Secluded in the Painted Desert of the Southwest, the Hopi are a private, but kind, indigenous Nation that have preserved one of the most ancient cultures in North America. They are essentially an oral tradition people which means that they have other ways of keeping their history than written words which include dances, songs, and storytelling. They even have a word, ‘Navoti’, which refers to the information that can only be exchanged through the spoken word. This why I am usually hesitant to write about my experiences with the Hopi (also because of a long history of cultural appropriation from anthropologists, and new age spiritual seekers). So rather than attempt to write about the Hopi culture, which I am not qualified to do, I am compelled to share a story from my 20 years of experience with my friends on the Hopi Mesas.
Tribal culture is often more focused on the community than individuals, and any wisdom that individuals posses is generally considered the collective wisdom of the tribe. This can be a sensitive issue when elders speak out beyond the village, or draw attention to themselves, but there are times when it is necessary. Famed Hopi artist, mythical archaeologist, and poet, Michael Kaboti once explained to me, “Sometimes, in order to keep a tradition alive, you have to break the tradition. For that reason we have clowns as the accepted tradition-breakers.”
Nature, the First People and the spirit of our ancestors are giving you loud warnings. Today, December 10, 1992, you see increasing floods, more damaging hurricanes, hail storms, climate changes and earthquakes as our prophecies said would come. Even animals and birds are warning us with strange changes in their behavior such as the beaching of whales. Why do animals act like they know about the earth’s problems and most humans act like they know nothing? If we humans do not wake up to the warnings, the Great Purification will come to destroy this world just as the previous worlds were destroyed.
– Grandfather Thomas Banyacya, speaking before the United Nations in 1992
The elder who changed my life is not a clown, but he has always been a trickster in my life. With the exception of Thomas Banyacya, who was the first elder to share Hopi Prophecies with the world, he may be the most well-known Hopi elder to outsiders. His name is Martin Gashweseoma (above), and he is known as the Keeper of the Sacred Fire Clan Tablets. I first met him at an international gathering of indigenous elders called Belonging to Mother Earth in the late 90’s.
Many of the attendees of Belonging to Mother Earth had really hoped that Martin would come to the gathering but he had declined. On the second morning of the week-long event there was a sunrise pipe-ceremony held on the beach. During the ceremony, we were visited by dolphins who swam in a circle just a few feet from the shore during the whole ceremony. I instantly felt they were visiting us and aware of what we were doing though logic would say that it was a coincidence. Still there were no dolphins anywhere else along the beach but right in front of us.
Later that evening we received word at the gathering that Martin had called in and had changed his mind and decided to come after all. His reason? He said that dolphins had visited him in his dream and told him he needed to go to the gathering… Arrangements were made and he arrived the next evening.
I was at the gathering hosting youth activities and workshops all week with my company, Living Folklore. We had been invited because of our history working at schools and reservations using art, circus performers, stilt walkers, and clowns. Every tribe around the world has some sort of clown character, so mimicry, puppets, and playful games are a great way to entertain audiences from different cultural backgrounds that don’t all speak the same language. On the evening of Martins arrival, one of our performers was invited to a birthday celebration that a bunch of elders would be attending. Martin stole the show when he asked her, Giggly Sprout the Clown, to marry him. It was beautiful to see the power of laughter as a universal form of relating between all of these elders, many of whom spoke different languages.
During the next day Martin and his translator, Emory, shared many stories and prophecies to a small gathering of people. It was a profound experience and a great responsibility to hear this wisdom, but it was many months after the gathering that Martin began to work his magic on me. I had a recurring dream for weeks and in it was Martin laughing at me. Sometimes I could hear him laughing but I couldn’t see his face, other times he was looking directly into my eyes and laughing. At first I assumed it was just a strange dream and then I began to wonder what it might symbolize.
I went through a lengthy series of initiations that involved clowns and masked characters on various Hopi villages before I was told where Martin lived. After a while I visited him and was greeted at the door of his home with the same laugh that I had heard in my dreams. I asked him if he remembered me and he said that he always remembers his dreams… From this moment I actually began to believe that it might be possible for people to travel in their dreams and visit others. I have continued to study and work with dreams ever since.
Once, while showing me the Second Prophecy Rock, Martin spoke of the “technology that came from our DNA”. At the time I was not a fan of technology, I saw it as the source of so much destruction on our planet. I asked him, “You mean that computers, cell-phones, and internet can help humanity heal the planet?” He responded, “If only those with bad hearts use this technology, we will have big problems. We need people with good hearts to use this technology to benefit Mother Earth.” It is true that the technology we have came from our imaginations, our dreams, our DNA. Computers are nothing more than circuit boards made from crushed rocks and plastic from decaying fossils. Tools aren’t inherently good or bad, it is the intention with which they are used.
On a subsequent visit with Martin he told me that he had just returned from Japan. I teased him saying, “That isn’t very traditional for a Hopi elder to fly on an airplane.” He responded that indeed it was his tradition because they asked him to share the prophecies and that is his job. So I asked him what he told people in Japan and he responded, “I told them to leave before the tsunami comes.” This was over a year before the tsunami that crippled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant happened.
On the evening before the tsunami in Japan I saw Martin in my dream again. He kept appearing in different dreams saying the same thing. This time he wasn’t laughing. He said again and again, “It is time for these things that we have spoken of, it is time to wake up.” The following day Japan was hit with a devastating tsunami. Many will call this coincidence, or claim that it is a made up story. I do not believe that I have any special powers, I believe we all have the power to pay attention to our dreams. I believe we have much to learn if we do so. I believe that the earth wants us to wake up, I believe traditional elders have much wisdom for us should we choose to open our minds, our hearts, and listen. What do you believe?