Like a Thief in the Night (cont)
The end of the world
The desolate wind, blowing across the high plains, shook and rattled the sides of the trailer-home we sat in. Beside me was Santha, who'd been everywhere with me, sharing the risks and the adventures, sharing the highs and the lows. Sitting across from us was our friend Ed Ponist, a medical-surgical nurse from Lansing, Michigan. A few years previously Ed had worked on the reservation for a while, and it was thanks to his contacts that we were now here. On my right was Paul Sifki, a ninety-six-year-old Hopi elder of the Spider clan, and a leading spokesman of the traditions of his people. Beside him was his grand-daughter Melza Sifki, a handsome middle-aged woman who had offered to translate.
'I have heard,' I said, 'that the Hopi believe the end of the world is coming. Is this true?'
Paul Sifki was a small, wizened man, nut-brown in colour, dressed in jeans and a cambric shirt. Throughout our conversation he never once looked at me, but gazed intently ahead, as though he were searching for a familiar face in a distant crowd.
Melza put my question to him and a moment later translated her grandfather's reply: 'He says, "why do you want to know"?'
I explained that there were many reasons. The most important was that I felt a sense of urgency: 'My research has convinced me that there was an advanced civilization - long, long ago - that was destroyed in a terrible cataclysm. I fear that our own civilization may be destroyed by a similar cataclysm ... '
There followed a long exchange in Hopi, then this translation: 'He said that when he was a child, in the 1900s, there was a star that exploded - a star that had been up there in the sky for a long while ... And he went to his grandfather and asked him to explain the meaning of this sign. His grandfather replied: "This is the way our own world will end - engulfed in flames ... If people do not change their ways then the spirit that takes care of the world will become so frustrated with us that he will punish the world with flames and it will end just like that star ended." That was what his grandfather said to him - that the earth would explode just like that exploding star ...'
'So the feeling is that this world will end in fire ... And having viewed the world for the past ninety years, does he believe that the behaviour of mankind has improved or worsened?'
'He says it has not improved. We're getting worse.'
'So in his opinion, then, the end is coming?'
'He said that the signs are already there to be seen ... He said that nowadays nothing but the wind blows and that all we do is have a weapon pointed at one another. That shows how far apart we have drifted and how we feel towards each other now. There are no values any more - none at all - and people live any way they want, without morals or laws. These are the signs that the time has come ...'
Melza paused in her translation, then added on her own account: 'This terrible wind. It dries things out. It brings no moisture. The way we see it, this kind of climate is a consequence of how we're living today - not just us, but your people as well.'
I noticed that her eyes had filled with tears while she was talking. 'I have a cornfield,' she continued, 'that's really dry. And I look up into the sky and try to pray for rain, but there is no rain, no clouds even ... When we're like this we don't even know who we are.'
There was a long moment of silence and the wind rocked the trailer, blowing hard and steady across the mesa as evening fell around us.
I said quietly, 'Please ask your grandfather if he thinks that anything can now be done for the Hopi and for the rest of mankind?'
'The only thing he knows,' Melza replied when she had heard his answer, 'is that so long as the Hopi do not abandon their traditions they may be able to help themselves and to help others. They have to hold on to what they believed in the past. They have to preserve their memories. These are the most important things ... But my grandfather wants to tell you also, and for you to understand, that this earth is the work of an intelligent being, a spirit - a creative and intelligent spirit that has designed everything to be the way it is. My grandfather says that nothing is here just by chance, that nothing happens by accident - whether good or bad - and that there is a reason for everything that takes place ...'