Closure at last!

In 1954 or 1955 I went to the Hopi reservation with the high school I was attending. It was a field trip that lasted about one week and the whole school closed and left for the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

I had climbed to the top of one of the mesas and, while many of the others explored the Hopi village I found an old Hopi sitting in the shade of a thatched porch. He was carving Kachinas for the village youngsters.

He didn’t speak English and I certainly didn’t speak Hopi, but we got along with a smattering of Spanish. I introduced myself to him and he reciprocated by giving me his name which was Tewaquaptewa. I spent the day with this old man who eventually took me around the village. We walked slowly because he was almost blind. He showed me the Kiva and explained, as best as I could understand, the significance of the Hopi spiritual beliefs. At the end of the day he told me to look at the Sun. I don’t know if you have ever tried to look at the Sun, but I will tell you it makes your eyes water and hurt too. He wanted me to see the ring around the Sun. I never did, but he could and he told me to sleep inside that night because there was a bad storm coming through. He said it would be cold. As a parting gift he gave me one of the cottonwood root Kachinas he had been working on during our conversation.

That night I slept on the bench seat of one of the trucks that we traveled in when on field trips. Sure enough, there was a blizzard that swept through that night and many of the other kids had frostbitten fingers and toes. Since I was unaffected by the storm and its cold I was volunteered to fetch wood for the morning’s fire. Now that did cause a mild bit of frostbite in my hands and for seven years the cold to any degree made for very painful fingers.

I was interested in the Hopi history and after high school began to read books about the Hopi religion and the history of the Hopi people. In each book I read the name of Tewaquaptewa cropped up. In my reading it seemed that he was from the Turtle or Bear clan, I never was quiet sure, but I knew it was significant because, according to Hopi teachings, their culture will only last as long as there was a union between those two clans. I often wondered what was happening with those wonderful people.

Now, we need to fast forward 60 years or so. When my wife, Loni, and I went to Northern Arizona I wanted to find out about Tewaquaptewa and the Hopi nation. Loni and I stopped at a state park and I spoke with one of the rangers there asking about Tewaquaptewa. The ranger told me that the Tewas lived on First Mesa and they were not Hopi by blood. I found a book about the Hopi people and showed him a photo of Tewaquaptewa. His comment was that he had “learned something today.” In any event, he directed us to Second Mesa. At the base of Second Mesa I stopped at a general store and asked where the mesa was. The lady graciously pointed out the door at the mesa. Then, good naturedly gave me directions how to get to the top. Today there is a highway going up and over Second Mesa, in the 1950s it wasn’t there. I hate it when they make changes without consulting me!

We drove our motorhome right up to the top and parked next to what might be described as a visitor’s center. This center had a museum, two gift shops, a tour company office, and a restaurant. First I went to the museum and spoke to the Hopi who was the docent there. He knew nothing of Tewaquaptewa. Next I went to the tour company. Closed. Then to the two gift shops filled with beautiful (and expensive) stuff. Nothing.
Finally I went to the restaurant and received the same information. Again, nothing.

While Loni was window shopping and talking to people in the restaurant I walked back to our rig.

As I was standing there waiting for her to join me I noticed three young men (in their late teen or early 20s) sitting on a low planter box. One was painting and as I walked the 20 or so yards to them I could see he was painting Kachinas. I didn’t interrupt but stood watching and admiring the skill that he had with brush and paint. When he was done I complimented him on his ability to paint with such control and detail. He thanked me for the compliment. I pursued, “You must have been doing this quite a while to be so good.” He told me that his family had been making and painting Kachinas for a long time. I told him that years ago I spent the day with an old man who was carving Kachinas for the village and his name was Tewaquaptewa. The young man immediately put his bush down and exclaimed, “That was my Great-grandfather!”

Eureka! I had closed the circle. I was talking to a young man that never knew his Great-grandfather, and he was talking to me, who had just bridged a four generation gap in his family history. I still get goosebumps when I think about this connection.

We spent the greater part of an hour talking about his people, his family and how things have changed – (again without consulting me or getting my permission, but we’ll talk about that later). He told me that his Great-grandfather was Chief of Old Oraibi and was of the Sun clan. His duty as a member of the Sun Clan was to observe the Sun and let the people know when they should have ceremonies, plant, harvest, and a myriad of other activities dictated by the seasons, climate, and Sun. No wonder he was almost blind when I met him! As this young man and I talked I told him about how things were when I was here in the 1950s. He finally said, “You talk like our Elders when they tell us about getting water, or when they used that trail or the other trail.” I told him that I had a great respect for his Great-grandfather and if it was appropriate I would like him, when the family honors Tewaquaptewa, to include my respect as well. As Loni and I left with promises to return he commented, “Tonight, you are my story.” My young friend’s name? Alrye Polequaptewa!

How fortunate I was to be able to give closure to a 60 year old event and to give closure to Alrye as we talked about his family. Thank you.


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