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Title: The Alósaka cult of the Hopi Indians

Author: Jesse Walter Fewkes

Release date: March 22, 2023 [eBook #70346]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1899

Credits: Robert Tonsing and The Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)



(From the American Anthropologist (N. S.), Vol. 1, July, 1899)






A little over ten years ago an Indian living near Keam’s Canyon, Arizona, informed Mr T. V. Keam, who for several years had been making a collection of Hopi curiosities, that there were two idols in a cave near the ruins of the old pueblo of Awatobi. Mr Keam, supposing these images to be so ancient that they no longer were used in the Hopi ritual, especially as they were reported from a point ten miles from the nearest pueblo, visited the place, and brought the idols to his store, several miles distant. When the removal of these objects became known, it created great consternation among some of the Hopi, and a delegation of priests from one of their villages begged Mr Keam to restore the figurines to them, stating that they were still used in their ceremonies. This request was immediately granted, and the two idols were borne away with great reverence by the priests, who sprinkled a line of meal on the ground along the trail as they returned home. The images, however, have never been returned to their old shrine under the Awatobi mesa, but a new fane has been found for them, the situation of which is known to no white man.[2]

From the late Mr A. M. Stephen’s rough sketches, notes, and measurements of these images (which the writer has not seen), it appears that they are made of cottonwood, the larger one about four feet tall, the other five inches shorter. Mr Stephen thought 523that they represented male and female, and his sketches of them show ground for that belief. Each has a well carved head, from which arise two straight projections which will be spoken of as horns.

In his studies of the Hopi Indians the author has several times visited the shrine at Awatobi where these objects were once kept, finding it a depression in a large bowlder, which was formerly walled up with masonry, making a shelf upon which the images stood. The entrance to this shrine faces the east, and the bowlder lies a few feet lower down on the cliff than the foundation of the old mission church of San Bernardino de Awatobi. By interrogating Indians regarding the images, he has found that they represent beings called Alósakas, the cult of which, once practised at Awatobi, still survives in the rites of the modern Hopi pueblos. Many legends concerning Alósaka have been collected, but only during the last few years has the author witnessed ceremonies connected with their cult. As a result of these observations a suggestion in regard to its significance is offered.

The distinctive symbolic feature of these images is the horns (ála) above referred to, from which they take their name. There is a priesthood at Walpi called the Aaltû or Horn-men (to whom the name Alósaka is also given), who are the special guardians of the cult and who perform rites which throw light on its nature. These Aaltû, in their personifications of Alósakas, wear on their heads close-fitting wicker caps,[3] on which are mounted two large, artificial, curved projections made of buckskin, painted white, and resembling horns of the mountain sheep[4] which, in certain of their actions, the Aaltû imitate.


The three Walpi ceremonies in which we find survivals of the Alósaka cult are the Flute, the New-fire, and the Winter Solstice, which are especially instructive in a study of its significance.

Personations of Alósaka as Escorts

In the Flute and New-fire ceremonies the role of the personators of Alósaka is that of an escort who leads the columns of dancers or processions of priests.

The personation of Alósaka in the Walpi Flute-dance was by a member of the Ása clan, who, on the fifth day of the ceremony, drew a line of ground corn and made rain-cloud symbols along the path by which altar objects were carried from one place to another. He made a line of meal across the trail by which one enters Walpi, in order to symbolically close it to visitors on the seventh day, when the historic reception of the Flute chief by the Bear and Snake chiefs was dramatized, and brushed away this meal when the Flute chief was invited to enter the pueblo at that time. He also “closed” the trail a second time when the Flute priests marched into the pueblo, and brushed the meal away as they proceeded. On the last day he led a procession of priests to the Sun spring (Táwapa), where a ceremony of wading into the water was performed, and escorted it back to Walpi on the afternoon of the last day, when the public Flute exercises were conducted. He sprinkled a line of meal over which certain sacred objects were carried from the Flute altar to the roof of the house, and led the priests as they bore these objects from place to place. There are only obscure hints regarding the nature of the Alósaka cult in these acts.

In the New-fire ceremonies we find Alósaka filling the role of escort, and also that of tyler at the kiva hatches. He escorted the public dancers, visited the trails, and drew lines of meal across them to prevent strangers from entering the pueblo. He inspected these trails from time to time, guarded the ladder while the new fire was being kindled, and carried it to the other kivas.525 These duties are those of warriors, but Alósaka was not armed, nor is the mountain sheep which he represents a probable personation of a warrior.

It is interesting to note that there is no Alósaka escort of the Flute priests in their public dances at the Middle Mesa, and, judging from photographs, it would seem that there is a like absence at Oraibi, which may be due to the absence of certain clans. Thus, one of the chiefs of the Aaltû or Alósaka society at Walpi belongs to the Ása clan of Tanoan extraction limited to the East Mesa. The first colonists of this clan were essentially warriors, and their performance of escort duty may be a survival of former times.

