Natwaniwa: A Hopi Philosophical Statement

With George Nasoftie

Video Credits

Watch the video without English captions

Larry Evers, Producer
Dennis Carr, Director 
Michael Orr, Post Production Supervisor 
Erwin Miller, Studio Engineer 
Emory Sekaquaptewa, Principal Consultant and Translator 
Andy Peterman, John Crouch & Jon Holden, Field Engineers 
In Cooperation with the University of Arizona Radio-TV-Film Bureau 
© Arizona Board of Regents 1981



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'sinasociety 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'sinasocieties 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 natwaniwaas "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.


(Kat'sina Song)

We settled these villages along here because we wanted to be a religious people. We wanted to live by the power of prayer so that rain might come from all directions. That is the way we resolved ourselves to a lifeway after we settled here. That is why we, the Hopi people, are a religious people. We wanted to worship according to our ceremonies. When we emerged here, we gave ourselves to these eagles as though they were our fathers. We offer their feathers in prayer as pahos to all directions so that the clouds might bring us water to drink as would our fathers. It is for this reason we look to the essential waters of the four cloud chiefs as we suffer the long hours of smoking in the kiva.

(Kat'sina Song)

Now that you have helped me, I have become happy. I have planted this along here today. Now I have finished all of it. I have planted watermelons over there. Now that this is done, if it be so, if fortune would have it, it will rain upon the field. Then these plants will grow. When these plants mature and, when we bring them to ourselves, then we shall take them as food toward tomorrow.

These beans will mature, but we still have to thresh them. That is difficult, that threshing. When we have threshed them, then we will carefully put them away. During the year we will eat from what we have put away, but then when some is left over we will rehearse with it at Powamuya. When the ceremony is finished, at that time, then we will plant some of it that is left over again for the coming season. This is the way it is done.

When one finishes planting, then he pauses and looks around at it for a while. But when the plants emerge, then one has to hoe. When the field is clean of weeds and the plants are alone, they grow better. If the worms and other predators don't come, then one usually does not work as hard, and these plants usually prosper. After the plants mature, we bring them home to ourselves, and then we shall eat them, while there is nothing yet. Then about the time when we have gathered all of it to ourselves, it will be the time when we will do the Wuwtsim.

Then, in special offerings, we prepare these beans along with the piki to take to the kiva where we eat them to sustain our prayer. When that is finished it will be Soyalangw. When we arrive at Soyalangw, everyone becomes tranquil. During SoyalangwKyaamuya will arrive. When we make pahos at Soyalangw, everyone is not supposed to go out. Long ago, when respect prevailed, they told each other stories during that time, both narratives about the happenings of the past and children's stories as well. You know, owl, the coyotes, and about their mutual friendships. Everyone usually used to entertain themselves with things like that. During Kyaamuya, no one is supposed to walk about at night, and, as you will recall, one has to daub ashes upon his forehead, upon his heart, and upon the soles of his feet. During that time it is very solemn. One doesn't know how to go about during Kyaamuya for fear of doing the wrong thing.

When Kyaamuya is finished, then it becomes Paamuya. At that time one beat of the drum sounds from the kiva, and everyone emerges and is released. From then on, everyone rehearses dances such as the buffalo dance to entertain themselves, while waiting for the next ceremonial event.
When Paamuya is ended, then comes Powamuya. At that time they again rehearse the bean germination. Having saved some back at the harvest, they rehearse with it, and, as usual, they direct their thoughts in unison toward summer as they sit daily in meditation. At Powamuya, when Qöglö is to bring the bean sprouts, they also work on the kat'sina dolls. They work on many things for the children: dolls, turtle shell rattles, bows, and, in recent years, the so-called lightning wand is added.

When they have finished, from that time on it is called Hakitonmuya. When Hakitonmuya approaches, one is clearing his fields in anticipation. When Kwiyamuya comes, it is customary to build windbreaks, and when that is over, they begin these early crops, such as we have just finished planting after this hard work. Later they do the main planting. Along with the main corn, they usually plant these white lima beans. From then on these things fit together in the same way according to the moon as I have mentioned.

When we plant, as we have in this way, then, as you can see, our efforts appear futile. When you watch me hoeing, I am doing what appears to be futile. Sometimes I have to pull weeds out by the roots with my bare hands. When this wind does not leave us alone, we usually have to clear away the sand from around the plants.

