Mittwoch, 3. August 2011

The Travelogue, Part XXIX - USA: Of Red Rocks and Red Men

You may wonder why I haven't written anything in such a long time. Maybe you haven't, but then you wouldn't be reading this anyway. It's not because there has been a shortage of interesting happenings to talk about. The answer is: I've just been plain lazy. So join me on my journey through Arizona.

The Grand Hole

Probably the US' most famous natural sight, the Grand Canyon is truly amazing and awe-inspiring. It's actually so grand and vast that it almost feels unreal. I wish I could say more profound things about it, but I guess you just really have to go there and see it for yourself.

Flagstaff and Sedona

When you hear Flagstaff, Arizona you probably think of a flagpole in the middle of the desert with a few desolate houses scattered around it. At least I did. I was surprised to find a pleasant, quite bohemian town surrounded by forests and mountains. It's actually a quite nice place to spend a couple of days and get drunk on surprisingly good local brew.

Oak Creek

A mere 30 minutes from Flagstaff lies Sedona, a town famous for its iconic scenery used in as many as one hundred Western movies, making it one of Hollywoods favourite filming locations to date. Film making started here as early as the 1920's and has seen stars such as John Wayne or Robert de Niro.

You can see the Sedona rocks in the background

After the Western genre became less popular, the town instead attracted droves of hippies and spiritualists, who believe that the area with its giant red rocks and meandering creeks is an energy nexus of global importance. Many of these people have settled there as healers and teachers, giving the town a distinctive alternative flair. Some of them seem to make a lot of money though, and Sedona's residential architecture shows that.

One of the more elaborate Sedona mansions

Whether you believe in invisible energies or not, Sedona's giant red rocks and pittoresque rivers are definitely worth a visit. I recommend coming with a posse of friends on horseback.

Modern Catholic church molded into the rocks

Hopi Reserve

The Hopi are a Native American tribe in the heart of the Arizona desert, and are in many ways the most untouched of all American tribes due to their enclosure in the much bigger Navajo reserve. Their alloted area is mostly wasteland, yet unlike with many other tribes, always has been, making the Hopi towns the oldest continously inhabited villages in the US.

I forgot our lovely stranger's name, but here is his picture.

No one could summarize the situation of the Hopi Indians better than their own legends, told expertly by an accidental encounter with one of their tribesmen:
The Great Spirit lay before the tribes many types of corn. The red one, the white one, the yellow one and the blue one, and each tribe was to take one. The Hopi waited until last and picked the small blue corn. The Great Spirit said: "You have picked the small blue corn. Your fate shall be dire, and you will have to work the hardest, but you shall be an honest people."

Can you spot the houses?

The Hopi reserve lies within the much greater Navajo reserve, and is one of the most arid and resourceless reserves in the US. The Hopi have decided against jumping on the casino-building bandwagon, and instead live a life of relative simplicity. Coal was recently discovered and is being mined to support a school, hospital and education for young students, but houses and infrastructure are basic and run down.

The old villages actually sit atop these rock mesas

Most of the inhabitants still live relatively close to the old ways, and ritual still has high importance in Hopi society. Important enough in fact that the towns were all closed off to visitors when I was there and there are strict no photography laws. Hopi rituals permeate every aspect of society and many of them are very time consuming. One of the requires everyone to craft a masterpiece to his best abilities and then throw it away in a communal ceremony to remind people of the unimportance of material belongings. To ensure the limited prosperity of the corn plantations, elder must walk the entire reservation on foot and bless every single rivulet, which takes several days. Eagles must be captured from the steep desert rocks in a dangerous trial to obtain adulthood. Marriage takes, believe it or not, eleven years to complete including the manufacture of all the necessary garments and jewelry. Before you wonder, I thought it was impolite to ask what happens when you decide it doesn't work out or your partner dies. But judging from the rest of the process, it probably has to start all over again.
Hopi society is matrilineal, and women own all the land except the fields in which the men work. Husbands join the clan of the wife.

There are hundreds of Kachinas, here's a few of them

The gods of the Hopi are known as Kachinas,and they have gained some renown because of the colourful and alien statues that are modeled after them. Visions of their appearance are usually obtained through use of the buds of the hallucigenic Peyote cactus. Unlike most other gods they are not available year-round, however, they must sleep for several months to recover from their work in the San Francisco peaks.
What happens to the Hopi once the coal is gone remains to be seen, but they seem to be strangely unfussed by it. Maybe because they know they have managed to live here for the last thousand years.

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