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

Beyond Corn: Beans, Squash, and Other CropsSquash Katsina

The Hopi cultivate a variety of plants and collect wild plants for basket making, medicines, and many other uses. Yucca roots, for example, provide the ingredients for ritual hair washing.

The indigenous food crops of corn, beans, and squash were, and to some extent still are, the principal foods. Walled garden plots on the slopes of the mesas, irrigated from nearby springs, continue to yield chile peppers and vegetables. Cultivated crops, including corn, beans, squash, and cotton, were introduced from Mexico and Central and South America before Spanish contact.

Peaches and apricots, introduced by the Spaniards and planted in orchards, provide irregular (due to frosts) but bountiful crops. These are preserved by drying on rooftops.

In 1939 at least twenty-three varieties of beans were grown at Hopi. Such types as black beans, yellow beans, purple string beans, black and tan pinto beans (all Phaseolus vulgaris), and tepary beans (Phaseolus acutifolius) are cultivated using floodwater and dry-farming techniques. Beans provide a necessary protein complement to corn and are also an important dietary source for fiber and nutrients.

Some of the world's finest baskets are made by Native women of North America. Basketweavers in the Southwest and California excel in this art. During the past century collectors have created a ready Groom's Wicker Basketmarket for these artworks. Unfortunately, the materials needed to produce the baskets have become steadily more scarce in California as a result of urban sprawl and environmental pollution.

Weavers use techniques and forms specifically related to the function of the basket. Utility baskets are usually twined or plaited for durability and, if intended for burdens, shaped to fit on the bearer's back. Coiled trays and bowls display decorative designs that can be seen and admired while being used. Presentation baskets adorned with feathers and beads honor the esteemed recipient and are the most-admired creations among collectors.

Image 1: Squash Katsina: Patun Tihu
Randy Sahmie, Hopi, 1994
Squash is the third member of the indigenous triad of food plants--corn, beans, and squash. One Hopi squash variety is impersonated in katsina form. He has a squash head, squash blossoms on the back of his head and in his hand, and body paint resembling the fruit.

Image 2: Groom's Wicker Basket
Third Mesa, Hopi, ca. 1904
Basket weavers at Third Mesa incorporate a special design, rectangles linked together, into the wicker plaque that they make for the groom's basket. This tray and many others would be heaped high with gifts of cornmeal.
Rabbit brush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), sumac (Rhus trilobata), yucca (Yucca angustissima), vegetable dye; D 32.5 cm; 3165-67

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