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The ceremony takes place in November and lasts for 16 days. It is among several ceremonies that the Hopi Indians of Arizona celebrate.  The purpose of the Wuwuchim is to mark the beginning of the new ceremonial year in the Hopi calendar. In other words, this is like the Hopi New Year celebration.


The name is believed to come from the Hopi word wuwutani, which means "to grow up." It is also a time when the young men are initiated into the sacred societies that oversee all the Hopi ceremonies throughout the year.  

The tribal elders will close off all roads leading to the pueblo. All fires are extinguished. The women and children stay indoors. 

The initiation ceremony takes place in the kiva (see below) where the adolescent boys are gathered and participate in secret ceremonies that introduce them to the Hopi religious customs and beliefs.  Not only are visitors are not allowed to view this part of the ceremony; but, even other tribal members are not allowed to see these initiation rites take place.  So the initiation ceremony is overseen by a tribal chief who impersonates Masau'u, the Hopi God of Death and the ruler of the underworld.

After the boys have gone through their initiation, they are treated as adults and allowed to dance as Katchinas (see below) in all other Hopi ceremonies throughout the rest of the year.  Wuwuchim is therefore essential tot he continuing cycle of Hopi ceremonial life.

The kindling of the new fire (see below) is the first ritual that takes place during the Wuwuchim.  Other tribes observe this ritual around the time of the winter solstice, but the Hopi use it as the start of their Wuwuchim showing it's importance as a symbol of the start of the new Hopi year.  As the ceremony comes to an end, there are prayers, songs and dances designed to ensure the safety and success of the Hopi people in the coming year.

The purpose of the Wuwuchim is also to invite their dead ancestors to return to the pueblo.  Therefore, a path must be kept open for them.  This makes it necessary to close all roads leading to the pueblo so that others can not enter during this sacred time of year.  The tribal elders do this by laying down four parallel lines of cornmeal across each road that leads into the village.  These lines serve as symbolic barriers to the outside world.

The katchinas are also called katsinas or kachinas.  They are the spirits or the supernatural beings who possess the power of the gods and represent the Hopi ancestors.  They begin to emerge from the underworld at Wuwuchim and will remain on the earth for about 6 months or half a year.  The katchinas then depart around July after the summer solstice.

Young Hopi children from the start are taught to respect these spirits by being presented with katchina dolls that represent these spirits.  As Hopi children grow older, they are often disciplined by male tribe members who wear Katchina masks.  When they reach adolescence, they then are initiated into the grown-up world by men, who impersonate the katchinas, will then remove their masks and reveal their true identities. This is what happens at the Wuwuchim ceremony.

The most powerful katchina is the Blue Star Katchina or Masau'u.  The Hopi believe that when the Blue Star Katchina finally removes his mask and reveals himself, this will bring about the end of an era or cycle of Hopi life.

For more on this, see or Niman Katchina page.

The Kiva is an underground home with a hole in the ceiling that you could only get into via a ladder.  When Hopi Native American Indians first joined together to form villages, they maintained their blood relationships through ceremonies held in the kiva.  This established the clans (i.e. Hopi Snake, Hopi Antelope) that are the basic unit of pueblo organization today.

Today the kiva is a ceremonial room that is the center of the clan tribe and religious life. Up until recently, the males were expected to sleep in the kiva until they married.

Modern kivas can be both round or square and built either above or below ground, most of them still retain the basic architectural features: a windowless room entered by a ladder through a hole (serves as a smoke vent for a fire in the center) and a sipapu (hole in the floor) that represents the gateway to the underworld.  

It is the focal point for most Hopi ceremonies. The preliminary rituals for all the Hopi dances take place here.   Not only do the dancers use the kiva to dress, rehearse and rest after their public performance, it is where secret initiations are also held. And, all other  significant clan and pueblo business is conducted in the kiva. 

Masau'u is also referred to as Masaw, Masao or Masauwu and is the most powerful of all katchinas because he is the Hopi god of death, fire, darkness and war.  He rules the underworld.  

He is said to wear raw animal hides for his clothes and a very frightening mask.  As the god of fire, Masau'u is responsible for teaching the young Hopi men about fire during their initiation ceremony.  Usually, it is a chief who impersonates Masau'u during this ceremony.

On dawn of the first day of Wuwuchim, the "New Fire Ceremony" takes place. It begins like this: two Hopi priests use flint or friction (made by rubbing two sticks together) to start a fire.  Once the fire begins, they then continue to feed it with coal.  Torches are lit from this fire and carried throughout the pueblo and used to light other fires. 

The fire symbolizes the power of the sun, which is channeled through Masau'u to warm the earth and its inhabitants.

Many songs get sung during all the Hopi ceremonies.  The same goes for Wuwuchim.  A lot of songs are sung during the 16 days. But, the one main song that (according to legend) brings the coming of war or disaster. It tells the story of Masau'u or Blue Star Katchina and how a new cycle of Hopi life will begin once the Blue Star Katchina takes off his mask.

It is said that this song was sung both in 1914 just before World War I began and in 1940 just after World War II began.

Visit our other Hopi Ceremony Pages!
(Information only. No cartoons  except on the Niman Katchina page.)

Niman Katchina

Powamu Ceremony

Wuwuchim Ceremony

Soyaluna Ceremony

Flute Ceremony

Snake Dance Ceremony

Return to our November Holidays Page for more celebrations.

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003

 

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