Hopi & Tibet: Brothers

“Welcome home” — Hopi Grandfather David’s first words to the Dalai Lama

A 9th century Tibetan prophecy states:

“When the iron bird flies, the Dharma [Buddhism] will go east to the land of the Red Man.”

An extraordinary encounter took place in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1979. During the Dalai Lama’s first visit to North America, he met with three Hopi Elders from Hotevilla, Arizona. The spiritual leaders agreed to speak in only in their Native tongues.

Through Hopi elder and interpreter Thomas Banyacya, delegation head Grandfather David’s first words to His Holiness the Dalai Lama were:

“Welcome home”  — Hopi Grandfather David’s first words to the Dalai Lama in Santa Fe, N.M.

The perception of similarity between Native Americans of the Southwest and the Tibetans is undeniably striking. Beyond a common physicality and turquoise jewelry, parallels include the abundant use of silver and coral, the colors and patterns of textiles and long braided hair, sometimes decorated, worn by both men and women.

Since that initial meeting, the Dalai Lama has visited Santa Fe to meet with Pueblo leaders, Tibetan Lamas have engaged in numerous dialogues with Hopis and other Southwestern Indians, and now, through a special resettlement program to bring Tibetan refugees to the United States and Santa Fe, New Mexico has become a central home for relocated Tibetan refugee families. In the Spring of 1991 His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Hopi Grandfather Martin met in Santa Fe, New Mexico the oldest capitol of the old west. There Grandfather Martin shared a rare set of clay tablets passed down to him by his elders of the Fire Clan. The earlier indicator for Martin was the December before when the snake came out of it’s hole up at Hopiland. This was mentioned in the ancient clay tablets as a sign to bring the tablets to the oldest settlement to the east.

As exchanges become increasingly common between Native Americans and Tibetans, a sense of kinship and solidarity has developed between the cultures. While displacement and invasion have forced Tibetans to reach out to the global community in search of allies, the Hopi and other Southwestern Native Americans have sought an audience for their message of world peace and harmony with the earth. In the context of these encounters are the activities of writers and activists who are trying to bridge the two cultures. A flurry of books and articles have been published, arguing that Tibetans and Native Americans may share a common ancestry.

The perception of similarity between Native Americans of the Southwest and the Tibetans is undeniably striking. Beyond a common physicality and turquoise jewelry, parallels include the abundant use of silver and coral, the colors and patterns of textiles and long braided hair, sometimes decorated, worn by both men and women.

When meeting for the first time, The Dalai Lama laughed, noting the striking resemblance of the turquoise around Grandfather David’s neck to that of his homeland. He asked:

“And where did you get your turquoise?”  — His Holiness, Dalai Lama

Since that initial meeting, the Dalai Lama has visited Santa Fe to meet with Pueblo leaders, Tibetan Lamas have engaged in numerous dialogues with Hopis and other Southwestern Indians, and now, through a special resettlement program to bring Tibetan refugees to the United States, New Mexico has become a central home for relocated Tibetan families.

As exchanges become increasingly common between Native Americans and Tibetans, a sense of kinship and solidarity has developed between the cultures. While displacement and invasion have forced Tibetans to reach out to the global community in search of allies, the Hopi and other Southwestern Native Americans have sought an audience for their message of world peace and harmony with the earth. In the context of these encounters are the activities of writers and activists who are trying to bridge the two cultures. A flurry of books and articles have been published, arguing that Tibetans and Native Americans may share a common ancestry.

The perception of similarity between Native Americans of the Southwest and the Tibetans is undeniably striking. Beyond a common physicality and turquoise jewelry, parallels include the abundant use of silver and coral, the colors and patterns of textiles and long braided hair, sometimes decorated, worn by both men and women.

When William Pacheco, a Pueblo student, visited a Tibetan refugee camp in India, people often spoke Tibetan to him, assuming that he was one of them.

“Tibetans and Native American Pueblo people share a fondness for chili (though Tibetans claim pueblo chili is too mild!), a fondness for turquoise, used by both cultures as ways to ward off evil spirits. Also, the prophecy of Guru Rinpoche, when he said, ’when Tibetans are scattered throughout the world, and horses run on iron wheels and when iron birds fly, the dharma will come to the land of the red man.’” — William Pacheco

Even before most Westerners knew where Tibet was, much less what their situation was, and almost twenty years before the advent of the Tibetan Diaspora, cultural affinities between these two peoples were noted by author Frank Waters in his landmark work, Book of the Hopi (1963). Waters’ analysis went below the surface, citing corresponding systems of chakras or energy spots within the body meridians that were used to cultivate cosmic awareness.

In The Masked Gods, a book about Pueblo and Navajo ceremonialism published in 1950, Waters observed that the Zuni Shalako dance symbolically mirrored the Tibetan journey of the dead.

As is the case with most Earth-based cultures with a shamanic tradition, some Native ceremonies contain spiritual motifs similar to cultures from around the world (hence the broad comparison made by Waters). This could account for some of the similarities seen between Tibetan and Native American spiritual practices, such as Navajo sand painting, and cosmic themes found throughout traditional Pueblo dances.

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