.
(shyly) "My father, my children, how have you been passing the
child, so you've come." "Yes."
(weakly) "She's inside
making parched corn for the children
one more time
with the last remaining ear of corn," so
their grandfather said. "Indeed.
Let's go inside."
The young man
and his two children and his
went down inside to their grandmother
who was making parched corn with THE LAST REMAINING
EAR OF CORN.
They were going to be hungry.
They were already hungry.
When they entered:
"My mother, how have you been passing the days?" "Happily, my
child, so you've come." "Yes.
(shyly) I've come
to see you
because it's been a long time
since I left you. That bad thing happened to me
so I left you, and it's been a long time so I wanted to see my
and I thought of coming to see you, and you
are barely able to live."
(weakly) "Well, there's nothing left, only this last ear of corn
which I'm parching for the children, then we'll probably starve,"
"That's why I've come.
Is anyone else around?"
There is no village.
Everyone has left for Acoma because of hunger," she said.
"There might be someone else around:
there might be old people
gathered in the kiva.
Perhaps a few of them are still alive," she said.
"VERY WELL, I'LL BE BACK," he said.
The young man then
went back to his fields.
The young man
went into his fields and picked some CORN.
After picking CORN
he got together a sack of cornmeal and
ears of sweet corn and
rolls of paper bread.
After gathering these
he went back a second time
to leave them with his small children.
Then they ate.
They were safe now.
The next day
the young man
and spoke to his son. His son had been growing.
"My son," he said. "What is it?"
"I'm going to take you with me."
So he said.
His grandfather said, "Very well, you
may go with your father."
The boy went back with his father.
They went on together
until they came to his cornfield.
The boy was amazed.
There was so much in the field
all over the plot
all of them grown.
The father took his son into the field
and built a fire to ROAST him some CORN.
When he had roasted some corn the boy ate the corn.
He filled himself. "Are you full?" "Yes."
"Now you'll have plenty to eat," he told him.
Again he picked some corn. After picking corn
he put some venison with it
put some paper bread with it.
"Take this back with you.
Leave it and then you can come back here," he said. "All right."
The boy carried the load on his back and went to his village.
He was taking it to his grandfather, his grandmother, his sister.
When he brought it into the house:
"My father asked me to go back." "You may go."
So his grandmother told him, and he went back.
He went along WHILE HIS FATHER
WAS SHELLING SOME CORN FOR HIM.
He put the kernels in a sack.
He said to his son, "NOW
you must go back
you must take these corn kernels with you.
With this sack of kernels on your back you must go o——n
you reach the village.
You must take these kernels to each house
to each dwelling
to each door.
You must go ALL OVER THE VILLAGE
leaving kernels in every place. If you are lucky and have some
kernels left over
then you must take these home.
If nothing is left, then that's the way it will be."
So his father told him.
"Indeed." "Yes, that's what you must do.
you reach the village
you must start singing," he told him.
"When you finish the song
you must give the ik'oku call," he told him.
HIS FATHER SANG FOR HIM. He sang
on until, when he finished the song
he gave the ik'oku call.
And he sang and sang and sang and gave the ik'oku call.
"DO YOU KNOW IT NOW?" he said. "Yes
I know it."
But the little boy
did not ask his father what the song SAID.
As he was leaving his father said, "When
when you get near there you should start your song, so your
grandmother and your grandfather
and your elder sister will hear you."
AS THE LITTLE BOY WENT ALONG HE CARRIED THE
SACK OF KERNELS ON HIS BACK.
He carried his kernels until he CAME NEAR THE VILLAGE.
When he came near he sang:
YU-U YESHE KIWEEEEE
U-UWI U-UWI U-UWIHU
WHEN HE FINISHED HE GAVE THE IK'OKU CALL.
WHEN HE GAVE THE IK'OKU CALL
grandfather and his grandmother
(Frowning) heard him.
THEY WERE NOT HAPPY.
AND THE SECOND TIME HE SANG, HE WAS SINGING
IN THE SONG HIS GRANDMOTHER WAS WUTTIMA
HIS GRANDFATHER WAS SHAKKYEWA
AND THE LITTLE BOY WAS HUWINIWA:
HE WAS CALLING HIS OWN NAME.
HE WAS TELLING HOW THE FAMINE HAD STARTED IN
When he sang this
his elders became unhappy.
