“I can tell you exactly how it happened because I was involved in the business. I was sixteen years old”. Chuka, Don C. Talayesva, Orayvi, September 8, 1906.
On September 8, 1906, two fueding Hopi Leaders chose a non-lethal, sports-like push and pull strategy requiring only physical prowess to resolve a civil dispute in the original mother village of Orayvi.
“It [hostilities] got pretty bad in the village. Things got upside down. We drove the hostiles from the village. At three o’clock Youkioma of the hostile faction made four lines on the ground. Youkioma said “Well, it has to be done this way now that you pass me over this line, it will be done”. The Split at Old Oraibi: An Oraibi Account.
This date marks a historic event that changed the lives of the Hopi people on Third Mesa 112 years ago. This historic “Push of War” is inscribed on the rock surface near the village today as a reminder. The faction that was pushed over the line with their leader were the families who left their homes to seek a new future.
The newspaper photograph shows Tawaquaptewa, the Bear Clan leader of Orayvi, at the site where the rock writings are carved in English words, inscribed by Robert Selina and Charles Addington.
I have heard oral accounts from different elders who witnessed this traumatic event in their lives. My maternal grandmother talked about this day vividly, every day of her life. As a teenager, she carried her little brother on her back as her family began walking a life as refugees overnight.
This “war” was heartbreaking but no one died. As I think about the basic questions – why did the Hopi leaders choose this ritual act of severing and what is the significance or relevance to Hopi today? Why did our ancestors leave their ancestral settlements and where did they go? Today, we know the answer.
The act of the “tug of war-like” traditions in world cultures goes back to the 12thCentury in places like Egypt, India and Myanmar. How did the Hopi leaders know of this tradition? In the 1800s, Hopi men travelled to the Colorado River near Laughlin, Nevada to hunt turtles and to the Pacific Ocean to trade for shells and minerals. They had contact with the people who lived in these areas. One group now called the Mohave, have a cultural tradition of the “tug of war” that continues to be practiced today. The Hopi may have seen or participated in this activity at that time so it was known to them in 1906.
The idea of a ritualized act by the Hopi leaders has a deeper meaning that we do not fully understand. For my family, the final outcome of this “hands on” democracy was uniquely Hopi. My grandmother and her family walked on and founded a new village, Bacavi where she lived her life ways for over 100 years. We Are Still Here.
Dedicated to Senator John McCain, a friend of the Hopi
See Hopi Tutuveni Issue “Remembering John McCain” here:
By MFredericks, webmaster, 2018