June 01, 2011

Hopi origin of Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Someone asked me if the group of women known as the "Ya-Ya Sisterhood" was connected to the Hopi Indians. I haven't read the book or seen the movie, so I couldn't say much about it. But I knew the name came from the Hopi, at least, and said so.

Other than book and movie reviews, there isn't much information on the Ya-Ya Sisterhood online. But here's a bit that hints at its Indian origin:

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (film)The film opens in 1937 Louisiana with four little girls out in the woods at night, each wearing a home-made headdress. The leader, Viviane Walker, initiates them into a secret order she dubs the "Ya-Ya Sisterhood," which they seal by cutting their palms and taking a blood oath of undying loyalty.Yeah, because the Hopi wear headdresses and do barbaric things like cutting themselves...not.

Verifying the Sisterhood's origin

With all the New Age nonsense on the Web, I thought it would be easy to verify the Ya-Ya/Hopi connection. But it wasn't.

Fortunately, I'd read Frank Waters's Book of the Hopi. It devotes a chapter to the Ya Ya ceremony, which the Hopi consider a form of evil. Writing in 1963, he said:If the Ya Ya ceremony is finally and formally extinct, it is only because its beliefs and practices have gone underground, spreading throughout all Hopi villages in widely prevalent forms of witchcraft.I imagine this is the source of the Sisterhood's name. So the "sisters" gather in the night, don headdresses, and perform blood rituals. Because if you want to escape the narrow confines of civilization, becoming a "savage Indian" is the way to go.

Summing up Waters's book

Book of the Hopi was one of the first books I read about the Hopi 20 years ago. Initially I was impressed with the depth and breadth of Waters's knowledge. In retrospect, he sounds like a New Ager or Castaneda disciple who swallowed what he heard uncritically. And you have to suspect an outsider's ability to understand another culture.

I wonder what the Hopis think of his deconstructing their religion and revealing their sacred beliefs. It would be interesting to read their critique of his book. Somehow I doubt they appreciated it.

Anyway, I trust people who search for the origin of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood now will find this posting. The Sisterhood is another of our millions of words and ideas appropriated borrowed from Indians.

For more on Hopi beliefs, see Hopi Mask in American Dad! and Rainbow Gatherings Based on Hopi Prophecy?


Anonymous said...

Doesn't sound like a very feminine ceremony. Usually cutting yourself for no apparent reason is more a masculine ceremony, worldwide.


Anonymous said...

Witches do not cut themselves as part of their craft.