The third time he sang it
THERE AT THE KIVA
THE OLD HOPIS
WERE LYING AROUND ALMOST DEAD
WHEN THEY HEARD IT.
There was one
who was listening.
"What is it?"
"Someone is saying something."
And soon he ENTERED THE VILLAGE and sang.
and when he sang the Hopis listened to him.
WHEN HE FINISHED SINGING he gave the ik'oku call.
SO THAT'S WHY WE'RE ALMOST DEAD.
BECAUSE OF THAT PERSON
we're almost dead.
Our children don't know any better.
So that's why
(sighing) there's a famine.
For it is said
that when the wife of a rain priest is taken
there will be a famine
there will be an earthquake:
SO IT IS SAID and
THAT'S WHY WE'RE ABOUT TO DIE."
So the old Hopis were saying
LYING AROUND THINKING, lying around while the little
boy went from house to house
giving out corn kernels. He went on and on a——ll over the
going around until
when he got home
he had a few left over.
He entered. When he entered, "My
grandmother, my grandfather, my
elder sister, how have you
passed the day?" "Happily, our son, so you've come home now."
(seriously) "Yes, I've come home
and I've done what my father told me to do
I will take
where the corn used to be stored.
these will multiply themselves magically.
When we don't have enough parched corn, when we aren't full
must go inside
where the corn is
and bring out AS MUCH AS YOU WISH
for there will always be enough.
my father told me
so he said."
he told his grandmother, his grandfather, and his elder sister.
THIS IS THE WAY IT WILL BE, but now I must go back again,”
"Very well, you may go back."
"Do you have enough food now?" the boy said. "Well
well, we have enough food now.
You might be given further instructions."
Again the boy went back to his father.
After spending the night, he went back to his father.
"My father, how did you pass the night?" "Happily, so you've
"Yes." "Have you given out the corn kernels?" "Yes."
"Were they all gone?"
"No, I had a few kernels left and took them home."
"So finally everyone got some."
took some corn and roasted it in the coals for him
he roasted the corn.
The little boy ate the roasted corn
until he was full, and he brought him a melon which he also ate
he set out a roll of paper bread and some venison which he also
ate, until he was full.
"Are you full?" "Yes."
When he had cleared away the meal:
I will work on some prayer sticks," the young man said. "Indeed."
"Yes, I will work on some prayer sticks tomorrow.
How IS it?
Does your grandfather still have some food left?"
"Yes, they have some food left:
that's what they told me."
So he told his father.
"You must take some more corn to them
and then you can come back here to stay with me.
you will stay here with me about four nights
and then you may go back," his father told him.
"Indeed." "Yes, that's what we must tell your elders so they won't
wait for you," he said.
"All right." So his father gathered some CORN
a sack of cornmeal
some corn, some rolls of paper bread, some venison
When all these had been gathered they took them there
to his house.
Now they had enough food
so the boy
and his father told them.
"Very well, we won't expect you until then."
When this had been said THEY LEFT, AND THE NEXT DAY
he worked on his sticks, the RAIN PRIEST.
He made the sticks.
It was about noon when he finished the sticks.
He painted them with clay from the place where Newness Was
Made, and when he had finished
the young man spoke:
"Son." "What is it?"
"You must sit at the door," he said.
And I will go to the center of the field
with the prayer sticks
and give the prayer sticks to the Uwanammi (rain-bringing people who live on the shores of the four oceans)."
in his shelter there
at the end of the field
he brought out
his sacred bundle.
When he brought it out
HE SANG A STRING OF PRIESTLY SONGS.
He sang priestly songs.
He kept on singing, singing these until he had sung them four
He told his son, "Look outside and see if anyone
is coming up," but
he did not say, "See if the clouds are coming up."
The boy went out
and looked all around. (aside) "No one is coming up."
And he sang and sang
and the second time he sang, he asked him
to look again.
The fourth time he sang
when he had sung the first part
he told his son, "Look outside and see if anyone is coming up."
(aside) It THUNDERED.
"Are they coming up?" "Well now
the clouds are getting very dark." "They're the ones I'm talking
about," he said.
"THE CLOUDS ARE SWELLING," the boy said.
He sat down again and sang, and the rain came
ALL OVER HOPI IT WAS REALLY RAINING.
That's how it happened.
It rain-rain-rained and
all his fields were full of WATER.
THE OLD HOPI MEN WERE ALMOST DEAD
THEY WERE BARELY ALIVE, alive
when it rained. When the rain passed
the next day
he said to his son, "Son." "What is it?"
