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Hopi Legend of the Grand Canyon




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The Hopi have long believed that their people climbed out onto the surface of the earth from the underworld. Deep inside the Grand Canyon is the place of emergence of Hopi legend, a feminine opening from the recesses of the earth.

Nearby in a deep cave is said to be the home of Maasaw, a Hopi God who is the keeper of death. Be wary of the deep canyon at night, for the light coming down the canyon toward you may be Maasaw coming to take you. If you hear a clicking sound, like stones being tapped together, it could be Maasaw coming along.

The area around these two places is known for causing anomalies. It is an area where people are likely to experience strange accidents, severe vomiting and anxiety attacks. Hikers seem more likely to fall and break bones. Lightning strikes and possibly even deaths have occurred here. Be wary and respectful of the canyon depths.


This is a Hopi legend as told by the author George Wharton James. He was an avid traveler and a prolific writer. He is most well known for his books about the Grand Canyon and the area of the Southwest published in the early 1900's.

Legend of Tiyo and the Grand Canyon

One of the most interesting tales of the hero, Tiyo, relates to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, and is told by Dr. J. Walter Fewkes. It is a long story, but the chief portions of the narrative are as follows:

Hopi Legend of the Origin of Antelope and Snake Clans

"Far down in the lowest depths of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River (Pi-sis-bai-ya), at the place where we used to gather salt, is the Shipapu, or orifice where we emerged from the underworld. The Zunis, Kohoninos, Paiutes, white men, and all people came up from 'the below' at that place. Some of our people traveled to the North, but the cold drove them back, and after many days they returned. The mothers, carrying their children on their backs, went out to gather seeds for food, and they plucked the prickly pears and gave it to their children to still their cries, and these have ever since been called the Prickly Pear People.

"'Morning Dove' flew overhead, spying out the springs and calling us to come, and those who followed him, and built their houses at the waters he found, are still called after him the Hu-wi-nya-muh, or Morning Dove People. All that region belonged to the Puma, Antelope, Deer and other Horn people, and To-hi-a (puma) led my people, the Tohi-nyn-muh, to To-ko-na-bi (Navaho Mountain), and the Sand people and the Horn people also dwelt in the same region.

[This Hopi legend tells of a time when the crops were bad, giving an indication of an historical time of need]

"We built many houses at To-ko-na-bi, and lived there many days, but the springs were small, the clouds were thin, rain came seldom, and our corn was weak. The Ki-mon-wi (village chief) of the To-hi-nyn-muh had two sons and two daughters, and his eldest son was known by the name of Tiyo (the youth). He seemed to be always melancholy and thoughtful, and was wont to haunt the edge of the cliffs. All day he would sit there, gazing down into the deep gorge (of the Grand Canyon), and wondering where the ever-flowing water went, and where it finally found rest. He often discussed this question with his father, saying, 'It must flow down some great pit, into the underworld, for after all these years the gorge below never fills up, and none of the water ever flows back again.' His father would say, 'Maybe it flows so far away that many old men's lives would be too short to mark its return.' Tiyo said, 'I am constrained to go and solve this mystery, and I can rest no more till I make the venture.' His family besought him with tears to forego his project, but nothing could shake his determination, and he won them to give their sorrowful consent.

"The father said, 'It is impossible for you to follow the river on foot, hence you must look for a hollow cottonwood-tree, and I will help you make a wi-na-ci-buh (timber box) in which you may float upon the water.' Tiyo found a dry cottonwood-tree, which they felled, and cut off as long as his body, and it was as large around as they both could encompass with their outstretched arms. They gouged and burned out all of the inside, leaving only a thin shell of dry wood like a large drum; small branches and twigs were fitted in the ends to close them, and the cracks were pitched with pinion gum. All this work was done with the stone axe and the live ember.

[Notice the similarity of this Hopi legend to the Havasupai legend listed below.]

"The father then announced that in four days Tiyo should set forth, and during that time the mother and her two daughters prepared kwip-do-si (a kind of corn meal made from corn which has been dried and then ground. A thin gruel is made of it) for food, and the father made prayer emblems and pahos. On the morning of the fifth day the father brought the emblems to Tiyo and laid them on a white cotton mantle, but before he wrapped them up, he explained their significance. He also gave him a wand to be used in guiding his box-boat, after which Tiyo crept into the box, received from his mother and sisters the food, and then his father closed the end of the box, gave it a push with his foot, and it floated away, bobbing up and down.

"In one of its ends there was a small circular aperture, through which he thrust his wand, and pushed away from the rocks which were encountered. The spray splashed through the opening, and this he caught in his basin when he wished to drink or to mix his kwip-do-si, and he was also provided with a plug to close the hole when he neared the roaring waters. He floated over smooth waters and swift-rushing torrents, plunged down cataracts, and for many days spun through wild whirlpools, where black rocks protruded their heads like angry bears.

Young Tiyo Meets Spider-Woman of Hopi Legend

"When the box finally stopped Tiyo drew the plug, and looking out saw on one side a muddy bank, and on the other nothing but water; so he pushed out the end, and taking his paho mantle in his hand passed to the dry land. He had gone but a little way when he heard the sound of 'hist! hist!' coming from the ground, and when this had been repeated four times, he descried a small round hole near his feet, and this was the house of Spider-Woman. (Spider-Woman is an important figure in many Hopi stories. She it is who weaves the clouds so that rain may come.) 'Um-pi-tuh,' said the voice ('you have arrived,'--the ordinary Hopi greeting). 'My heart is glad; I have long been expecting you; come down into my house.' 'How can I,' said Tiyo, 'when it will scarce admit the point of my toe?' She said, 'Try,' and when he laid his foot upon the hole, it widened out larger than his body, and he passed down into a roomy kiva."

The Hopi legend then goes on to describe how Tiyo is taken and guided by the Spider-Woman to various places, where he learned all about the ceremonies that the Hopis now perform at their Snake Dance to produce rain. He met the Sun and the Great Snake (Go-to-ya), and Mu-i-yin-wuh (a divinity of the underworld who makes all the germs of life), and each taught him something he needed to learn. Finally, after many wonderful adventures, he was lifted out of the underworld as he sat in a ho-a-pah, a kind of wicker pannier, with two beautiful maidens of the snake kiva, by Spider-Woman, who carried him over the country and deposited him at his home. He married one of the maidens and thus founded the Snake Clan, and his brother married the other and founded the Snake-Antelope Clan. These two clans each year perform the ceremonies that produce rain in the desert land, where still live the descendants of Tiyo and his brother, heroes of Hopi legend.


Read a story of the Hopi Emergence into this, the fourth world.

From Hopi legend comes perhaps the most famous of Native American prophetic texts. Here is an interesting page where you can read about Hopi Legend and the Elders messages for the world: Prophecy Rock and Hopi legend.


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Read another Grand Canyon Indian Legend about the Formation of the Canyon

Hualapai Indian Legend of the Grand Canyon

The Havasupai Legend of the Canyon

Hopi Legend - The Origin of the Snake Clan

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