A Hopi elder has teamed up with a Colorado writer and a photographer to publish a book about the tribe’s rock art and one clan’s migration story.
“A Hopi Flute Clan Migration Story” offers a rare insight into Hopi cultural traditions through the viewpoint of tribal elder Leroy Pantema Lewis.
Lewis collaborated with Montezuma County artist and author Lorna Gail LaDage to document his clan’s stories that go back millennia.
Photographer Dr. Terry Swanson joined the authors on tours to Hopi sites and villages to capture striking images of remote rock-art panels with significance to the Hopi Tribe.
“It’s been a wonderful journey and a huge privilege to help produce this book,” LaDage said. “Leroy wanted to share his clan’s migration story with a wider audience in a way that does not reveal secrets of the tribe.”
Lewis is a member of the Blue Flute Clan and his ancient ancestors — or Hisatsinom in the Hopi language — recorded their journeys on rock panels.
“During our migrations, we left engravings that said we were here,” he writes.
Lewis lives in the Sichomovi village on First Mesa of the Hopi reservation in northeast Arizona.
According to his clan’s legend, the Hopi migration began in Tibet, directed by the Immortal Being “Maasaw” at the beginning of mankind.
“The Flute Clan from the Tibetan area started east across the Bering straight,” Lewis writes. “Near Edmonton, Canada, one can find the Flute Clan image engraved as a petroglyph.”
They eventually gathered at the present-day Hopi village of Walpi.
“When each clan arrived, Maasaw made sure that they still carried on the ceremonial traditions intact,” Lewis says.
Rock art interpreted
The book is an excellent instructional tool for identifying Hopi symbols on rock panels in the Southwest. It corrects a common misconception that images of flute players are Kokopelli.
“I am not Kokopelli,” Lewis says. “There is a katsina called Kokopelli, but they are not flute players. Kokopelli is the personification of an insect with a long, pointed snout, often confused with a flute.”
The name Kokopelli is an incorrect reference to the Kookopoli, the katsina figure that appears in ceremonial dances. “Poli” means butterfly in Hopi.
On pictograph panels, handprints represent the artists who painted the picture, Lewis says, and are the trademark of Hopis who have been on the migration trail.
Spirals depict which way the migration is going, or the final destination. Figures with hair whorls are maidens of marriageable age.
Various flute players are showcased in the book, including one depicting the cicada, one performing for a family on a panel in Alberta Canada, and 10 flute players playing to a tree.
Flute players with multiple horns are of the Hopi Horn Clan who would travel ahead by two or three days to seek water holes.
Another petroglyph shows a water serpent rising from an enclosure, symbolizing a water source. Snakes and lightning are believed to bring rain; and zigzag, serpentine lines also suggest water.
Hopi migration symbols are seen at Mesa Verde, Chaco, Aztec, Montezuma Castle, Grand Canyon, Navajo National monument and beyond.
Lewis was invited to Mexico to help interpret drawings from a 500-year old Aztec codex, one of which he believes tells the story of the Hopi migration across the sea by canoe.
Tibetan monks say they have a connection to the Hopi, and recently a Peruvian shaman visited the Hopi village to share stories, concluding, “You are like us; the Hopi are my brother.”
The Hopi are protective of their ways and territory, but they do offer guided tours of rock panels, and some social dances are open to the public. Photography is not allowed.
“Everything is with permission, but the Hopi are friendly if you express an interest in their arts and traditions,” LaDage said.
Lewis writes that the Hopi elders are concerned that modern influences of television, the Internet, and cell phones are eroding traditional values of the tribe.
“Perhaps by writing this book, I might help encourage our children and grandchildren to continue practicing Hopi values,” he writes. “I also wish for this book to be available for people from many backgrounds so they can know and appreciate our story.”
On October 14 at 6 p.m. Lewis and LaDage will give a presentation of their book at the Cortez Library.
It is available at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, at the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding, Utah, and on Amazon. All proceeds go to the Lewis family.