Working with the handicap of having cameras banned from ceremonial dances and rituals, director Pat Ferrero puts together a thoroughly enjoyable journey into the philosophy of life as seen by the Hopi in her film “Hopi Songs of the Fourth World”. Emphasizing the cycle of life as the way of the Hopi, she pinpoints corn as the “giver of life”.
Beginning with Spider Grandmother creating the world and Eagle flying up to the fourth world, the film traces the Hopi ways. The commitment to raise corn without irrigation shows the industriousness of the people. Corn has been the mainstay of the Hopi for 1000 years, and the film emphasizes how the corn plant represents the life cycle of the people. They are “rooted” to their fields.
A young woman is seen in the female corn plants. The ability to give life is represented in the Hopi wedding, as corn tassels and colors of corn adorn the bride. The ears the corn plant are the children. They are given a taste as a 21-day-old infant, to infuse into them the life of corn. The children listen and learn the songs that are sung in the fields as the corn is tended to in the same way a child is. They learn through cooperation without submission. They learn they are a part of the cycle. And songs are sung to bring the rain.
Kachinas become clouds to bring the life-giving rain. Kachina dances inspire life. The presence of clowns bring a smile to people, allowing them to feel the good thoughts, prayers, wishes and feelings that control the balance of the world they live in. Where ever there is mist, steam, moisture, or breath there is life and the Kachinas are present.
The women grind the corn. They keep the seeds. They create pottery to hold the corn. They are the givers and keepers of life.
While it can be understood why the rifts and tensions felt by the Hopi were intentionally left out, it does us a disservice to ignore them completely. At times it seems as if too much footage was presented to the editor as much of the film is filled with scenes of historic pictures covered by music. Scriptwriter Mollie Gregory tells a good story, but I feel it could have been told more succinctly.
Despite the above shortcomings, “Hopi Songs of the Fourth World” is an inspiring look at life being lived in harmony with the earth, the sky, and the spirit world. This film shows us the people who have survived for over 1000 years, retaining their culture and their far-reaching vision. All in all, an enjoyable and interesting look at the Hopi.