Palatkwapi-Sedona: City of the Star People
A legend among the Hopis states that there was once a great temple city of wisdom built by the Star People, the Kachinas. Many of the Hopi clans visited this city during their respective migrations throughout the Americas and later shared stories of it when all the clans reunited at their final destination on the Hopi Mesas. This mysterious city, known as Palatkwapi, the “Red House,” was where the Star People taught important rituals and secrets of the universe that are still enacted and honored by the clans.
Over the last one hundred years there has been much speculation regarding the location of Palatkwapi. An abundance of ethnographers have located Palatkwapi in the Sedona-Verde Valley region, but there have also been other academics who have placed it much further south. Most everyone agrees, however, that the City of the Star People was someplace south of the Hopi Mesas. One Hopi legend of the Patki or Water Clan recounted by ethnographer Alexander M. Stephen in Hopi Journey states: “...no one knows just where the Red Land is, but it is someplace in the far southwest [of Hopiland].” Distance is, of course, relative, especially when you are traveling by foot.
The striking red stone of Cathedral Rock, Sedona, Arizona. ( CC BY 2.0 )
Some researchers claim that Palatkwapi was Palenque in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, which is not to the southwest of Hopiland. Outside of having once possessed buildings painted red, this jungle city seems to contradict many of the known facts regarding the “Red House.” For example, one of the definitive Hopi legends regarding Palatkwapi maintains that the city was surrounded by “high walls,” and that the city’s name “seems to be derived from a high bluff of red stone.” There are no high bluffs of red stone in Palenque, nor was its temple compound completely destroyed by an ancient deluge. If there was a major deluge in the city’s past it is recorded in the “Maya Flood Myth,” which is, however, an astronomical event depicted on its temple walls. Moreover, Palatkwapi’s destruction began with the burning of the pine forest surrounding it and Palenque is in the middle of a sweltering tropical jungle consisting of cedar, mahogany, and sapodilla trees. And if Palatkwapi is linked to the Mayan city of Palenque simply because of the similarity between their names, let it be known that Palenque is not the city’s original name.
Mingus Mountain, Verde Valley, Arizona. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Its original Mayan name was Lakamha, meaning “Big Water.” Palenque is a Spanish name given it by the Conquistadors meaning “Fortified Place.” By contrast, Sedona and the Verde Valley possess almost all the characteristics that are ascribed to Palatkwapi, and this is why the most renowned Hopi historian and ethnographer, Jesse Walter Fewkes, conclusively identified it as the location of the ancient holy city. Fewkes was so convinced of his identification that he was prompted to name one of the most heavily petroglyph-adorned Hopi ruins in the Sedona area Palatki, which is a shortened version of Palatkwapi.
- The Ant People of the Hopi
- The Gods of the Hopi and the dance of the Kachinas
- Mirrors of Orion: Star Knowledge of the Ancient World – An Introduction
One difficulty in assigning a definite location for Palatkwapi are the many recorded land routes to it. This is the result of the various Hopi clans having arrived at the Red House via divergent pathways during their migrations. However, the routes taken by most of the clans when they left Palatkwapi and traveled north to the Hopi Mesas are very consistent and in many cases identical. It is this common route that has allowed ethnographers to definitively locate ancient Palatkwapi as the Sedona-Verde Valley area. In fact, this route still exists today and is known as the Palatkwapi Trail.
After closely studying the routes taken by 30 different clans after leaving Palatkwapi and traveling to the Hopi Mesas, Jesse Fewkes and other ethnographers synthesized a “universal route.” This universal route is fully delineated in The Fourth World of the Hopis by Harold Courlander. An abridged version of it, complete with northern Arizona place names, is presented below:
The clans that went north from Palatkwapi [Sedona-Verde Valley] stopped at one place and another, building winter villages, and then moving on. It is said that they settled at a place called Kunchalpi for some years. There they rested and grew their blue corn. Old people died and children were born, and thus in time there were many for whom Palatkwapi was only a word in the mouths of the grandfathers. But one night there was a bright shooting star in the northeastern sky, and it was taken as a sign that the migration should be resumed. So the people abandoned Kunchalpi and travelled again, drifting a little to the east, until they came to a site they named Hohokyam. There they settled again, planting their fields and resting from the journey. After many years they departed from Hohokyam and moved to another place, Neuvakwiotaka, which is now known as Chavez Pass, and there they remained for a long time. And later on, after many harvests at Neuvakwiotaka, they went on until they came to the little Colorado River near where the present town of Winslow stands. There they made a settlement that they called Homolovi, Small Mound, consisting of two villages, a larger one and a smaller one. The people of the Water and Sand Clans occupied the smaller village. Sharing the larger village were the Tobacco and Rabbit clans, the Sun Clan, and various others, including the Eagle, Hawk, Turkey, and Moon clans. After a time they were joined by the Badger Clan and a group called the Reed Clan….