Sunday, April 22, 2012

Who was Kokopelli, really?

We know Kokopelli today as a crooked little flute player that is the subject of southwestern jewelry. Many know that the symbol is taken from petroglyphs found etched in the patina of countless canyon walls and boulders throughout the southwest. Because of the age of the glyphs, they were most likely chiseled out by the Anasazi and Hohokam cultures. The Kokopelli myths are wonderfully rich and intriguing, but who he really was is probably impossible to ever know.

Still revered by current descendants of Native Americans (including the Hopi, Taos, and Acoma Pueblo peoples), he is truly one of the most renowned and widespread images to have survived from ancient Indian mythology. First depicted by the Anasazi, Kokopelli was a fertility symbol bringing good crops of corn, beans, and squash. His visit also brought rain for the fields, streams and reservoirs. The Zuni claimed he could make it rain at will.

Kokopelli’s image varied over time. Originally drawn as a bug-like creature with large tentacles on his head, a great, humped back, playing a long flute,and exhibiting male genitalia of exaggerated size. Over time, the image became more stylized with an arched back, wearing a long dress or tunic. The disappearance of the phallus is speculated to be due to contact with Europeans. But in ancient myths, he brought fertility in all ways to the village. Women, who previously were unable to bear children would become pregnant after a visit from Kokopelli!

So who was this curious little man really? Because of his widespread appearance -- from Mexico to west of the Mississippi -- I think Kokopelli represented the travelling merchant or trader. He most likely dealt with (or was one of the) Pochteca that were traveling merchants in the Aztec Empire. His humped back originally looked a lot like a tump basket. These large “baskets” were actually more like large slings, slung over the forehead that hung down the back enabling one to carry huge amounts of corn, beans, or squash. I suspect that he became associated with good harvests and rain because he would have selected villages that had good harvests to trade with. The traders/merchants were very important to villages of America. It must have been exciting to see the unusual beads, conch shells, Quetzal feathers, and other treasures from other cultures.

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