Deliberate Acts: Peter M. Whiteley’s Hopi Hermeneutics and the “Collaborative Road”
Thomas E. Sheridan
With the publication of Deliberate Acts in 1988, a young British anthropologist named Peter M. Whiteley took on some of the giants of North American ethnology. As he notes in the preface of the book, Whiteley (1988b) had the temerity to develop ideas that “remain largely Hopi in inspiration.” Rather than imposing models of social structure and culture change developed by ethnologists in other parts of the world, he listened carefully to what Hopis were telling him about their society and history. This led him to challenge some basic tenets about Hopi social organization and acculturation that had dominated anthropological interpretations since the seminal research of Mischa Titiev and Fred Eggan in the 1930s.
One major point of contention was the nature of Hopi matrilineal clans. Hopis trace descent through their mothers’ lines, and clan membership is central to Hopi identity. But Whiteley’s ideas about the nature of Hopi clans diverged significantly from those of Titiev and Eggan. Titiev and especially Eggan were strongly influenced by structural functionalism, an approach developed by British anthropologists such as A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, who taught at the University of Chicago in the 1930s. Eggan took Radcliffe-Brown’s course on kinship there and served as a research assistant to “R-B” at a time when Radcliffe-Brown was launching his assault on American ethnology’s predominant paradigm, historical particularism (Vogt 1995). To replace it, Radcliffe-Brown argued that anthropologists needed to carry out synchronic analyses of the ways in which the different domains of Native American societies—economy, religion, kinship, and social structure—functioned as integrated wholes. It was a seductive approach, one that emphasized the organic solidarity of Native society. Instead of “shreds and patches” of cultural traits assembled through historical accident, structural functionalism promised to bring the same sort of comparative rigor to human social organization that biologists had applied to the study of other organisms.
According to Eggan (1950:62), “The clan is the outstanding feature of social life, in Hopi eyes.” It was not only a “group of people related through the female line” but also a “land-owning” group and the “basic ritual unit.” “‘Totemically’ named after some object or aspect of nature,” clans were “composed of one or more matrilineal lineages which are not formally distinguished by the Hopi, who considered them all descended from a common ancestor” (62). In particular, Eggan emphasized the importance of lineages within clans, not just for the Hopis, but for all the Western Pueblos including Zunis, Ácomas, and Lagunas as well. “The specific mechanisms for inheritance and transmission normally reside in the lineage; the clan is normally the corporate group which holds ritual knowledge and economic goods in trust for future generations” (299).
Whiteley (1998:49), in contrast, argued, “Hopi social structures, especially clans, are not corporate entities formed around joint estates in property (economic, ritual, or jural), and to transform them into such entities—especially via the ‘lineage principle’—is to misconceive Hopi doxa and practice.” He elaborates this argument most fully in “Unpacking Hopi ‘Clans’: Another Vintage Model Out of Africa?” (Whiteley 1998),1 but Deliberate Acts reveals a meticulous ethnographer’s unease with the idea of corporate lineages based largely on models from African societies. “In practice, it is impossible to identify consistently and unambiguously a lineage when the same group of people may simultaneously comprise clan, lineage, and household,” Whiteley observes. He goes on to say, “Hopi kinship groups by no means operate on a completely ad hoc basis. But neither do they fall neatly into descent-theory categories of ‘universal’ applicability in which the social functions of ‘lineages’ and ‘clans’ are clear and mutually distinguishable” (Whiteley 1988b:49).
Instead, Whiteley pays close attention to Hopi conceptions of clan. According to his Hopi consultants, “Clans are regarded as having been independently migratory units that arrived at different times and from different directions (cf. Fewkes 1900; Mindeleff 1900). Each clan in each village has its own version of clan history” (Whiteley 1988b:52). At Orayvi, the Bear Clan arrived first; subsequent clans had to demonstrate a “beneficial power,” often an efficacious ritual, to be granted permission to settle there. The Bow Clan, for example, brought several katsinom, who caused it to rain when they danced (52). The incorporation of such rituals into the annual ceremonial cycle served to reenact the arrival of the clans possessing the rituals and to assert their roles in the cosmological order. “The ideological emphasis in this view of clanship is central and contrasts sharply with the sociological emphasis of the received anthropological view,” Whiteley (1998:62) concludes.
He then critiques Eggan and Titiev’s assumption that “a joint estate in land and joint economic activity” are “the primary components of clan unity” (Whiteley 1998:62). At Orayvi, according to Whiteley:
The supposed clan-lands were very small in relation to population size. According to my older consultants, administration of clan-land (at Oraibi at least) was nothing like the nice, symmetrical division between lineage and household plots which Ernest Beaglehole describes for Second Mesa (1937:15–16). Indeed, clan-land was in the hands of the leading family or lineage segment that controlled the ritual prerogatives for which the clan was mythologically admitted into the village. Such lands were intimately connected with the ritual prerogatives themselves and are known as wimvaavasa, literally “ceremonial/ritual farming fields.” Areas within the tract might or might not be apportioned to other clan members at the discretion of the core lineage segment. Usually other clan members simply farmed in a large “free area” in the Oraibi Valley (cf. Titiev 1944:63). (Whiteley 1988b:56)
Whiteley concludes his critique by noting that “other economic activities were not controlled by clans, according to my consultants. Rather, the economy was organized primarily by households. Cooperative economic ventures (planting or hunting parties, for example) drew upon a wide range of relatives—patrilateral and affinal as well as matrilineal—and nonrelatives” (Whiteley 1988b:56–57).
