The sign at the entrance of
Old Oraibi says: "All white people keep out...you have
violated the laws of our people as well as the laws of nature."
Beyond the sign is a heavy chain, stretched tightly across
the road, prohibiting access.
I proceed to drive my old step van around the chain and over
to a squat rock house on the side of the village. The temperature
is mild for mid-January; and, although the sky is blue. I
can see wisps of gray clouds beginning to bunch up. I know
that it will soon snow.
The door is slightly ajar and I knock, calling out: "Ross!
Ross! It's Jeff, with Bradford and Alfonso." "Come
in," replies Ross in his high-pitched voice. I enter
the tiny rock house and breathe deeply the aroma of burning
juniper that pervades the air. Ross Macaya, a small Hopi man,
about five feet tall, has lived in this house most of his
ninety years. He is seated on the floor with branches of cedar
and juniper surrounding him. On the tree stump in front of
him, Ross is using a small rock and all his attention to grind
bits of juniper and cedar into powder, dividing his shavings
into two piles.
I ask what he is doing, and Ross replies, his bony, wrinkled
fingers still working: "I keep coughing and getting mucous
in my throat, so I grind up this juniper and mix it together
with water," pointing to a tin on the stove. He continues,
"I drink this mixture all day long, and I keep adding
water. It gets stronger and stronger and stronger, and I keep
drinking until the congestion goes away."
Ross is looking all of his ninety years. His sneakers are
filthy, pants baggy and at least four or five inches too long,
a set of three turquoise jacklaw necklaces around his neck,
the bottom beads stuffed into his shirt. Ross' eyes are set
deep...they are dark and fierce-looking, a contradiction to
the gentle and peaceful man that he is.
Looking around the room, I see his loom, with a half-finished
sash on it. Traditionally a male job, Ross is one of the few
weavers still working. His sashes are very much in demand
not only by the Hopi, but also the Zuni and the people of
northern pueblos. Over his long life as a weaver, and a bachelor,
Ross has been a successful trader. At dances he is always
wearing more turquoise than anyone.
Ross asks if I like the sash on the loom. Of course I reply
that I think it's exceptionally good work. "Great"
says Ross, "because I am weaving this one for you".
I have been lucky enough to trade with Ross many times during
the years that I have known him. Ross has traded his weavings
to me in exchange for many different and unusual items that
have caught his attention, including a back-strap woven blanket
from the isolated mountain village of Momostenango in Guatemala,
as well as macaw feathers, turquoise, and green chili, just
to mention a few.
In a traditional Hopi home, where theft rarely exists, Ross
is extremely paranoid. He tells me, more hurt than angry,
how the local youngsters keep coming to his house and taking
his things. I had noticed earlier that all of his possessions
were painted red: ax handle, shovel, tools, parts of furniture.
Years ago, Ross converted an old refrigerator into a vault,
putting six or eight hasps and locks on the door, then laid
on its side. The fridge is camouflaged with a cover of old
blankets and cartons. Recently he misplaced all his keys and
actually drove his old white Chevy pickup to Winslow and bought
a small safe to keep his weavings and jewelry.
Now, as I sit with Ross in his house, listening to his story,
watching mice run around his storage area, I see that the
safe has been mauled, the handle broken off ...and I am able
to understand why the Hopi village of Oraibi does not want
the influence of mainstream America on their children.