As there are two chiefs of equal standing in the Aaltû priesthood, one of the Ása and the other of the Bear clan (one of the oldest in Walpi), it would seem that there are two phases of the cult, and that the function of Alósaka as an escort is distinct from an older one common to other Hopi villages.

Germinative Element in the Alósaka Cult

The germinative element of the Alósaka cult, which we may regard as an ancient phase, was introduced into Awatobi and the other Hopi pueblos by a group of clans from the far south. These clans, called the Patuñ, or Squash, founded the pueblo of Micoñinovi,[5] where the Alósaka cult is now vigorous, and were prominent in Awatobi where it was important. There is one episode of the elaborated New-fire ceremony which is traced to these southern clans; this concerns a figurine, called Talatumsi, kept in a shrine under the cliffs of Walpi and especially reverenced by the Aaltû or Alósaka priests.

In the elaborated New-fire rites, called the Naácnaiya, just after the fire has been kindled by frictional methods in the Moñkiva before a man personating the Fire-god, one of the Aaltû 526brought into the pueblo, from the shrine in which it is kept, the image of Talatumsi wrapped in a white blanket with prayer-sticks in its girdle. This was set on the kiva hatches, one after another, where it remained several days; rites were performed about it, during which it was sprinkled with meal in prayer, and later reverentially carried by the Aaltû back to its shrine, where it was set in position to remain until the next quadrennial ceremony. This image is supposed to represent, not Alósaka, but the bride of Alósaka, the maternal parent of the Aaltû society about whom cluster so many folktales. She is the cultus heroine of that society,—one of their ancestors,—and her effigy is brought into the pueblo in November, every four years, by one of their number, just as we may suppose the images of Alósaka were brought into old Awatobi when the New-fire ceremony was celebrated in that ill-fated pueblo.

The Hopi have another shrine at which they worship in the New-fire ceremony, but instead of an image this contains a log of silicified wood called Tuwapontumsi, “Earth-altar-woman.” Exactly who this personage is, the author has not yet discovered, but it is instructive to know that among the Hopi totems which he obtained, one of the men gave as his signature a figure of a lizard, a circle representing the earth, and a horned human figure which was called Tuwapontumsi. As this figure recalls that of Alósaka, and as the shrine of the being it represents is visited at the same time as that of Talatumsi by priests guided by Alósaka, it is not impossible that Tuwapontumsi is connected with the Alósaka cult.

A visit to this shrine was made by the two phallic societies, Tataukyamû and Wüwütcimtû, directly after the kindling of the new fire in the chief kiva at Walpi. They were led by a man personating Alósaka, and after praying at the shrine they marched in single file to the site of Old Walpi, on the terrace below the present pueblo, and encircled the mounds of this old habitation four times, sprinkling prayer-meal as their leader, Alósaka, directed.527 This place is called a sípapû, and below it are thought to dwell the ancients. The prayers were addressed to the old men who have died. “Down below us they dwell,” said an old priest. “There the ancients dwell,” said he, patting the ground with his foot. “We are now praying to them.” There are many facts which show the existence of ancestor worship among the Hopi, but the author never heard it stated more clearly by the priests than the night he accompanied the phallic societies[6] to the ancient site of Walpi in the celebration of the New-fire ceremonies in November, 1898.

The Bird-man in the Soyáluña

One of the most striking features of the rites of the Winter Solstice ceremony in the chief kiva is the personation, before an altar, of a Bird-man who is thought to represent a solar god. This episode at Walpi has been elsewhere described,[7] but as at Oraibi it immediately precedes certain rites directly related to the Alósaka cult, a few notes on the personation of the Bird-man in the latter pueblo will be introduced.

About 10 P.M. on the day called Tótokya, the chief day of all great ceremonies, this man, preceded by two others, passed into the kiva, his entrance being announced by balls of meal thrown through the hatchway upon the floor, falling near the fireplace. The two men seated themselves, one on each side of the ladder, which was grasped in one arm. The Bird-man who followed had his face painted white, and in his mouth was a whistle with which he continually imitated the call of a bird, probably the eagle. He 528first stood on the upraise in the floor, called the spectators’ part, then squatted on the floor near the right pole of the ladder. He carried feathers in his hands,[8] and, moving his arms up and down, imitated the motion of wings, as if flapping them like a bird.

While he was performing these avian movements, the spectators sang a stirring song and the Bird-man slowly advanced to the middle of the room, imitating the gait of a bird and crouching in a squatting attitude. The motion of the wings and the bird-cries continued, the personator now and then raising his arms and letting them fall with a quivering motion. Once in the middle of the room he laid the feathers on the floor and remained there for a short time without moving. He then arose and danced for a long time, accompanied by a woman who held in one hand an ear of corn which she gracefully waved back and forth. She followed the Bird-man as he moved from place to place, and at the close of the dance took her seat near the right wall of the kiva where she sat before the Bird-man entered the room.

