Paavahu and Paanaqawu: The Wellsprings of Life and the Slurry of Death
So identical are they in Hopi thought that the very word for (natural) water and spring is the same: A reflection f experience in this semi-arid environment. No rivers or streams flow near the Hopi villages, except for the Moenkopi wash (the name, an index of its social importance, means "continuously flowing water place") that runs past the westernmost settlement of the name. Springs are the prototypical water sources. They emerge from talus slopes on the side of the sandstone mesas where the villages are located, and have done so for long time. Continuous Puebloan occupation of this area dates back 1500 years, and Oraibi, the oldest continuously inhabited village in North American, has been dated to at least 1150 C.E.
It is hard to imagine anything more sacred, as substance or symbol, than water in Hopi religious thought and practice. To be sure, some elements may appear more prominent: corn, the staff, of life, which is ubiquitous in Hopi religious imagery; rattlesnakes from the spectacular Snake Dance; of masked performances by Kachina spirits. But intrinsic to these, and underlying much other symbolism in the panoply of Hopi ritual, is the concern with water. Springs, water and rain are focal themes in ritual costumes, kiva iconography, mythological narratives, personal names and many songs that call the cloud chiefs from the varicolored directions to bear their fructifying essence back into the cycle of human, animal and vegetal life.
That essence (as clouds, rain and other water forms) manifests the spirits of the dead. When people die, in part, they become clouds; songs call to the clouds as ascendant relatives. Arriving clouds are returning ancestors, their rain both communion with and blessing of the living. The waters of the earth (where Kachina spirits live) are, then, transubstantiated human life. Further, Paalölöqangw, the water serpent deity, lives in the springs. Paalölöqangw is appealed to in the Snake and Flute ceremonies and is portrayed in religious puppetry during winter night dances. The Flute ceremony is specifically devoted tot he consecration and regeneration of major springs. The Lenmongwi (head of the Flute society), in an archetypal gesture, dives to the bottom of a particularly sacred spring to plant prayer-sticks for Paalölöqangw. At the winter solstice ceremonies, feathered prayer-sticks are placed over major springs around every Hopi village as both protection and supplication.
Among sources of water there is a quasi-magnetic relationship: the Pacific Ocean, the Colorado River, rain, underground aquifers, springs and living plants are mutually attractive- "contagious" in the anthropological sense: "The land is a living organ, it breathes...the Hopis say that it is the underground water that sucks in, that breathes the rain" (Vernon Masayesva). Paatuwaqatsi (literally "the ocean") is simultaneously a central philosophical principle denoting the universally sustaining water of life. To attract the world's powers of moisture, springs are major foci of ritual attention. They have individual names-Kwaavaho, Saalako, Talakwavi, Paatuwi, Kookyangwva and many more - which occur frequently in ritual narrative and song. Spring water properly placed in one's field, mud from spring bottoms as body-plaster in Kachina costumes and painted tadpoles or dragonflies on Kachina 'friends' (a term Hopis prefer to `masks') all sympathetically entice the rain. Springs themselves, like maize in fields, were originally "planted" in the earth by deities or gifted individuals. Pilgrimages to reconsecrate and draw in regenerative power from especially significant springs at distant points are common in the religious calendar. Villages may be named of springs, such as the mother village, Shungopavi, "sand-grass spring place." Some clans have exceptional responsibilities to springs, such as Patki, the Divided Water clan.
In short, springs are key in Hopi social life, cultural values and the conceptualization of the landscape - all of which form the grounds of deeper religious thought and action. This is not entirely unpredictable for an agricultural society in a riverless environment with eight inches of precipitation annually. The prolific complexity of Hopi ritual attends to springs, specifically and in general, as sources of blessing and vehicles of prayer. Paanaqawu (literally, "fatal lack of water")
The springs, however, are drying up, and with them the essential force of Hopi religious life and culture itself. Flows have been progressively declining over the last three decades. Numerous springs and seeps have ceased to produce enough water to sustain crops planted below them. The Moenkopi wash does not "continuously flow" any more, and the only major Hopi farming area that depends on irrigation water is in serious jeopardy. This year it was down to a trickle by late May; in the recent past Moenkopi children plunged into swimming holes long into the summer. Even the trickle was supplied only by two upstream tributaries; from the mainstream itself, all the water was channeled into impoundment ponds by Peabody Coal Company.
