Kokopelli: The Making of an Icon

Kokopelli: The Making of an Icon

by Ekkehart Malotki


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Kokopelli the flute player is one of the most popular icons that American culture has adopted from the Native peoples of North America. The Kokopelli name and image are everywhere, adorning everything from jewelry, welcome mats, T-shirts, and money clips to motels, freeway underpasses, nature trails, nightclubs, and string quartets. Kokopelli evokes mystery and wonder, ancient ceremonies and spirituality, Mother Earth and the purity of nature.

But what exactly is Kokopelli? Just how Native American is this ubiquitous flute player? In this fascinating book, the distinguished scholar of Hopi culture and history Ekkehart Malotki describes the development of the Kokopelli phenomenon in American mass culture from its beginning to Kokopelli’s present status as pan-Southwestern icon. He explores the figure’s connections with the Hopi kachina god Kookopölö and Maahu, the cicada, and discusses how this rock-art image has been appropriated and misunderstood. Kokopelli sheds light on a little-understood aspect of Hopi culture and testifies to the continuing power of Native cultures to spark the popular imagination and interest of outsiders.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803282957
Publisher: Nebraska Paperback
Publication date: 04/01/2004
Pages: 177
Sales rank: 1,046,410
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Ekkehart Malotki is a professor of languages at Northern Arizona University. His many books include The Bedbugs’ Night Dance and Other Hopi Tales of Sexual Encounter and Hopi Tales of Destruction, both available from the University of Nebraska Press.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Kookopölö, the Robber Fly Kachina

The Insect Model for Kookopölö

The natural model for the kachina Kookopölö is an insect. Fewkes (1898:663 n.4) was the first to point out this entomological connection. According to him,he learned of it during excavation work at the prehistoric Hopi ruin of Sikyatkiwhen one of the Indian laborers called his "attention to a large Dipteraninsect which he called 'Kokopeli' [correctly, kookopölö]." A few years later, inhis collection "Hopi Katcinas Drawn by Native Artists" (1903: 86), Fewkesreiterates this observation without, however, identifying the insect in question.Referring to a remark attributed by Parsons to Titiev (Stephen 1936: 1142) thatthe insect is humpbacked and "does not desist from copulating when disturbed,"Parsons (1938:337 n. 2) wonders whether the dragonfly, "a sacrosanctPueblo insect," might be the candidate for the model of Kookopölö . "Dragonflyis a persistent copulator," as she points out, adding, however, that taxonomicallyit is "a neuropterous insect." Insects of the order Neuroptera typicallyhave four net-veined wings, whereas those in the order Diptera haveonly a single pair of membranous wings. By the time Colton published thefirst edition of his Hopi Kachina Dolls with a Key to Their Identification (1949: 35),he had succeeded in correctly identifying the insect, for he refers to Kookopölöas the "Assassin or Robber Fly Kachina."

    The family of robberflies, scientifically known as Asilidae, belongs to anumber of "blood-sucking families" (Linsenmaier 1972: 257). Being highlyaggressive predators, they "catch insect prey on the wing" (O'Toole 1985: 28),diving like hawks "onto the back of their prey" (Linsenmaier 1972: 257).Equipped with a poisonous beak "whose paralytic action is designed for thesoft neck region of an insect" (Linsenmaier 1972: 259), they possess a verypronounced hump that Capinera (1995: 86) sees as a diagnostic feature ofKookopölö .

    The mini-tale in Text 1 illustrates the term kookopölö in the sense of "robberfly." Frequently, however, the full form is contracted to kopö as may be gatheredfrom the subsequent Hopi folk citations.

Text 1

Aliksa'i. Yaw Orayve yeesiwngwuniqwayam yaw PitsinvastsomoveKookopölö ki'yta. Noq pang kya pipay hisat naapvöningwuniqw yawhakiy angqe'niqw yaw pam pangqwhakiy aw kuyvangwu, tataqölötangqw. Pu' hakiy aw pangqawngwu,"Pitsintsuku, pitsintsuku." Pu' yawpam ahoy aqwhaqami supkimangwu.Pay yukhaqam paasavo.

Aliksa'i. People were living at Oraibi.Over there at Pitsinvastsomo [CottonField Hill], a robber fly had made hishome. Through that area, long ago,there used to lead a trail, and eachtime someone went along on it, thisrobber fly looked out from a largehole in the rock and cried, "Cottontip, cotton tip!" And then he disappearedback into his hole again. Thisis as far as the story goes.

    Text 2 describes the appearance and some of the robber fly's characteristicsfrom the Hopi point of view.

