Mande And Hopi: A Comparitive Essay, Research Paper
The Hopi and The Mande: A Comparative Cultural Analysis.
Tradition is defined as a set of customs and beliefs that are largely stable through time, the passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation, especially by oral communication. It is through tradition that the Hopi Indians of Northeast Arizona and the Mande people of West Africa have been able to survive as distinct cultures in this rapidly changing world. The art of oral tradition, or historical storytelling, has been the main resource for the continuous education of children in these cultures, and will continue to play a vital role in the progression of their civilizations. The arts, cosmogony, music, and agricultural influences of these cultures are related in many different ways, and all contribute to their distinguishing qualities.
The Mande People are renowned for the wide variation in their religious, linguistic, and social practices. Also called the Mali or Mandingo, the Mande People are primarily located on the Savanna Plateau of Western Africa. They rely heavily on their natural surroundings for survival. Mande agriculture is based on shifting hoe cultivation and their primary crops are rice, yams, and cassava, although cattle are also kept for trade. The Mande live in small towns and villages which make up sections. Each section is headed by a chief who is the eldest descendent of the founder of the area. The chief is a secular leader only, the ritual power belongs to the secret poro society. The secret poro society is in charge of enforcing Mande law, education, and regulation of sexual conduct, and military training. Mande society consists of two main groups: the Horonw and the Nyamakalaw. The Horonw are the kings and rulers of Mande society. They are people of the earth, the aristocracy, the warriors, the commoners, and they make up the majority of the population who live in the village. The Nyamakalaw, are an endogamous group that is thought to possess and control the spiritual energy of nature called nyama. The Mande see nyama as hot, wild energy that is the animating force of nature. The Nyamakalaw live on the outskirts of town and although both groups are critical to the structure of Mande society, they both view each other with abhorrence and disrespect. Despite their dislike for one another the two feed of off each other in a symbiotic relationship. For example, the Horonw are dependent on the Nyamakalaw for ritual masks and headdresses while the Nyamakalaw rely on the Horonw for economic resources. This relationship of the earthly and the magical, the hot and the cold, is a direct result of the Mande cosmogony.
The cosmogony of the Mande people has been passed down generation to generation by griots. The griot is a traditional storyteller and musician in African societies who recounts genealogy at ceremonies such as marriages, circumcisions and funerals, through the use of a Kora. A Kora is a twenty-one stringed West African harp which requires great skill to master, and is used by the griots of West Africa to accompany their epics.
Like the Mande people, the Hopi culture and religion is passed down from generation to generation through storytelling. Originating from South America, the Hopi people migrated north where they settled in Northeastern Arizona in towns called Pueblos approximately 1500 years ago. There are currently 6,000 Hopi living in Arizona in high mesa settlements, and they speak Shoshonean, a dialect of the Uto-Aztec. Hopi life revolves around agriculture, in particular, corn. Corn has sustained the Hopi people throughout their history, just as it sustains them throughout their lives. It is the first food fed to the infants and sustains the spirits of the decesed as they journey into another world. The farming of corn has more than economic significance for the Hopi. It is thier main resource of food, and is an essential elemant in every ceremony. The women and men of the Hopi spend endless hours preparing the corn, and is a traditon that is a skill that is passed onto the children throung observation and expierence.
This agricultural life is referred to as the fourth way of life for the Hopi. Agricultural activities also reinforce traditions and customs in each new generation, This is not about growing vegetables; its about growing kids. (Hopi farmer)
Because of the arid and temperate climate in Arizona, the Hopi are very dependent on water as a resource. As a form of religious ritual, the Hopi perform a special dance in late August called the Snake Dance. The Snake Dance is an annual religious ceremony in which performers dance with live snakes in their mouths. It is believed by the Hopi that when the snakes dig into the ground the snakes ask the water gods for rain.
The cosmogony of the Hopi culture is similar to that of the Mande people in that they both believe in the four directions or dimensions. The creation myth of the Hopi describes the how the elders traveled the underground through the three levels until they finally rested on the fourth level, earth. Another aspect to the Hopi cosmogony are their prophecies. The Hopi believe that this world we live in today will come to an end, and much of Hopi culture requires that the Hopi prepare for this ending. Other Hopi prophecies tell of a day when wagons would fly in the sky, and that man would one day talk over a network of spider webs in the sky. These prophecies refer to airplanes and telephones or the Internet. The final and most disturbing prophecy tells us that the Hopi will loose it s culture, religion, and language. Unfortunately, today the Hopi students are unable to converse in Hopi.
One of the most notable similarities between the Mande culture and the Hopi Culture is the use of masks in religious ritual. The Hopi Kachina mask is worn by men during ceremonies and is thought to temporarily transform the performer into the depicted being on the mask. The identity of the spirit is depicted not by the form of the mask, which is usually plain and flat, but by the color, leather, feathers, and ornamentation of the mask. Kachina s are also found in small ornamented wood dolls. The dolls are not used in ceremonies but are used both as play toys for the children and as devices of spiritual education. In the Mande culture however the masks are worn over the head of a female elder who dances for the Sande women s society. The Sande women s society is a secret society composed of all the women members of the Mande people. They instruct girls in their responsibilities, and protect the rights of women in the community. The Sande mask displays and celebrates Mande ideals of female beauty and virtue. The downcast eyes convey a spiritual nature, the high forehead indicates good fortune, and the elaborate hairstyle communicate the close ties of the women in the community. Although most masks in African cultures and in Native American tribes are worn by men, the Sande Society mask is a rare exception since it is worn by all women s society to which men are not admitted.
Although these two cultures are separated by thousands of miles, they both rely on the role of tradition to continue their cultures. Their relationship and respect for the earth, the crops, the weather, and the forces of nature are all celebrated in their rituals, arts and performance. Hopefully, with the continued expression of oral tradition, these two cultures will be able to flourish for years to come.