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  • Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat'ovi Massacre by James F. Brooks
  • Seth Archer
Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat'ovi Massacre. By James F. Brooks. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016. 288 pages. Cloth, ebook.

At dawn, in autumn 1700, fire rained down in an attack on the Hopi village of Awat'ovi in eastern Arizona, and most of its residents were slain or taken captive. James F. Brooks's bold narrative history alternates between an account of this enigmatic massacre, perpetrated by other Hopis, and an archaeological detective story about site excavations from 1892 to 1939. These two major streams of narrative are interspersed with discussions of Hopi legend and regional developments dating back to the twelfth century. The overall effect is like writing a history of the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.) interwoven with discussions of the Babylonian exile, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To be sure, the author has his reasons. The nonlinear narrative and unorthodox use of evidence are predicated on the Hopi philosophy of history itself, in which the present is "already active" (116) in the past or simply the "past foretold" (116) by prophecy—what Brooks calls "'mytho-historic' form" (142). Such a philosophy is not unfamiliar to Native Americanists, but historical narratives that take such understandings to heart are relatively rare. Brooks's approach also reflects the Hopi dialectic of harmony or balance (suyanisqatsi) and chaos (koyaanisqatsi). When koyaanisqatsi gains the upper hand, as in moments of community discord, the past echoes in the present, informing people's interactions with outsiders and with each other. The Awat'ovi massacre was a response to koyaanisqatsi, Brooks argues, and for this reason, the incident has been shrouded in mystery ever since, the village site left as cautionary ruins.

There is no shortage of literature on American Indian massacres. Mesa of Sorrows stands out in a number of ways. Like Karl Jacoby's Shadows at Dawn, the book aims to understand the origins and impact of community violence from multiple Native perspectives, rather than as a straightforward narrative of conquest.1 Moving beyond Jacoby, Brooks combines analysis of archaeology, Native tradition, and colonial sources to explore the rich cultural diversity of the region surrounding Awat'ovi. The book also illuminates a cyclical pattern in the Hopi past of spiritual or social corruption checked by purification through violence. Until recently, scholars idealized Puebloan peoples as egalitarian, controlled, and peaceful, with matrilineal kinship systems that ensured power for women. Indeed, the very name "Hopi"—a shortened version of "Hopituh Shinumu (the Peaceful People)" (201)—evokes peace. Yet tribal traditions and recent archaeology indicate that intervillage tensions at Situqui (the Hopi mesas) were more or less constant, with causes ranging from ecological pressures to clan [End Page 557] hierarchy to immigration. Among the migrants to Situqui were Tanos (Tewas) from the Rio Grande Valley who intermarried with Hopis in the village of Walpi but significantly never gave up their language or identity.

Perhaps no southwestern Native people have "more variegated origins than" (75) Hopis, a result of many centuries of migration to the mesas. This diversity has long defined Hopi society, while also presenting a source of conflict. For example, the growth of the Katsina religion in the thirteenth century served to bond the disparate peoples of the region together but also resulted in "an explosion of violent iconography" (38) and, apparently, the exclusion of women "from the most powerful aspects of ceremonial life" (123). In 1700, rumors of sorcery and sexual immorality at Awat'ovi coincided with the return of Spanish Franciscans after their expulsion in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. Societal tensions in Situqui boiled over in a violent purge of Awat'ovi.

Although the book does not recast the Pueblo Revolt, it provides an interesting sequel. Brooks highlights a number of intriguing details about Hopi life in the two decades between revolt and reconquest, when the mesas returned to Native control but retained elements of Catholic religious practice. This period also featured new waves of migrants from the east, some of whom were "fierce[ly] anti-Spanish" (216). Earlier scholars proposed the reintroduction...

Additional Information

ISSN
1933-7698
Print ISSN
0043-5597
Pages
pp. 557-559
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-25
Open Access
No
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