North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

Corn: We are Rooted in Our Corn Fields

Detail from Salakmana KatsinaDesert Agriculture

The Hopi live on land that is both beautiful and majestic, but the environment presents enormous problems for those dependent on farming. The Southwestern region is extremely dry with little water. A number of permanent springs in the area provide the people with drinking water but do not supply enough water to irrigate fields. No permanent rivers or streams flow through Hopi territory.

Erosion and overuse of the land has diminished the region's plant life. The land of the Hopi now mainly consists of dry grasslands and mesas. The land supports a variety of plants adapted to extremely dry areas, while the canyons, punctuated with springs, washes, and occasional streams, support cottonwood, willow, and cattails.

Rain is the only source of water for the Hopi farmlands, but rain alone cannot support the Hopi. Annual rainfall averages less than 10 inches per year. In some years, drought causes the crops to fail. In other years, torrential summer downpours drown the young and growing plants. The people hope for a season of balanced precipitation.

The Hopis' survival has been inextricably bound to favorable weather conditions. In the scattered areas of fertile soil, the Hopi grow corn, pumpkin, beans, chile peppers, peaches, gourds, watermelons, and squash, looking to the katsinas to favor them with rain.


Image: Salakmana Katsina
Hopi, ca. 1904
Clouds and rain are frequent motifs in all Hopi imagery. Rain clouds are regularly depicted as stylized terraced triangles, often with vertical stripes of rain showering from them.

The Salakmana girl, or maiden, wears lots of clouds in her headdress. On her forehead is an ear of corn, the logical outcome of the rain she brings. On rare occasions following the Niman Ceremony, the Salakmana male and female pair will make an appearance together. This tihu is an unusually large and elaborate example.

Cottonwood (Populus sp.), unidentified wood, commercial and mineral paints, laundry blueing, Wild Turkey feathers (Meleagris gallopavo), unidentified large owl feathers, unidentified feathers, steel, unidentified resin, commercial dye; W 57.0 x H 65.0 cm; 3165-168 (doll), 3165-302 (headdress)

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