Text 2

Kopö pam piw himu pay masa'ytaqapuuyawnumngwu, pay momot aasayhaqam.Pay piw motsovu'ykyangwangqw qöötsa tuuwuhiwtangwu.Noq pam i' pi masa'ytaqapam pay wuuyoqat poosi'ytangwuqatpangqaqwangwu. Köpö pööla'ytaqapi antsa pi puuyawnumngwu.

The robber fly is a winged creatureabout the size of a bee. It has a snoutfrom which runs a white stripe. Peoplealso say that the robber fly haslarge eyes and is truly hunchbackedas it flies about.

    Apparently, the noise created by the insect is a distinctive feature thatcaught the attention of the Hopi.

Text 3

Köpö pi pay mi'ningwu, pay ura himumasa'ytaqa, hiisayhoya. I' kopöpuuyalte' pay tu'mumtingwu. Payvvvöm kitangwu. Pay panhaqampam tuwat hinta. Pam pay maahut qaan leelenngwu.

The robber fly is a small insect withwings. When it flies, it produces ahum that sounds like vvvöm. That'show a robber fly is. It does not flutelike a cicada, though.

    The folk statement in Text 4 clearly equates the insect with the kachinaKookopölö.

Text 4

Pam kopö hin piw töqtingwu pay hakiyangqe puuyalte'. Katsinat taawi'atpiw kopöt töötökiyat aw sootapnangwu.Pay sootapne' pepeq mepay hingqawngwu, "Vövövö."

The robber fly makes a strange noiseas it flies around a person. The songof Kookopölö, the kachina, ends justlike the sounds the insect makes. Forwhen the kachina song ends, it says,"Vövövö."

    According to Hopi belief, the noise produced by the robber fly is reminiscentof Hopi speech. It can therefore be understood and is said to commenton whatever activity a person happens to be engaged in. Texts 5 and 6 illustratethis point.

Text 5

Kopö pi yaw hakiy piw su'an hiitaaa'awnangwu.

They say the robber fly is the one thattells you what is right.

Text 6

I' pay kopö wuko'umumutaqat töqmangwu.I' pay puuyawnumngwu,pay hiisayhoya. Wuuyoq tootovitepniiqeniqw i' hakiy suupan awhingqawngwu.

    Pay nu' hisat tumat kwasintaqenu' sunala. Qa haqam hakniqw nu'naala pepeq qööhi'ykyangw pay hiitasipaltsokit kiisiwniyat atpipaq qatuqwi' kopö angqaqw puuyawnuma.Inutsva puuyalti. Nit suupan hingqawu,"Qa kwasi," suupan kita inumi.Pu' pay angqe puuyawnumkyangwpu' pay piw inumi pu', "Qa kwasi,"suupan inumi kita.

    "Son pi qa kwasini. Nu' awwukoqöhi'yta," nu' aw kita.

    Pay pam hakiy aw yaw hingqawngwuqatpangqaqwa. Hiita hakhintsakqw put pangqawngwu. Noqhiita hak hintsakqw put aw hayawtaqathakiy yaw aw hingqawu. Payhapi hakiy lee'elanta.

    Nu' pu' tumat kwasintaqw ooviinumi pangqawu, "Qa kwasi."

The robber fly makes a deep hummingsound. It flies around and isquite small. Bigger than a large fly, itseems to be talking to you.

    Once I was all alone firing a pikistone. There was nobody around,and I had a fire going all by myself,sitting in the shade of a peach tree.Suddenly, a robber fly came flyingalong. As it flew over my head, itseemed to be saying, "It's not done."Flying around it insisted once more,"It's not done."

    "It's bound to get done," I replied."I have a big fire going underit."

     People say that the robber fly istalking to you. It comments on whateveryou are doing. Or rather it sayssomething that sounds similar towhat you are doing.

    To me, firing a piki stone, it said,"It's not fired."

    Interestingly enough, the expression qa kwasi, "it is not done," which inthis context refers to the firing of a piki stone, is equally applicable to the cookingof food. More significantly, however, it can also translate as "it is not apenis." I am convinced that this ambiguity in Text 6 is no coincidence and thatthe play on words is an intentional sexual innuendo, considering the insect'sovert mating behavior, as is evident from Text 7.

Text 7

Pu' ephaqam lööyöm kopöt naamipite' puma piw naatsoptangwu.Naami huurtingwu, oovi qa iitsnaamatapngwu.

Occasionally, when two robber fliesmeet, they really copulate. As a rule,they get so stuck together that theydo not let go of each other rightaway.

