Harold Courlander retells the story of the creation and destruction of Palatkwapi.
“Since the beginning of things much time had passed. People had journeyed from one place to another, built villages, abandoned them, following the instructions of their wise men and the signs that appeared in the sky. Somewhere far, far to the south of where the Hopis now live, a band calling themselves Patkiwoema, the Patki people, moved through the wilderness… At last they came to the place they called Palatkwapi… where they became known as the Water Clan… Life was good to them. Their corn matured, there was always water in the nearby river, the rain fell and there was plenty of game. The older people, however, did not forget the sipapuni [place of emergence in the Hopi tradition, where people migrated from the Third to the Fourth World] and the meaning of life. In their songs they asked, ‘Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we here?’… Yet while some people recalled these things, there were many who did not think of them anymore.
Palatkwapi… then grew large, and by the time it was old there were numerous persons in the village who rejected virtue… Evil and corruption entered the village. Instead of gathering in the kivas to examine the meaning of life, men and women used the kivas to play totolospi, kokotukwi and other gambling games. They neglected their fields and forgot to make pahos for the gods. Young people abandoned respect for older people and old ways… Married women accepted he company of men who were not their husbands, lying with them wherever it was convenient. A shadow seemed to be falling over Palatkwapi.”
The village chief, the kikmongwi, and the leaders of the clans then attempt to warn the people of the consequences of their bad behavior. “Unless Palatkwapi returns to a good way of life it will cease to be a living village.” After a while people forget about the warning and resume their bad ways. “The kikmongwi and the clan chiefs were distressed, not knowing what to do next. Now, the kikmongwi was considered the father of the village, and his wife was considered the mother of the people. They were expected to demonstrate by example the virtuous way of life. But the kikmongwi’s wife succumbed to the evil around her. And when the kikmongwi discovered her lying with other men he was aroused to great anger. He said, “Palatkawi has returned to the chaos of the Third World [before sipapuni and the exodus to the Fourth World when people left the evil behind them]. Now we are back where we began.”
Helped by his nephew the chief then invokes Masauwu, the spirit of Death and Master of the Upper World. Alas the people kill the chief’s nephew. “They felt a foreboding. Nevertheless, the ones who valued pleasure above a good life went to do the things they had become accustomed.” The people had buried the body of the nephew on the plaza, leaving just one hand protruding from the earth, four fingers pointing upward. On the third following morning only the little finger was pointing up. “Seeing this, the people of Palatkwapi understood that there were forces at work that could not be turned back, and they became afraid.
On the fourth morning when they came to the plaza the sun was red, and though there were no clouds in the sky the light was subdued. They looked at the place where the body was buried and saw that the last finger was turned down, marking the end of the cycle of four. There was a rumbling in the distance. The sound grew louder as it came closer. The earth began to shake. Large stones slid from their foundations and the walls of the houses cracked. The building began to crumble and fall. Out of the gray cloudless sky rain poured down, and a cold wind swept through the plaza. The people of Palatkwapi fled to their houses seeking refuge… but water began to flood through their fireplaces, washing through the rooms and doorways… Where once the people had danced in the plaza there was now a deep pond. From the earth underneath this spot,where the kikmongwi’s nephew had been buried, the head of the great water serpent Balolokong appeared. Balolokongs’ head reared higher and higher as his body emerged out of the earth. On the back of his head was a single horn like the one worn by the young man who had been interred there. Balolokong’s eyes turned this way and that, surveying the crumbling walls of Palatkwapi. The people fled in terror, but there was no ore sanctuary in the village, which by now was submerged in the surging water. In the flight to the safety of high ground outside the village some children were lost or swept away, and some of the old and the crippled were left behind.”
The survivors found refuge among rocks and caves. “The kikmongwi and the clan chiefs discussed what might be done to quiet Balolokong. They agreed that prayer offering must be made… They chose a boy and a girl to carry out this mission [to take the pathos back to Palatkwapi].”
“And now the clan leaders called the survivors together, and the Chief of the Water Clan, who was also the kikmongwi, addressed them in this way: ‘We are here among the rocks and caves. Our village, Palatkwapi, we may not go back to it any more, for it is a ruin and a cursed place that will be haunted until the end of time by the evil deeds that were committed there. The chiefs said over and over again, ‘Do not forget who you are and why we are here’. But the people did not want to remember. Therefore we must now begin again at the beginning as we did when we came out of the Third World. Palatkwapi is dead to us. It will be covered with wind-blown sand, and the writings we have put on the rocks will be weathered away and become invisible. As it was at the sipupani, so it is now’… This is how the people departed from Palatkwapi.”
Image: Paho, “road” or “path”, courtesy University of Idaho