Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Religious (Hopi)
Date of Observation: Sixteen days in November
Where Celebrated: Arizona
Symbols and Customs: Closing of the Roads, Kachinas, Kiva, Masau'u, New Fire Ceremony, Wuwuchim Song
Related Holidays: Niman Kachina Festival, Powamû Festival, Soyaluna


The Wuwuchim ceremony is part of the traditions of the Hopi Indians of North America. The history of this and other Native American cultures dates back thousands of years into prehistoric times. According to many scholars, the people who became the Native Americans migrated from Asia across a land bridge that may have once connected the territories presently occupied by Alaska and Russia. The migrations, believed to have begun between 60,000 and 30,000 B . C . E ., continued until approximately 4,000 B . C . E . This speculation, however, conflicts with traditional stories asserting that the indigenous Americans have always lived in North America or that tribes moved up from the south.

The historical development of religious belief systems among Native Americans is not well known. Most of the information available was gathered by Europeans who arrived on the continent beginning in the sixteenth century C . E . The data they recorded was fragmentary and oftentimes of questionable accuracy because the Europeans did not understand the native cultures they were trying to describe and the Native Americans were reluctant to divulge details about themselves.

The Hopi Indian ceremony known as Wuwuchim takes place in November and marks the beginning of a new ceremonial year in the Hopi calendar. The name is believed to have derived from the Hopi word wuwutani, which means "to grow up," and the initiation of young men into the sacred societies that oversee this and other Hopi ceremonies is an important part of the celebration. The tribal elders close off all roads leading to the pueblo (see CLOSING OF THE ROADS ), all fires are extinguished, and the women and children stay indoors. The initiation rituals take place in the underground chamber known as the KIVA , where the adolescent boys are gathered and where they participate in secret ceremonies that introduce them to Hopi religious customs and beliefs. Although visitors and even other tribe members are not allowed to witness these rites, they are overseen by a tribal chief who impersonates MASAU ' U , the Hopi god of death and the ruler of the underworld. After they have undergone their initiation, the young men are treated as adults and allowed to dance as KACHINAS in other Hopi ceremonies throughout the year. Wuwuchim is therefore essential to the continuing cycle of Hopi ceremonial life.

The kindling of the new fire (see NEW FIRE CEREMONY ) is the first ritual to take place during Wuwuchim. Other tribes observe this ritual around the time of the WINTER SOLSTICE , but the fact that it is part of Wuwuchim underscores the latter's importance as the start of the Hopi New Year. As the ceremony draws to a close, there are prayers, songs (see WUWUCHIM SONG ), and dances designed to ensure the safety and success of the Hopi people in the coming year.


Closing of the Roads

It is during Wuwuchim that the Hopi invite their dead ancestors (see KACHINAS ) to return to the pueblo. A path must be kept open for them, but this necessitates closing all roads leading to the pueblo so that other people cannot enter during this sacred time of year. Tribal elders do this by laying down four parallel lines of cornmeal across each road that leads into the village. These lines serve as a symbolic barrier to the outside world.


Kachinas (also katsinas or katchinas) are the spirits or supernatural beings who possess the power of gods and represent the Hopi ancestors. They first begin to emerge from the underworld at Wuwuchim and remain on earth for about half the year, departing in July after the SUMMER SOLSTICE. Young Hopi children are taught from the very start to respect the power of the kachinas by being given dolls that represent these spirits. As they grow older, they are often disciplined by male tribe members wearing kachina masks, and, when they reach adolescence, they are initiated into the grown-up world when the men who impersonate the kachinas take off their masks and reveal their true identities. This is what happens during Wuwuchim.

One of the most powerful kachinas is MASAU ' U , who is also known as the Blue Star Kachina. The Hopi believe that when the Blue Star Kachina finally removes his mask and reveals himself, this will herald the end of an era or cycle of Hopi life.


The underground ceremonial chamber known as the kiva is a symbolic representation of the underworld from which the Hopi people emerged at the time of creation. It is the place where many of the Hopi's secret ceremonies are held and where ceremonial fires are lit and tended. The small hole in the floor of the kiva is known as a sipapu, and only spirits or KACHINAS can pass through it. The sipapu is also a symbolic umbilical cord that connects the "womb" of the earth to its inhabitants.

The kiva is a focal point for most Hopi ceremonies, Wuwuchim among them. The dancers use it to dress, rehearse, and rest after their public performances. It is also where the secret initiation rites are held for adolescent boys.


Masau'u (also Masaw, Masao, Masauwu) is the Hopi god of death, fire, darkness, and war. He rules the underworld and is said to wear raw animal hides for clothing and a frightening mask. As the god of fire, Masau'u is responsible for teaching the young Hopi men undergoing their initiation during Wuwuchim about fire. It is usually a chief who impersonates Masau'u during the ceremony.

New Fire Ceremony

The New Fire Ceremony takes place at dawn on the first day of Wuwuchim. Two Hopi priests use flint or the friction produced by rubbing two sticks together to kindle a fire, which they then feed with coal. Torches are ignited from this fire and carried throughout the pueblo, where they are used to light other fires. The fire itself is symbolic of the power of the sun, which is channeled through MASAU ' U to warm the earth and its inhabitants.

Wuwuchim Song

A number of songs are sung during Wuwuchim, but in the past there has been one particular song that, according to legend, heralds the coming of war or disaster. It tells the story of the Blue Star Kachina and how a new cycle of Hopi life will begin when the Blue Star Kachina takes off his mask. It is said that this song was sung both in 1914, just before World War I erupted, and in 1940, just after World War II began.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Eagle Walking Turtle. Indian America: A Traveler's Companion. Santa Fe: J. Muir Publications, 1989. Gill, Sam D., and Irene Sullivan. Dictionary of Native American Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1992. Hirschfelder, Arlene B., and Paulette Fairbanks Molin. Encyclopedia of Native Ameri- can Religions. Updated edition. New York: Facts on File, 2000. Jobes, Gertrude. Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore, and Symbols. New York: Scarecrow Press, 1962. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.


Hopi Cultural Center www.hopi.nsn.us
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009


Wuwuchim is the new year for the Hopi Indians, observed in northeastern Arizona. This is thought to be the time when Katchina spirits emerge from Shipap, the underworld, to stay a short time on earth. It is the most important of Hopi rituals because it establishes the rhythms for the year to come. For several days, prayers, songs, and dances for a prosperous and safe new year are led by the priests in the kivas, or ceremonial chambers. The men of the tribe dance, wearing embroidered kilts, and priests from the Bear Clan chant about the time of creation. It may also serve as an initiation rite for boys.
Hopi Cultural Center
P.O. Box 67
Second Mesa, AZ 86043
520-734-2401; fax: 520-734-6651
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 1185
EncyNatAmerRel-2001, p. 339
IndianAmer-1989, p. 265
RelHolCal-2004, p. 253 (c)
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.