    This apparent mating compulsion that Hopis perceive in the insect maybe exaggerated from an entomological perspective. Nevertheless, it expressestheir view of things and may actually have been conditioned by the sexuallyexplicit behavior that is displayed by the two kachina deities modeled on theinsect, Kookopölö and Kokopölmana. Also of interest in this connection is theobservation in Text 8 that the robber fly, as a symbol of life force, was onceprayed to by Hopi women to undo barrenness.

Text 8

Pam yaw pi pay qatsit piw tu'awi'ytangwu.Pay puma lööyömnen paykya pi puma naami hintsakngwu,pay naatsoptaqat antsakngwu. Niikyangwput taaqat suru'at wuutit awwiwtangwu. Pan kur tuwat pumanatsoptuwi'ytangwu.

    Puma qatsit tu'awi'ytaqw Hopiitpumuy angqw ngahulalwangwu.Pay himuwa wuuti qa tilawe' pu'paasat pam pumuy amumi okiwtuwat naawaknangwu, kopötuyamumi. Puma pumuy amumi tuuvinglalwangwu,wuuti himuwa okiwpaapu tiitaniqey oovi puma momoyampumuy amumi put tuuvinglalwangwu.Pay pi ima haqawat Hopimomoyamqa tilalwaqw pay okiwhimuwa naawaknangwu pumuyamumi. Pay hoomat akw pay okiwamumi okiwlalwangwu. Pay piamumi naanawakne' pu' pay amumipangqaqwangwu, "Okiw nu' qa tilawqeoovi nu' as tinawaknakyangwnu' qa tihut qa aniwnangwuniiqeoovi nu' okiw umumi naawakna."

They say the robber fly symbolizeslife. Whenever there are two of them,they usually have sex, just like ahuman couple. As a rule, the male'stail is hooked to the female. This istheir way of copulating.

    Since the two robber fly insectssymbolize life, the Hopis get beneficialpowers from them. When awoman is barren, she will pray to thetwo insects. The women ask themthat they may be able to give birth,for some Hopi women cannot havechildren. As a rule they use sacredcornmeal when they pray, speakinglike this, "Poor me, I'm not bearingany offspring. I want a child, butbecause I'm not producing one, I'masking you."

    Why Hopis make so much of the robber fly's copulation habits is notreadily obvious to the entomologist. As Peter Price (1995 personal communication)assures me, while the robber fly is commonly seen copulating, this is notan extraordinary trait as far as insects are concerned. However, among insectsin Arizona, robber flies are very conspicuous and can easily be observed bothhunting and mating, since they take up fixed stations on rocks and otherplaces. Also, while the copulating behavior of the robber fly may not be extreme,once the sexually overt behavior of the kachina was culturally established,this notion may have reinforced the perception that the insect too wasan ardent copulator.

Kookopölö's Appearance and Paraphernalia

Text 9 contains a Hopi description of the kachina deity Kookopölö.

Text 9

Pam Kookopölö pi pay kwaatsit awpakiwtangwu. Oomiq motsovu'ytangwu.Pam silaqvut angqw yukiwtangwu.Kookopölö paykomuy tsuku'ytaqatmotsovu'ytangwu. Put payhoomat silaqvut ang mokyaatat pantaqatpam motsovu'ytangwu. Pamqömvit taywa'ytangwu. Pu' paasatpam yangqe qötövaqe qöötsat tuuwuhiwtangwu.Öyingaqw pasaakwayngyavoq tsönmiq pitsiwtangwu.Pu' ngölöwtaqat poosi'ytangwu.Ura mi' Kwasa'ykatsina panpoosi'ytangwu. Oovi ngölö'vo.

    Pam qa yaqa'ytangwu. Pay panisoovi piw paalangput naqvu'ytangwu.Pay suukw piw nakwa'ytangwu,mita, kwaahut suruyat. Pu' pipay Paahaanam yesqw oovi pu' payKooköpölö aatöqenapnat angqw pakiwtangwu.Pu' piw aatöqehovinap 'ytangwu.Pu' hopitotsi'ykyangwhonhokyasmi'ytangwu.

    Put motsovu'at mit tu'awi'ytangwu,pay i' tutskwava himu paylomahintaniqat oovi pam put tu'awi'ytangwu.Pu' uuyit piw pamenang tu'awi'ytangwuniiqe oovi putangqw hooma. Putakw pam enangnaawaknangwuniqw oovi.

Kooköpölö always wears a mask.From it points up a snout that isfashioned from corn husk. Actually,Kooköpölö has a three-pointed snout.The individual prongs of the snoutare made out of corn husk and containsacred cornmeal. His face isblack. All the way across his head,from his chin to his neck, runs awhite stripe. His eyes have a cornerthat bends up and around just likethose of the Kwasa'ykatsina.

