As a child, my earliest memory is going on hikes with my father. Once we climbed up on a flat mesa top. On this mesa there were red hoodos of animals and other knobby, otherworldly creatures that I have never been able to forget. I have searched for that mesa for many years now and cannot find it again. Was it a dream, an imaginary place or a real memory. My paternal grandmother scolded my father for taking his children to this place. It was “naa pa la” – a negative place that is a source of physical ailments like warts, tumors or cancerous growths.
As well, childhood visits were made to petroglyph, pictograph, geo-glyph and ancestral sites. These sites always had a story. A place-name. A meaning connected to a historic event. A ceremony place. A lesson. A connection. A memory from a child’s perspective. Today, many years later, I have experienced the life of a Hopi female, ceremonies and initiations, listened to countless oral stories from my grandparents who were born at the turn of the century and now have a greater understanding of the cultural, religious and human life ways of the Hopi people.
I continue to be drawn to the petroglyph and pictograph images, particularly on the Hopi Reservation as I come to know the landscape intimately. My passion to find these images is not particularly for the purpose of preservation or protection but rather, to understand the relevance to Hopi life as we live it today. The Hopi word for the people who left these images are “pas he’ sat senom”, a people before memory or time immemorial. The message, meaning or interpretation is not primarily what I seek. In anthropological speak, what I seek is the “ways in which shared ideas about the past are revived, referenced, dismissed, ignored, selectively utilized, and amended” in a Hopi cultural context and relevance to Hopi life ways today.
On my solitary hikes to a petroglyph or pictograph site on the Hopi Reservation, I look carefully at the landscape. I look for the line of sight with nearby and distant ancestral sites, a place name, an oral story, a reference to words or concepts used in ceremonial songs, pottery shard patterns, placement of springs and shrines, gathering areas for eagles, wild edible greens and herbs, hunting areas over distances of 150 miles that I can visually identify. I am seeking a sliver of memory of the relevance of the images in a present cultural context to connect the place with Hopi life ways today. The Hopi people have lived on our aboriginal homelands for a long, long time. Without understanding the relevance, we will have lost part of our cultural memory and DNA with the “pas he’ sat senom”.
As I learn documentation methods of petroglyphs, I meet many individuals who have a passion for scientific study, interpretation and publications on the subject matter. I learn from others but stand apart as I understand a perspective distinctly as a Hopi female, limited scientifically, yet full in a cultural context and relevance to Hopi today. I share and teach the present Hopi generation as much as I learn and can understand.
All the disciplines of science, as well as Native American people can work together to piece together the memory of the past and bring it into the present. I often hear the comment, “but nobody knows who they were or what happened to these people”. We are infants wanting to be comforted with knowing.
Science is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it provides “proof” of this or that. On the other hand, the proof can be wrong or incorrect. Science does not have a memory. For myself, I find the proof to be understanding even a sliver of the cultural memory that the “pas hi sat senom” may have intended in the images that predate any foreign influence in the Americas. The historical and cultural memory that we pass to the present and future Hopi generations is private to each individual family, clan and tribal group.
I ask the new generation of scientists to keep an open mind to listen, see, hear, feel and taste all forms of knowledge for the benefit of understanding by all peoples, of the ancient images we are privileged to see but not truly fully know. We are still here.
“… Any human without memory is lost; that memory is encoded in the historic/cultural artifacts, sites, burials and vestiges of peoples past and their descendant cultures…” Declaration on the Right to Cultural Historical Memory
By Marilyn Fredericks, Hopi, 2017