[Vernacular Photographs of the Hopi Snake Dance.]
Prescott, Arizona: 1931. 14 black and white photographs. Four measure 4¼” x 2 3/8”, the rest are 3 3/8” x 5 5/8”. Generally very good plus with minor dust soiling.
This is a group of exceptional images documenting portions of the Hopi Snake Dance. According to an article on the dance in the October 2008 issue of Wild West magazine,
The Hopi men traditionally perform the ceremonial dance in late August after 16 days of spiritual preparation. Gathering all the snakes they can find, especially rattlesnakes, requires four days. Young men and boys go out searching for the snakes—one morning for each direction. They keep the snakes in the kiva and prepare for the snake washing ceremony, during which a Snake priest bathes the snakes with specially prepared water. He then places the snakes on a circle of cleaned sand, where boys “herd” them together with eagle feathers. The reptiles are then placed in a kisi, a bowerlike structure of leafy cottonwood branches, about 10 feet high and 6 feet across. In front of the kisi, the men dig a shallow hole that symbolizes sipapu, the portal through which, according to Hopi legend, their ancestors emerged from deep inside Mother Earth.
When all of these preparations are complete, the ceremony can begin. In today’s world, however, most of the Hopi men have jobs and cannot take 16 days away from their work. Many villages now observe the Snake Dance only in alternate years, and it is closed to the public.
Based on the backstamps, these photos were taken in 1931. At least three of the images show members of the Snake Clan early in the ceremony after they have removed a snake (likely a rattlesnake) from the kisi and clenched it between their teeth. At least five show another step in the ceremony, the drawing on the ground of a large circle by the priest, where the Snake Clan members place their snakes. Several images show many dancers around the circumference of that circle, continuing the ceremony which ultimately ends with the snakes being released into the open desert to “carry the message to the spirit world that the Hopis are living in harmony with their religious beliefs, the natural world and each other.”
That article from Wild West also reprinted this lyrical description of the dancers' costumes made by an observer of the dance in 1927, which lends more detail and helps color the images on offer:
“The bodies of the dancers in both clans are strangely painted. Their bodies are bare from the waist up, and their faces are painted black, except for their white foreheads. They also have white paint on their forearms and their lower legs. A cluster of eagle feathers is secured in their long black hair, and some of the men wear turquoise and silver necklaces. All of them wear a dark, earth-colored kilt with a colorful band around the bottom. A finely woven rain sash hangs from their waist. Tortoiseshell rattles are fastened behind their right knee, and they wear dark brown moccasins.”
Unique and lively images of the Hopi Snake Dance in the early 1930s. Very good +. Item #6564