According to our elders, this corn is sacred. It is our staff of life. Where we emerged, then and there we chose this corn to live by. According to this way of life, we have to use a perfect ear of corn in the ceremonial washing of the newborn child. When one has to enter into a ceremony—such as the Kat'sina ceremony, one does so again through the use of a perfect ear of corn. When one enters the Wuwstim, again they wash his hair through the use of a perfect ear of corn. Now then these beans are brought as special food for the ceremony. Piki is the special food for important priestly ceremonies. We resolved to live only by these foods raised with our hands. That is why we settled here where there is seemingly nothing. We wanted to live by our prayers. That is why we settled here. Sometimes, when summer passes favorably, we gather a lot of corn, the Hopi staff of life. We also gather and put away watermelons, beans, and many other things as food for our journey toward tomorrow. But we save some, so that we may plant. And when we plant them, then again we put away some as food for our journey toward the next tomorrow. Ever since the beginning, the Hopi have lived this way.

Now that we have come to this new life, some of us are not climbing down to our orchards and fields. We are not hoeing them. Today some people do not even take care of their plants. But one cannot help but consider that his children and grandchildren should eat these things as others do. We are suffering by our own doing. And now that we have arrived at this new life, because we do no longer have our hearts in this land, we want to stick to the village. Perhaps that is why it is not raining for us. My knowledge is that we are to walk on the land in harmony with each other. Then it will rain for us. Our elders taught us this. Some of us have listened to their teachings, and that is why our hearts have entered into this land. If one's heart enters the plants, if one truly takes the plants to heart, if one makes himself believe, things come easily. But if one dabbles at his work, he does poorly. If he is slovenly, he craves the work of others.

This land is given to us, and we are to use it well. Things are to grow from the land. Things with which we may live are to come to us from the ground this way. That is why we were given it. That is why the land cannot be denied to anyone. We eat only from the land. There is nothing that does not come from the land. This thing called food comes only from the land. Look, here, with it we are alive; our eyes see. We have learned this way of life from our elders. We humbly follow it and suffer its hardships as we provide our children and our grandchildren with food to eat and with the joy of life. When things go the right way, when it rains, if one's crops are good, one is usually happy. When one's heart is in it, this land is a thing of joy. If one has livestock, they are also objects of his heart.

(Kat'sina Song)

But now some young men don't consider these things. Even some of their fathers and mothers don't consider these things anymore. Now we are pushing many things aside. Perhaps that is why we are not having rain. And we don't know with whom we can be angry. We should become angry with ourselves and say, "Why do we waste our time this way? Let us plant." If we would climb down to them, we would have rains. It is said that the clouds are watching for us on this land and that when we do as we should it will rain. These are our instructions, and some of us, at least, are going along that path. Would that some of the old ones continue teaching their children and grandchildren in this way, but even some of them are not planting. They only think of what they can receive for free. When one thinks of this he is not happy. We have it all here. Thankfully, we have been given this birthright to feed ourselves. It is happiness. When one raises something, he becomes happy.

This is the field I am planting now. This is the field for the ceremonial office I hold. We mark it from the rock that looks white over there, to the rock that marks the end over there. This field belongs to the one in that office. When I grow old and if I should leave this office, then another who enters my place will be planting this field. This will be Soyolangw, such as ceremonial cornmeal. This is the field for that corn meal. "Kiisa" is what it is called; therefore this is a field for "kiisa." Then along here is the Maraw field, then over there the Wuwtism field, and way over there the Angwus field of the Kat'sina. It is the field of the Crow Mother Kat'sina.

(Kat'sina Song)

Though these are our teachings, some people have become doubtful of these ways. That is why some of us now have to run around the white man's country looking for his corn. Truly that is embarrassing. Even in summer at the Home Dance time they have to run about looking for corn. Why? When, thank goodness, this land is here and lies ready for their use. They should be planting it with care. Perhaps they could be planting their share. Instead they usually run about for the white man's corn. I do not look on this with favor. I have said this many times to everyone. More than once I've said to these old men: "It is good that this land lies ready for our use. We should be eating from it, but instead we look to the Pahaana to wait on us." What we want is something the Pahaana would call "welfare." To me that is not good. If we would eat from this land, we would not have to look to the Pahaana to wait on us.

