Words And Places native literature from the american southwest

Natwaniwa: A Hopi Philosophical Statement

With George Nasoftie

image from video shows metal implements hanging


Literature and Life


One concept we hoped to convey in this videotape series was that in American Indian communities literature is not an entity set apart from life. When we talked with George Nasoftie, a ceremonial leader from the Hopi village of Songoopavy, about this concept, he suggested that we follow him into his fields if we were to understand "this thing called Hopi." George Nasoftie recorded the statements on this videotape there in his fields. The statements are not "literature" in any usual sense of the word. They are rather rich linguistic expressions of a profound philosophical system in which all things are related. These interrelationships pervade this videotape. Notice especially how the Hopi agricultural and religious cycles are related.


George Nasoftie is a kat'sina father in the village of Songoopavy on Second Mesa on the Hopi reservation.

The word kat'sina refers to several concepts. First it refers to those members of the kat'sina society who put on masks in order to become the essence of an associated spirit. In this way the participant receives the powers which belong to the kat'sina he embodies. With these powers he is able to bring rain to Hopi fields and to promote harmony throughout the world. The spiritual beings who members of the kat'sina society impersonate are also called kat'sina. There are hundreds of kat'sinas (their number has no theoretical limit) encompassing both flora and fauna, the world of objects and of cosmic forces, the essences of deceased individuals and of entire neighboring tribes. These kat'sinas are believed to live in the Hopi villages from the time of their arrival each year around the winter solstice until their departure at the Home Dance in late June or early July, During this kat'sina "season," kat'sinas are impersonated by Hopi men in outdoor plaza performances as well as in underground ceremonial chambers called kivas. Finally the term kat'sina is often used to refer to dolls which Hopi men carve from cotton wood roots as representations of spiritual kat'sinas. The dolls are presented to young, uninitiated children by the kat'sinas when they perform in the plaza or kiva.

The kat'sina is one of the mainstays of Hopi culture, and they are considered to be personal friends who intercede on behalf of the Hopi people. George Nasoftie serves as "father" to kat'sinas at Songoopavy. His office requires that he be concerned with their spiritual and physical wellbeing. As he tells us on the videotape, his fields belong to the one who holds his office. In them he is to grow corn and beans for use in the kat'sina ceremonies as well as for his family's personal use. As George Nasoftie points out several times, without corn and beans, it would be impossible to perform Hopi kat'sina ceremonies.


The song which George Nasoftie sings as the program opens and at several points within is a kat'sina song. Kat'sina songs are composed by members of the kat'sina societies and sung by the kat'sinas when they appear in the plaza or the kiva. The song Mr. Nasoftie sings is addressed to the corn. It translates:

Yellow corn maidens, blue corn maidens,
For you have been rehearsed in the fields,
For them you plead for rain.

Remember when the drizzle will cover all
From the lower side.
To you, to here,
They will come as a drizzle.

Yellow corn maidens, blue corn maidens,
For you have been rehearsed in the fields,
For them you plead for rain.

The song turns on the concept we used as a title for this program: Natwaniwa. In the song, and elsewhere in George Nasoftie's statement, we have translated natwaniwa as "to rehearse." Literally, it means to try (tuwanta) oneself (naa).

The philosophic sense of the concept is somewhat Platonic. The kat'sina beings are the only beings who enjoy full knowledge, truth, and perfection. Therefore, only they can live a "real" life. We who are not kat'sina beings are "trying ourselves out" in this life in anticipation of the time when the "real" kat'sina life will become known to us. Until then our lives are imitations of theirs. Our lives imitate what we think we are, our idea of ourselves. So it is that Hopi philosophers consider this life and all our actions in it to be a kind of rehearsal, and so it is that everything George Nasoftie does in his fields he considers to be a rehearsal:

Yellow corn maidens, blue corn maidens,
For you have been rehearsed in the fields.
For them you plead for rain.

George Nasoftie uses the concept in one more particular context in his statement. He speaks of saving some beans each year with which to rehearse at Powamuya. In preparation for the ceremony of Powamu, the kivas are kept very warm and beans are sprouted there. Later during the ceremony they are carried by one of the kat'sinas (Qöglö) into the plazas where they are distributed to the people, a miraculous gift of life in the midst of winter. The beans' growth in the kiva is seen as a "rehearsal" of the growing season to come.

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Songs of My Hunter Heart: Laguna Songs and Poems

By This Song I Walk: Navajo Songs | Seyewailo: The Flower World | The Origin of the Crown Dance: An Apache Narrative and Ba'ts'oosee: An Apache Trickster Cycle | Iisaw: Hopi Coyote Stories & Hopi Songs | Natwaniwa: A Hopi Philosophical Statement | Running on the Edge of the Rainbow: Laguna Stories and Poems | Songs of My Hunter Heart: Laguna Songs and Poems | A Conversation with Vine Deloria, Jr. | Home