Corn is linked with Hopi females—both are fruitful and bear children, thus assuring the continuity of life. The Hopi bride is philosophically connected with corn. Cornmeal and its preparation appear repeatedly in Hopi wedding activities. Sometimes a couple must wait several years until they can accumulate the amount of corn and other goods necessary for their wedding.
The couple depend upon the cooperation of their families and friends. Families pool their resources, and past favors are returned in the joint effort of kin who prepare the gifts that must be exchanged.
During the morning the [town] crier called out requesting volunteers to begin grinding corn for Louise’s wedding. Martha was one of the first to go because Luke, her husband, is Louise’s half brother and a member of her (Greasewood) clan. Many other women also helped to grind.
Mischa Titiev, November 1, 1933
The bride is joined by female relatives and friends, who help her grind a vast amount of cornmeal - as much as 800 to 1,000 pounds - which is mounded high in bowls and tubs. They bake piles of folded piki bread, and small blue-corn tamales. They say no man will marry a girl unless she can make piki, Helen Sekaquaptewa commented.
The women take turns stirring pikami, a corn pudding, with a big stick in galvanized tubs. Women also contribute numbers of basketry trays to hold the corn gifts, which will be presented to the groom's family.
Meanwhile, the male members of the groom's family and community spin and weave the cotton garments for the bridal outfit.
After his breakfast, each man went to his Kiva, taking his spindle (every adult male owns one). Emory’s uncle came around early to deliver to each Kiva the carded cotton to be spun. In Bacabi there were three Kivas. Soon all spindles were humming away.
Helen Sekaquaptewa, Hopi, 1969
Detail from Bride's Wedding Robe
Hopi peoples, Arizona, ca. 1904
Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum), kaolin, wool (Ovis aries), vegetable dye; L 120.0 x W 157.0 cm; 3165-28
A bride receives two white cotton wedding robes—one of which will someday be her burial shroud and a second that she can use communally or trade. Border stitches and tassels dangling from the robe's corners signify the bride's fertility and the future hope for children.
In the past, a Hopi woman spent several hours each day grinding corn into meal for her family. She knelt at the corn-grinding bin, which held several metates, grinding stones ranging from coarse to fine. After grinding the kernels on the coarse stone, she would regrind the meal successively on the finer stones until she had a fine flour. Women often worked in groups at the mealing bins, allowing them to socialize while completing the day’s tasks, often singing grinding songs as they worked.
Another important Hopi cooking utensil is a cooking stone, called a piki stone, which women use to make piki, a wafer-thin bread made of fine blue cornmeal that is one of the Hopi's most prized foods.
To make piki, Hopi women build a fire under the piki stone and spread cottonseed oil on its surface. They then spread a thin batter made of cornmeal on the hot stone. When the bread is cooked, the woman takes it off and rolls or folds it. Piki is a food that is served daily as well as at ceremonial occasions.
Hopi peoples, Arizona, ca. 1900
Yucca (Yucca angustissima), sumac (Rhus trilobata); D 50.0 cm; 2128-5
The yucca sifter basket, made by women on all three Hopi mesas, is the basic utility basket. It is used for a variety of tasks--as a colander, a sifter, a winnowing tray, and a catch basin for shelling corn.
Baskets are special gifts in the wedding ceremony.
Female relatives, neighbors, and friends of the bride gather to make dozens of flat basket trays, or plaques, to help the bride's family meet its wedding obligations. In anticipation of this event, the bride's mother usually has been making many plaques for others over the years to ensure that they will help at her daughter's marriage.
After the wedding the bride's family hosts a "payback" in which dozens of plaques, mounded with cornmeal, are given to the groom's family. These special gifts serve as repayment for the bridal clothing woven by the men of the groom's family. At his death, the groom’s spirit will sail on the basket tray to the Underworld.
Baskets continue to beautify Hopi homes today, reminding the family of special occasions. Some types are still used regularly in Hopi households.
Groom's Coiled Basket
Hopi peoples, Second Mesa, late 1800s
Yucca (Yucca angustissima), gelleta grass (Hilaria jamesii), vegetable dye; D 36.0 cm; 715-21, gift of United States National Museum
This coiled plaque was probably made as a replica of the gift for the groom, because the last coil was unfinished. This practice is followed so that the groom will not meet an untimely death.
Groom's Wicker Basket
Third Mesa, Hopi, ca. 1904
Rabbit brush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), sumac (Rhus trilobata), yucca (Yucca angustissima), vegetable dye; D 32.5 cm; 3165-67
Basket weavers at Third Mesa incorporate a special design, rectangles linked together, into the wicker plaque that they make for the groom's basket. This tray and many others would be heaped high with gifts of cornmeal.
Male relatives and friends of the groom in a Hopi wedding all help to weave the bridal garments. A bride receives one of the two robes rolled inside a reed case along with her white cotton wedding sash and ears of corn. She carries this case of gifts in a procession from her mother-in-law's house to her parents' home.
Bride's Reed Case and Sash
Hopi peoples, Arizona, 1900
Case: Sand grass (Calimovilfa gigantea), cotton (Gossipium hirsutum); 228.5 x 74.5 cm; 1579-14. Sash: Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum), cornhusk (Zea mays), kaolin; 255.0 x 23.8 cm; 1579-16