Hopi Snake Dance

23 Apr

After looking into the dances of the Aztec’s I realized that there are many other dances native to the state of Arizona on every border. One of the tribes near and dear to my heart is the Hopi Indian Tribe (I did a project on the Hopi’s in the second grade :)..) The Hopi tribe is located on the Northeastern border of Arizona and are known for a historical dance called the Hopi Snake Dance.

Each year the tribe performs a religious ceremony that concludes with the Hopi Snake Dance on the final day of worship. The ceremony is said to last around 16 days and is usually between the middle and end of August. It is performed by members of the snake and the antelope clans from all three of the mesas is the Hopi Country. The Native American Hopi Tribe believes that snakes are like their brothers and so they rely on them to carry messages down to the underworld where the rain gods live. This why today many think the dance is a rain ceremony.

During the dance there are two main groups of performers, the antelope priests and the snake priests, both wear special clothing and costumes. In 1913, the Hopi Indians performed the dance for Theodore Roosevelt in Walip, Arizona, and there is a video documenting the event. While the video is only in black and white, it is clear that these costumes were very elaborate. Many of the dancers wore headdresses and had adornments on their ankles. The skin of the dancers is very dark and appears to be painted. Some of the feathers are light and they are wearing light jewelry on their chests and arms.

Several days before, the dancers must go out and find the snakes for the ceremony, hunting down very large and extremely poisonous animals. Also, two days prior to the snake dance, each performer must fast. They become so entranced by the whole process and I think this leads to the great focus and connections that they feel with the rain gods in the underworld, and why they have so much trust with the snakes.

A dancer acting as a snake priest would wait for the antelope priests to enter, stomping in a circle around the altar and then lining up for the entrance of the snake priests. When both groups of priests line up opposite each other, they slowly begin to chant and sway their bodies from side to side. Finally this formation is broken and a young snake priest emerges from the group.

The first to break from the group begins chanting and approaches the altar of snakes. He walks towards the snakes, while an older snake priests follows behind him in order to dust his shoulders off with a sacred feather. He then emerges with the neck of a rattlesnake between his teeth. This alone sounds nerve wrecking, but the men feel in harmony with the snake.

The dance then ends and to finish all of the performers must drink and emetic that causes them to vomit. It is said that this is done to purge them of any dangerous snake poisons or charms. Here is the video from Walip, Ariz. in 1913:

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