THE LADDER DANCE AT PIVAHONKIAPI
Northwest of Oraibi, seven or eight miles, on that broad terrace which so conspicuously encircles many of the Hopi mesas, about 200 feet below the rim, lie the ruins of two pueblos. The nearest to Oraibi occupies a point which projects from the mesa and is called Hukovi, “The Place of the Winds,” or “Windy Point.” Two miles farther along the ledge, at the base of a large rock, the pueblo of Pivahonkiapi covers the shelf.
Potsherds tell us that Hukovi and Pivahonkiapi were occupied in the twelve hundreds. We, therefore, assume that the two pueblos were abandoned, like so many others in northern Arizona, because of the great drought of 1275 to 1299 which shows so well in Dr. A. E. Douglass’ studies of the tree rings.
About these pueblo ruins, Hopi traditions cluster. At Hukovi the girls were beautiful but bad. At Pivahonkiapi among the gamblers lived a handsome youth. At Achamoli, halfway between Hukovi and Oraibi, lived the two little war gods, sons of the Sun, Po-okonghoya and his brother, Palo-onghoya, with their grandmother, the Spider Woman. What more can you ask as the basis for a story!
About 100 yards east of Pivahonkiapi can be observed eight circular holes, about eight inches in diameter, cut in the rock at the cliff edge. About one of these holes the rock has cracked. The Hopi believe that these holes belong to the “ladder dance.”–Ed.
A Pivahonkiapi there dwelt a handsome young man. Two miles away on Windy Point lived two girls in the pueblo of Hukovi. These girls wanted to marry this handsome youth, but he would not look at either of them. This made them mad.
They knew that he was to take the part of a Kachina in a “ladder dance” to be held at Pivahonkiapi in March. The girls thought that this would be a chance to destroy him.
The dance was announced and the dancers practiced the songs in the kiva for eight days. Four days before the ceremony, two youths were selected to go to the San Francisco Peaks which the Hopis call Nuvatekiaovi (The Place of Snow on the Very Top) to get two fir trees, and one of the youths was the handsome young man.
On the way to the peaks they followed a trail and because they were tired they stopped to rest. The handsome youth stepped aside off the trail. Here he met the Spider Woman. She said, “I am in sympathy with you because I know what is going to happen to you.
Change your pahos (prayer offerings) as the ones you are carrying are bad. Cast them somewhere and take mine and put them in the shrine. If you don’t do that, the witches will surely get you. On your way home, stop and see me.”
Returning to the trail he joined his companion and went on to the peaks and placed the pahos in the shrine. There they selected two small fir trees about two feet high.
On his way back the handsome youth remembered to stop and call on the Spider Woman. He left his companion by the trail and hunted up the old woman. The old woman said, “Take the pipe of your father and make smoke so the clouds will hide our path from the witches.” So he lit his pipe and she brought him to her kiva. He set down his trees and sat on a skin. “My dear grandchild,” said the old woman, “do as I say or your last day will be the day of the ceremony.”
She handed him some medicine and said, “The wise men will sing and the tree will grow too fast. Chew this medicine and spit it out on the tree, so the tree may be limber but it will not break.” Then she gave him a little light white feather of an eagle and placed it under his heart so that it would make him lighter.
By this time the sky was covered with clouds and he rejoined his companion. He did not say much because he was worried. That night they got home and entered the kiva with their two fir trees. All the men smoked and when they stopped, asked them what they saw in the way of prosperity. They said that they saw good flowing water, so the old men knew that the summer would be good.
While this was going on the old Spider Woman, (she was a great old woman), sent word to the other Spider Women that lived near Pivahonkiapi (she sent the message by way of dreams) to send out her two little war gods, Po-okonghoya and his brother, Palo-onghoya-her grandsons-to look over the place where the tree was to be planted.
As they were small boys no one would notice them as they played with the other children of the village. The boys investigated and discovered that the girls of Hukovi had cracked the rock about the hole in which the tree was to be planted. They hurried back to their grandmother and reported.
“If that is the case,” said the old Spider Woman, “I will have to go there and see. I have not got a thing to mend that rock with. One of you boys run and get an ear of baked sweet corn.” When the boy had found it, she ground it up as fine as she could. Then she mixed the meal into dough–like the finest clay. When this was ready the day of the ceremony had arrived.
The Kachinas put on their costumes at the mesa foot as they were supposed to come from the San Francisco Peaks. Everyone gathered on the house-tops watching them climb up the mesa. While everyone’s attention was so occupied, the old Spider Woman and the boys tried to mend the crack in the rock with the dough. When it was mended, she gave some medicine to the two boys who chewed it up and spat it out on the crack and blew on the crack.
As soon as they had finished, the Kachinas entered the village and marched about the two kivas four times.
In this ceremony, you must know, the leading Kachina, though a man, takes the part of a Kachin-mana (Maiden). In this dance the leader was a notorious wizard who was being paid by the girls of Hukovi to do crooked work.
