Adventures from Back of Beyond

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Basket Dance


Most remarkable was the sound of 60 or so female dancers singing the same song simultaneously. The voices carried with little echo outdoors, but acoustically the voices bounced somewhat within the stone confines of the ancient dance plaza at Hotevilla.

It wasn't a soprano, but not a deep male sound either. It was almost like a humming, a resonant vibrating sound. I understood none of the words, but words there were, sung in perfect unison, and accompanied by dance steps, slow, in precise order, making a counterclockwise circle.

Some of the Hopi women in the Basket Dance wore their long black hair in the tradition butterfly style. All wore nearly identical shawls, red, white and black, that extended to below their knees, where white leggings and moccasins could be seen.

The dancers wore beautiful jewelry, especially turqoise necklaces.

A few women wore different costumes, with precise details dictated by centuries of custom. Adorned with high headdresses of eagle feathers and horns, these women worked the large crowd, throwing out items for anyone to grab -- mostly ordinary household items like paper towels, boxes of biscuit mix, coat hangers, pots and pans.

Many items were specifically given to chosen recipients. They would walk off with large plastic baskets full of househould supplies and food items.

On occasion they would parade around the plaza, holding high for all to see, beautifully crafted baskets or decorated pots. The crowd would chant for them to "throw it!" but only when the thrower was good and ready would it be launched.

Then the free-for-all would begin. Mostly young men, crowded into the front would dive and push and shove for position, sometimes jumping up high for a mid-air grab. If the item fell on the ground, look out! Heads and bodies would sprawl out, and no doubt it hurt to smash skulls with the next guy over.

When all the gifts were given, the crowd thinned out. We stayed along with a handful of others, to watch the ladies complete their centuries old dance and song.

We returned home traveling south on Indian Route 2. A full moon rose over the Hopi Mesas as the sun set behind the San Francisco Peaks. It was a timeless sight to behold.

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