Reflections: Crops Team (2015)

Reflecting on what we have learned this semester, we realized all the ways that our ideas about museums, Native Americans, Hopi people, and corn had developed and changed. We all gained a new appreciation and understanding of many topics. We all agree that the interaction with the collections and the community member has helped us to move beyond stereotypes of Native Americans to a deeper understanding. Particularly, our impressions of the items in the Hopi plant collections at UMMAA changed from when we first looked at them.  In our first blog post, we stated that “we all wondered why they grew so many types of corn. Do they all have different uses?” For blog two, we read Whiting’s Ethnobotany of the Hopi and at least partially answered this question. Finally, after having a conversation with Hopi community members, we all began to understand how integral corn is to the Hopi way of life, both in the past and present. We also learned that the Hopi use corn for food as well as ritual practices.  We learned that Hopi farming practices are alive and well and that many Hopi farmers are committed to continuing to grow their crops using their dry farming traditions that have been passed down to them over the centuries.

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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.

 

Field Notes: Crops Team (2015)

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?

Collections: Crops Team (2015)

Our team is responsible for the “crops” collection. With each new drawer we look at, we become more amazed (or a-maized) at how many different kinds of corn that have been collected from Hopi people. So far we have already archived 16 different types of corn! We all wondered why they grew so many types of corn. Do they all have different uses? Also, did the Hopi purposefully genetically select for all these types of corn, or did they just happen to be growing in that area of Arizona?

crops

Some of the items examined by the Crops Team

One specimen of corn that stood out to us was the purple corn. We had seen red, yellow, and blue corn in some form or another in supermarkets (as popcorn, fall decor, corn chips, or frozen), but never purple corn. It definitely stood out among the others and sparked our interests. We wondered what this purple corn tasted like. We also wanted to know the conditions or genetic differences that made it such a beautiful and unique purple color. Did they grow this beautiful corn strictly for food or was it just for decorations?

Another specimen that interested us particularly was a very small gourd. Mostly we just thought it was neat, since it is so tiny and preserved so well. It looked very similar to the pumpkins we use this time of year to carve for Halloween in the U.S. We are sure it must have had a different use for the Hopi and we are interested in what it was.