History of Kokopelli

Petroglyph of Kokopelli in the "Rio Grande Style" of the ancestral Pueblo culture after the year 1300 AD; taken at Mortendad Cave near Los Alamos, NM

South American Native American jewelry and art like coral squash blossom necklaces, elegant turquoise, intricate baskets, and Kachina dolls are adored by everyone. Many patterns and symbols on these objects are particularly familiar to many collectors. Many jewelry and memorabilia pieces are decorated by the wise figure of the Kokopelli flute player. Kokopelli’s history makes a fascinating subject material.

Kokopelli captivates the imagination of people who love culture and art. The flute player was pictured on boulders and rock walls by natives. The history of Kokopelli is over 3000 years old, going back to the early carved petroglyphs. The Anasazi tribe established him as a deity. The Anasazi were ancient tribes from the Southwestern United States.

What is Kokopelli?

Kokopelli is a fertility divinity, usually described as a humpbacked flute player revered by some Native American cultures in the United States. Like most fertility deities, Kokopelli presides over both agriculture and childbirth. He is also a trickster god and embodies the spirit of music.

Origin and Development of Kokopelli

Kokopelli has been revered since at least the days of the Yuman, Hohokam, and Old Puebloan tribes. The first known images of him appear on Hohokam pottery between 750 CE and 850 CE.

Kokopelli may have initially been a symbol of Aztec traders, known as pochtecas, who may have moved to this province from northern Mesoamerica. These traders brought their goods in bags across their backs, and this sack may have developed into Kokopelli’s familiar hump; some tribes argue Kokopelli to have been a trader. These men may also have used flutes to proclaim themselves as friendly as they neared a settlement. However, this origin is still in doubt since the first known representations of Kokopelli predate the primary era of Mesoamerican-Ancestral Pueblo tribes trade by many hundred years and the Aztec Empire and its pochtecas.

Many consider that Kokopelli was more than just a trader, and more importantly, a significant conveyor of trinkets and information from afar. As a poet par excellence, Kokopelli had the gift of languages, with an overwhelming collection of body-language storytelling skills to complement his diverse talents.

Upon arrival, Kokopelli’s usual noisy announcement obtained both the identity and therefore the safety, of his unusual presence in a neighborhood. Often followed by an apprentice in his trade and travel, Kokopelli was crucial in linking diverse and distant communities together. In the American Andes, the ‘Ekeko’ character was represented in much the same way. Upon arrival, his clanging and banging of his wares hanging all about his person indicated to all that a night of fun and trade of his gains and talismans was at hand.

Even today, special outside visitors may be called or connected to as ‘Kokopelli’ when they bring stories, news, and trinkets from the outside world to share with the little villages or Pueblos.

Another speculation is that Kokopelli is an anthropomorphic insect. Many of the oldest depictions of Kokopelli make him very insect-like in looks. The name “Kokopelli” may be a mixture of “Koko”, another Zuni and Hopi deity, and “pelli”, the Zuni and Hopi word for the desert fly, an insect with a noticeable proboscis and a curved back, which is also recorded for its enthusiastic sexual proclivities. A modern etymology is that Kokopelli means “kachina hump.” Because the Hopi were the society from whom the Spanish explorers first heard of the god, their name is most commonly used.

Kokopelli and Kokopelli Mana as depicted by the Hopi

Kokopelli is one of the most easily recognized figures found in the Southwest pictographs and petroglyphs. The oldest known petroglyph of the god dates to about 1000 CE. In the area, the Spanish missionaries convinced the Hopi artists to ignore the phallus from their figures’ representations. As with most kachinas, the Hopi Kokopelli was often portrayed by a human dancer. Kokopelli is a cottonwood statue often carved today.

A similar humpbacked figure is present in artifacts of the United States southeast’s Mississippian culture.

Kokopelli petroglyph located on land near Embudo, New Mexico

Between approximately 1200 CE to 1400 CR, water vessels were handcrafted in a humpbacked woman’s pattern. These forms may express a founding ancestor or cultural heroine and reflect theories related to the life-giving blessings of fertility and water.

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