After the woman had taken her seat, the Bird-man continued the wing movements with his arms, stretching them at full length and then drawing them back to his body. He then proceeded to a pile of sand in a corner near the upraise; taking pointed sticks or reeds in his hand and halting before this mound of sand, he threw first one, then another, of the sticks into the sand, all the time imitating a bird in the movements of his body and simulating the bird-calls with a whistle. He then went to the Soyáluña woman who had danced with him; squatting before her, he uttered the strange bird-calls, and, making a pass, raised the small sticks which he carried from her feet to her head several times. He then returned to the mound of sand and again shot the sticks into it, after which he returned to the woman. This was repeated several times. The bird personator then returned to the middle of the kiva, before the altar, and, taking a bow and some arrows, danced for some time, while all the assembled 529priests sang in chorus. As the Bird-man danced, he raised the bow, fitted an arrow to it, faced the north, and drew the bowstring as if to shoot. This was repeated six times, the performer pointing the arrow to the cardinal directions in prescribed sinistral sequence.

At the close of this part of the performance the songs ceased and the Bird-man took a seat before the altar, while a priest at his right lit a conical pipe and blew through it, on the body of the Bird-man, clouds of tobacco smoke. This smoke was not taken into the mouth, but the smoker placed the larger end between his lips, and blew through the tube, causing the smoke to issue from a small hole at the pointed end.[9] After prayers by one or more of the priests, the Bird-man again danced before the altar, at the same time imitating the movements of wings with his arms and bird-calls with a whistle in his mouth. He then left the room and the calls could be heard as he went outside.

This proceeding is interpreted as a symbolic dramatization or representation of the fertilization of the earth, and is an example of highly complicated sympathetic magic by which nature powers of sky and earth are supposed to be influenced.[10] The Bird-man, called Kwátaka or Kwátoka,[11] is an old war-god, and possibly a sun god, the return of whom the Winter Solstice ceremony commemorates.


The evidence that the Bird-man personates a sun or sky god is derived mainly from morphological symbolism, and in support of the theory there are here introduced a figure of the most common Hopi sun symbol, also representations of dolls of a sun god, and Kwátaka whom the Bird-man personates.

The common sun emblem (plate XXV, a) is a round disk with a woven corn-husk margin in which are inserted feathers of the eagle radiating at all angles. From the four quadrants project sticks—the ends of an equal-armed cross. This disk has the following design painted upon it: The upper part is separated from the lower by a horizontal line, and the space above is divided into two parts by a perpendicular line, while the mouth is represented in the lower space by an hourglass-shaped figure. Two marks represent eyes. This disk is worn on the backs of men personating the sun, in many rites, and is found painted on the screens used in the Palülükoñti ceremony. It is the ordinary sun symbol in Hopi pictography.

Many conventional modifications of this symbol are common. The painted design is often omitted and the disk reduced to a circle, while the feathers are dropped, or concentrated in clusters in the four quadrants. In the sand picture of Powalawû[12] the sun symbol is made of concentric zones of sand of different colors with arrow-shaped extensions in the four quadrants. Again, the circle may be absent, when the four extensions in its quadrants remain, forming a cross called a tokpela. This highly conventionalized form of the sun is often found depicted on shields as a warrior’s symbol.

Thus, while the equal-armed cross sometimes becomes a sun symbol, this by no means implies that the cross may not also have other meanings. The signification of symbols depends on association, and the simple emblem described may have an entirely different meaning in other associations. There is no more constant531 decoration used in the ornamentation of ancient Hopi pottery than the cross, yet to interpret this simple figure as invariably a sun symbol would be absurd, for it may mean the sky, the four world-quarters, the four winds, the sun, or a star; or it may be employed simply as an insignificant decorative motive. Such simple designs as the cross, the circle, or the triangle, in primitive symbolism, may often be regarded as simply qualitative and are so used in pictography, their true meaning in specific cases depending on their association with other figures. In certain associations a circle is a sun symbol, in others an earth symbol; an equal-armed cross with a figure of a rapacious bird sometimes represents the sun, in other instances the four cardinal points, which, with the Hopi, are purely terrestrial directions or positions on the horizon.

a, Common Hopi sun symbol. b, “Big-head,” a solar god. c, Kwátaka, bird with sun symbolism. d, Ahole.

Returning to the common symbol of the sun, or the disk with painted design and radiating peripheral eagle feathers, we find on comparing it with the symbolism of the head of a sun god (plate XXV, b), a close similarity. Among the features common to both are the markings on the upper half of the face, the radiating feathers, and the cross extensions. The marks on the sun disk, indicating eyes, are here replaced by balls, but of greater importance in future comparison, the mouth or double triangle is represented by a curving beak. The reason for the substitution of this form of mouth is apparent in a comparison with the head of the doll of Kwátaka (plate XXV, c), where a bird’s head, wings, and tail are all represented. The symbolic design on the body of this bird doll is strictly comparable with those on the two sun symbols previously mentioned. The radiating feathers are replaced by tail and wings, while the head is suggested by the curved beak of the second symbol. A comparison of these three figures leads to the belief that they are three different sun symbols.

