Conversations: Wild Food Team (2015)

From the anthropologists’ notes we learned that Hopi women and men in the 1930s had very different roles in farming: men worked in the fields, while women stayed close to home, planting in small gardens and harvesting wild plants near the village. Through conversation with two women from Hopi, we learned that this division of labor is actually more complicated.

Men continue to farm and take great pride in the cleanliness (weeding) and productivity (crop size, variety and yield). Today, some Hopi women also farm as a way of providing fresh produce for their families and to inspire their children to participate in farming. One of the women told us how her pre-teen son had his own field and took great pride in carrying on his family’s farming tradition.  Women continue to plant in the community gardens near the villages that are irrigated by natural springs.  These gardens are places where women meet, share gardening tips, and help each other.

We also talked to First Mesa fourth grade students. We were impressed by how excited they were to talk about plants and how proud they were to share their knowledge.  One child told us about the plant he collected to make tea; what it tasted like, and how good it felt on a sore throat. When we asked about the mint plant  that was in the collection, the fourth graders were all enthusiastic about collecting and using the mint for flavoring!

It was very rewarding to see that our collections here at University of Michigan can help preserve wild plants that are still being used today by the Hopi community in meals and ceremonies.


Conversations: Food Team (2015)

On November 18, we had the lovely pleasure of talking to two Hopi women, a mother and daughter. We began by asking about piiki – a Hopi traditional food, often called paper bread.  We looked at a piece of blue/gray piiki that was collected in 1932 – it is amazingly well preserved.  We learned that women are the sole makers of piiki. Learning to make piiki was a special experience for both the women we talked to. A girl is taught how to make piiki during her puberty ceremony, after she has ground the corn into a fine meal. Piiki is made in a “piiki house” on a special stone. Piiki stones are cared for and respected in a very special way because these stones are seen as living entities and treated with utmost respect.

One other thing we asked the community members was about Hopi comfort foods. In the American culture, we have many foods we consider “comfort foods.” These foods are eaten when we are sick or when we just long for home.  We wondered if the Hopi community had anything similar. One of the women said that blue corn gruel was her “comfort food.” She mentioned that people often eat this when they have an upset stomach, or when they are fasting and not allowed to eat fats, oils, salt, or meat. She described this food as “filling.”

Overall, this experience was enlightening and informative; we were able to learn a lot about an object whose only information came from museum records. Talking with these community members helped to add a whole new context and gave them a whole new meaning.

Conversations: Fiber and Dye Team (2015)

Our team, like the typical medley of visitors to any museum, approached the objects presented before us with many different backgrounds and experiences. Some of us study archaeology, and one is an artist, who knows a fair amount about weaving. Yet, we were primarily focused on descriptions of the objects that we looked at as the “fiber and dye” team. Our conversation with a Hopi farmer from Mùnqapi, who is skilled weaver and makes his own dyes, we gained a much richer understanding of the museum objects.

For instance, one of our initial inquiries asked about how sunflowers were used as dye. We learned about the wonderfully complex Hopi technique for extracting these seeds’ black color. He also told us about growing, cleaning, and spinning cotton.  But the knowledge this farmer shared didn’t stop at the processes and the objects. He shared with us the perspective of Hopi people and stories about the plant specimens.  He told us about how he himself learned the Hopi tradition of dying and weaving, about some of the ceremonial uses of the weavings, and about the great patience and time commitment Hopi weaving requires. He taught us about the plants’ importance to the Hopi community, both in the 1930s when the plants were collected and today. Most significantly, he brought light to the inalienable beauty behind each step — planting, collecting, cleaning, learning, and gifting — for these plants.

Conversations: Crops Team (2015 )

By speaking with a Hopi farmer from First Mesa and his godson, we learned how farming the crops in the UMMAA collection continue to play an important role in the modern Hopi community. It was fascinating to hear first-hand what it is like to grow crops at the Hopi Mesas, how proud this farmer is of their fields, and how those crops are important in the lives of the farmer as well as his friends and family. Due to our diverse interests, each member of our group came away with idea of what we learned from our conversation.

Julia: Being an avid cook and an anthropologist, I have a particular interest in culinary traditions. I found it very interesting to learn that although the farmer grows a variety of traditional Hopi crops, he gives the majority away to relatives and friends.  This gifting made me wonder how many families eat the produce from their fields and use it to cook traditional Hopi foods in their home.

Elizabeth: As a civil engineering student I was interested in how Hopi farmers have responded to changing technologies. We learned that tractors are often used to clear new fields, but many traditional farming techniques continue to be used.  Many crops are grown using dry farming techniques, which is better for this desert environment than using irrigation. I admire how Hopi farmers have been able to keep their traditions while also integrating different technology to produce the large and vibrantly colored corn we saw in the museum collections.

Anti’Shay: Because the museum collection we looked at is primarily corn and beans, I was excited to learn about how melons and other fruits were grown.  I also found the extent to which crops are shared to be inspiring and humbling. I was also interested to learn about the patience that this farmer has growing crops. He hopes for a good yield every year, but he knows there will be lean years.

Nicholas: Before the interview, I assumed that, because of the ritual significance of certain types of corn, that Hopi farmers would be concerned with cross-polinatiion of corn.  This farmer told us that crossing happens and that it can improve his seed.


