- from Southwest Peoples
The peoples of the Southwest have different beliefs and religious ways, but they all have something in common.
It is the idea that all human beings are linked to one another, to nature, and to the spirit world. Rituals and ceremonies are important. They help each person feel in harmony and balance with the universe.
Each Pueblo village has several secret societies of men. They hold ceremonies for planting, harvesting, hunting, and other parts of village life. They meet in a grand kiva, an underground ceremonial room reached by a ladder. Each society has its own kiva for praying, singing, and dancing. Pueblo women are rarely allowed in kivas. ▶
◀ One job of medicine men or women is to explain the will of the gods to the people. They may spend their lives fasting and praying. These people also help to relieve spiritual and physical pain, and they lead ceremonies. Their knowledge often comes from dreams and visions.
▲ In some ceremonies, Navajo people use sand paintings. A type of medicine person called a singer makes a picture with pollen, cornmeal, ground charcoal, and colorful mineral powders. Some ceremonies are for healing people. The patient sits in the middle of the painting so the spirits can reach him or her. Paintings are destroyed afterward.
◀ Kachinas are spirits with special powers. In the Hopi villages, kachina season lasts about six months of every year. It runs from the winter solstice until mid-July. During this time, masked men dress as kachinas to perform ceremonies. Each ceremony may last several days inside a kiva. For the last few days, it moves to the village plaza.
The peoples of the Southwest believe all nature is sacred. However, some places are extra special. The Navajo homeland has four sacred mountains. In the east is Sis Naajini (Blanca Peak), and in the west is Doo Ko’oosliid (San Francisco Peaks, at right). In the south is Tso dzilh (Mount Taylor), and in the north is Di-be Nitsaa’ (Hesperus Peak). ▶
◀ It does not rain much in the Southwest. So, peoples such as the Pima, the Hopi, and the Acoma (left), perform rain dances, a form of prayer.
In the Beginning…
Every Southwest group has its own story about how its people came to be. This is the creation story passed down by the Tohono O’odham people:
Earthmaker and Itoi, who provided the dirt that made the world, became unhappy with the first people. They decided to destroy the people in a flood. But first, the two went into hiding. Whichever of them came out first after the flood would be Elder Brother. That honor fell to Itoi. He made new people out of clay. For a long time, he took care of them, but eventually he quarreled with them, and they plotted to kill him. Itoi went underground to find allies to fight with him against the clay people. There he found the Tohono O’odham people. They helped him drive away the clay people. As a reward, Itoi gave them the land to live on and taught them ceremonies to bring rain.