    He has no nose. His ears aretypically red. He also has a feathertied to his head that is an eagle tailfeather. Now that the white man hascome to live here, the kachina wearsan undershirt and underpants. Asfootwear he has the reddish brownbuckskin moccasins with coloredankle bands.

    Kooköpölö's snout signifies thatthe plants that grow on the land willbe nice and green. It also symbolizesmaize. That's the reason for the sacredcornmeal inside the prongs. Forwith it the kachina prays.

    Not mentioned in the Hopi text is the black and white ruff that is wornaround the neck. According to Lomatuway'ma (Seymour 1988: 271), it is madeof cotton rags and "curved as the kachinas humped back, which makes himstand in a stooped position." Nor is there any reference to "a white circle withdiametrical lines drawn in black" on each side of the head as Fewkes (1903:110) reports. The rosette that he refers to may actually occur only on the maskof the First Mesa Kookopölö .

    Curiously enough, none of the illustrations or carved tihu in the literatureportray the god with a three-pronged snout. Of all the kachinas illustrated inWright's Kachinas: A Hopi Artist's Documentary, only the Kwasa'ytaqa (1973:39) and the Korowiste (1973: 101), the latter being the Zuni model for the former,sport such a snout. Since my consultant likens Kookopölö's eyes to thoseof the Kwasa'ytaqa or Kwasa'ykatsina (Text 9), it is likely that the comparisonby oversight also carried over to Kookopölö's snout.

    Kookopölö's mouth protrusion, typically referred to in Hopi as motsovu,"snout," has been the source of much speculation ever since Hawley (1937:645) intimated that the end-blown flute, so obvious in the postulated prehistoricanalog of "Kokopelli, the hunch-backed flute player," might have disappearedover time and been replaced by a snout. Such explanatory acrobaticsare not needed once the cultural equation between fluteplayer and Kookopölöis revealed as a case of mistaken identity. Leena, "the flute," still has a majorplace in the ceremonial life of present-day Hopi. Foremost, it is the distinguishinginstrument of the two Len societies, whose ceremonies are based onit. Leenangwkatsina, "Flute kachina," who appears as part of a group of Soyohömkatsinam,"Mixed kachinas," dances with a flute; unlike the Sakwalen andMasilen society members, however, he does not play it. According to Colton(1970: 43), a flute was also carried by the Nuvaktsina, "Snow kachina," and bythe Hospowikatsina, "Roadrunner kachina" (Colton 1970: 67). None of myconsultants was able to confirm this claim. Finally, Palhikwtiyo, "MoistureDrinking Boy," carries a flute when he appears as a masked kachina duringthe night dance of the Saasa'lakt or as an unmasked social dancer during aplaza exhibition of the Paavalhikwt. While in his former role Palhikwtiyo canstill be witnessed occasionally, the social Palhikw dance, once performed inthe fall of the Hopi ceremonial year, has become extinct. Since the flute survivedin conjunction with these Hopi ceremonial personages well into thetwentieth century, it does not make sense to suggest that, in the case of Kooköpölö,this prominent wind instrument was transformed into a mere snout.Indeed, this never happened, for as I have shown above, it is maahu, "the cicada,"that is endowed with a flute, and not Kookopölö .

    Nor can a single reference to Kookopölö be located in any of the earlyaccounts of Hopi Len ceremonies. Colton's observation (1970: 35), vaguelyreiterated by Wright (1973: 109), that Kookopölö will borrow a flute from Leenangwkatsinaat the occasion of a Mixed kachina dance, seems to constitutebut a spontaneous, nonroutine event. It certainly is not borne out ethnographically.Nor would such a spontaneous gesture suffice to establish a full-blownconnection between Kookopölö and the motif of the fluteplayer. Kabotie's(1977: 90) painting of a formation of Kookopölö dancers during a kiva nightdance warrants mentioning in this context. In a lengthy comment on the artwork,the artist plainly states that the hunchbacked fluteplayers decorating thekiva wall behind the kachina dancers would not be painted there at all, "but Iput them in the painting to show the history behind the Kooköpölö" (Seymour1988: 271). I take such a remark as a clear indication that the conjunction of theKookopölö kachina and the humpbacked fluteplayer motif, so entrenched inwhite society, is repeated here as acculturated, not traditional, knowledge. Theartist Kabotie was versed in art history and anthropology, and I believe thatthe linkage between the two entities simply had filtered back to him and inthis way became part of the painting.