Whiteley’s second major challenge to perceived anthropological wisdom—his reinterpretation of the famous Orayvi “Split” in 1906—also flowed from his consultations with Hopi elders. According to the dominant Western narrative, Orayvi fissioned because one faction—the “friendlies” who advocated cooperation with the U.S. government—drove the “hostiles” out of the village because of their unrelenting opposition to U.S. policies, especially the forcible education of their children. That narrative privileged the impact of outsiders on the traumatic disintegration of the largest and most powerful Hopi community. Anthropologists and others viewed the Orayvi Split as the severest example of internal Hopi dissension since the destruction of Awat’ovi, a Hopi village on Antelope Mesa, in 1700. Again, according to conventional Western interpretation, Hopis from other mesas razed Awat’ovi and slaughtered many of its inhabitants because Awat’ovi wanted to welcome Franciscan missionaries back into their community after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.
Whiteley, in contrast, argues that Hopi elites—pavanisinom—engineered the Split to fulfill Hopi prophecies about the destruction of Orayvi and to bring an end to the corruption of the elites themselves. He locates the wellsprings of Hopi cultural change within the internal dynamics of Hopi society, not outside pressures. In Whiteley’s view, Hopis shaped their own destinies according to their own epistemology of power. He rejects deterministic explanations of the Orayvi Split, whether they were sociological, like Titiev’s, who argued that Orayvi’s clan- and lineage-based society was inherently unstable; materialist, like R. M. Bradfield’s, who contended that Orayvi’s population exceeded the carrying capacity of its land base; or acculturative, presuming pressures from U.S. society factionalized the inhabitants of Orayvi into friendlies and hostiles.
In their place, he explores Hopinavoti, a specifically Hopi hermeneutics: “Navoti indicates a system of knowledge that includes philosophy, science, and theology, and incorporates conceptual models for explaining the past and predicting, or ‘prophesying,’ future events” (Whiteley 1988b:255). This system of knowledge is “specialized, restricted, and ‘expert’” in the sense that certain Hopi individuals—pavansinom—have more knowledge than sukavungsinom (255). According to his Hopi consultants, pavansinom were defined as the “most powerful” or “most important” people. Sukavungsinom, however, were “grassroots” or “common” people. Contrary to popular misconception, Hopis were not egalitarian. Rather, they had organized themselves into a theocratic social order in which pavansinom held a disproportionate amount of influence because of their control of ceremonies with their ritual—what Westerners would call “supernatural”—power.
Whiteley’s older and more informed consultants—those whose knowledge came from the “pavansinom class”—told him that Orayvi leaders deliberately provoked the Split to terminate most of Orayvi’s ceremonies except for the katsina religion. In the words of one:
The ritualism, all the songs, the ritual prayers and the knowledge were ritually destined to be forgotten. No one will possess these ever again. This is what was done at the time of the Oraibi split. They instructed the people who left Oraibi that as they went into the future, their prayers and their faith should be through the cornmeal alone, that they shoud not let the cornmeal go, for this was the most fundamental sacrament of all. (Whiteley 1988b:256)
Another noted, “Now wiimi,2 that was ended at Oraibi in 1906. They purposefully destroyed it. All the head priests at Oraibi decided that no one should carry it on. Even the people who went away [the Hostiles] made a vow not to practice it. It was ended. . . . The split was carried out based on navoti. Using this they planned the destruction of the ceremonies” (Whiteley 1988b:257). In other words, the pavansinom of Orayvi consciously brought about the end of their own priestly class. “It was even said that any village established after the split is a sukavungki [commoner village]—Kykotsmovi, Hotevilla, Bacavi, Moencopi,” the first consultant quoted above observed (257).
