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The Hopi Flute Ceremony takes place every August for 9 days on the mesas of northeastern Arizona.  The Flute Ceremony doesn't attract as many visitors as some of the other Hopi celebrations, but it is still central to the Hopi beliefs.  The purpose of the Flute Ceremony is to encourage rainfall and promote the growth of corn, which is the primary food of the Hopi nation.


The other Hopi ceremonies take place in the kiva (underground ceremonial room). But the Flute Ceremony doesn't. It takes place in the ancestral rooms of the Flute clan.  It starts with a procession into the pueblo led by the clan chief.  Then the Flute boy follows, with a Flute girl on either side.  Other procession members are men wrapped in white blankets, men carrying cornstalks, a warrior carrying a bullroarer (makes a whizzing sound when swung in circles), a man wearing a sun emblem on his back, a man carrying a rectangular "moisture tablet", and a number of small naked boys.  The Flute girls wear a feather in their hair and two white blankets, one serving as a skirt. The Flute boys wear white ceremonial kilts.

Once the entire procession arrives at the pueblo, additional rites such as ceremonial prayers for rain and corn, singing and smoking also take place in this ancestral Flute Clan room. A lot of the rites are more pantomime in nature and represent what the Hopi want their gods to do. 

 An example: A priest will scatter meal on the ground for around the flute altar to imitate rain. Pouring water into the medicine bowl that is in front of the altar (from the six cardinal directions of the world = north, south, east, west, up and down) is to inform the gods that he wants them to send rain in all directions.  Blowing clouds of smoke on the altar shows that he wants rain clouds to appear.  And the bullroarer is suppose to imitate the sound of thunder that often accompanies rain.

 Kokopelli is the Hopi God of Music & Fertility who goes from one Hopi clan to the next playing his flute for them. It is believed that when he plays in cold weather, it diminishes the winter and creates warm breezes.  If Kokopelli comes to the Snake Dance, then the tribe will awaken the next morning to an abundant harvest. He is also said to make grass greener, birds chirp and sing and rain during drought.  Children  honor the presence of Kokopelli. The female counterpart to Kokopelli is called Kokopelli Mana.

 

This special altar is constructed in the ancestral room used for the Flute Ceremony. It has a flat wooden arch. The upright sides are carved or painted to represent rain clouds and falling rain.  Ears of corn may be stacked up behind the altar.  There are also rectangular tiles that are decorated with rain clouds, plus figurines  in front of the altar representing the Flute Youth, the Flute Maid and the legendary ancestors of the Flute clan.  

The legendary ancestors are armless effigies painted with rain clouds and ears of corn. In front of them are short, thick, upright sticks that are rounded at the top and pierced with holes from which small wooden rods stick out like pins in a pincushion.  These sticks symbolize the ancestral mounds of the underworld. Sometimes they are replaced by mounds of sand covered with cornmeal.  The wooden objects stuck in them represent flowers.  There are also zig zag sticks (symbolizing lightning), cornstalks and other symbolic objects arranged around the altar.

There is also a zone of sand on the floor in front of the altar, where corn meal has been sprinkled.  In the sand are placed carved bird effigies and a medicine bowl from which one of the birds appears to be drinking.  Other ceremonial items include rattles, a basket tray of sacred meal, gourds of water and a honey pot.  Every element of the Flute Ceremony altar symbolizes some aspect of the agricultural process, particularly the good weather needed to grow corn.

The sun is impersonated by a man wearing a large feathered disk as he walks into the procession into the pueblo.  The central part is about 12 inches in diameter and made of buckskin stretched over a hoop, with a border of braided corn husks.  Eagle feathers and red-stained horsehair are inserted into the border of this disk to represent the sun's rays.  The sun shield is attached to the back of the man by a cord tied across his shoulders. He carries a flute, which he plays to entice the Corn maids or Flute maids into the pueblo just like the Sun, ( or father of the gods) is said to have drawn the maids toward him in the Hopi legend.

On the sixth day, the unwrapping of the tiponi takes place.  This is an important part of the Flute Ceremony.  The tiponi is a wooden cup-shaped item that has an ear of corn inside. The cup itself is divided into 4 sections, each of which is decorated with symbols of corn and rain clouds.  The corn that is safeguarded in the tiponi (either as a single ear of corn or loose grains) symbolizes the seed that the early nomadic tribes carried with them during their migration when the danger of losing this grain might have meant starvation.

The tiponi, plus the corn it holds, is called the "mother."  It is unwrapped very slowly and carefully by the Flute priest in a one-hour ceremony.  Then, after a new ear of corn is placed in the cup, the entire thing is re-wrapped in cotton string and feathers. Then it is put away until next year's ceremony.  The old grains of corn are then later planted.

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 August Holidays Page for more celebrations.

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


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