MESA OF SORROWS by James F. Brooks


A History of the Awat'ovi Massacre
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Rather than a tale of bloody carnage, Brooks (History and Anthropology/Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands, 2002) delivers a sharp scholarly account of the Hopi and their history, myths, and traditions.

The story of the Awat’ovi massacre on Antelope Mesa in 1700 stands out as perhaps the most traumatic event in Hopi history, shaping the history of the “Peaceful People.” However, apparently they were not all that peaceful; the massacre occurred because of a fissure between those who converted to Catholicism at the hands of the Franciscans' coercion and studied violence and those who clung to the old ways. While the author states that the event is well-remembered, it is also one the Hopi would rather forget. It is the embodiment of the Pahanna prophecy, a dialectic of destruction and resurrection. The leader of the Awat’ovi, Ta’polo, despaired for those who were rejecting the traditional rites, quarreling, robbing their neighbors, raping, and stealing. Ta’polo convinced the neighboring Walpi and Oraibi to attack and destroy the pueblo, opening the gate and allowing them in. The massacre, however, was not the first self-inflicted in the Hopi nation. The Hopi did not consider themselves as belonging to the same tribe; their village was their nationality—e.g., they were Walpi before Hopi. The long history of the Hopi includes other instances of this purification through obliteration. The purpose was to wash away corruption, bring renewal, and restore balance. In the event of obliteration, there was no looting; in fact, after the massacre, no Hopi would claim the land since it was an evil place. The narratives the author provides about the Hopi, some of which may be more about a time than a place, reveal the fascinating complexity of this early civilization.

An occasionally repetitive but fully illuminating account for any who relish the rich history and traditions of the Hopi.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-393-06125-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2015


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