THE ONE-THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD MAN
Nowhere on earth was there a place where the horizon was as
endless. The sky was everywhere. One stood on the edge of a
cliff and turned in a circle and all the horizon turned
with you. There was no time. There was only space.
In all the land no people were so near the sun. The
villages of the Hopi were on the rim of the earth.
On the dry mud floor of the stone house of the one-
their heads as though in prayer. They were not praying.
They were pondering the impact of statements of the white
man's lack of energy on the villages. When the power plants
and strip mines on Black Mesa darkened the sun and
blackened the sky and drained the water off the cornfields,
what will we do? these holy men asked one another. Where
will we go?
"We have moved before," sighed an old man. "So if we have
to, we will move again." "That was one thousand years
ago," I said. "Ah, yes, it is true, we lived here maybe
one thousand years," the old man said, and nodded. "Maybe
Some said the
oldest in the
disagreed. He remembered that his
been settled before that. "Maybe in the year of 800 my
people came here. I remember something like that," the old
"Remember? You remember?"
There was a puckish smile on his dried and aged lips. He
delighted in telling the scholarly white men who visited
him things the simplest child knew, and pretending it was
wisdom. "Man does not have the only memory. The stones
remember. The earth remembers. If you know how to listen,
they will tell you many things," he chided me.
"As we have known you white men, you have been cannibals,"
said Talahaftewa. "You have always been devouring everything
on earth for yourselves. Even people. Even the animals.
Even the earth. You have never respected anything, or
anyone, on earth." The headman of the Bear Clan was stern
and suspicious of me. He apologized for speaking so
sharply. "Why doesn't the *bahana* let us alone?" he asked.
That was why I had come to the Hopi, I said. Some good
friends of mine were making a documentary film for
television in which the Hopi, and the Navaho, too, would be
able to tell the entire country what they thought of the
strip miners on Black Mesa. It would be seen by millions of
people. The National Science Foundation, National
Educational Television, and the Ford Foundation were
sponsoring the film. It may be important, I said.
No one knew more about conserving the energy resources of
the southwestern desert than did the village chiefs and holy
men of the Hopi. They had survived for centuries on their
dry and arid mesas. In a land where the rainfall was
barely six inches yearly, where no rivers flowed and where
there were few springs, every ounce of energy in the water
and the earth had to be used sparsely and wisely. In all
the centuries that the people had mined the coals of Black
"Our people were using coal hundreds of years before the
Europeans," said Alvin Dashee. "If you go to the old ruins,
where our people lived thousands of years ago, you will
find they were already burning coal.
"In every village the people have their own coal mine, where
they have always dug coal without strip-mining our mother
earth," Dashee said. "We have good engineers in our clans.
Maybe they could teach you something?"
And yet not once were these tribal miners asked their
opinion by the *bahana* of the strip mines. No white man
thought the Hopi knew anything, said the holy men. "They
seem to think we are dumb Indians," said Herbert
Once the elders had made a pilgrimage to the strip mine.
The holy men had sprinkled corn meal around the bulldozers
and draglines, to bring them into harmony with nature and
halt them from doing evil. A mine foreman had said the
sacred corn meal had "scared hell out of the cat drivers."
They thought the holy men were sprinkling blasting powder.
"Why doesn't the white man understand? He thinks we are
trying to take away his energy, which he steals from us. He
doesn't see we are trying to teach him the way to save his
energy," the Bear Clan headman said.
"He is blind," said the old blind man. "So he destroys
himself when he tries to save himself."
In frustration, the holy men had brought suit in federal
mining of the mother earth, seeking to restore the harmony
of nature. They accused the Secretary of the Interior,
Rogers C.B. Morton, and the Peabody Coal Company of
violating the laws of God. "Carving up Black Mesa by the
process known as strip mining is a desecration, a
sacrilege, contrary to the instructions of the Great
Spirit," stated the legal brief. These lands "are the
spiritual center of the universe. It is prophesied that if
[these] lands are ruined, the world will end."
*The world will end! The world will end!*
Nothing happened. The legal brief of the holy men was
forgotten in the courts. The ecological lawyers were
furious. The holy men of the Hopi shrugged.
It did not mater. Long ago the prophecy of the Hopi wise
men had foretold the coming of the white man. And when the
time came, the web of gas pipelines and oil pipelines,
roads and highways, electric transmission wires and jet
streaks in the sky would begin to vanish, to be empty and
useless. The energy crisis would come. And when the time
came, the people would have to be nourished by the mother
earth once again, for food in the stores would disappear.
The return to nature would come.
"So we expected that," David Monongye said. "It was
prophesied. It is coming true."
"So you think a documentary film will save the white man,"
said Talahaftewa. He laughed. "Who produces the film? White
"It may do some good, but it will probably not," he said.
At last it was decided. If it happened that the Hopi halted
the strip mining on Black Mesa, in time so many ecologists,
longhairs, and government officials would be coming to the
villages to ask how they did this that it might be worse
than the strip mining.
They thought it might be better if it was a bad film. But
if it was to be made by a white man, it probably would be.
He would not know how to respect the mother earth. He would
not understand the prophecy. He would not listen. He would
not convince anyone. He would do no wrong and do no good.
And if that was so, it might be interesting, perhaps, to
let the film be made.
"Let them come and let them bring their cameras. And we
will see what happens," said David Monongye. "That is how
we have thought about it."
On the long road home from the Hopi to my house in
technicians of the television crew, who were waiting for
the tribal elders' decision. I thought it wisest to try to
tell them the truth.
Under the portal we gathered in the summer shade. Let me
tell you what the *kikmongwi* have told me, I said, but
before I do I must tell you why they have decided to say
Because you will make a bad film.
Because it will do no good.
Because even if it is good no one will listen to it.
Because if they listen they will not understand.
Because the white man is ignorant of life and does not
respect the cycle of life, he will destroy his mother
earth, which is sacred, which is his source of life, and he
will destroy himself in trying to survive.
Because that is prophesied.
So you may bring your television cameras to the village and
make your film. They will help you. That is what they say.
One man listened and looked up and shook his head. "Those
damn Indians are nuts," he said.
And the television director was indignant. "We will show
them they are wrong. I believe that the people will
That was some years ago. In time the film was made and tens
of millions watched it. No one listened to the holy men.
Everything the *kikmongwi* and the clan headmen had said
would happen did happen. The energy crisis came. The fuel
crisis came. The gas crisis came. The food crisis came.
And what had happened upon Black Mesa was soon to happen to
all the lands of the West, as the Hopi had prophesied.
-- Stan Steiner, _The Vanishing White Man_, Harper and Row,