In 1935 Don Talayesva sent plant specimens and an accompanying letter to Volney Jones. Talayesva wrote that one of the plants, called sa-ya-bie in Hopi, could be used to treat a bad cold and dye woolen goods. From this letter, we learned about the variety of different plants that were used by Hopi community members. It was also interesting to witness how Talayesva and Jones interacted with each other. Talayesva wrote to Jones that it was hard to put a reimbursement value on the plants he collected and his time, as he was collecting them for Jones, whom he considered a close friend.
We also learned about various Hopi plants from Whiting’s “Ethnobotany of the Hopi.” Whiting wrote that purple corn (which we wrote about in our last blog) “was not popular as food because it stained the mouth” (p. 69). This type of corn was used to dye basketry and textiles. We look forward to discussing this plant with Hopi community members to gain additional perspectives on how purple corn is used today.
Jones and Whiting’s 1935 household crop survey documented many different types of Hopi plants, such as watermelons, squash, and beans. These field notes also provided insights into interactions among Hopi community members at that time. For example, one of the household interviewed received a type of beans as payment for damage done to this household’s bean crop by another community member’s cattle.
We learned much from Jones, Talayesva, and Whiting’s writings, and we look forward to furthering this knowledge by talking with members of the Hopi community.
In reading the anthropologists’ field notes, we learned about Hopi peoples’ perspectives on the items in the Museum collection as well as the anthropologists’ views.
Talayesva’s 1935 letter sheds light on the Hopi willingness to share their plant specimens and welcome anthropologists into their space, or at least Talayesva felt this way, as he became friends with several University of Michigan anthropologists.
Whiting’s writing provides information on the plants he collected. For example, he noted that the young stems and the roots of wild rhubarb (scientific name being Rumex hymenosepalous) were both eaten; and the roots were also important for dye and tanning as well as for medicinal uses. He also stated that he believed that Hopi developed as a society through their use of agriculture — specifically corn. Whiting said that their cultivation of corn was revolutionary and was important spiritually, as well as for sustenance. This spiritual importance of corn was significant to Whiting, and he described Hopi farmers as “mystic” and “religious” when it came to their appreciation of corn.
Whiting also noted that women were the ones selecting the crop seeds and notes that the corn types are passed down within families, usually following maternal family ties. The connection between crops and family history is another thing we learned by reading the field notes and not by simply studying the specimens themselves. It’s these details that make the anthropologists’ notes particularly interesting.
By reading the anthropologists’ field notes, the 1935 Hopi household interviews, Whiting’s Ethnobotany of the Hopi, and the notes in the Hopi Plants @ UMMAA on-line catalog we learned that the creation of the ethnobotanical collections was a cooperative one. For instance, the researchers seemed to take great effort to record the Hopi name in their field notes and interviews. They were also particularly concerned with the organization of the crops. As an example, one of the households interviewed sorted their squash by color and taste. Jones and Whiting were very interested in the source of the seeds- especially whether they came from the husband’s or the wife’s family. Thus, it seems apparent these researchers had larger questions in mind about the structure of Hopi life. The field notes also provide information not only about the anthropologist’s’ perspective, but the Hopi individuals as well. In the letter that Don Talayesva wrote to Volney Jones and descriptions in Whiting’s book, we see that roots of wild plants, beans, seeds, and sunflowers are used to make bright dyes. These dyes are then used to dye cotton or materials for baskets. Whiting noted that the sales of baskets, along with pottery, were an important element of the Hopi economy in the 1930s. These dyes are not only used in basketry, but are used for personal decoration, other arts and crafts, food and medicine, illustrating the Hopi use their plants for many purposes.
While much of the information collected by Volney Jones and Alfred Whiting was presented in a clinical manner, the field notes illustrated how they relied on Hopi people to help them collect and interpret their data. Reading their notes made their research feel more personable. For example, there is a huge contrast between their field notes, which collected data very systematically on a standardized form, and the letter sent to Jones by Don Talayesva, who Jones hired to collect plants. This letter shows the personal relationship and friendship that developed between Talayesva and Jones.
We also learned from the household interviews that Jones and Whiting were interested in the source of the Hopi farmers seeds, as well as their use. They discuss how some farmers were experimenting with crops from outside Hopi, but for the varieties of corn, seeds were often from one side of the family.
