What are the symbols of the Anasazi

Kokopelli, the flute player

Rock cathedrals and tuff towers rise abruptly from the barren table mountains, the "Mesa", with their scattered sage bushes, mini pines and junipers. The mesa suddenly break into deep canyons that the Colorado and its tributaries have carved out of sandstone and volcanic tuff for millennia. The river valleys with aspen, maple and poplar trees form green oases between the yellow-red, bare canyon walls. Hot, dry summers are punctuated by violent thunderstorms; Snow storms sweep across the vast mesas and steep canyons in winter.

This harsh and magnificent “Mesa Verde” landscape attracted nomadic gatherers and hunters thousands of years ago to settle here and grow corn, beans and pumpkins. The unique culture of the "Anasazi", the legendary Indian tribe of the North American Southwest, developed (see article below, "The Indians of the Midwest"). Today, numerous pueblo ruins and residential complexes carved out of the canyon walls testify to a complex settlement. The pueblos, terraced residential complexes that can often only be reached via ladders, have been preserved to this day as a structural form.

The only "written" traditions of the Anasazi are thousands of paintings on canyon walls, pueblo walls, and pottery. Early rock carvings (petroglyphs) in the dark desert patina made of iron and manganese oxide often depict hunting scenes: stick figures with bows and arrows hunt mountain goats, antelopes or deer. Later, the Anasazi artists also used white or red pigments to paint figures, ornaments and symbols, the meaning of which has long been forgotten.

One figure appears again and again among the numerous motifs: Kokopelli, the flute player. One time he appears with a hump or sack and a pronounced phallus, another time with a walking stick or headdress made of feathers. Sometimes the flute player seems to dance to his melody or to beguile a female figure. Often he lies on his back and kicks his legs.

Kokopelli, the quick-change artist, does not make it easy for archaeologists to uncover its origin. "Dating is difficult," admits Dr. Peter Pilles of the National Forest Service in Flagstaff, Arizona, who has studied more than 1,500 drawings. “Sometimes we are lucky that the figure appears on the wall of a pueblo ruin, the remains of which we can date using the carbon method. But we often have to deduce its age from stylistic features and comparisons. ”After that, Kokopelli appears in his typical form - with hump or sac and phallus - for the first time between 1000 and 1100 AD in the area of ​​Mesa Verde. Isolated earlier representations may go back to the time around the birth of Christ. Kokopelli did not move much beyond the Anasazi settlement area. The uncertain beginnings and oral traditions leave a lot of scope for interpretation:

Some archaeologists see the flute player as a wandering merchant. The Anasazi traded in mussels from the Pacific coast and turquoise stones from the Rio Grande; They exchanged turquoise jewelry for copper bells and parrots from Mexico. According to an Indian legend, Kokopelli brings maize from Mexico in his sack.

Other researchers discover similarities in Kokopelli with the Mayan gods of Central America. Pilles rejects the immigration theory, however: "We are pretty sure that Kokopelli originated in the Anasazi area."

According to Pueblo legends, the flute player brings a sack full of songs - and babies.

Kokopelli was therefore probably a symbol of fertility - but at the same time also a beguiling minstrel or even seductive Casanova. Rock carvings leave no doubt about his arts: In them Kokopelli touches a chaste adored woman with his phallus through an underground tube.

Sex, fertility and reproduction are central to survival in a harsh land with periods of drought and uncertain harvests. Kokopelli is therefore also the rain maker, who attracts the clouds with his flute playing. The cicada attached to him helps, which in the myth of the Hopi Indians "sings" when it rains. Even today, the Anasazi successors play their flute at springs when they wait for rain. The spiral occasionally scratched on the petroglyphs is also interpreted as a symbol of water. “But that's pure speculation,” objected Pilles.

Sometimes Kokopelli takes part in hunting or armed conflicts with a bow and arrow. Conflicts with immigrants such as the Navajos are unlikely, however, because these nomads did not move into the Mesa Verde area from the north until around 1400 AD. Internal conflicts are more likely. In the late period (1150 to 1250 AD) the Anasazi moved from the vast table mountains to protected settlements that they had carved dizzyingly out of the rock walls of the canyons. Flint and obsidian fragments in such rock dwellings suggest a great need for arrowheads.

After 30 years of study, Dr. Linda Cordell, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said that environmental problems caused the decline of the Anasazi culture. The growth rings of trees - preserved as roof beams - show that around 1150 AD the precipitation fell only sporadically and the water table sank. First, according to Cordell, a rural exodus began, causing large settlements such as "Mesa Verde", "Canyon de Chelly" and "Chaco Canyon" to swell - the supply system collapsed. Still fertile arable land and wood stocks were defended vehemently, but open wars between individual cities are not documented.

But if hunger and war did not drive the Anasazi away, why did they leave? Did Kokopelli, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, lure them to the south, from where traders had brought them news of blooming pueblos?

“For whatever reason the Anasazi left,” explains Cordell, “they left their ancestral territory around 1300 AD and only reappeared in an organized manner in the 15th century.” The emigrants retained two things: their ceremonial common rooms , Called "Kiva", and Kokopelli.

Kokopelli, the seductive rogue, is as alive as ever, happily playing his flute in rock paintings. Its recent transformation is evidence of its unbroken popularity: As a tourist Kokopelli kitsch in all its forms, it can be found in souvenir shops from Phoenix to Santa Fe. Kokopelli gives no information about its origin or migration. But even in the kitschy form he is a witness that the Anasazi have not disappeared. Like Kokopelli, they live on in the legends and dances of the pueblos.

The early Indians of the Midwest

More than 2000 years ago, nomadic gatherers and hunters settled on the plateaus (Mesa Verde) of the Rocky Mountains in what is now the four-country corner of the US states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. They developed into the most important Indian tribe in early North American history: the Anasazi shaped the culture and trade of the region well into the 16th century.

From the beginnings of sedentarism (300 to 500 AD) there are small millstones that the Anasazi used to grind corn. They made elaborate, sturdy baskets out of sisal, bark and grass. The time was named after these basket weavers. Around 700 AD the Indians begin to build their settlements out of stones and mud bricks - the time of the "pueblos" (villages) begins. Household vessels are made, which are artistically refined over the centuries.

Initially, there are independent pueblos, usually with fewer than 100 inhabitants, scattered on the plateaus, called "mesa", and in the river valleys. Round living rooms or cellars that are half set in the ground are converted into large "kiva" - meeting rooms for ceremonies - over time. Around 900 AD, a tightly organized society forms in Chaco Canyon, 100 kilometers south of Mesa Verde, whose economic and ceremonial center was Pueblo Bonito: the D-shaped settlement with around 700 square rooms and 40 kivas is around two large ones Village squares laid out. Pueblo Bonito was connected to more than 100 villages by an almost 400 kilometer long, dead straight system of paths. At its heyday around 1100 AD, the Chaco metropolis had around 5,000 inhabitants. In the Mesa Verde area around this time the Anasazi move from their mountain pueblos into cave castles, which they carve into the sandstone cliffs of the canyons or build under protective rock ledges. The most famous settlement is the "Cliff Palace".

A rapid decline began in the middle of the 12th century. By the end of the century, the Anasazi had left Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and the surrounding settlements. It is now clear where they went: The Anasazi migrated to sparsely populated areas in the south and southeast, where their descendants now live - the Hopi in Arizona, the Zuni in southwestern New Mexico and the Pueblo Indians along the Rio Grande in eastern New Mexico . Why they left their centuries-old homeland remains a mystery.

Bruni Kobbe

March 1, 1997

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