    Kookopölö's most distinguished physical trait is the protrusion on hisback, generally referred to as a hump. This trait is borne out by the Hopi termpölö, "ball, hump," that is integral to the god's name. Explanatory hypothesesfor the hump include physical objects such as burden baskets (Brill 1984: 32),backpacks "inspired by itinerant, long-distance traders" (Hurst and Pachak1989: 14), or actual pathological deformities. Wellmann (1970: 1679) claims thatWebb (1936: 7), in his speculations about the medical implications of hunchbackedfigures, "left little doubt that ... tuberculosis of the spine, and it alone,was responsible for the very existence of Kokopelli, the hunchbacked fluteplayer."Webb, who never mentions the name "Kookopölö ," indirectly seemsto imply that the kachina's dorsal hump was caused by Pott's disease, a tubercularaffliction of the spine, for in his illustrations (1936: 17) he uses rock artimages of flute-playing "hunchbacks" that were recorded by Kidder andGuernsey (1919: 195). Wellmann (1970: 1679) then goes on to dismiss "Webb's"medical theory, arguing (1974: 2) for a cultural, not a medical, determinationof the hump. Cawley (1974: 3) proposes that Kookopölö's hump "was verylikely a dorsal kyphosis caused by a juvenile epiphysitis" due to hard work ina flexed position during the formative years. Alpert (1991: 56), however, returnsto a medical explanation. Convinced that Kookopölö was a living individualin prehistory who suffered from the effects of tuberculosis of the spinewith resulting priapism, she flatly states (1991: 53) that "Kookopölö ... has thecharacteristic kyphosis (exaggerated posterior convexity), and spinal and jointdeformities" of Pott's disease.

    Prototypes for the hump have also been sought in non-Hopi cultures. Parsons(1938: 337), for example, indicates that at the Tewa-speaking First Mesavillage of Hano "Kookopölö is equated with Nepokwa'i, 'a big black man'(Kookopölö's mask and body are painted black) who in the tales appears witha buckskin on his back from which to make moccasins for a bride" (Parsons1926: 206). Grant (1967: 61), in elaborating this suggestion, theorizes that "Nepokwa'i[sic] may be based on Esteban, the Negro of Fray Marcos de Niza's ill-fated1539 expedition to find the famed Seven Cities of Cibola. Esteban wasstoned to death by the Zunis for molesting their women." Cutler (1944: 27)ventures as far as the Andes in Peru to pinpoint the starting point of Kokopelli'sancestry. To him "it seems likely that the ancient Southwestern hunchbackwas actually a Callahuayo medicine man bringing to North America the characterof tunicate maize." Miller (1975: 375) sees a model for the hump outsidethe Southwest, in Mesoamerica. According to him, the ancestor of Kookopölömight have been Ek Chuah, a pre-Hispanic Maya deity. Equipped with a backpackand a straight staff, he is said to have been the "patron of bee keepers,"an association that in Miller's view makes him similar to Kokopelli, who is"associated with insects."

    As becomes readily apparent in perusing the literature, most of the speculativehypotheses concerning the origin of Kookopölö's (and Kokopelli's)hump are derived from petroglyphic and pictographic depictions of the fluteplayer.They are not the result of ethnological field work in the course ofwhich Hopi consultants were questioned. To cite one final example of suchrock-art-derived speculation, Bartman (1979: 9) postulates that the hump "representsa sort of male pregnancy." The author extrapolates this nonsensicalconclusion from a tiny fluteplayer image supplied by Renaud (1938: plate 1,N.M. 53), that in her view not only features a hump but also a "distendedstomach."

    Apparently, the only ethnographic statement concerning Kookopölö'shump that was obtained from a Hopi is cited by Lambert (1957: 104). Accordingto her, Byron Harvey III, upon showing a photograph of an anthropomorphicstone idol with a humpback to a Hopi, received the following "phallic[sic] interpretation": "The hump of Kokopelli represents babies. He is full ofthem, so that every time he has relations he makes a baby." None of my consultantswas able to confirm this explanation, at least not in regard to Kookopölö'shump. All my ethnographic materials (see Texts 21-23 below) concur inKookopölö's sexual potency to father children. This potency, however, is notlocated in the god's hump but in his loins. Titiev's (1939: 96) citation of a remarkby Eggan indirectly seems to verify this point. Apparently Eggan, at theoccasion of a Kookopölö night dance, was cautioned by a Hopi "to be friendswith Kokopele as they were the ones who sent babies." "Sending babies" isprobably an English expression for "making or engendering babies." In thesame vein, the reference to the hump as "representing babies" is probably onlya metaphorical expression for the god's procreative powers.


Excerpted from Kokopelli by Ekkehart Malotki. Copyright © 2000 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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