My new obsession is learning about Kokopelli. You may be unfamiliar with this name, but I can assure you that you’ve seen his image before. He is the hunchbacked flautist that has come to symbolize the southwest and its Native American heritage. I’ve seen many women out here wearing Kokopelli earrings, or perhaps a necklace or pin; it is standard apparel. (I will be buying mine soon)
Yes, Kokopelli has been overexposed, but interestingly, Jonathan and I didn’t realize the story behind this character until we moved out here and I started reading up on him. I have always been fascinated by mythology and loved reading about Loki, the trickester God from Scandinavian myths. While doing some research I learned that Kokopelli is a generic term that refers to two kachina figures — male and female. Then there is the Fluteplayer, a common rock art figure sometimes depicted as an insect with a humped back and a flute. Rock art figures of this character can be seen as far south as Peru and as far north as Canada. The role of the Fluteplayer is to call back the spring, thus his connection to fertility. There is speculation that anthropologists in the 1920s mixed up the kachinas with the Fluteplayer, thus creating the modern myth of Kokopelli.
Two weeks ago Jonathan and I ventured down to Sand Isle to see the Kokopelli pertoglyphs rumored to be there. The ride to Bluff on Route 191 was dreary, yet I found the town itself to be an oasis in the stark desert setting. Bluff is surrounded by impressive rock formations including the “Navajo Twins”, named after characters of the Navajo creation tradition. The Navajo Twins tower over the historic Twin Rocks Cafe and Trading Post where we stopped first. I ended up buying a very cool cowboy hat there, and Jonathan was elated that he found four different types of lizards while I sat in the shade and ate lunch at the patio.
Unfortunately it was 88 degrees by the time we got the Sand Isle and I was still not feeling well, so I reviewed the petroglyphs (etchings in stone) from the car while Jonathan went outside to get a closer look. The panel contains several hundred figures, including Kokopelli.
The styles range from Archaic to fairly recent Native American and cowboy inscriptions. But because of the heat and my health, I lacked the stamina to peruse the panel as thoroughly as I’d hoped. I decided to relax and sit in the shade by the beautiful San Juan River while Jonathan went to look for creatures. He didn’t find any lizards this time, but we did see a coyote on the opposite side of the river. All and all it was a very enjoyable trip and we would visit Bluff again.
The quest for Kokopelli is not over, though. There is an appealing and timeless quality about Kokopelli which keeps me fascinated and wanting to learn more.
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