The Hopi tribes have established themselves among the many tribal peoples who have shown remarkable skill in long-distance running – often at record speeds. For the Hopi, running has a long historical and cultural tradition that even shows up in their folklore. According to the mythology, ancestors and animals taught the people to run, just as they played formative roles in the organization of the world itself. Culturally speaking, running has had both practical and ceremonial purposes.
Centuries ago, the Hopis did not keep livestock so they tended to focus their efforts of hunting – which consequently demanded they develop greater running prowess. Without horses, the people were compelled to move long distances in search of game.
Besides hunting, racing was also a common pastime of the Hopi. Sometimes, the competitions between villages such as those at Oraibi or Walpi would lead to long-distance, endurance races. The Hopi believe that running not only strengthens the body and rejuvenates, but it also promotes emotional balance and dispels unhappiness.
During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Hopi runners played a crucial role as messengers. They were sent to nearby pueblos to warn them about the approaching Spaniards because of their swiftness.
Hopi running was often lined with ceremonial activities. Snake and Basket dances include race events as ritual practices and even today this Native American tribe practices ceremonial running. They’ve become both ceremonial and secular activities in many modern communities. All games focused on running are meant to encourage such fortuitous conditions as rains and abundant harvests.
Hopi running was eventually linked to general physical fitness and pro sports participation. One of the more famous Hopi runners was Louis Tewanima who won the silver medal in the 1912 Olympics. Nicholas Quamawahu was the winner of the Long Beach – New York Marathon back in 1927.
Written by Shaun C. Kilgore
Photo Credit: jfinnirwin on Flickr