The fact that the last is called Kwátaka, and that the Bird-man in Soyáluña was given the same name, supports the theory532 that the latter is a solar god. In his performance he does not, to be sure, wear a mask with solar symbols, but he imitates a bird in action and voice. He is a patron of warriors, like the sun; he is the first god to return, and the Soyáluña is a celebration to cause the sun to return. The eagle or a raptorial bird is the sun bird; the sun fertilizes the earth, and the ceremonial acts of the Bird-man at the Winter Solstice dramatize fertilization. In short, the conclusion to which studies of the ceremonial acts of the Bird-man, reinforced by those of comparative symbolism, have led me, is that the Bird-man personates the sun or a solar deity.

Ceremony with the Alósaka Screen

After the bird personator had retired, a short interval elapsed, all the spectators of the previous rites remaining seated. A screen was then handed through the kiva hatchway and propped upright near the fireplace with blocks of clay and stones. This screen (plate XXVI) was estimated to be between four and five feet long, by about three feet wide, and was decorated on the side turned toward the fireplace and the raised floor of the kiva. The entire middle of the screen was occupied by a picture of Alósaka, identical with that on the sun-shield used in the Walpi Soyáluña.[13] The head of this figure bore two curved horns, with two fan-shaped lateral attachments; the chin was painted black; in the right hand an ear of corn was represented, and in the left a moñkohu or whitened slab of wood with attached feathers.

A triple rain-cloud symbol was depicted on the screen above the head of the Alósaka figure, and to the left were four parallel bars with a vertical row of four dots. In the lower left-hand corner there was a symbolic picture of the sun, and on the right side of Alósaka appeared an elongated figure which possibly may have represented a sprouting seed. To each side of the screen were attached four artificial flowers, and to the upper edge a number of hoops covered with raw cotton, possibly representing snow. 533A conventional symbol of corn was drawn on the lower part of the screen, and the surface was covered with various seeds, as corn, beans, etc., fastened with clay.

Drawn by Mary M. Leighter

The rites performed before this screen were of a very simple nature, and one of the most important was the scraping of the seeds from the lower part into a tray after certain prayers and other observances. To the seeds in the basket was added a small quantity of raw cotton taken from the top of the screen, which was then carried out of the kiva.

The ceremony before the screen is interpreted as a prayer to Alósaka for rain, snow, fertilization of seed, and abundant harvests, symbolized by the figures on it and the rites performed before it. These ceremonies are very appropriately introduced in connection with those of the Rain-cloud people, since both came from the south and were brought by related clans.[14]

Ceremony with the Alósaka Shield

In the Walpi variant of the Soyáluña or Winter Solstice ceremony, we have not as yet observed a ceremony with the Alósaka figure comparable with that with the screen just described; but there is a shield upon which is painted an almost identical figure of Alósaka.[15] The nature of the rites in which this shield is used is imperfectly known, and the character of the Alósaka worship in the pueblos of the Middle Mesa is yet to be investigated.

Pictures of Alósaka

The symbolism of Alósaka is shown in a rude drawing made by one of the Hopi to illustrate a legend, and it represents this being on a rainbow, on which he is said to have traveled from his home in the San Francisco mountains to meet an Awatobi maid. Above the figure of Alósaka is represented the sun, which is drawn also on the screen above 534described, for Alósaka is intimately associated with the sun, as are all the other horned gods, Ahole, Calako, Tuñwup, and the Natackas. An interesting detail of the symbolism of this picture of the sun is the crescents under the eyes, which are found also on dolls representing the mother of the gods, Hahaiwüqti, an Earth-goddess of first importance. The personators of Alósaka paint a white crescent under the left eye.

There is good authority for the belief that the conventional symbol of Alósaka is a profile view of a budding squash-blossom—a central bud and two lateral leaves. When this symbol becomes highly conventionalized, or made of rectangular instead of curved lines, it consists of a straight line with a triangle on each side, and is then the same symbol of generation that is painted with red iron oxide on the breast, arms, and thighs of the two phallic societies in the public New-fire ceremony.

As an idea of the nature of Alósaka may be discovered from morphological symbolism, let us examine the figures of a few of the horned “gods” in the Hopi Olympus.

The first group of horn-headed gods to which reference may be made are the pictures found on altars in the ceremonies called Nimán and Powamû. At Walpi these pictures are said to represent Tuñwupkatcina,[16] a name which may be of Tanoan origin. Figures of Tuñwup have two lateral horns on the head, to the tips of which representations of feathers are sometimes appended. On the top of the head, between these two horns, there is represented a crest of radiating feathers, and on the forehead a broadheaded arrow which is sometimes modified to resemble the symbolism on the face of the figures of the sun painted on disks.