Peabody, which operates twenty-seven mines in the U.S., is now part of the British multinational, Hanson Industries. Peabody's total operating profit in 1994 was $230 million on coal sales of $1.8 billion. Hanson's total sales, including its chemical and tobacco interests, was $18 billion, and its total after-tax profit was $1.7 billion. This is no small enterprise. Peabody's Black Mese-Kayenta Mine is the only mine in the country which transports its coal by slurry. The stripmined coal is crushed, mixed with drinking-quality water and then flushed by pipeline to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada. The cities of Las Vegas and Phoenix - electric oases in the desert - buy some of the power, but most of it goes the electric toothbrushes, garage door openers, outsize TV sets and other necessities of life in southern California.
Most of the slurry water comes directly from the `Navajo,' or N-aquifer, located 1,000-3,000 feet within the geologic formation of Black Mesa (an upthrust plate of the Colorado Plateau) that tilts southwestward and ends, up in the spring-studded, finger-like promontories that are the Hopi mess. Peabody use ca 3,700 acre-feet (about 1.2 billion gallons) of water per year for the slurry, which is ten times as much as the annual water consumption of the entire Hopi community (ca. 9,000 people).
The pumping, Peabody has claimed, has no effect on the Hopi springs. Those springs, it maintains, are not fed by the N-aquifer but the overlying `Dakota" or D-aquifer, and by snowmelt. Hopis do not believe Peabody's position. However, an escalating series of letters from Hopi individual and officials (both traditional leaders and Tribal Council chairs), petitions signed by several hundred Hopis, protests in public hearings dissenting interpretations by independent geologists and repeated refusal by the Tribal Council to sanction the Department of the Interior's renewal of the mining lease have fallen on deaf ears. Flat rebuttals to Hopi protests continue to be retailed by Peabody and Hanson representatives. A personal invitation to direct dialogue (extended to Lord Hanson, Chairman of Hanson plc, in June 1994 by Tribal Chairman Ferrell Secakuku) has gone ignored. In April 1994, W. Howard Carson, President of Peabody Western Coal Company, voiced the company's party line: "Changes in the flows from their springs may be the result of drought conditions in the region, and perhaps from the increased pumpage from Hopi community wells located near these springs... Peabody Western's pumping from wells that are 2,500-3,000 feet deep does not affect these springs" (Los Angeles Times 1994).
Even prior to this statement, however, to U.S. Geological Survey hydrologists concluded that Peabody' analysis was based on a wholly inadequate model. Among other shortcomings: "[T]he model is not sufficient to answer concerns of the Hopi regarding adverse local, short-term impacts on wetlands riparian wildlife habitat, and spring flow at individual spring" (Nichols 1993). Recent figures (U.S.G.S. 1995) suggest that declines in water level of area wells (ranging from 30 feet to 97 feet from 1965 to 1993) are up to two-thirds caused by the mine's pumping. Peabody's claim that throughout the 35-year life of the mine it would use one tenth of on percent of N-aquifer water which would naturally recharge itself is seriously questioned by the Hopi Tribe. The Tribe's consulting geologists recently charted a recharged rate at 85% less than Peabody's estimate. (It has been suggested that Peabody is trying in suppress public release of these discrepant figures since - if verified - the company would be contractually required, according to the terms of the lease, to post a bond for acquifer restoration.)
It seems evident, too, that depletion of the N-aquifer has had serious impacts on the D-aquifer, and on the springs themselves; the Moenkopi wash is directly affected since it is supplied by N-aquifer seepage U.S.G.S. computer simulations predict total drying of some major Hopi wells within the next twenty-five years. Upstream Navajo communities are also significantly affected by the drying and by deteriorating water quality: Forest Lake has been particularly hard hit. In recent documents, Peabody has finally acknowledged that it takes water not only from the N-aquifer. This has come as no surprise to Hopis. But as Nat Nutongla, head of the Hopi Water Resource Department, states, "The elders regard all water as sacred. It doesn't matter whether the springs are supplied directly by the D-aquifer or the N-aquifer or whatever; they represent all sources of water."
