Our team’s reflections on what we learned in the Museum Anthropology course project:
- We were initially struck by how intact the corn/Zea mays in the museum collection was. We compared it to the corn we were used to eating, but as the semester has progressed, we have learned that corn is so much more than something to eat. Corn as not just an object, but a part of the Hopi way of life. Hopi people treat corn as if it is their child, by taking care of and making sure it grows fully and is well cared for.
- We were also struck by–what the collection told us was–rosemary mint. The field notes and letters from Don Talayesva told us this “rosemary mint” was used for flavoring, and Hopi elementary school children confirmed that it’s still in use today. We also learned how herbs were grown in the wild and in naturally irrigated community gardens.
- We learned just how proud the Hopi are in the things they grow, and what a collaborative effort farming is.
- We learned that that many Hopi people are worried about the future of Hopi farming, but both the 4th graders and the Hopi women we talked showed us how knowledgeable many Hopi youth are about farming and plants in general.
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.
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.
Items examined by the 2015 Food Team
Our group has chosen to focus on two objects for our first blog post: the Purple Corn and the piki, also called Hopi paper bread. For the Purple corn, we observed its purple color and its scientific name, Zea mays. We wonder what the purple corn was used for. Was it used for decoration or for food (and if so, what kinds)? Does the purple color have any symbolic importance? The sample of piki is extremely well-preserved for being over 80 years old! We, however, were wondering more about the food itself. When and how is it rolled, how does it taste? Is it ever filled with something, similar to a French crepe? Is there a specific occasion in which this food is made and eaten? These are the things we would like to know and what struck us most about these two wonderfully preserved specimens.
written by Melanie and Michelle