WhenI was visiting my aunt in Arizona I kept seeing a weird symbol of a man hunchedover playing the flute. When I first sawthis symbol I ignored it thinking it was an “Arizona” thing.
When I got home I asked mom what they werebecause I ended up seeing them everywhere, coffee shops, books, jewelry, and soon. She told me they were calledKokopelli, when I asked her what that meant she just stated that they were somesort of flute player. At that time mymind went to ease about the mysterious flute-playing Kokopellis, but then Ientered this semester and guess what weird symbol showed up on my NativeAmerican Music book? That’s right, youguessed it, Kokopelli! There he isagain! Later in the semester my teacheraddressed this saying it was seen as a fertility deity, but the class did notgo much further into it than that, so by now my curiosity peaked and here I amnow writing a paper over the legends and lore of the Kokopelli so that my mindmight finally be put to ease. In thispaper I will discuss what the kokopelli are, where they are seen, the differentimages that this deity has been seen as, why he is important, and the differentlegends and lore behind him in the different Nations.
TheKokopelli is known most commonly as an ancient, humpbacked flute playing deity(Molatki), and can be distinguished from his hunch-back, dancing pose and flute(KokOasis.com). He is the onlyanthropomorphic petroglyph that has an identity, name and established gender asa male (KokOasis.com).
His name couldhave come from many different places. One origin of the name comes from the Zuni name for god (Koko) and theIndian name for the Dessert Robert Fly (pelli) (KokOasis.com). The –pelli half of the name came from theDessert Robert Fly because this insect also has a hump on his back and aprominent phallus, like many of the images of the Kokopelli (KokOasis.com). For the Hopi the name may have to do with thename of a Hopi Katsina.
(Slifer) TheKatsina is a respected spirit of the Hopi and is associated with fertility andrain (Slifer). Besides these origins heis known by other names too, these names do not have a distinct origin. The Hopi also call him Kokopilau which means:wood hump (KokOasis.com). He is alsoknown as Kokopele, Kokopetivot, and Olowlowishkya (KokOasis.com). Kokopelli also bears the nickname of “Casanovaof the Cliff Dwellers”, which makes sense for where he is often seen(KokOasis.
com).Whereis the Kokopelli seen, though? Today onecan see him anywhere in the four corners, on jewelry, signs, pottery andmore! In the past, though, Kokopelli wasmost often seen on rock art (Molatki). He was also seen on paintings and these art forms can date as far backas 3,000 years (KokOasis.com)! There wasmentioned to be petroglyphs of him on the cliff walls of Chaco Canyon, whichcould be part of the reason for his nickname (Hill). However, if one lives in Maine and has not traveledmuch they may have close to no idea of what image this essay is talking aboutdue to the Kokopelli images being most common in the American Southwest,predominantly in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona (Malotki).Forthose lovely people in Maine who have no idea of this image of the Kokopelli,it will now be described! The Kokopelliimages vary as much as the legends about him (KokOasis.com).
Generally though, the image is a hunched backflute player in a dancing pose with a festive crest on his head –no that is nothair—sometimes he can be seen with exaggerated male genitalia(KokOasis.com). These images werepainted on ceramics tens of centuries ago by then name Hohokam, and has becomethe prototype for modern representations (KokOasis.com). Kokopelli’s hump is sometimes an arc that coversthe whole entire back, while other times the hump only covers the lower half ofhis back (KokOasis.
com). His arms areusually placed in a “V” shape with his elbows pointing down to the Earth(KokOasis.com). His forward legcontinues with the curved line of his hump, while his rear leg continues in thesame way of the front line of his body (KokOasis.
com). Kokopelli’s flute is considered to be a nose fluteand is represented as a straight line or pair of lines, although sometimes thisflute is observed as curved (KokOasis.com). The flute also has a round, swollen end much like the end of a clarinet(KokOasis.com). The crest on top ofKokopelli’s head usually has an even number (KokOasis.com). In the pueblo culture his crest represents antennaeof a katydid, which he is also sometimes associated with (KokOasis.
com). They pair him with this insect due to thesimilar sound of the insect that he sometimes plays (Slifer). When Kokopelli is symbolized in the “SpiritWorld” he can appear with feathers on his head and sometimes even rays of light(KokOasis.
com). When Kokopelli’s phallusappears in the images it is usually long and erect to represent the fertileseeds of human reproduction (KokOasis.com). The phallus usually protrudes up and away from his lower body, but intoday’s art he often wears a kilt or sash (KokOasis.com).So,why is this symbol so important that he was drawn so many times over and overagain with different representations but over a wide range of area? The Kokopelli’s visual art appearance touchon ceremonial, ritual, and social interaction behaviors of many people(Malotki). He is also helpful when itcomes to inter personal responsibilities seen within gender issues andexpectations of the tribal people (Molatki).