Peabody's position that declines in Hopi springs derive from increased domestic and municipal consumption (reflecting population growth - principally Navajo - and water development by the Navajo and Hopi Tribes), is not entirely untrue. Tuba City wells and significant increases in local population since the 1960's directly impinge on Moenkopi area springs. Hopi use of domestic water has definitely expanded since newer villages adopted indoor plumbing over the last thirty years. But these changes, Hopis argue, are all the more reason not to waste the reserves of N-aquifer water. A serious, compromising quandary is that 80% of the Hopi Tribe's annual operating revenues are supplied by coal royalties and water lease fees from Peabody. The Hopi Tribal Council (or "Tribe") - a creation of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 - is formally supported by about half the villages, though even anti-Council traditionalists rely on numerous benefits it administers. Many people feel they were duped by the Council's attorneys when the original leases were signed in the 1960's (there are independent indications of backroom deals), and that some Tribal leaders were co-opted by Peabody. But this is scarcely a factional issue. Hopis directly involved with the Council, including the last two Chairmen (Ferrell Secakuku and Vernon Masayesva), have strongly opposed renewal of the coal leases in lieu of an alternative means of transporting the coal. Hopis of all factions - from traditionalist Kikmongwis (village chiefs) to modernist technocrats - have been unanimous and clear in pristine ground water to transport coal and in the their disbelief in Peabody's denials that the pumping affects the springs.
The Tribal Council favors economic development and does not oppose the mine as such (which some traditionalists do). Part of the allure of the mine in the first place was the promise of Hopi employment. But Hopis now say Peabody has aligned itself with the Navajo Nation and ignores Hopi interest, a position borne out in employment figures. Of up to 900 employed "Native Americans" - a useful elision in Peabody's public pronouncements - fewer than twenty are Hopis. The great majority are Navajos, represented by the United Mine Workers Union which enjoys a special relationship with the Navajo Labor Relations Board. The original leases guaranteed 50% of local employment to Hopis. And Peabody's overall attitude seems to be flagrant disdain for Hopi concerns. In Howard Carson's words, "We wouldn't [stop pumping] just to get the Hopi off our backs, because it could create another nightmare. These thing snowball" (Gallup Independent 1993).
Several alternatives to the slurrying of aquifer water have been proposed, and progress has been made on one: another pipeline from Lake Powell which would provide domestic water for Hopis and Navajos and industrial use for Peabody. But Peabody, ever mindful of the bottom line, is evidently using delaying tactics, suspending negotiations and playing off the Tribes against each other (despite support for the project by Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt). Like most other negotiations involving Hopis and Navajos, this pipeline proposal is subject to the cumulative politics of the land disputes, and the Navajo nation has sought concessions from the Hopi that it has been unable to gain otherwise. Such disputes affect Hopi religious freedom on other ways, including the gathering of fledgling eagles and pilgrimages to some springs. A major sacred spring, Kiisiwu, is on land partitioned to the Navajo Nation by Congress in 1974. This spring, associated with principal Kachina ceremonies, is visited by ritual-society pilgrims, during Powamuy (the "Bean Dance") and Niman ( the "Home Dance"). formerly, local Navajos maintained a respectful distance, but younger generations are impressed less by the religious purpose and more by secular conflict. Recently, there have been physical assaults. If Kiisiwu dries up it may solve some temporal problems between Hopis and Navajos, but at what spiritual cost?
