Playing drum and chanting an eagle song, Ruben Saufkie Sr. — a Hopi messenger and silversmith — brings East and West into balance at the leading shrine in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture.
At the same time, crammed into Kamenojinja-hachiman’s small community hall, some 35 people pass around a cup filled with water, that they use to mark chakras or splash onto hands and arms. It is sacred, blended from waters from all the cardinal points of the earth.
Ruben has carried this water all the way from his Hopi homeland in Arizona. Normally, he would have poured it into a specially prepared gourd, but there was no time. He had walked out of Zushi Station, having come direct from Narita airport and Los Angeles, with just time to prepare.
Instead, a small plastic bottle stands among the various objects laid alongside a computer, set to show a DVD of a run made in the name of the sanctity of water from Arizona to New Mexico last year.
Quite how he got it through security is not explained. He’s far more amused that a crystal — given as a gift by a mutual friend to the organizers of the event, AwakeNature — set off alarms and sent L.A. airport officials into a flat spin.
Saufkie is native to Shungopavy, the largest of 11 Hopi villages (total population 13,000) divided into three districts called Mesa. A silversmith, he lives with his wife and five children, the oldest of whom is 16.
Hopi is not a name, he explains, but rather a way of life. “We live Hopi. We are Hopi.”
Prior to 1993, he was in denial of his ancient heritage, with its myths and legends and artisan skills. Then there was an awakening.
“One day, I saw a look of pain in my two children’s eyes — my daughter’s especially — that reminded me of how I felt growing up with alcoholic parents. That was when I ran in panic to an AA meeting, scared to be seen yet thinking: This is strange. . . I’m not embarrassed to be seen drunk and useless hurting everyone around me, but I am embarrassed to be seen going for help. It really shook me up.”
Over 75 percent of Hopi are involved in creating craftwork to make a living — baskets, jewelry, pottery, weaving, carving and painting Kachina, symbolic messengers. Yet only Shungopavy still practices sacred practices and traditional dry farming skills for preserving moisture and revering the aquifers beneath their land.
“Still, the community is split between respecting and disrespecting our traditions. This means that while my village is the most functional, sadly it is also the most dysfunctional — the sickest. There is such an irony here, because Hopi culture is so respected. Yet many Hopi feel lost; they have lost their pride and self-esteem.”
In 2003, Saufkie began to lay plans for a sacred run from Arizona to Mexico City — a distance of some 3,200 km. This took place in March 2006, with three to four runners at any one time covering ground. The youngest was 12, the oldest 75.
“We wanted to create a new awareness of the importance of water. We wanted to remind the world that without water we die.
“Seventy-five percent of our bodies are made up of water. Bodies are sacred sites; respect starts here! When we pollute water, we are polluting our bodies, disrespecting ourselves and those that come after.”
As run coordinator and spokesman, Saufkie sought water from the purest remaining sources — South Africa, Australia, Canada, Antarctica, Greenland, Japan’s Mount Fuji, even water from Tibet blessed by the Dalai Lama. These libations were poured together in a ceremony of appreciation and blessing, so that the water “became one, just as human beings are all one,” and then transported as part of the run.
The finishing line was in front of the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, at the ancient statue of Tlaloc, god of water. Here runners joined by tribal delegates from all over the Americas, and a large number of supporters that included one Japanese, Masaru Emoto, whose books “Messages of Water” are known around the world.
In July, there was a second run in reverse, from Mexico City to the Hopi homeland. This time the runners carried fire, to symbolically reignite the light of Hopi self-respect and culture.
“We are now organizing a 21-day run from April 5, 2008, from Hopi to the pyramids of Teotihuacan outside Mexico City in honor of sacred sites around the world. We’re training to run increments of a quarter of a mile (400 meters) ; in this way we can cover from 150-170 miles (about 240-270 km) a day.”
Saufkie believes we live completely out of balance. “Once when I was troubled I asked my uncle which path I should take, to the right or left. The middle path, my uncle replied. Life is not about right or wrong, black or white, but oneness with no separation.”
Back in August, he helped carry a message of healing to the top of Mount Fuji. And while describing it as the toughest physical test of his life, he says that watching dawn above the cloud base made every tortured step worthwhile.
“Forty-nine of us each carried three rolls of dreams written and drawn by children in our backpacks, stitched together on a sewing machine. We laid them all around the rim of the crater, celebrating with drumming and prayers.”
Saukfie will be back next summer to repeat the event. In the meantime he has a busy enough itinerary on this trip. This includes lectures at the Ainu Cultural Center and Rikkyu University in Tokyo, then three days in Saitama Prefecture, based at Salon de Flamme in Urawa, exhibiting at a jewelry trade show, supervising workshops and giving talks.
“I come to Japan not only with a message about water but as a Hopi silversmith. Our jewelry is being pirated — copied — in Asian countries like Thailand and Japan. Pieces sold as Hopi are often more expensive than our own craftwork.”
Because every piece of Hopi craftwork is handmade, it is unique. All the symbols used to decorate rings, bracelets and pendants, for example, relate to water and moisture, because of their precious nature to Hopi as dry farmers.
“I’m here to create awareness of both our culture and the ways in which we are being disrespected. We have to protect ourselves, our techniques and designs. This means asking Japan not to make or buy fakes.”
Saufkie will conclude this trip with a ceremony at Lake Biwa near Kyoto, into which he will pour the remaining blessed water carried from his homeland. Then it’s back to L.A. to edit documentary footage of the two runs completed, chanting and drumming with a Tibetan lama creating a mandala, and home.
When everyone leaves the hall to go home, it is raining. Saufkie’s not surprised, he says. Once he prayed for rain for a Japanese farmer and it rained so hard the farmer asked him to stop. So he prayed for it to stop, and it did.
Address: P.O. Box 558, Second Mesa, Ariz. 86043, USA E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org For general information, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc: www.itcaonline.com/tribes_hopi.html; AwakeNature — blog: 28420252.at.webry.info; E-mail: email@example.com