Deliberate Acts was Whiteley’s first shot across the bow regarding the Orayvi Split. He continued to investigate the event for the next two decades, culminating in his massive digital publication The Orayvi Split: A Hopi Transformation in 2008. That work evaluated various theories about the Split through an exhaustive analysis of Orayvi demography, social structure, spatial organization, and land distribution. Continuing his critique of the lineage model, Whiteley concluded that the “reconfiguration of population was principally articulated via conjugal households,” not lineages or clans, and that “with few exceptions, households remained together.” “The conjugal household (rather than Titiev’s sense of the household as a matrilineal lineage or lineage segment) remained the essential structural form throughout, reflecting its status as the basal unit for the reproduction of Hopi society” (Whiteley 2008:825). The conjugal household, composed of a couple from different clans (clans are exogamous in Hopi society) along with their children, gave Hopis the flexibility to mobilize relatives of the father as well as the mother. In Whiteley’s words:
While, as the “maternal house” in Parsons’ term, it had an important matrilineal aspect, the household distinguished its members, among other means, by the intersection of patrifiliation with matrilineality. The interplay of kinship and affinity in the household provided the processual social mechanism through which structures transformed through time and events. (Whiteley 2008:825)
One final observation about Peter M. Whiteley’s ethnographic research among the Hopi needs to noted. In the recently published Footprints of Hopi History: Hopihiniwtiput Kukveni’at, Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director emeritus of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office (Hopi CPO), writes about the “collaborative road” that characterized his tenure at the Hopi CPO (Kuwanwisiwma 2018). Under Kuwanwisiwma and his successor, Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, Hopis and non-Hopi anthropologists have created a remarkably collaborative program of research, one in which Hopis are full partners in designing, carrying out, and disseminating projects on many aspects of Hopi life. I have been privileged to participate in one of those projects called Moquis and Kastiilam: Hopis, Spaniards, and the Trauma of History (Sheridan et al. 2015, in prep). It all began in the 1980s when the village governing board of Paaqavi, Kuwanwisiwma’s home pueblo, asked Kuwanwisiwma to work with Whiteley on a history of the village. According to Kuwanwisiwma:
Previously, my life had been focused on my village of Paaqavi, but through Whiteley’s research I was exposed to the whole history of Third Mesa—including the history of Orayvi, its famous split in 1906, and the subsequent establishment of the villages of Kiqötsmovi, Paaqavi, and Hotvela. My eyes were suddenly opened by the many interviews of older Hopi people, which I helped conduct and interpret. Together Whiteley and I captured a lot of information. Whiteley proposed to publish a book on Paaqavi history and the Board of Governors agreed. This work—published in 1988 as Bacavi: Journey to Reed Springs—further motivated me to pursue the position [first director of the Hopi CPO] with the tribe (Whiteley 1988a). (Kuwanwisiwma 2018:4)
All of us who have since followed the “collaborative road” to work with the Hopi Tribe owe a profound debt of gratitude to Leigh Kuwanwisiwma and Peter M. Whiteley. Kwakwhá.
Beaglehole, Ernest. 1937. Notes on Hopi Economic Life. Yale University Publications in Anthropology 15. Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
Eggan, Fred. 1950. Social Organization of the Western Pueblos. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Fewkes, Jesse Walter. 1900. Tusayan Migration Traditions. In Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 573–633. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
Hopi Dictionary Project. 1998. Hopi Dictionary/Hopìikwa Lavàytutuveni. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Kuwanwisiwma, Leigh J. 2018. The Collaborative Road: A Personal History of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. In Footprints of Hopi History: Hopihiniwtiput Kukveni’at, edited by Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, T. J. Ferguson, and Chip Colwell, pp. 3–15. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Mindeleff, Cosmos. 1900. Localization of Tusayan Clans. In Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, for the Years 1897–1898, pp. 635–653. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
Sheridan, Thomas E., Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, Anton Daughters, Dale S. Brenneman, T. J. Ferguson, Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, and Lee Wayne Lomayestewa (editors). 2015. Moquis and Kastiilam: Hopis, Spaniards, and the Trauma of History, Volume I, 1540–1679. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
———. in prep. Moquis and Kastiilam: Hopis, Spaniards, and the Trauma of History, Volume II, 1680–1781. Manuscript submitted to University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Titiev, Mischa. 1944. Old Oraibi: A Study of the Hopi Indians of Third Mesa. Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology Papers 2(1). Peabody Musuem of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Vogt, Evon. 1995. Frederick Russell Eggan, 1906–1991: A Biographical Memoir. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
Whiteley, Peter. 1985. Unpacking Hopi “Clans”: Another Vintage Model Out of Africa? Journal of Anthropological Research 41(4):359–74.
———. 1988a. Bacavi: Journey to Reed Springs. Northland Press, Flagstaff, Arizona.
———. 1988b. Deliberate Acts: Changing Hopi Culture Through the Oraibi Split. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
———. 1998. Unpacking Hopi “Clans”: Another Vintage Model Out of Africa? In Rethinking Hopi Ethnography, pp. 49–79. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
———. 2008. The Orayvi Split: A Hopi Transformation. Part I: Structure and History. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.
1. This chapter in Whiteley’s Rethinking Hopi Ethnography (1998) was originally published under the same title in the Journal of Anthropological Research 41(4):359–74, 1985.
2. According to the Hopi Dictionary, wiimi means “religious rite, ritual, ceremony, religion, religious practices open only to initiates, esoteric rites” (Hopi Dictionary Project 1998:734).