So this field is for the one from Songoopavy who is in this office. It is his field. And in the same way over there, Walpi has its own tradition of a ceremonial field, and also MusangnuviSupawlavi observes its tradition with Songoopavy. Because we do this together Supawlavi also has the same right to this ceremonial field. If someone at Supawlavi should stand in this office sometime, he will be planting this field. The Supawlavi people also have a customary right to use this field with those of us from Songoopavy.

Because we want these things, we humbly pray for them in the kiva. That is why in all our ceremonies we are usually smoking. Our mouths suffer the burning. When one thinks about this suffering, and then when he comes to his plants, he begs them earnestly with his words. One usually prays for the plants that they might live, that they might drink. One does these things humbly in the kiva.

We cause ourselves much suffering in all this. See, when one smokes, his lips usually hurt. It is painful. All day long we smoke so that it might rain and so that we might raise some things. With this form of prayer we make ourselves useful in these Hopi ceremonies. At the same time we make it possible for one to be initiated into the ceremony.

But we have now arrived to this new way of life. We have abandoned our fields, our orchards. The weeds in them are a sight! Poor things, perhaps they would have us wait on them and clear them away. This is our sustenance, that is why we are concerned. But we have neglected the fields. We are not steadfast. And it is not easy to regain these ways once they are neglected.

Even so now many people do not do things by hand, and when they work with tractors, they usually till large fields. Before they worked the fields this way, they would often have famines. See, they had small areas as fields. Now we have large areas as fields because we cultivate not by our own hands. Still some cultivate by their own hands. When one hoes along by hand, one can humbly talk to his plants. One can humbly encourage them saying: "You will exert yourselves." One says this as he goes among the plants, reflecting on his grandchildren and children. When one's grandchild is in his heart, he humbly thinks of him as he makes self-sacrifice in these fields. See, it is hot, the sun burns one. Then one gets thirsty, gets hungry, gets tired, when he is at it all day. All of our highest prayers are directed towards this way of life. But some of us assume it only as a mask. Some of us utter these highest prayers only as empty words.

Well, this is about all I will say, even though in living this thing called "hopi" one does many more things.

I will say this much to you.

(Kat'sina Song)

Transcript Notes — As part of their emergence into this world Hopi people came under the protection and guidance of eagles. Their feathers are used to construct pahosor prayer sticks which are offered to the powers at various times.

— The four cloud chiefs are the forces associated with the four directions. They are referred to by color and in their relation to the sun from the perspective of the Hopi villages, thus:

Dial graph

— piki is a very thin bread made by spreading cornmeal batter on a very hot stone kept for the purpose. It is often brought by the kat'sinas and is considered an appropriate food for them.


— Qöglö is an important kat'sina spirit who comes during Powumuya. Two Qöglöopen the kivas at Soongpovay each December to start the kat'sina season.

— Pahaana is the term used to refer to white people at Hopi. Its mythological associations are incredibly rich.

— As a part of their prayers, Hopi men smoke a very harsh native tobacco (piiva) in the kiya.

For Comment and Discussion



Rudolph Kane tells two kinds of Apache narratives on this videotape. The Gaan narrative in Part I is a na'godi'ee -- a true story about the distant past, what might be called a "myth" in European tradition. The series of stories about Ba'ts'oosee which Rudolph Kane tells in Part II are called łe'gocho, fictional stories analagous to what we call "folktales." Rudolph Kane's performances of these two genres contrast not only in terms of their content but also in terms of his style of narrating each. Note the more animated and playful style which characterizes the telling of łe'gocho. 



Other aspects of Rudolph Kane's storytelling style deserve mention. Note that the Ba'ts'oosee stories are enclosed by a formulaic opening and closing. The closing, which we have translated "That's how my yucca bananas hang," compares the way the Ba'ts'oosee stories come together to the way the fruit of the yucca grows in a cluster on a single stern, like bananas contemporary Apache people say. Note, too, that the favorite numbers of Apache people—four, twelve, and thirty-two -- are used throughout all the narratives, as are the colors Apaches traditionally associate with the four directions -- black, blue, yellow, and white. Note how Rudolph Kane makes effective use 
of quotation throughout his narratives, and how the very distinctive exclamation "heee," which has no literal translation in Apache, is used to introduce many of Ba'ts'oosee's comments. Finally note how Rudolph Kane uses things in his home -- a pipe on the wall, a picture, his own hat—to enhance his telling.