Letus now get deeper into the Kokopelli by discussing his many legends andlore. He has obtained so many differentstories due to being one of the most widespread and intriguing images thatsurvived from ancient Indian mythology (KokOasis.com). He retained the nature of being playful andcarefree, this was because he was always seen to bring out the good in anyonehe came in contact with (KokOasis.com). Universally he was known as an omen of fertility, or guaranteed huntingsuccess, crops growing, and human conception (KokOasis.com).
First, let us discuss the Anasazi becausethese were the first people to claim the Kokopelli (KokOasis.com). This Nation was made of mostly farmers whowould grow squash, corn and beans on the Colorado Plateau (KokOasis.com). The Anasazi held Kokopelli as a symbol offertility and was welcomed during the season that they planted their corn becausehis visit confirmed that they would have a good harvest for that season (KokOasis.com). The Navajo believed Kokopelli was a God ofHarvest and Plenty, but he was not seen as a major god, instead they saw him asa nonthreatening god who brought abundant rain and food to people(KokOasis.com).
The Zuni also believedhe brought rain by viewing him as their Rain Priest (KokOasis.com). To the Hopi, however, Kokopelli was a musicalgod that took part in rituals that joined two individuals together throughmarriage (Giacona, Peck). The Hopi celebratedwith a ceremony that lasted nine days called the Flute Dance (Giacona,Peck). The Hopi women believed that hebrought them babies, but when they could not bear children they would seek himout to return their childbearing powers (KokOasis.
com). In Southern Utah he was seen as a man thatwould travel through villages with his bag of corn on his back and would teachpeople how to plant as he went from town to town (KokOasis.com).
He also would trade beads and shells forpieces of turquoise (KokOasis.com). Thislegend of the Kokopelli is thought to have been derived from the travelingtraders of that time due to them announcing their arrival through playingflutes while entering into the town (KokOasis.com). According to the legend of the San Ildefonsothe Kokopelli was a wandering musician who carried songs in the bag found onhis back, he traded new songs for old ones and brought wealth and good luck toanyone who was willing to listen to his songs (KokOasis.com).
He personified everything pure and spiritualabout music travelling village to village with his magical flute giving giftsand spreading cheer to everyone he visited—like Santa (KokOasis.com)! His flute symbolized joy and happiness andwhen he played all animals even came to him to hear his music, while the suncame out melting the snow and letting the grass grow with the birds singing insigns that Spring was coming (KokOasis.com). His flute was also magical in the way that itwas said to stimulate creativity and help people’s good dreams come true(KokOasis.
com). The Kokopelli’s humpeven has its own legends! In Pueblomyths his hump was said to carry seeds, blankets, and babies to offer to themaidens that he had seduced (KokOasis.com). In the Navajo culture his hump was made of clouds that contained seedsand rainbows (KokOasis.com). In the Hopiculture it was believed to carry deer skin shirts and moccasins that were usedto barter for brides and babies (KokOasis.com).
In other myths and cultures his bag contained seeds for every plant andflower found in the world and he scattered the seeds every spring (KokOasis.com).Sonow that you have read all of the facts about the Kokopelli, you might be wonderingwhere is he now? They are still foundeverywhere! Especially in the fourcorner states, as I mentioned in my introductory paragraph I saw him whilevisiting my aunt in Arizona on pots, jewelry, even sculptures. I brought home with me a welcome sign for mymom that even has his famous figure on him! Although, now, due to the influences of Catholic priests “Christianizing”the Native Americans of the southwest, his image has been cleaned up of hisphallus and now wears sashes that look like a dress or long shirt.(KokOasis.com).
The Kokopelli remains fun and enticing through the differentimages and legends and lore that have been kept alive for centuries.