The Tuñwup type of horned gods includes the Calako-taka, Natacka, and one or two others. The mask of Ahole, who flogs the children during the Powamû celebration, has the same two lateral horns and representation of radiating feathers over the 535crown of the head, but instead of sagittaform marks on the forehead there is a colored band from ear to ear across the face, as shown in plate XXVI, d.

It is probable that these horned gods have close kinship and are possibly identical, Ahole being simply a name of the personification by a masked man, and Tuñwup that of the picture of the same on the altar. The horned Alósaka does not belong to this type of horned “gods,” although it has two horns on the head both in graven images and in pictures.

Myths of Alósaka

It will be seen from the preceding account that the Alósaka rites are well developed in the ceremonies of the New-fire and Winter Solstice, in which the clans from the south who joined the Hopi are well represented, or in which religious societies and ceremonial paraphernalia brought by the Patuñ, Píba, Pátki, and related clans have preeminence. Study of the Alósaka myths reveals an explanation of the meaning of this relationship.

During his valuable studies among the Hopi, the late A. M. Stephen obtained an Alósaka legend which is recorded in his notes on the Keam collection, and is here quoted with explanations obtained by the author since Mr Stephen’s death.

“At the Red House in the south[17] internecine wars prevailed, and the two branches of the Pátki[18] people separated from the other Hopi and determined to return to the fatherland in the north.[19] But these two branches were not on the best of terms, and they traveled northward by separate routes, the [later settlers of] Micoñinovi[20] holding to the east of the [later settlers of] Walpi.


“The Pátki traveled north until they came to Little Colorado river, and built houses on both its banks.[21] After living there many years the factional dissensions, which seem to have ever haunted these people, again broke out, and the greater portion of them withdrew still farther north and built villages the ruins[22] of which are still discernible not far from the site of the villages their descendants inhabit at present.

“The Squash [Micoñinovi] also trended slowly northward, occupying, like all their legendary movements, a protracted period of indefinite length—years during which they planted and built homes alternating with years of devious travel. They grew lax in the observance of festivals, and Muinwû inflicted punishment upon them. He caused the water to turn red, and the color of the people also turned red; he then changed the water to blue, and the people changed to a similar color. The Snow katcina appeared and urged them to return to their religion, but they gave no heed to him, so he left them and took away corn. Muinwû then sent Palülükoñ,[23] who killed rabbits and poured their blood in the springs and streams, and all the water was changed to blood and the people were stricken with a plague. They now returned to their religious observances, and danced and sang, but none of the deities would listen to them.

“A horned katcina[24] appeared to the oldest woman and told her that on the following morning the oldest man should go out and procure a root, and that she and a young virgin of her clan should eat it. After a time she (the old woman) would give 537birth to a son who would marry the virgin, and their offspring would redeem the people. The old woman and the virgin obeyed the katcina, and the former gave birth to a son who had two horns upon his head. The people would not believe that the child was of divine origin; they called it a monster and killed it.

“After this all manner of distressing punishments were inflicted upon them, and wherever they halted the grass immediately withered and dried. Their wanderings brought them to the foot of the San Francisco mountains, where they dwelt for a long time, and at that place the virgin gave birth to a daughter who had a little knob on each side of her forehead. They preserved this child, and when she had grown to be a woman, the horned katcina[25] appeared and announced to her that she would give birth to horned twins, who would bring rain and remove the punishment from their people. This woman was married, and the twins, a boy and a girl, were born; but she concealed their divine origin, fearing they would be destroyed.

“The Patuñ [Squash][26] now moved to the Little Colorado where they built houses and met some of the Pátki people to whom they related their distresses. A wise man of the Pátki came over to them, and on seeing the twins at once pronounced them to be the Alósaka. They had no horns up to this time, but as soon as this announcement was made, their horns became visible and the twins then spoke to the people and said that it had been ordained that they were to be unable to help their people until the people themselves discovered who they were. The Patuñ were so enraged to think that the Alósaka had been with them, 538unknown so many years, that they killed them, and still greater sufferings ensued.

“They again repented, and carved two stone images of the Alósaka which they painted and decked with feathers and sought to propitiate the mother. She was full of pity for her people, and prayed to the Sky-god[27] to relieve them. A period elapsed in which their sufferings were in great measure abated.

“The Patuñ then sought to join the Pátki clans, but the Pátki would not permit this, and compelled them to keep east of Awatobi.

“Many ruins of phratry and family houses of the Patuñ people exist on the small watercourses north of the Puerco at various distances eastward from the present village of Walpi. The nearest are almost fifteen miles, the farthest about fifty miles.[28]

“Their wandering course was now stayed. When they essayed to move farther eastward, a nomadic hunting race who occupied that region besought them not to advance farther. Their evil notoriety had preceded them, and the nomads feared the malificent influence of their neighborhood. It would seem, however, that instead of hostile demonstrations the nomads entered into a treaty with them, offering to pay tribute of venison, roots, and grass-seeds, if they would abstain from traversing and blighting their land, to which the Patuñ agreed.

