Running has a special place in Hopi culture, and the Hopi High School boys’ cross-country team is building on that heritage, with a chance at a 26th straight Arizona state title Saturday.
ORAIBI, Ariz. — Above the creased high-desert landscape of northeastern Arizona, the Hopi village Oraibi, continuously inhabited for nearly 1,000 years, sits atop a blond mesa crumbling at the edges.
Each fall, during one of the Hopi calendar’s dozen or so ceremonial races, a hundred or more Hopi men gather in a pack on the scrubby plain below, all muted tones of mustard yellows and sage greens. A woman in Hopi dress holds a woven basket in the distance. Onlookers shout, “Nahongvita” — loosely, “stay strong” or “dig deep” in Hopi. A signal is given.
To the Hopi, to run is to pray. And the men run, several miles, past the bean field, beyond the barely marked graves of ancestors, around the decayed facade of a Spanish church and up the precariously steep passages to the top of the mesa, where they are received by a chorus of thanks — “asqwali” from the women, “kwakwai” from the men.