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Carla Woody

Hopi Elder Harold JosephDuring this summer's program in Peru, Hopi elder Harold Joseph (as seen on the right) accompanied us and represented his people. There's a saying that goes something like this: "The gods laugh when you tell them your plans." Originally, others from Hopi were joining him, but things got in the way on their end. Now I know why.

Very few who have been Hopitized are initiated into a secret society that gives them the ability to do cleansings, purification of the pathways back into the past, following the footsteps of ancestors to their origins. Harold Joseph is one of these few.

If someone has been Hopitized, the ritual initiation that, in times past, took place at puberty, and that person goes back to the places from which their people migrated, they are subject to the suffering that drove their ancestors from those lands. The despair is still vibrating in the ether and enters their soul. Walking in these locations is taboo. But through special offerings by those who are chosen to perform them, the heaviness can be lifted. Consider that central to our intent with this trip was creating a space where the Hopi could connect with their native cousins in Peru to share traditions and reweave those foundational filaments that hold the world. This kind of clearing is paramount.

In a number of those places we traveled through in the Cusco and Puno regions this summer, Harold recognized symbols — in a Pachamama cave, in the way the stones were placed in an Inca structure, something carved and almost hidden, in the eagles flying alongside us — that created validation for him. Indeed, his people had been there. Signs no anthropologist had ever recognized. And he performed the rituals he was meant to accomplish so that others could come after him in these areas and be safe. Quietly, he would move away from the group or stay behind while others went on, just for a few minutes and then rejoin us.

Several times he spoke to the villagers of Mollamarka who were assembled at Salk'awasi, Don Américo Yábar's ancestral home, or to the Q'ero who were traveling with us. In a strong resounding voice that carried he'd say such things as, "You are my brothers and sisters! I'm so proud that you are caring for the earth, that you are tending your crops, when some of my people have fallen away from our ways. When I am at home and pray for rain for my corn, I pray for your corn..." For me, the tone of his voice carried vibrations that reached out, mesmerized, and encapsulated us all in a very real sense of the sacred.

Some distance outside the city of Puno, there is a legendary site known as the entrance to Lemuria, lost sister civilization to Atlantis. Hiking in, I always have the feeling I've entered some kind of primordial world where dinosaurs might rumble out from the cracks in the spiky rock formations that rise way up into the sky. Either that or those flying monkeys from the "Wizard of Oz" will swoop in from the hinterlands. All around there are large shapes that resemble various animals caught in stone.

If you climb up high enough, Lake Titicaca is visible over the rise, and beyond that, the shadowy, high mountains of Bolivia covered in deep snow. I settled in on a narrow outcropping to make my connections, sat cross-legged and gazed out across all those miles for a while — and then closed my eyes to feel what was resident. Presently, I heard small rocks falling a short distance away and peeped in that direction. Harold was making his way up a ledge. I went back to my meditating. Soon I began to hear his voice booming out in the thin air, praying in Hopi. Even though my mind couldn't grasp what he was saying, my heart understood perfectly. There was something in his delivery inviting me to join him. And when I silently merged with his words, I felt waves of emotion surging through my core and tears ran down my cheeks. There was an incredible sweetness in that moment.

Through all the times I have come, I never want to leave that place. Particularly because as dusk falls and we make our way out, the hundreds of large white birds, probably there since time immemorial, return, in twos or more, to their roost on top of the highest formations and call to the approaching twilight. And I'm convinced that if I could stay there long enough into the night the animals caught in stone would be freed, much as the toy stuffed animals in my childhood bedroom would come alive after I was asleep.

Q'ero and Taquileno weavers consultingWe look for the burning bush. But truly, it's these subtle, precious, quiet moments that open us. When individuals from different cultures share a meal and discover camaraderie, even though they don't understand each other's spoken language. And two Q'ero and Taquileño women (as seen on the right), with common Inca ancestors, put their heads together and compare notes over a weaving. Or a brown hand is extended to a white hand to offer help up the steep trail. Then the recognition comes, "You are my brothers and sisters!" How can we be separate?

© 2008 Carla Woody. All rights reserved.
Photographs © 2008 Oakley Gordon. Used with permission.

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Last updated 22 August 2008   |  2008 Carla Woody