“But these unfortunate wretches were soon again embroiled in factional warfare which finally involved all the Hopi, and the stone images of the Alósaka were lost or destroyed. Famine and pestilence again decimated them, until finally the Alósaka katcina appeared to them and instructed them to carve[29] two 539wooden images, but threatening them that if these should be lost or destroyed all the people would die.”

Many other but widely divergent legends exist regarding Alósaka, a number of which are associated with the pueblo of Awatobi, which was formerly one of the most populous Hopi towns. At one time this village experienced drouth and famine, and Alósaka, from his home in the San Francisco mountains, observed the trouble of the people. Disguised as a youth he visited Awatobi and became enamored with a maiden of that town. Several times he visited her, but no one knew whence he came or whither he went, for his trail no one could follow. The parents of the girl at last discovered that he came on the rainbow, and recognized him as a divine being. The children of this maid were horned beings, or Alósakas, but their identity was not at first recognized.

Like all the cultus heroes, Alósaka is said, in legends, to have been miraculously born of a virgin. His father was the Sun, his mother an Earth-goddess, sometimes called a maiden. Like many gods, he traveled on the rainbow; he lived at Tawaki, the house of his father, the Sun, or the San Francisco mountains.

It would seem from all these stories that the Alósaka cult was vigorous in Awatobi, the ill-fated pueblo where the zealous Padre Porras lost his life in 1633, and that it was of southern origin, having been introduced into Awatobi by one of the phratries from the south which lived in the now ruined pueblos on the Little Colorado. The most complicated survival of the Alósaka cultus is to be expected in the Middle Mesa pueblos, because the phratry which introduced it founded some of these pueblos[30] and still survives there. The result of an examination of many Alósaka myths would seem to be a conclusion that he is a cultus hero of clans which came from the south.


Totemic Aspect of Alósaka

The Alósaka cult may be regarded as another form of that totemic ancestor worship which appears in all Hopi mythology and ritual. The male and female Alósakas are supposed to be ancestors of a cult society called the Aaltû, and are represented symbolically in the ritual by graven images, pictures, or personations by men. The name Alósaka is simply a sacerdotal name used in this society, but it is applied to a similar conception found in the worship of other societies under other names.

In the Snake-Antelope societies of the Hopi the male and female parents are called Tcüa-tiyo (Snake-youth) and Tcüa-mana (Snake-maid), which beings are personated in the secret exercises of the Snake dance by a boy and a girl appropriately clothed.

In the Flute ceremony the cult society ancestors are called the Leñya-tiyo (Flute-youth) and Leñya-mana (Flute-maid), who are represented symbolically by images on the altars and by a boy and two girls in the public exhibition.

In the Lalakonti ceremony these two ancestral personages are represented in a symbolic way by images on the altar and by sand pictures on the floor, and by a man and two girls in the public dance. These personages are called by the Lalakonti society the Lakone-taka and the Lakone-manas respectively.

In the Mamzrautû society they are called the Marau-taka and the Marau-manas, and are symbolically represented on the altar by figurines and in the public dance by a boy and a maid called the Palahiko-mana whose headdress with symbolic clouds and squash blossoms so closely resembles that of Calako-mana, or the Corn-maid,[31] that it is difficult to distinguish the two.


In the great katcina cult these two personages are called Anwucnoshotaka and Hahaiwuqti, or “Man of all the Crow clans,” and “Mother of katcinas,” respectively; but as this cult is very complex in the East Mesa towns, and is celebrated by many amalgamated cult societies, there are various other names for these two ancestors.

It is instructive to consider somewhat more in detail this aspect of the Hopi katcina cult in the two great characteristic festivals called Powamû and Nimán.

Reviewing the Hopi calendar it is found that katcina worship appears in ceremonies from December to July, inclusive, and while none of the festivals between July and December is a true katcina, the majority of those during the remainder of the year bear this name. As expressed by the Hopi priests, the Nimán ceremony celebrates the departure of the katcinas from the pueblos, to which they do not return for about six months. This Nimán (“Departure”) ceremony of the katcinas is celebrated in July, and no katcinas are personated in the Hopi pueblos until December. The time of the return of these supernaturals is not as distinct as that of their departure, and they may be said to straggle back in the December and January rites; but their return in force takes place in the February ceremony called Powamû which is made up wholly of characteristic katcina exhibitions.

It is of some interest to determine the month of the return, for there are katcina personations in December (Soyáluña) and during the January moon, and it may be held that their appearance in the former proves that the advent of these worthies occurs in the month named. The chief participants in the December rite (and the same may be said of the January ceremony) are not distinctive katcinas, or rather there are other ceremonies not belonging to this cult in their composition, and no special distinctive katcina altars are erected. In the Powamû, however, there is a true katcina altar which is essentially the542 same as that set up in the Nimán when the katcinas leave the pueblo. Powamû may thus be regarded as the official celebration of the return, and from that time to July these personages dominate the ritual. But the rites of intervening moons are not all necessarily pure katcinas, even if katcinas participate in them. Thus, in the March ceremony, Palülükoñti (Unkwanti), they are again subordinate. This is not a pure katcina, but that of another cult into which they have straggled or to which they have been added in the course of evolution. There are only two great katcina celebrations, Powamû and Nimán, both controlled by the katcina chief, both with a true katcina altar, both free from other Hopi cults.

