Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Hopi Tale

Raise your hand if you're familiar with the Hopi. Anyone? Anyone?

I studied them many years ago in a sociology class. Culturally they value harmony above all else. They lived where no other tribes or peoples cared to make their home. And because they lived where no one else understood how to live, they lived with a remarkable degree of peace. (That's probably a very serious oversimplification, but so are all efforts to encapsulate the long history of a people in a single stroke of sentence.)

They broke apart and redistributed as a people many, many times throughout their history. Frank Waters (1963) described the inherent lack of a "national" identity as a "weakness," but I think he was just underestimating the unique power of confederation. It's a form that seeks NOT to allow too much power to accumulate. Anathema to the European inspired mindset. At some point in history, when the Spanish were attempting to dominate the Hopi, in a remarkable act of cultural conservatism, they attacked the villages that were allying with the Spanish and redistributed the women and children to other villages (Rushforth and Upham, 1992). They did not confront the Spanish (an outside and hostile force), but their own community. Unexpected among a people who sought to avoid conflict. But then, Europeans habitually underestimate indigenous peoples.

Why am I blathering about the Hopi? (For an American audience, there must always be a why.)

I consider a good friend of mine who is regularly angered at forces outside of herself, but will not take the step of looking within her soul's own community to consolidate her harmony. She attacks and attacks and attacks the world, and then blames the world for deserving the attack. Her mind writhes in anger for hours, sometimes days after the offense-- reliving, and reliving the moment of anger, imagining ways to make the perpetrators pay. I picture her sometimes at the edge of a crowd shouting "Guillotine" as this or that former dignitary loses his head. She has, in times past, taken offense at me for not supporting her in her anger. It has made me the enemy more than once. At another time in history, she might during a fit of bitterness be the person who turned me into a privy council for not being passionate in my patriotism or sufficiently outraged toward a common foe. One day I'll ruminate on the relationship between rage and blood sacrifice. Or maybe not. Seems a given. There's a regret component, too- it's an antidote that inevitably comes too late to save the innocent.

That's when I consider the way of the Hopi-- to cultivate nourishment where it seems impossible to grow, to keep their alliances flexible and amorphous, preferring to yield and absent themselves than to release wrath, and when wrath is the only option available, preferring to annihilate a segment of themselves than to attack a neighbor.

Raise your hand if you're familiar with the Hopi. Anyone? Anyone?

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