This is the first of two postcards sent to Master Bill.
The post card says the following:
“With the primitive people of the Southwest, water is the most previous of all elements. In a land of cloudless skies and waterless mesas, most of the ceremonies of these people are directed to the gods who have power over the much to be desired down-pour of the rains.
The weird ceremony of the Snake Dance is a prayer for rain, the snakes being used as messengers to the gods having power over the rain clouds. It continues for nine days. The public performance (in which live snakes are handled) occurs on the ninth or last day. This ceremony takes place about the middle of August.”
I find the use of the word “primitive” more than a bit offensive. I am not sure that any Spanish or Anglo invader could have made the life these people did in this environment.
Written to Master Bill Richmond, 450 Riverside Drive, New York 27, N. Y. March 15, 1944, from Mommy. The card is postmarked Los Angeles. I imagine Mommy picked up a stack of cards while traveling across the country and sent them periodically to Master Bill.
Master Bill Richmond’s home was and is called “The Brookfield”, located in a swanky part of New York, near the river. Post cards addressed to “Master” Bill Richmond, from Mommy, gives another clue as to Master Richmond’s socio-economic status.
The post card itself is a Fred Harvey post card and pictures Hopi dancers, performing the Snake Dance. I feel a little funny saying performing, since this is really a holy ritual and life way of the Hopi. It is not really a “performance” or a “dance”, but part of the Hopi religious calendar.
The writer says, “How would you like a fox skin hanging on your Indian suit? Love, Mommy March 15.”
Musing on this postcard, my residence in Arizona and my many trips, once again, I feel like I really missed the boat. I have never been to a Hopi pueblo, although I’ve been to lots of ruins. I think it is time to visit live people.
If you look closely at the card, some of the men have snakes between their teeth. These snakes are both poisonous and non-poisonous. The dance itself takes place in the center of the village.
Hopi villages are the oldest continuously inhabited villages in the US. It is very interesting to me that a google search of oldest inhabited places in US brings up St. Augustine, Florida. The Hopi have been living in these buildings since about 1100 CE, well predating any building in Florida. Hopi people currently live on three mesas in the middle of the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona.
When I think of family, legacy, continuity, knowledge passed down from generation to generation, I am in awe of these people. Think about living in a place where your ancestors have lived for more than 30 generations, speaking the same, unwritten language, performing the same ceremonies and honoring those beliefs. Furthermore, these people survived every effort by the US government to anglicize these people. There is something mystical about these beliefs, perseverance and the continuity of this culture. These people have continued their way of life nearly a thousand years, with all of the obstacles of modern American life.
The dancers wear elaborate outfits and masks, which are representations of spirits, called Kachinas, or Katsina. Kachina dolls are crafted and given to children in the clans to teach the spiritual beliefs of the nation. Hundreds of kachinas appear in dances and ceremonies. Some appear more than others.
The basis of the religion and way of life is harmony – with one another and with the environment. I find that calming.
So, perhaps Master Bill got a fox tail, not really knowing the significance or ritual meaning. I hope and will believe that Mommy, Daddy and Master Bill found something remarkable in the dance and Hopi way of life.
Until Master Bill’s follow up postcard.