By Ben Boomer
In the mid-nineties I traveled to Zacatecas Mexico with Hopi artist and Architect Dennis Numkena. He was working on a museum exhibition that explored the relationship of the Hopi to the Mayans through his paintings. I was there to help him settle a studio space in Zacatecas, and then travel the ancient architecture of Mexico. It was a grand adventure filled with danger and revelation. There were many jokes about a Navajo and a Hopi traveling together, as there is some historic rivalry between the tribes. Neither of us bought into that narrative. We were amigos. Dennis moved beyond this world in 2010, but he left us with many great memories and stories. This is one he told me that had been passed down in his Hopi family.
His great grandfather told of stories from previous generations. The stories told of trading parties traveling to the south and the land of the howling hairy men. While traveling, Dennis deduced this story referring to the Yucatan Peninsula and Guatemala. These parties would bring monkeys and parrots back to the Hopi mesas. He talked of colorful feather plumes, and tales of ancient cities. Dennis would note the architectural similarity, or the similarity of certain words or beliefs. This was not a scientific journey, but one where he wanted to feel the ambiance and energy of place, and space, and people. Official histories were ignored based on the knowledge that tall tales were often fed to outsiders from the Hopi. He assumed the Mayans would do the same. Much of the interpretations of art and ceremony he felt were laughable. He trusted art and architecture and personal family stories. Dennis felt there was a clear relationship between Hopi and Mayan cultures.
While sipping a cold beer in the still and humid jungle air Dennis told me the story of the Square people and the Circle people. This story was in response to the accepted scientific narrative that Native Americans migrated across the Bering Straits then spread through North and South America. This was, according to legend, only part of the story. He went on to tell me that there were an ancient people called the Circle people, and they followed the hoop of life. They understood the world followed a circular pattern of birth, life and death. They followed the season, and the moon, and the herds. They traveled across the land and ice bridge of the Bering Straits. Moving with the herds each season. They consist of the people who live in circle structures like Igloos, Tipis, and Hogans. They unlocked secrets of continual renewal and harmony.
Across the oceans were another people called the Square people. They learned about the stars, and time, and mathematics. They used these skills to build boats and follow the stars across the vast oceans to South America where they settled and began to migrate north. They built square homes like pueblos and pyramids. Using logic and math they built huge empires with complex trade routes, agriculture, architecture and communications. They unlocked secrets of space and time as they continued this migration into North America. The square people and the circle people finally met in the lands of modern-day Arizona as the Hopi and the Navajo. The language is nearly as different as any language can be, and there are distinct differences in lifestyle. Each is assured in their own way that this sacred place between the sacred mountains will be a sanctuary as humanity emerges into the next world.
Ever since Dennis told me this story it changed my perceptions of the truth, and I ceased accepting scientific theory as fact regarding the origins or beliefs of ancient and modern indigenous peoples. These truths are better served straight from the horses mouth, as the saying goes. Since his revelation nearly 20 years ago science has since discovered evidence that challenges the single migratory event theory that was once accepted as fact. This is only a small example of the power of preservation, and empowerment of native voices. There are many approaches to the truth, and great inspiration can come from the hidden corners of the world, or from your own dinner table. Water your own trees, listen to your grandparent, and the elders of your community, and empower those smaller voices of the world to do the same.