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Hopi woman takes seed from blue corn for next year's crop
Phyllis K. Williams takes seeds of blue corn for next year's planting. Hotevilla, AZ, November 19, 1999. Photo: Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa

Dry Farming: The Seed of Hopi Culture

The Hopi people have always held tightly to their age-old practices and exercised caution in accepting modern methods and technologies. This reverence for tradition is today manifest in the traditional Hopi art of dry farming. Because of the scarcity of water, it is a rigorous and labor-intensive method of farming. With annual precipitation of 12 inches or less, the Hopi have been able to sustain and adjust in a region that offers a harsh, sometimes cruel, environment, and have developed skills in analyzing soil types and adapting planting methods to their environment.

Agriculture has always played a central role in the Hopi culture, not only as a means of sustenance, but also in a ceremonial role. Believing that they are carrying out the instructions of Màasaw, the caretaker, guardian and protector of the world, the Hopi have entered into a spiritual covenant with him for the ages. Throughout their migrations to the Hopi mesas, they have brought his agricultural teachings with them.

Today Hopi traditional farming is still performed entirely by hand. Although some Hopi use tractors to plow and plant their fields, all care and harvesting of the plants is done manually. Major fields are mainly located at the bottom of the mesas, within an average 10-mile radius of the villages. After the fields are planted, the Hopi farmer must commit himself to protect the plants from any harm. He regularly searches for cutworms in the soil around the corn, sprinkles the plants with a fertilizing solution made with dog feces and water, and uses bundles of snakeweed to protect plants from coyotes and other predators. The art of dry farming requires patience, humility, hard work, and most of all, after the teachings of Màasaw, a "heart full of prayer." The harvest season is a joyful time of year, and yields of corn, beans, and squash are piled high and ready to be stored for the winter. Women in the villages hurry to stack the corn in order for it to properly dry. When all the crops have been picked, Hopi farmers head back to the fields to prepare them for the next season. Through the keeping of their covenant with Màasaw, Hopis have farmed successfully for centuries and, through their traditional agriculture, have built a unique lifestyle; it has become the foundation on which all Hopi culture is built.

Project documentation includes six pages of text and 10 color photographs.

Originally submitted by: John McCain, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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