It is wintertime. Outside, the north wind howls as it sculpts the newly fallen snow. Inside, the juniper wood burning in the fireplace crackles rhythmically and emits its soothing medicinal fragrance. The family is gathered around the storyteller. Everything is ready. The parched corn is being passed around in a shallow yucca basket for everyone to enjoy. The Hopi tea is beginning to boil and will brew by the time the storyteller wishes to quench his thirst. All eyes gaze upon the dancing flames until the storyteller utters, "aliksa'i." There is quiet; even the fire seems to temporarily cease its song. The next sound is that of the listeners responding in unison, "oh weh,"--"Yes, we are eager to hear you!" This scene is repeated numerous times in households throughout the Hopi area in northeastern Arizona.
Hopi people carry on many ancient traditions, including dry-farming many varieties of corn, their principle crop. Homes are built of adobe and hand-quarried sandstone--natural building materials which provide protection against summer heat and winter chill. Hopi villages are the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in all of North America. Hopis live an egalitarian life and organize themselves through clans such as bear, pumpkin, sun, flute and coyote. Clan membership is inherited from one's mother.
Hopis do not have a written language; however, their enduring oral tradition has forwarded to succeeding generations Hopi language, history, values, code of conduct, folklore and ritual knowledge.
In "Hopitutuwutsi/Hopi Tales" and "Gullible Coyote/Una'ihu," Hopi storytellers have presented some of their favorite stories in hopes of creating a written Hopi literature. These two volumes were organized by Ekkehart Malotki, a philologist and linguist at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. Malotki has employed an orthography, or writing system, through which an attempt is made to present a faithful transcription of these stories in Hopi and a translation into English. What results is not only a bilingual collection but an opportunity for the reader to experience, almost firsthand, part of the Hopi storytelling tradition.
"Hopitutuwutsi" is a collection of 10 stories. They are meant to entertain, inform and make us aware of the natural and supernatural worlds in which we live. In the story entitled "Kokosori and His Witch Wife," we are introduced to some Hopi concepts of sorcery. Kokosori's wife leads a double life. By day, she demonstrates all the virtues of a good Hopi wife, but by night, she becomes transformed into
something other than human, a witch. Kokosori learns of his wife's other world and is startled when he finds out just how many individuals from his world also belong to the secret witch society. At first, we feel sorry for Kokosori but then we begin to wonder--which world is real, which world is a dream?
The story, "How the So'yoko Monsters Were Killed by the Poqangwhoyas," introduces three favorite Hopi characters; the Poqangwhoyas, mischievous twin lads, and So'oh, their beloved grandmother. In this episode, we are also introduced to So'yoko, the monsters who prey on misbehaving children. For the Poqangwhoyas, life is a game, a fun game. In every situation, regardless of the risks, they see opportunities to play tricks on each other or on someone else. Usually no one gets hurt unless, as in this story, it is for a common good.
Other stories in this collection show that there is much that humans can learn from the animal world. Animals are not only sources of sustenance but are believed to have specialized knowledge and wisdom. Spider, eagle, mole and even the tiny wren display their willingness to help Hopis free themselves from desperate situations.
In contrast, "Gullible Coyote Una'ihu" shows animal figures playing a different role in Hopi stories. Unlike the helpful, knowledgeable animals portrayed in "Hopitutuwutsi," the coyote reflects the undesirable yet inescapable facets of Hopi community life. Coyote serves as a cultural scapegoat (or scapecoyote) on whom are projected the characteristics of gullibility, greed and gluttony. Coyote amuses and instructs, in the same instance, because of his unsavory character. "Gullible Coyote Una'ihu" is a collection of 12 episodes in which coyote engages members of the animal kingdom. The antelope, cat, skunk, horned lizard and turtle are endowed with different personalities. The stories remind us how different personalities can be combined to deal with a given situation.
For any readers, these stories will be a welcome addition to American Indian literature. The stories have withstood the test of time in the Hopi world and will no doubt be a source of entertainment and information to a new audience.