"SOME PEOPLE ARE LYING INSIDE THE KIVA (aside)
You must take them this sack of cornmeal
and this sack of cornmeal.
You must take this sack to them
and feed them. You will break the melons, take out
the flesh and FEED THEM and THEY WILL GET WELL.
They will go to their own homes, bring back corn kernels
parch the corn
FILL THEMSELVES and then go home again," so
so he told his son, (aside) and that's why he was supposed to take
these things to them.
He took the food, and when he got there
he went inside.
They were almost dead.
When he entered, "My grandfathers, my fathers, how have you
been passing the days?"
(weakly) "Happily, our child.
So you've come in," they said. "Yes.
I've come in, I've come in to FEED you.
told me to, that's why I've come.
That's why I'm here." "Tisshomahha, our child.
(sighing) It's because of your PARENTS that we're ALmost
It's because of your parents that we're almost DEAD.
Who was singing, was it you?" they said.
“Yes, it was me." "Indeed.
Are you HUWINIWA?" they asked him. "Yes."
"Haa——, so it's your father
who is a rain priest
for the old ones spoke of this.
So that's why this was done, and that's why
we're about to die."
"You will NOT die.
You must get up," he told them. (hoarsely) "Why, we can't even get
up, (aside) you must feed us lying down," they said.
THE LITTLE BOY BROKE A MELON AND TOOK OUT
AND MIXED THE FLESH
WITH CORNMEAL TO MAKE DOUGH, AND WENT
AROUND FEEDING THEM, FEEDING THEM UNTIL
when he had used a couple of melons to make dough
they were full. "ARE YOU FULL?" "Yes, we've eaten
but we must get WARM, we'll lie here until we get WARM."
He went out to get some kindling and when he came back in
he built them a fire.
He said, "My fathers, grandfathers of mine
you will get well, get well and WARM YOURSELVES
and you will go to your own houses, and each of you will bring
corn kernels back here
and in this fire
you will parch
your corn kernels.
THEN YOU WILL EAT ALL YOU WANT
and go back again to your own houses."
How could it be? We don't have anything, that's why
we’re almost dead,” they said.
“IN YOUR HOUSES
there is CORN.
Because of the thoughts of my PARENT your houses have
There are stacks of corn and you need no longer be hungry, and
you must bring some kernels here:
THEN you will eat until you are FULL.
You will be safe, you will not die,” the little boy said.
“Tisshomahha, our child
is this true?” “YES IT’S TRUE, I’m not lying.
That’s why I’ve come, but now I must go back. May you have a
“By all means may it be the same with you.”
The little boy went out
AND FINALLY THEY ALL GOT UP AND WARMED
THEMSELVES UNTIL THEY WERE ALL WARM.
(with pleasure) THEY BROKE A MELON AND ATE, AND
THE SECOND TIME THEY BROKE A MELON THEY
WERE ALL FULL.
THEY WALKED AROUND.
They could do that now.
They talked about what they’d been told:
IT MUST BE TRUE.”
And after talking, they went to their own houses.
Just as he had told them, there was plenty of CORN, stacked
where the corn had been stored before.
There was corn of every kind.
When they had eaten they went back to their houses again
and the little boy went on back
to his father, and arrived there.
The marks where the water had run were all around, and
far away there at
the mother of the two children
said to her new husband, “Why don’t you go to our
children’s land. Perhaps
our children are dead.
Perhaps our elders are dead
for we came here a long time ago.”
his wife told him. “Yes, I should go.”
And then the young man set out from Acoma.
HE RAN ALL THE WAY AND SPENT FOUR NIGHTS
HE ARRIVED AT HOPI. It was about noon when he came
and again they were up on their roof:
all of them were sitting there.
The young man was coming.
(straining to see) “Someone is coming,” they said. “There he comes, running. Well,
whoever it is
must eat well to move that way.”
When he got closer they said
“Well, we know who it is. It’s our mother’s husband.”
That’s what the two children said. “Indeed.”
“Let no one speak to him,” they said.
His elder sister went in
and the little boy went in. When they went in, they spoke to their grandmother:
husband is coming.
When he gets here and comes inside, don't speak to him, for it's his fault
that we almost died of hunger.
Our mother didn't know what was right.
You mustn't speak to him, and we'll see what he does."