All the stories Rudolph Kane tells on this videotape have been recorded in other versions from Apache people earlier in this century. Two very compressed versions of the "Origin of the Gaans" have been recorded: one by Pliny E. Goddard, Myths and Tales from the White Mountain Apache (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1919), pp. 124-26; the other by Grenville Goodwin, Myths and Tales of the White Mountain Apache (New York: American Folklore Society, 1939), pp. 100-06. Another version of "The Man Who Became a Gaan," told by Alsus at Cedar Creek in 1930, may be found in Goodwin, pp. 119-21. Versions of all the Ba'ts'oosee stories which Rudolph Kane tells on this videotape can be found in the same sources. Contrasting these early published versions with those told by Rudolph Kane in 1977 is instructive. It indicates that over nearly a century of intensive pressure from the larger society Apache people continue to maintain their oral traditions in very stable forms. The variation in these versions is also provocative, indicating perhaps the freedom permitted story- tellers in episodes in various ways.

Contrasting these early published versions with those told by Rudolph Kane in 1977 is instructive. It indicates that over nearly a century of intensive pressure from the larger society Apache people continue to maintain their oral traditions in very stable forms. The variation in these versions is also provocative, indicating perhaps the freedom permitted storytellers in episodes in various ways.



Many of the stories which Rudolph Kane tells on this videotape have been recorded far from Cedar Creek, Arizona. Folklorist Stith Thompson reports that "The Theft of Fire" episode alone was told by at least sixty-five different tribes over virtually the whole of what we now know as the United States. The Tarbaby episode, which many of us know from the Uncle Remus of Joel Chandler Harris and Walt Disney, has an extremely wide international distribution. Despite years of intense study, folklorists are unable to agree as to how to account for the wide distribution of stories of this sort. Some argue that the story must have originated in one place and diffused out from there; others speculate that the same story can spring up of its own accord in a number of widely separated cultures.

Social Protest


While these are interesting questions, it is also important to wonder why these stories are told among Apache people. One reason very obviously is that the stories are entertaining; another that they instruct Apache young people in various ways. Consider Ba'ts'oosee, the trickster figure, as a vehicle for social protest in this regard. Leslie Marmon Silko's poem "Toe'osh: a Laguna Coyote Story" is another good example of how the Trickster figure is used by Indian people in this way. Silko reads the poem on "Running on the Edge of the Rainbow" one of the videotapes in this series. It is printed in her book Storyteller (NY: Grove, 1981), p. 236.

The Recording


All original material recorded November 29 -- December 1, 1977 is archived in the Southwest Folklore Center, University of Arizona, Tucson. Copies of this program without English subtitles are available to Apache speakers through the Division of Media and Instructional Programs, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

Related Readings


Keith Basso's The Cibeque Apaches (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970) provides an overview of much of Western Apache life. Professor Basso's Portraits of "The White Man": Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols Among the Western Apache (Cambridge: Cambridge Universal Press, 1979) is a superb consideration of the Apache verbal art of joking. Two collections of Western Apache stories have been published. Pliny E. Goddard's Myths and Tales from the White Mountain Apache (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1919), and Grenville Goodwin's Myths and Tales of the White Mountain Apache (New York: J. J. Augustin, 1939).

Dennis Tedlock's discussion of Zuni Indian narrative genres in "Pueblo Literature: Style and Verisimilitude," in Alfonso Ortiz, ed., New Perspectives on the Pueblos(Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1972), pp. 219-42, is an extremely helpful discussion of the question of genre in American Indian literature. Paul Radin's The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken, 1972) provides useful perspectives, as does Barbara Babcock's article "A Tolerated Margin of Mess: Trickster and His Tales Reconsidered," Journal of the Folklore Institute, 6 (1975), pp. 345-80. For other versions of "The Theft of Fire" from American Indian communities see Stith Thompson's Tales of the North American Indians(Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1968), note 63, page 289. For Tarbaby, see Thompson's The Folktale (New York: Dryden Press, 1946), pp. 225-26 and 445; and A. M. Espinosa's "Notes on the Origin and History of the Tarbaby Story," Journal of American Folklore, 43 (1930), pp. 129-209. 

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