A mesa lost to his­tory James F. Brooks, au­thor of Mesa of Sor­rows, lec­tures on the Awat’ovi mas­sacre at the Ho­tel Santa Fe

His­to­rian James F. Brooks on the Awat’ovi mas­sacre

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - koy­aanisqatsi

Af­ter its found­ing in the early 1300s, the fortressed Hopi vil­lage of Awat’ovi fended off in­va­sions by the Spa­niards, Utes, and Nava­jos. It en­dured for cen­turies on the An­te­lope Mesa of north­east­ern Ari­zona be­fore the fall of 1700, when most of its 800 res­i­dents were slaugh­tered in a sin­gle night. De­tails of the mas­sacre emerged in 1892, when Hopi-speak­ing ethno­g­ra­pher Alexan­der Stephen tran­scribed the story of the Awat’ovi de­struc­tion from Sá­liko, a Hopi woman de­scended from one of the cap­tive sur­vivors of the at­tack. Ac­cord­ing to Sá­liko’s account, the as­sailants were fel­low Hopi. The killings were fa­cil­i­tated by the Awat’ovi’s leader, Ta’polo, who left open a gate to the walled city. In Sá­liko’s retelling, Ta’polo had been or­ches­trat­ing the at­tack in col­lu­sion with Hopi war­riors from nearby vil­lages. To­gether, the Hopi men would at­tack the peo­ple of Awat’ovi at dawn, when in­vad­ing tribes­men pulled lad­ders out of the ki­vas, trap­ping men and boys who were rest­ing from all-night re­li­gious cer­e­monies.

“Here was a sense of sav­agery that many his­to­ri­ans thought could not have taken place pre­con­tact (with Euro­peans),” said James F. Brooks, a his­to­rian, an­thro­pol­o­gist, and the for­mer direc­tor of Santa Fe’s School for Ad­vanced Re­search, in an in­ter­view with Pasatiempo. This win­ter, he pub­lished Mesa of Sor­rows: A His­tory of the Awat’ovi Mas­sacre (W.W. Nor­ton). “In Awat’ovi, I don’t think there is an es­sen­tial evil. The book is more about the ques­tion, ‘How do per­fectly de­cent peo­ple do re­ally ter­ri­ble things?’ ”

Mesa of Sor­rows be­gins with Brooks’ own per­sonal trips to Awat’ovi, ex­am­in­ing the grounds’ ru­ins, where cook­ing ves­sel and pot­tery shards give way to the re­mains of hu­man bones. But much of the book is con­sumed with ex­plain­ing the vast re­li­gious ten­sions that roiled Hopi so­ci­ety in the Span­ish colo­nial era.

Brooks combs through oral his­to­ries, mul­ti­ple ar­chae­o­log­i­cal field notes, Span­ish colo­nial doc­u­ments, and an­thro­po­log­i­cal ac­counts to piece to­gether a the­ory of why the Hopis mas­sa­cred a vil­lage of their own peo­ple more than 300 years ago. Rather than spell out a di­rect cause for the at­tack and the re­li­gious dis­cord that pre­ceded it, Brooks sit­u­ates the Awat’ovi mas­sacre in the con­text of sev­eral cen­turies of Hopi re­li­gious and in­ter­tribal con­flict, go­ing back to the in­tro­duc­tion of the katsina re­li­gion in the 14th cen­tury, when the Hopi Me­sas were “a par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion, re­ceiv­ing thou­sands of im­mi­grants.” At the same time, many of the rit­ual sto­ries that were part of the Hopi be­lief sys­tem em­pha­sized what Brooks calls “pu­rifi­ca­tion through oblit­er­a­tion,” set­ting the the­o­log­i­cal prece­dent for a re­li­gion­in­spired mas­sacre.

Brooks will speak on Mon­day, July 11, at the Ho­tel Santa Fe, about the Awat’ovi mas­sacre, in a lec­ture spon­sored by South­west Sem­i­nars. He is now a pro­fes­sor of his­tory and an­thro­pol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Bar­bara, and his ear­lier book — Cap­tives & Cousins: Slav­ery, Kin­ship and Com­mu­nity in the South­west Border­lands (Univer­sity of North Carolina Press, 2002) — was a path­break­ing study of Indo-His­pano slav­ery prac­tices in the Span­ish colo­nial era of Ari­zona and New Mex­ico. For that book, Brooks nabbed vir­tu­ally ev­ery ma­jor award for his­tor­i­cal re­search that be­fits a book about the Amer­i­can South­west — the Ban­croft Prize, Fred­er­ick Jack­son Turner Award, Fran­cis Park­man Prize, and an Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for Eth­no­his­tory Prize.

In Mesa of Sor­rows, Brooks de­picts Awat’ovi in 1700 as a flash­point for cul­tural de­bauch­ery and re­li­gious ten­sions that had long since passed the boil­ing point and were headed straight into scorched earth. Dur­ing that year, some vil­lagers had re­built the Catholic church and had be­gun bap­tiz­ing their chil­dren in the man­ner taught by Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies. Ac­cord­ing to Sá­liko’s account, the men of Awat’ovi “went in small bands among the fields of other vil­lagers and cud­geled any soli­tary work­ers they found. If they over­took any woman they rav­ished her, and they way­laid hunt­ing par­ties, tak­ing the game, af­ter beat­ing and some­times killing the hun­ters.” Ta’polo be­lieved his peo­ple had be­come sor­cer­ers and must be de­stroyed. The whole scene re­minded many Hopi of the myth­i­cal story of Palatk­wapi, an ear­lier Hopi vil­lage whose res­i­dents took up gam­bling games and adul­tery as they de­scended into so­cial chaos. In the Hopi lan­guage, Awat’ovi had lapsed into — a state of moral cor­rup­tion and re­li­gious trans­gres­sion.

Hopi oral his­tory is full of al­le­gor­i­cal nar­ra­tives of what hap­pens to those have fallen into koy­aanisqatsi. But none end as vi­o­lently as Awat’ovi. So why were so many Hopi killed by their own peo­ple?

Brooks out­lines a pos­si­ble the­ory of events, built upon the deep and lin­ger­ing so­cial ten­sions Span­ish Catholic mis­sion­ar­ies had in­tro­duced at Awat’ovi and other Hopi vil­lages. Fore­most among his clues is the dead body of an Euro­pean man buried un­der­neath an aban­doned church at Awat’ovi. Not only was he buried in tra­di­tional Hopi man­ner, but ac­cord­ing to ex­ca­va­tion dat­ing, he was buried there be­tween 1680 and 1700, when the Pue­blo Re­volt had driven all Euro­peans out of the re­gion. In the months prior to the mas­sacre, so­cial ten­sions were ratch­eted up as

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