On a windswept mesa overlooking the Hopi reservation in northeast Arizona are the ruins of the Awatovi settlement, the site of a violent clash of religion and culture.
In 1700, Hopi traditionalists massacred Christian converts and destroyed all remnants of Spanish influence in an effort to preserve their unique identity. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Spanish conquistadors, in their search for the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola, asserted control over the numerous Puebloan towns scattered throughout what are today Arizona and New Mexico.
Attendant Franciscan and Jesuit priests succeeded in converting many Native Americans, although the Puebloans secretly blended their traditional spirituality with Christianity in their own ceremonies held in traditional kiva chambers.
Cultural tensions, famine, and brutal treatment of the native population eventually precipitated a coordinated rebellion in which the Spanish were overwhelmed by a surprise attack by every pueblo on the same day. Led by Popé from the San Juan Pueblo, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 successfully eliminated European hegemony, but only briefly as the Spanish gradually reasserted control by 1692.
Native inhabitants of Awatovi, however, were divided on the question of welcoming back European (read: Christian) influence. Following an ultimatum issued by Hopi traditionalists in 1700, all men who cooperated with the Spanish or adopted Christianity were slaughtered, and the church was destroyed.
Ironically, the word “Hopi” generally means “people of peace,” and violence is anathema to their belief system. Traditionalists, therefore, had to call upon a special Katsina ogre spirit to descend on the village and carry out the ultimatum.
Following this devastating tragedy, Awatovi was permanently abandoned and the Spanish never returned to Hopi territory. As a direct result of the Awatovi revolt, the Hopi culture today is distinct from other pueblos for not including any European or Christian elements in their ceremonies, which continue to be performed much the same as they were hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.
Awatovi was excavated in the early 20th century by archaeologists from Harvard’s Peabody Museum. Recovered kiva murals have been reproduced and adapted to decorate numerous places in Northern Arizona including buildings at the Grand Canyon.