We learned a lot about the importance of corn in Whiting’s Ethnobotany of the Hopi. Corn was utilized in a variety of ways, including food or inside gourds for rattles. The deep meaning corn had for the Hopi was remarkable. The information we read in the Hopi Plants @ UMMAA on-line catalog emphasized this, as well. For example, Jones and Whiting recorded that red corn indicates south and blue corn indicates north. This provides at least a partial answer to what we were wondering in the last blog post we wrote: Why grow so many types of corn?
Entering data might seem like it could be routine and monotonous, however when working with filed notes from the 1930’s you can become engrossed in another time. Utilizing the original notes from the 1935 expedition by Whitney, Jones and Nequatewa provides an experience that is almost surreal. It is a glimpse into how Anthropological collections are accumulated and the key questions that were on the minds of the team. Although the data is sparse in some areas, key questions were asked in an attempt to gather information on the variation in the seeds, both culturally and physically. These include everything ranging from the provenance of the seeds to the ceremonial significance.
Field notes from B.1823
When examining the collections of Third Mesa, we were mesmerized by the physicality of the items. However, the background of each of the items collected by Whiting, Jones, and Nequatewa were unclear. As we decipher and analyze the field notes by the anthropologists, it was as if we were uncovering the stories behind the items and the challenges experienced by them during the field work process. From the mimeographed plant inventory forms and the spelling errors, we were able to picture the team traveling through the Mesa under the hot Arizona sun carrying their field notes and their gear. When these notes are read in order of the date recorded, we could sense their tiredness. And at times, their voices come through. For example, the B.1823A Pink and White Cow Bean has the comment, “Just another bean.”
In the process of reviewing the field notes, we also questioned the authenticity of the information gathered in the field notes. Did Nequatewa act just as a translator or did he input his own voice into the information collected?
Deep Purple Corn
The field notes were interesting to read, since it gave us background on the different types of corn we are working with. Some corn had a lot of information that was surprising to us, like Deep Purple Corn signifies the direction up. It was especially intriguing since we haven’t thought of corn as something other than food, and perhaps a fall decoration.
However, we were disappointed that some of the field notes did not mention the uses and many did not describe any ceremonial significance. We figured it was possible that some of the corn does not have ceremonial significance, but we were curious if some of the information was just not shared with Whiting, Jones, and Nequatewa. We think it is possible that some of the information is too culturally important for the Hopi to share it with these men. Coming from a museum background with Western ideas about the dissemination of knowledge, that some knowledge was not available to all Hopi, let alone outsiders, must have presented difficulties for Whiting, Jones, and Nequatewa. While they wanted to understand Hopi lifeways, did these men realize to work with the Hopi meant having access to only certain information?
After we viewed the collection of seeds for the first time, we had the chance to work with the original field notes from Jones, Whiting, and Nequatewa. Their notes were extremely detailed and interesting to read, but we collectively noticed a few things. First, we did not know from the notes what their intended purpose was with the collected data. We all found that quite curious. The amount of seemingly mundane data was enormous, but it was also quite inconsistent. Some entries had every blank of the form filled in, and others did not, which seemed strange to us. Sometimes we had problems with the forms because we either did not understand the abbreviations or there were typos in the original notes or with the transcribed version we were using. None in our group know much about plants, so the scientific names or classifications really did not mean anything to us, especially since even the common names did not match what we use today. All in all, we loved the chance to work with the nearly 80 year old notes.
Reading and transcribing the field notes sparked a lot of questions about the heritage of the Hopi people. We can only imagine the memories that the Hopi people have of their families planting their gardens and harvesting their crops. These notes contain snippets of those memories.
Although we as anthropology students may feel connections to these agricultural traditions, we are curious about how these crops were able to thrive in sandy fields and a dry climate. It’s amazing to us that each crop we entered into the database was grown in such a dry environment yet still grew so large and looks beautiful over seventy years after harvest. How do these crops grow and flourish in these conditions? Why are sandy fields the primary growth environment for many of these crops?
We noticed that some of the notes did not include all of the information that the original anthropologist intended to collect. This made us wonder whether it was the decision and time frame of the anthropologists or the privacy and respect of the Hopi members that affected what was recorded.
We have many more questions and are so excited to learn more from the Hopi community members!