Conversations: Third Mesa Corn (2014)

Written by Rachel Bissonnette

Pahana corn, the Hopi term for “white man’s corn”, is easily purchased year-round at the grocery store. Most Americans treat the classic yellow crop as a plain food. At Hopi, crops are not just food; they are the children of the farmers. A meaningful message from our group’s videoconference with two Hopi farmers was the love they devote to farming. Hopi farmers cherish the life provided by their crops. Farmers at Hopi utilize traditions handed down to them from their relatives to preserve not only their breed of crops, but also the Hopi way of life.

One of the farmers explained that sharing crops, like sharing knowledge, has helped to support the Hopi farming community. He said multiple times throughout our conversation, without their crops, Hopi would have nothing. The resounding lesson is that Hopi crops are priceless.

The pricelessness of crops has all sorts of effects on sharing in Hopi society.  A fact I found interesting is that sometimes Hopi pay for favors with crops or seeds.

A new way Hopi are sharing their crops is through a farmer’s market established by the Hopi Food Coop. Both farmers chuckled that of many the farmers participating in the farmer’s market have difficulties pricing their crops because they have never sold them before.

Hopefully the sharing of information about the University of Michigan Hopi plant collection will help in the efforts to sustain Hopi farming for generations to come.

Conversation: Third Mesa Beans (2014)

written by Taeler Varner

Video conferencing with Hopi farmers truly brought a new perspective to Whiting and Jones’ seed collection. I was initially worried that video conferencing would feel impersonal, but instead we felt a personal connection with the farmers we spoke to, and learning about the current use of the seeds truly brought the collection to life. One of the farmers even showed us a squash he had grown, making it easy to view the collection as more than just a museum archive. The great respect for plants and the earth shared by the Hopi community is influential and caused each of us to reflect on the value we place on farming.

Hearing the farmers say the names of the crops in their language, hearing the importance of oral tradition, and listening to how Hopi beliefs shape farming practices brought a greater meaning to the value of farming. It is sad that some of the seeds in our collection are no longer available to the Hopi community. I am hopeful that the online catalog we are working to create will help preserve the tradition of such seeds and be of use to Hopi farmers.

Since we spent so much time with the Whiting and Jones’ interviews I naturally juxtaposed their interviews with our experience. I wonder if they had a similar experience interviewing the Hopi farmers. Was the Hopi community’s influential perspective on farming part of their inspiration for creating the seed collection?

Conversations: First Mesa (2014)

Our team had the great pleasure of talking to a Hopi farmer from First Mesa during this past week.  He was a vital resource for us as we expanded our knowledge of the Hopi people’s farming practices and communal relationships.  The three of us were immediately struck by the farmer’s passion for farming.  He emphasized how important the cultivation of traditional crops is to the Hopi community.  Farming can sometimes be a difficult way of life, but it helps to connect the Hopi people to their traditions and identities.  Overall, the three of us were pleasantly surprised about how much information this farmer was willing to share with us.  Probably the most important thing that we learned about the Hopi people was the importance of community and clan ties.  Everyone shares their seeds and harvest with each other, and if someone has a difficult year, the community will support their brethren by giving them food and seeds for the next growing season.  Finally, we asked the First Mesa farmer about the online catalog.  He believes that it will be useful to future generations, and he seemed happy that the crop information collected by Whiting, Jones, and Nequatewa was being digitized.

Written by Laura from the First Mesa Team

Conversations: Second Mesa Corn (2014)

Written collaboratively by the Second Mesa Corn team

“Corn is life”: a term truly defined throughout our conversation with the Hopi Farmers. Through our discussions with two Hopi farmers, it became clear that corn, something we just thought of as simply being food, is essential to Hopi culture. It was interesting to talk about corn with the men since their respect of corn is innate, while ours was not.  The information collected by Whiting and Jones – a huge list of crops – now seems dry compared to the conversation we had with the farmers. We think it’s fair to say that Hopi gives corn life, just as much as “corn is life.” The information about farming and ceremonial, historical and culinary significance of corn that could be shared with non-Hopi people had much more meaning coming from Hopi people themselves. We learned the way in which information is shared has importance as well. Passing down culture and knowledge through teaching and farming is the Hopi way, rather than collecting and sharing written information. Perhaps this hands-on approach has helped to inspire interest and excitement about farming in younger Hopi generations, such as one of the farmers has done with his grandsons, who are eager to learn and carry on this essential Hopi tradition.

Conversations: Second Mesa Beans (2014)

Written by Alexandra Rosenbaum

The conversation we had with Hopi community members was an incredible opportunity for our group to ask important questions that arose during our analysis of the collections and fieldwork. Moreover, this conversation was a chance for the Hopi famers with whom we spoke to ask us questions about the collections and about our roles in the process of creating this digital archive.

We benefited immensely from this exchange, and all of us came away with a better understanding of the importance of farming to individuals, families, and the larger Hopi community. We delved more deeply into the process of farming itself, the navigation of the line between tradition and modernity (especially with younger Hopi community members), the roles of men and women in deciding what and when to plant, and the different uses of various crops in Hopi life and ritual. In response to the Hopi community members’ inquiries, we exchanged stories of how and where we get our food, which, more often than not, was the grocery store. Regarding the collection and fieldwork, we learned that the Hopi farmers knew some of the community members who were originally involved in the collection process. Additionally, we discussed the Hopi community members’ wish for the materials to be well preserved and undisturbed; they specifically mentioned refraining from removing corncob kernels and tampering with seeds.

All in all, the conversation was incredibly beneficial and elucidating for our group, and we hope the same is true for the Hopi farmers, who so graciously invited us to visit and experience Hopi farming firsthand.