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: 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.


Reflections: First Mesa Team (2014)

We learned that communication between two parties evolves much like everything else throughout a period of time. In the past, most museums and anthropologists provided information about the people they wanted to depict.  Thus, there was not much of a dialogue between these two parties.  Now anthropologists engage in dialogues with source communities, a practice that we also followed in our own work with the Hopi plant collections here at the university.  If it weren’t for our communications with the Hopi people through video conferencing and the field notes, we would have just seen the collection from an objective point of view rather than having community knowledge to support our own observations about the seeds. When we introduced our corn samples to the Hopi farmer and a classroom of Hopi 3rd graders, their reactions and interpretations helped us to understand what this corn meant to them and the many ways it is used in their culture. Each corn type had its own meaning and use. They were not simply beautiful ears of corn; these crops were their children.  We would never have acquired this understanding of cultural significance tied to these collections if we had not had this dialogue with the source community.

-Written collaboratively by the First Mesa Team

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

Field Notes: First Mesa (2014)

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!

Collections: First Mesa Team (2014)

We began the process of First Mesa documentation by looking at the physical seeds themselves.  Immediately, we were all struck by how well preserved these seeds were despite being seventy-nine years old.  Each respective seed looked like it had just been collected within the last few weeks rather than several decades ago.  We were also impressed by how large the seeds were despite not being genetically modified.  Relying on traditional growing practices rather than modern science can produce crops that are equally as large.

Gourd and Corn from First Mesa

A gourd and corn from First Mesa

The variety of crops also impressed us greatly.  We were not aware of how many varieties of corn and beans can be grown and consumed before beginning our documentation. What also was interesting was the fact that these crops were grown in a place that isn’t “suited” for growing showing that indigenous knowledge of the land surpasses eurocentric ideas of agriculture! Our teacher was sure to mention that even during the Dust Bowl, many thousands of people got hit hard but these Hopi lands were virtually untouched. It is fascinating to witness the rare beauty of agriculture from so long ago!

Written collaboratively by Daniel, Laura, and Mary