Meanwhile, the Hopis are deeply anxious about all spring declines for both obvious reasons and deeper metaphysical ones. Hopi moral philosophy, following a covenant entered into with the deity, Maasaw, upon emergence into the present world, charges people to take care of the earth and all its resources. Indeed, this is a significant measure of whether one is worthy of the name "Hopi" (which carries specific ethical implications). If Hopis break the covenant, cataclysm of cosmic proportions threatens. During the early 1980's when I began ethnographic research at Third Mesa, Tsakwani'yma, an older Spider clan man, would sometimes talk about prophecies he had heard from his uncle, Lomayestiwa (a "Hostile" leader at the 1906 Oraibi split). He returned to one, repeatedly: A time would come when Paalölöqangw, the water serpent deity, would turn over and lash his tail deep within the waters of the earth, and all and - life would tumble back down to the bottom of the ocean. "Can you interpret it?" he would challenge. "It means earthquake. But it's also symbolic of the life we are leading today: koyaanisqatsi, a life of chaos." Then in 1987 and 1988, shortly after he passed on, there were two earthquake on Black Mesa (a rarity), which the Arizona earthquake Information Center connects to the removal of massive quantities of coal and water. The perception of some elders, that this is the result of having their souls literally sold our from under them (in the link between ground water and spirits of the dead), causes profound sadness and a sense of intractable religious desecration.
In addition to long-term Hopi interests, the continued pumping of more than a billion gallons of potable water every year for a coal slurry appears incredibly shortsighted from the perspective of regional geopolitics. The coming century will undoubtedly see ever more serious problems of water supply for major conurbations in the West. In this light, Hopi religious concerns with springs become metaphorical of larger issues of global development and natural resource management. But while typically attuned to such universal implications, Hopis in the immediate term are concerned with basic physical, cultural and spiritual survival. If the springs are to be saved ( and along with them continued Hopi cultural and religious existence), Hanson's relentless drive toward short-term profits, and the expense of stakeholder concerns, needs a dramatic makeover in line with trends toward local-global balance pursued by more progressive multinationals. In the meantime, the pumps siphon the essence of life from the water-roots of Black Mesa and the Hopi springs are withering on the vine. Reference Clemmer, Richard 0.1978. Black Mesa and the Hopi. Native Americans and Energy Development, Joseph Jorgenson, ed. Cambridge: Anthropology Resource Center. (Very useful for earlier phases of Hopi resistance to the mine.) * 1948. The Effects of the Energy Economy on Pueblo Peoples. Native American and Energy Development, 2. Joseph Jorgenson, ed. Boston: Anthropology Resource Center and the Seventh Generation Found. Gallup Independent. 12-20-1993. Coal mining may threaten Hopi water, culture. Gallup, NM Guerrero, Marianna. 1992. American Indian Water Right: The Blood of Life in Native North America. In The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance. M. Annette James, ed. Boston: South End Press. (Includes useful bibliographic references to Native American water issues and conflicts more generally.) Los Angeles Times, 4-30-1994. Coal Mining and Hopi Water. Letter to the Editor, by W. Howard Carson, President, Peabody Western Coal Company. Nichols, William D. (Western Region Ground Water Specialist, U.S.G.S.) 10-28-1993. Letter to William M. Alley, Chief, Office of Ground Water, Water Resources Division, U.S.G.S. U.S. Dept. of the Interior. 1990. Proposed Permit Application, Black Mesa-Kayenta Mine, Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations, Arizona, 2 vols. Final Environmental Impact Statement OSMEIS-25. Denver: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. (Vol 2, "Comments and Responses," includes the full text of numerous Hopi letters, petitions, and oral testimony.) U.S. Geological Survey. 1995. Results of Ground-Water, Surface-Water, and Water-Quality Monitoring, Black Mesa Area, Northeastern Arizona 1992-93. Water Resources Investigation Report 95-4156. Tucson: U.S.G.S. Acknowledgments Nat Nutongla and the Hopi Water Resource Department gave indispensable help and comments, and were most generous with sources. Vernon Masayesva provided especially trenchant feedback, both on Hopi concepts and hydrological matters. My thanks also to Jerry Brody for help in locating Fred Kabotie's Niman painting. I remain solely responsible for the content. Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.
Our website houses close to five decades of content and publishing. Any content older than 10 years is archival and Cultural Survival does not necessarily agree with the content and word choice today.