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

Corn EffigyHopi of the Southwest

Atop three high mesas in northern Arizona, Hopi sandstone villages merge seamlessly into their rocky foundations. Others of the twelve Hopi villages sit below on the valley floor. These are some of the oldest continuously occupied villages in North America.

Rainfall is scant, vegetation is sparse, and seasonal temperatures fluctuate widely, yet the Hopi people have chosen to farm in this inhospitable environment.

Corn has sustained the Hopi people throughout their history, just as it sustains them throughout their lives. It is the first solid food fed to infants and sustains the spirits of the deceased as they journey into another world.

Part of the Hopi origin story recalls the time of emergence from a previous world. Those who emerged were invited to choose from a number of ears of corn. Some ears were large and hearty, indicating a life of bounty and prosperity. Some were short, indicating that life would not be easy, but overcoming hardships would make the people strong. Hopis chose to live the life of the short ear of corn.

Image: Corn Effigy
Elmer Tootsie, Hopi-Tewa, ca. 1995
This ceramic ear of corn emphasizes the singular importance of corn to the Hopi people. Archaeologists say that cultivated corn was carried from Mexico into the American Southwest about 4,000 years ago and became the staple food crop through adaptive breeding. According to Hopi origin stories, corn was a gift from Maasawu, the Earth deity, as he greeted people on their emergence into this world.
Clay, mineral paint, corn husk (Zea mays); L 46.5 x D 5.5 cm; 36078-1

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