Thursday, February 19, 2009

Piki, Katuki, and Katsina

In the 13th and 14th century, this part of the Colorado plateau just north of what is now Winslow (AZ) was grassland. Here the Hisat'sinom (the Hopi word for "long-ago people") grew cotton, corn, beans, and squash.

This fertile area is on a floodplain of the Little Colorado River, which is barely visible in the photo (between the sandy area and the vast area of brown shrubs).

Farmers were able to circumvent brief periods of drought by diverting water from the river to irrigate the crops, but frequent floods would destroy crops and make it difficult to survive.

During such a period around 1400, the Hisat'sinom left their pueblos (now known as Homolovi) and moved north to join the Hopi. The ruins of Homolovi I and II are open to the public, however, many rooms of village II are buried under the sands of the plateau. This building with its five rooms was one of the most preserved structures we saw on our walk. To preserve the ruins, the Hopi established the Homolovi Ruins State Park in 1986 and opened the Park in 1993.

The kiva (shown here) was also relatively well-preserved. The kiva is home to secret ceremonies usually open only to men, but on special occasions women are allowed to enter the kiva.

Not far from the Visitors' Center is what is left of the village of Sunset, one of a series of farming communities along the Little Colorado River in the late 1870s. It was established by Lot Smith and his Mormon followers. Frequent floods forced the settlers to abandon Sunset in the early 1880s, and the community was eventually washed away. The cemetery, located on a small hill overlooking the river, survived. Some 20 graves are identified in this space, enclosed to protect the area from cows.

As we continued our walk, we were again drawn to the landscape of the desert. We can only imagine what colors would arrive with Spring, but we continue to be drawn to the colors of Winter.

Although the range of colors of the shrubs is relatively narrow, within that range the light yellows and the dark reddish-brown shades present a striking contrast.

The rocks also present a variation on the usual appearance of a solid structure. The layers of sediment over the centuries have produced these unusual appearances.

Piki (or piki bread) is a thin dry rolled bread made by the Hopi out of water and corn meal, obtaining its dark grayish-blue color and unique flavor due to the use of blue corn and culinary ash (possibly from juniper trees). The light, thin sheets are dry to the point of brittleness. Several sheets of the bread are rolled up loosely into flattened scrolls. It melts in your mouth possessing a delicate corn flavor, like eating very thin corn flakes without sugar.

The kernels are katuki which is something like unpopped popcorn, only not as hard and with more flavor.

We were also introduced to the Hopi katsina. Hopi have used dried cottonwood roots as the base material for their carving of these figures, and this katsina is Hahai'i wuhti.

A flat doll of this figure is usually the first gift from the katsina spirits to an infant girl. It is meant to convey the virtues of womanhood.

More lessons in anthropology and archeology.

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