They were inside, and only their grandfather was sitting outside.
And soon their mother's husband climbed up.
When he climbed up
to where their grandfather was sitting.
(with overdone friendliness) "Father of mine, how have you been
passing the days?"
He didn't answer him at all.
He climbed down
The two children were with their grandmother
and she was parching corn for them.
When he entered:
"My children, my mother, how have you been passing the days?"
No one spoke to him.
He spoke to them repeatedly.
The young man went out and
went among the houses.
He went around the village
and the smoke was coming out wherever the old people were.
He went all around before
he went back to his Acoma.
They lived on until the boy
went back to his father
and while he was there
he was told the ways of a rain priest, they lived this way
o——n until the next year
and his mother's new husband, who had come visiting
had told the Hopis at Acoma about the good land and the marks
all around where the water had run
they were talking about going back to Hopi. And the boy had his
He had a big cornfield.
And one by one they were coming back, and the mother
had made shirts for her children, pants for them:
she had made everything for them to wear.
And they left Acoma and went o——n spending several nights,
and on the fifth day
THE HOPI PEOPLE CAME BACK TO HOPI.
The mother and her new husband went there
to clothe their children, but no one spoke to them.
They went out and went to their own house
the house of the husband.
O——N ONE BY ONE ALL THE HOPIS WHO HAD
LEFT BECAUSE OF HUNGER WERE COMING BACK,
They went into their houses
and the storeroom doors would not open
there was so much corn.
The old Hopis
were the ones who
told what had happened, the old ones told it and the others told
They told one another
about that person
about the rain priest’s
who didn't know what was right and who almost caused them to
die, the old Hopis told the others.
And the rain priest lived on
until he told his son, "Now, my SON, this is the way you will live."
After saying this he sang the priestly songs, he untied everything
When he brought his elder sister, he told both of them about
he untied these for them.
How to WORK WONDERS:
how to cause great floods and STOP them
how to do EVERYTHING, to cause FAMINES:
he untied everything for them.
And they understood clearly.
The corn grew old. When the corn grew old
their father said to them, "My children." "What is it?"
"You must go back to your own house.
You will tell your grandfather to summon the Bow Priest.
He will announce that the people will come
here to my fields and haul corn to your house four times.
All the people will come and they will haul it to your house four
and they will take whatever is left in the field for THEIR OWN.
That will be theirs.
you will live this way.
Now you have TAKEN MY PLACE.
You will think of all the prayers I have lived by
and the sacred bundle, that's the way you will live.
The wonders, the rituals
whatever I have known
you will live by
and in the future
we do not know what will happen
and I will return to my village
I will return to my home
and there perhaps
I will find another wife. I will find another wife and
you two will replace me
for you are young, and you must do this.
When you go back you must tell the Bow Priest
that there will be a corn harvest on the fourth day."
THAT'S WHAT HE TOLD THEM.
Then, taking their sacred bundle with them
and their paint, they returned to their house.
When they got there they told their grandfather
of all the things their father had told them, of how they were now
and of the things their father had untied for them.
"We must summon the Bow Priest." Their grandfather summoned the
The Bow Priest came.
Then the two children told him, "Now
we have become persons of value
and four days from now
there will be a corn harvest at Luuhay.
You will haul it for us four times
including the melons, four times, then you
will bring in
what is yours."
That's what they asked.
The Bow Priest went out and shouted his announcement.
On the fourth day
they went out to gather the corn.
When they arrived there was lots of tall corn.
Just as they had been told, they hauled it four times
and then they hauled their own.
That's the way it was lived there.
That's why the Hopis knew how to WORK WONDERS:
how to THROW one another off the CLIFFS
how to ROAST one another
how to cause FAMINES, how to cause great FLOODS and STOP
That's how these things were untied.
That's how they came to be such knowledgeable people.
This was lived long ago. That's A——LL THE WORD WAS SHORT.
"How to throw one another off the cliffs": according to Andrew, in one of the religious societies at Hopi, "When someone was initiated, he was thrown down to try him out." "How to roast one another" also refers to an initiation trial.
“The Hopis and the Famine.” Tedlock, Dennis (translated by Dennis Tedlock by permission of University of Nebraska Press). Finding the Center: The Art of the Zuni Storyteller, 2nd edition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, ©1999. pp. 29-54.
Used with the permission of Professor Dennis Tedlock and University of Nebraska Press. www.nebraskapress.unl.edu