Mesa sunset, Arizona
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Mesa Wisdom of the Hopi People

Change. Constant change is the law of life. Everything is different, yet everything is the same.” —Frank Waters

Mesa sunset, Arizona
Mesa sunset, Arizona (Photo by T.S. Bremer, 2008)

Frank Waters learned wisdom from Hopi elders, which he subsequently revealed in his Book of the Hopi. He recalled in an autobiographical essay that appeared in the collection Growing Up Western, “Here on the Hopi mesas I found the indigenous culture of America, still preserving those transcendent values of universal wholeness and unity so desperately needed by our fragmented world today” (219).

What can we learn from the Hopi, or any culture not our own? On the one hand, the Hopi have persisted in large part because of their success in fending off colonial invaders and remaining isolated from the encroachments of Euroamerican culture. Not revealing the intimate perspectives of their religious outlook has been a matter of cultural survival, and Frank Waters’ unveiling of their traditional truths and practices seems a violation of the Hopi people. Colonial appropriation appears in a Penguin paperback for all to see.

On the other hand, the Hopi worldviews and traditions that Waters details offer us an alternative to the destructive, violent, dispossessing, dissembling ways of American society. Though perhaps tragically distorted, and to some ways of thinking itself a product of colonial violence, his Book of the Hopi offers the non-Hopi world an alternate vision of reality with potential for other ways of being in this land. It provides a powerful critique of our ultimately self-destructive assumptions, values, and modes of living. The Hopi certainly have no claim to a singular, absolute truth, but the wisdom and experience accumulated from millennia in the North American desert can help others see with a clarity not possible in the worlds that have come to dominate so much of our lives.

Perhaps this book is about hope. This too will change, even as it stays the same.

[Daily post 049 of 260 in my year-long challenge.] ♨

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