After making the rounds of the kiva, the Kachinas marched to the place on the edge of the cliff where the trees were to be planted. The Kachin-mana carried the two little trees. When the Mana gave the handsome boy the wrong tree, and the other boy the right tree, he knew the wizard was trying to get him. Both boys laid the trees down on the rock. Someone said something and the leader and everyone looked the other way and the boys exchanged the trees, He knew his tree for it had a feather fastened to one of the leaves.
The trees were now planted in the holes that had been prepared. The Kachinas, standing in a row, started to dance and sing. Slowly the trees began to grow. They grew and grew until they reached 25 to 30 feet high. The two Kachinas that were to climb, one of them being the handsome boy, stood by the trees. Finally the Kachin-mana, the wizard, told them to climb. The young man trusted the old Spider Woman. He chewed the medicine and spat on the tree and climbed slowly. When he reached the top the tree swayed back and forth. All the people on the house-tops thought that the tree would break and he would go over the cliff. He came down and danced and then went up again. When he came down and danced he climbed the tree the third time, swinging back and forth. The girls from Hukovi were on the house-tops with the inhabitants of the village. They wondered why the rock did not give way. When he climbed the fourth time the leader told the youth to climb faster and swing back and forth harder, and swing good and hard with all his might. But still the tree did not break nor the rock crack. When he had climbed down the leader told him to go up a fifth time, but someone had counted so the chief said that was enough as they had gone up the four ceremonial times.
Later the two young men who had climbed the trees took the prayer offerings and started back to the San Francisco Mountains to place them in the shrine. The rest of the Kachinas entered the kiva with the men of the pueblo and all smoked.
Before the men had entered the kiva, the girls from Hukovi hired a wizard to cut the beams in the back part of the kiva. They were mad at the leader of the Kachinas, the Kachin-mana, and the boy. They did not know that he was already on his way to the peaks.
While the smoking ceremony was on, the kiva roof caved in. Everyone was killed but one poor old man far back in one corner who was not a man of high standing but was a common person who never rushed up in front. This old man dug his way out.
The village was in trouble. All the men were killed except the two youths and the old man. Well, of course you know, everyone was sad for many days. The old man knew that everyone was sad so he thought he would do something. So the old man went off by himself and practiced a dance under the cliff. While he was practicing, a girl found him, and he asked her to join him in the dance. She accepted so the old man went to work and made a mask so no one would know her. He took some corn, boiled it well, late one afternoon. He fixed up the girl as well as himself in a Kachina costume. The old man told her to hold out all the nerve she could. When they went to the plaza, the people saw them come. All the people started to cry, but soon got all right. Then the old man and the girl danced and gave out presents of corn.
That night the handsome youth was outside the pueblo where he went every night. He heard something and lay still. He listened. He heard a sound coming closer and closer. It finally came and passed by. It was a ghost dressed in white. He was scared and fainted. After laying insensible for a while, he came to himself. He followed the ghost to the village. When he got to the plaza, the ghost was sitting on the shrine. It was a woman ghost. He went up and asked her why she was there and where she had come from.
She said, “I come from the Colorado River. I come because I sympathize with the people of Pivahonkiapi. I have nothing for you but if you wish to get even with the girls of Hukovi, I would like to help you. I would like to have a prayer plume from everyone in the pueblo and I ask you to have them made this very night. You must keep it a secret why they are to be made.”
So the youth went from house to house and every woman made a prayer plume (paho). The boy collected them and gave them to the ghost and said, “We have done what you asked us to do.” The ghost took the prayer offerings and thanked him. She said, “I will do everything that you ask me to do. Now what do you want me to do? I can drive them eastward or I can drive them westward. I can even drive them over the cliff.” The boy said, “Drive them westward.”
Then the ghost went over to Hukovi and she made a noise as if she were dying. She rolled on the ground and moaned. This scared the people. Some boys said they were not scared and offered to kill the old ghost.
The next night the boys lay in wait for her and when she started to moan they got scared and ran away. Everyone got scared. The ghost came back six or seven nights. The people could not sleep for her moaning, so they decided to leave the pueblo.
They packed up their belongings and left the village. The ghost drove them westward. They camped for the night by the Dinnebito, Wash at Bang-wu-wi (Mountain Sheep Cliff). The old ghost came again and kept them awake. But they could not move that night on account of the children.
The next day they moved to near where the Dinnebito Store is and camped. The ghost came early and kept them awake till daylight. Again they started on, and on the third night camped by the Little Colorado River. The ghost came just after sundown because she was near her home and kept them awake till dawn.
At daylight they started on again and camped in the Cinder Hills. Still the ghost came after them. The fifth night they camped by Mormon Mountain. The ghost followed them. On and on they went, crossing the Big Colorado into California. They say that their descendants are now the Mission Indians of California.