The Hopi people trace their history in Arizona to more than 2,000 years, but their history as a people goes back many more thousands of years. According to their legends, the Hopi migrated north to Arizona from the south, up from what is now South America, Central America and Mexico.
The tribe’s teachings relate stories of a great flood and other events dating to ancient times, marking the Hopi as one of the oldest living cultures in documented history. A deeply religious people, they live by the ethic of peace and goodwill. Social and kachina dances are performed today as they have been for centuries.
The Hopi Reservation, in northeastern Arizona, occupies part of Navajo and Coconino counties and encompasses approximately 1,542,306 acres. It is surrounded by the Navajo Reservation. Having inhabited this high and dry area since the 12th century, the Hopi have developed a unique agriculture practice, “dry farming.” Instead of plowing their fields, Hopi traditional farmers place “wind breakers” in the fields at selected intervals to retain soil, snow and moisture. They also have perfected special techniques to plant seeds in arid fields. As a result, they succeed in raising corn, beans, squash, melons and other crops in a landscape that appears inhospitable to farming.
Throughout the Hopi reservation, every village is an autonomous government. However the Hopi Tribal Council makes law for the tribe and sets policy to oversee tribal business. The Hopi villages are found at both the base and the top of three mesas dominating the landscape. These mesas project to the south from the enormous Black Mesa formation like fingers on a giant hand. Walpi, on First Mesa, is widely considered the most spectacular of the Hopi villages as it is terraced into a narrow rock table. Old stone Houses appear to cling to the cliffs, overlooking an expansive view that is largely unchanged by the centuries. The village of Orabi is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America. The Hopi people are internationally acclaimed as artisans. First Mesa is known for their pottery; Second Mesa is well known for coiled basketry. Third Mesa is renowned for wicker basketry, weaving, kachina doll carving and silversmithing.
Hopi artists were encouraged by the Museum of Northern Arizona in the late 1930’s to create a unique style of jewelry to differentiate their work from the Navajo and Zuni. Paul Saufkie and Fred Kabotie used designs from Hopi pottery, baskets and other art forms in a distinct silvermithing style known as the overlay technique. This silver work involves cutting out an intricate design on one piece of silver and then adhering that to a solid piece of silver underneath. After World War II, Paul Saufkie taught Hopi veterans this technique through a program sponsored by the G. I. Bill. Victor Coochwytewa, a student, further developed the technique whereby the bottom silver piece is oxidized thus allowing the cutout designs to show more prominently. The Hopi Silvercraft Cooperative Guild was formed by Paul and Fred in 1949. It continues today to provide a place for Hopi silversmiths to learn and refine their unique style.
(From Inter Tribal Counsel of Arizona)