Some of the differences between the Powamû at Walpi and the other Hopi pueblos are due to the introduction of masked personifications at Walpi which are absent elsewhere. This may be explained as follows: Near Walpi there are two other pueblos—one Tanoan, the other peopled by descendants of Tanoan clans, neither of which has exerted an influence on the other pueblos. These Tanoan colonists have brought their own katcinas to the East Mesa of Tusayan, and while they possess no altar of this cult they contribute their distinctive katcinas to the Walpi Powamû. In the January ceremony they do the same, and while the Walpi priests are celebrating in that month a true Hopi Flute or Snake rite, Hano and Sitcomovi contribute masked katcinas which complicate the ceremony.[32] Hence the Powamû rites at Walpi became more complicated than those performed elsewhere at the same time, because of the proximity of two pueblos in which there are variations in the katcina cult that are peculiar to them; and as it is probable that the katcina rites in other pueblos have not been affected by Ása and Hano clans, we should expect to find in them a less complex presentation of the rites of the katcina cult.


This is also in accordance with tradition, for the Honani clans, which introduced the katcina cult from Kicuba, went first to Oraibi, from which pueblo the cult was distributed to the other pueblos. The Walpi katcina altar is simple as compared with that at Oraibi; it has no figurines because it is derivative, and the same fact may explain why Walpi has but one Powamû altar while Oraibi has several. The Walpi katcina altar is simpler than that of Oraibi,[33] because derivative, but the katcina personations in this pueblo are more numerous and varied because the Ása and other Tanoan clans have contributed many new forms.

If we separate from the Walpi Powamû the elements introduced by Ása and Hano clans, we find in it the same personages as in the Oraibi celebration—Ahole, a Sun-god who flogs the children; the katcina cultus hero; Hahaiwuqti, the old woman, and Eototo. The last mentioned, a cultus hero of the Kokop people and a tutelary god of Sikyatki,[34] was an early addition to the Walpi ritual before the Powamû was celebrated. He was historically the first katcina to come to the pueblo, as he now leads the procession of masked priests in their dramatization of their advent and exit. Under the name Masauuh he invaded the Snake rites, and as Eototo he became a masked personage in the Powamû and the Nimán when these ceremonies were added to the Walpi ritual.


1. There survives in the Hopi ritual a worship of horned beings called Alósakas, which once existed at the now ruined pueblo of Awatobi.


2. The purpose of the rites performed in this cult is to cause seeds, especially corn, to germinate and grow, and to bring rain to water the farms.

3. The Aaltû priesthood at Walpi, who personate Alósakas, perform duties suggestive of those of warriors.

4. The intimate relationship of Alósaka rites with those of the Rain-cloud clans supports legends that they were at one time associated and brought from southern Arizona by the Squash people who formerly lived with or near the Rain-cloud people along Little Colorado river.

