It is believed that the Hopi are the Native American tribe that has been living for the longest time in the same place. They arrived in the arid region of Northwest Arizona probably over a thousand years ago, and traditionally lived in the cultivation of corn and other plants, for which they achieved a very careful use of water and space. Despite the friction between the Hopi and both the Navajo and the Western, resulting from the invasion of both cultures of the Hopi lands in the past, they are one of the few aboriginal groups who maintain their culture until today.
Their villages are ancient, some with a history of 1000 years. They have developed a reputation for basketry and sculpt miniatures. They are owners and operators of a cultural center, a museum and a hotel complex. According to Hopi tradition, the history of mankind is divided into periods they call “worlds”, which are separated by terrible natural disasters: the first world fell in the fire, the second by the ice and the third by water.
Our present world, the fourth according to their prophecies, is coming to an end and will give way to a new world in the not too distant future. In total, humanity must walk through seven worlds. Hopi Indians claim that their ancestors were visited by beings from the stars who moved on flying shields or thundering birds and who dominated the art of cutting and carrying huge blocks of stone, as well as to build tunnels and underground facilities. These rescuers were called katchinas, meaning wise, honorable and respected.
Katchinas were able to save the Hopi from some disasters, and they taught them to observe the stars, cutting roots, enforce laws and a long list of activities. They multiplied as people, and from them emerged clans and nations that extended across America. Hopi means peaceful or civilized person in Hopi language. Fascinated by the Hopi language linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941) became inspired on his research on the Hopi to formulate his principle of linguistic relativity, which states that the language in which people operate affects their view of reality.
When Whorf studied the tribe of the Hopi, he was surprised to find that the Hopi language words cannot express the past, the present and the future. The Hopi see life as a continuum and that is why they need not to describe the meaning of time as we do. According to Whorf, the lack of isomorphism between the Amerindians and the English language indicates a basic difference in thinking that is culturally acquired by the individual in the process of language acquisition.
The Hopi language, according to Whorf, has a much larger number of verbs than names, unlike European languages, and this is reflected for instance in a different conception of time and motion and this is very important for the following: The Hopi conceive time and movement in a purely operational way – a matter of complexity and scale of those operations that connect facts – so that the time element is not separated from the element of space, which enters as a part of the operation regardless of the former.
Whorf tells us that one could assume that the Hopi, who know – initially – only the language and cultural ideas of their own society, have the same notions of time and space that we have, or that concepts such as time and space involve intuitions that are universal. Yet this is not true, the Hopi do not have – originally – a general notion or intuition of time that elapses uniformly and in which everything in the universe goes by the same pace.
Though this theory has been observed for several decades, it has also been the target of attacks and criticisms, including those of the well-known professor emeritus of languages Ekkehart Malotki, a specialist in Hopi culture, who argues on his studies that the Hopi language contains various tenses, metaphors and units of time. These include days, number of days, parts and kinds of days, such as yesterday, morning, day, week, month, months, lunar phases, seasons and years.
The Hopi live, move and exist within their religion, they fit into the description that anthropologist Mircea Eliade makes of the archaic or religious man , which perceive both the environment and the human actions as sacred, and who is able to respond to this sacredness in the sense that they repeat the exemplary models that they’ve received from their ancestors. The perception of a primordial temporality, as opposed to our Western linear temporality, responds to how they perceive objects and actions in the world.
The objects are not perceived as themselves, in isolation, but as participants in a web of meaning that shapes totality, in this way everything is done and acquires significant value in response to other things to which it relates. In relation to actions, each action has an exemplary model, which was inaugurated by a mythical ancestor (for the Hopi, the katchinas), who initiated the action and forged its exemplariness or genuineness, which is now repeated: the paramountcy of time in the repetition of exemplary actions.
We see that the difference between the Hopi and Western temporalities can be explained from the meaning of human actions on both cultures, in our Western culture in everything we do we are affected by the past, and we act in response to the consequences that we can get done in the future, however Hopi perceive time as a unit, a continuum, and the actions that ultimately shape their perceptions are not divided in a linear temporality (past-present-future) as they are a constant repetition of the key, mythical actions. This means that the Hopi continually celebrate with their doings a more genuine status of things.