by Harry C. James

from UniversityArizonaPress Website




This Is How It Was

THE LEGENDARY WORLD of Hopi origins lay deep below the surface of today's earth.


This may seem strange to people brought up with the concept that the world below is not by any means a place of heavenly bliss but one of hellish damnation.


When one stops to realize that the dominant features of the vast region of the Hopi world are the magnificent and mysterious landscapes of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River it is not surprising that the Hopi concept of heaven should be an ideal nether world.

In the beginning the wide Underworld beneath the present world was one vast sea, the Hopi have told their descendants down through the ages.


Far to the east and to the west lived two female deities-the owners of such precious things as seashells, coral, and turquoise.


Each of these Hurung Whuti, as the Hopi called them, lived in a house similar to a kiva in the Hopi village of today.


The Hurung Whuti of the East had one gray and one yellow fox skin tied to the top of the high ladder which led down into her kiva-like house, while that of the deity of the West had a large turtle-shell rattle.

Every day Sun dressed for the early morning in the gray fox skin, and for the full day he donned the skin of the yellow fox.


He rose from the north end of the kiva of the Hurung Whuti of the East, slowly passed over the waters of the Underworld, and, after touching the turtle-shell rattle on her ladder, he descended into the kiva of the Hurung Whuti of the West.

Eventually the two Hurung Whuti decided there should be some dry land in the Underworld, and parted the waters so that land appeared.


But Sun could discover no sign of life upon it and he reported this to the Hurung Whuti of the East, who journeyed over a great rainbow to confer with her sister of the West.


After a long council they decided that they would create life. They took clay and fashioned a small wren. Placing a piece of cloth over the wren, they sang certain songs which imparted life to it.

Then they instructed Wren to fly here, there, and everywhere over their newly created land to see if it could find any signs of other life. Wren failed to see Spider Woman, the deity of the earth, who lived in her kiva home away to the southwest-so he reported that the whole land was barren.

Thereupon, the Hurung Whuti of the West created many birds and animals in the same way as the wren had been created.


She sent them out to inhabit the earth. As her sister had created the birds and the animals, the Hurung Whuti of the East created a man and woman out of the same kind of clay and covered them with the same cloth.


Again the Hurung Whuti sang their special songs, and the man and the woman were endowed with life.


The two Hurung Whuti taught the man and the woman a language, and the deity of the East led them back over the rainbow to her home. There they lived for a short time before they and their children wandered out over the eastern land to make homes of their own.

While the Hurung Whuti were busy creating the birds, the animals, and the first man and woman, Spider Woman decided that she, too, would create men and women.


Thereupon she gave life to all kinds of people, and with the help of Mockingbird (Yaupa) taught each group its own language before sending it off to live throughout the Underworld.

After a council with her sister, the Hurung Whuti of the West decided that she must create more people to inhabit the lands of the West. These were the ancestors of the Hopi.


After this was accomplished the Hurung Whuti parted and went to live for all time in their homes under the waters far to the East and far to the West.

The Hopi still remember the Hurung Whuti and make many prayer offerings to them.


Turquoise, seashells, and coral still serve the Hopi as sacred reminders of those beneficent deities of creation.



This spot is thought by some to be Sipapu, entrance to the Hopi Underworld.

It is a sacred place of pilgrimage for the Hopi,

at the bottom of the Canyon of the Little Colorado above its junction with the Colorado River.