5. The Alósaka cult is a highly modified form of animal totemism, and the Alósaka represents the mountain sheep.

The Knickerbocker Press, New York


[1] These studies were made under the auspices of the Bureau of American Ethnology.
[2] The author has been told that they were deposited among the foothills of the coffin-shaped mesa southwest of Awatobi.
[3] See Fifteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, plate CX.
[4] The mountain sheep or mountain “goat” was formerly abundant in the mountains which form the watershed between Gila and Little Colorado rivers, and Castañeda speaks of seeing and following them after leaving Chichilticalli, probably in the White mountains. This animal was no doubt well known to the clans who lived in the southern parts of Arizona, before they migrated northward, and worship of it was the original form of the Alósaka cult.
[5] They also founded the pueblo of Tcukubi, the ruins of which are still to be seen on the Middle Mesa.
[6] The two societies called the Tataukyamû and Wüwütcimtû are termed phallic because they wear on their breasts, arms, and legs, figures of human phalli, and carry in their hands realistic representations of the external female organ of generation cut out of wood or watermelon rind. The former society was introduced from Awatobi by Tapolo, the chief of the Tobacco clan; the latter by the Squash clans, now extinct in Walpi. Both these clans originally came from the banks of Little Colorado river near Winslow; the Tobacco from Cakwabaiyaki, now in ruins at the mouth of Chevlon Fork. See Smithsonian Report for 1896.
[7] See American Anthropologist, vol. XI, p. 20; also American Anthropologist, N. S., April, 1899.
[8] At Walpi he has a line of feathers tied along his arm.
[9] A similar method of smoking has previously been described in an account of the sixteen songs sung by the Antelope priests in their kiva on each day of the Snake dance at Walpi.
[10] A pantomimic prayer or symbolic representation by which man shows his wishes to the gods by acting out what he desires instead of verbally petitioning them. This ceremony comes fairly within a definition of religious rites found in Tylor’s Primitive Culture (p. 363): “In part they [religious rites] are expressions and symbolic performances, the dramatic utterance of religious thought, the gesture language of theology.” The interpretation of savage rites as a sign language to the gods, and the relation of the altar to primitive ceremony have been ably discussed by Major Powell, to whom the writer is greatly indebted for a proper understanding of the significance of primitive altars. (See American Anthropologist, N. S., vol. I, p. 26 et seq.)
[11] The word Kwátaka admits of the following derivation: Kwáhu, eagle; táka, man, = Eagle-man; or, more probably, kwáhu, eagle; tokpela, the cross, symbol of the sky. This cross or four-pointed star appears on many ancient pictures of Kwátaka. (See Smithsonian Report, 1896, pl. xlviii.)
[12] Powalawû is a part of the Oraibi Powamû ceremony which has never been described.
[13] American Anthropologist, vol. XI, 1898, pl. ii.
[14] This relationship is yet to be determined at Oraibi, and the statement is derived from studies of the sociology of the East Mesa pueblos.
[15] American Anthropologist, vol. XI, 1898, p. 23.
[16] Tuñ (Tewa), sun; wupo (Hopi), great = “great sun katcina.”
[17] Palátkwabi, a legendary home on the Gila.
[18] Probably the Squash and Rain-cloud clans.
[19] Even the southern clans are supposed to have originally emerged from the underworld through the Grand canyon, but after their emergence drifted into the south, just as the white men, who are said to have emerged from the same place, went to the far east.
[20] This indicates that the two groups referred to were the Squash and Rain-cloud clans, for the former later settled on the Middle Mesa and the latter joined the Snake people at Walpi.
[21] Homolobi, near Winslow, Arizona. The several pueblos which these clans built and inhabited in their migration to Walpi were Kuñchalpi, Utcevaca, Kwiñapa, Jettypehika (Navaho name of Chaves Pass and also the two ruins at that place called Tcubkwitcalobi by the Hopi), Homolobi, Sipabi (near one of the Hopi or Moki buttes), and Pakatcomo.
[22] The last pueblo inhabited by the Pátki people before they joined the Walpi is now a ruin called Pakatcomo in the valley south of the East Mesa near the wash. It is a small ruin, not more than four miles away, and its mounds are easily seen from the mesa top.
[23] The Great Serpent.
[24] This was possibly the personation of the Sun or other solar deity.
[25] The horned katcina is supposed to be either the Sun or other solar deity. The term katcina is often used in a very general way to mean any divine personage, but at Walpi this is believed to be a secondary use of the name. Originally it was applied to certain personifications introduced by clans from the east, and later came to have a general application.
[26] Throughout the legend these are called the Micoñinovi people, but from the fact that the original settlers of the pueblo were of the Squash clans, the name of these clans is substituted in the remainder of the legend for the name of the pueblo which they founded.
[27] That is, to the Sun, their father.
[28] There is here such marked contradiction of other legends that this account must not be accepted as final. Probably Awatobi, and possibly other pueblos on the same mesa, had Patuñ clans in their populations.
[29] These are the two images found at Awatobi which this account considers in the opening pages, and the principal reason why the people from the Middle Mesa were so solicitous concerning them is shown in the closing paragraphs of the legend above quoted.
[30] The Squash clan is extinct at Walpi.
[31] In the horrible rites of the Aztec at their midsummer ceremony, Hueytecuilhuitl, a girl personating the Corn-mother, was sacrificed before the hideous idol of Chicomehuatl and her heart offered to the image. In the dances preceding her death this unfortunate girl wore on her head an amalli or “pasteboard” miter, surrounded by waving plumes, and her face was painted yellow and red, symbolic of the colors of corn. She was called Xalaquia (pronounced Shalakia). The Hopi Corn-maid, represented by a girl with a rain-cloud tablet on her head and a symbol of an ear of corn on her forehead, is called Calako-mana (pronounced Shalako-mana).
[32] The kiva rites are complicated at Walpi by the visits of these personifications from the two neighboring pueblos.
[33] It is much to be hoped that the very elaborate Powamû of Oraibi will be accurately described in detail. The indications are that it will be found to be the most instructive of all presentations of this ceremony.
[34] Sikyatki was probably a flourishing pueblo when the Snake people first settled Walpi. The tutelary god was Eototo, or Masauuh, whom the early Walpians overthrew and who gave them the site for their pueblo. At the destruction of Sikyatki by the combined Horn-Snake and Horn-Flute people, some of the survivors settled at Walpi, and their descendants are intimately connected with the Eototo cult which is incorporated in the katcinas. In the celebration of the Snake-Antelope ceremony he is known by the name of Masauuh, and a prayer-stick is made and consecrated to him at that time.
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