Perched on a narrow finger of First Mesa in the heart of the Hopi Nation in northwest Arizona, Walpi is the mother village of 11 surrounding Hopi settlements. Originally established in the thirteenth century at the base of the mesa, Walpi was moved to its current location as a defensive measure after the Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish in 1680. The village was built using hand-trimmed sandstone and earth. The roofs consist of lestavi (structural beams) and wu’na o’ye (smaller poles resting on the lestavi) capped with layers of brush and clay. The village has retained its historical integrity by avoiding the introduction of running water and electricity, and the walls of its buildings are still hand-plastered by local women. Walpi leads the surrounding First Mesa villages in religious rituals and is also the residence for the Kikmongwi, the village leader. It is a significant Native American site that represents traditional Hopi architecture and identity.
During the 1880s and 1890s, Walpi’s inhabitants began migrating to more contemporary houses in the nearby village of Polacca and its permanent population slowly dwindled in the twentieth century. Many Polacca families retain ownership of their houses in Walpi, but they are now used predominantly for public ceremonies. Tourism began to develop at the site in 1985 and became an important income stream for the community. Over the years weathering, insufficient maintenance, and the use of modern construction materials like concrete block and plywood have compromised the integrity of the site. Some buildings in the village border steep cliffs and finding a way to preserve and reinforce them is necessary for the safety of the village. The Hopi community would like to restore the site using traditional materials and methods.
Traditional roof installation protects the historic fabric of the village
Following Walpi’s inclusion on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, WMF partnered with the village community to organize two heritage workdays that drew attention to the basic maintenance practices required to keep the site in good condition. Volunteers cleared trash from the base of the cliffs on which the village is perched. Similar activities were held during Watch Day in October 2012.
Early in 2013, WMF collaborated with the Walpi Village Administrator to develop a pilot project to reinstate traditional roofs on two houses that, save for their roofs, retained all of their original construction materials. Almost all the original roofs at Walpi were removed in a HUD-funded improvement project in the 1970s, and they were replaced with contemporary plywood-and-tarpaper roofs that have now reached the end of their functional lives.
Walpi Village is a vital community embodying the traditional Hopi way of life. Its protection and conservation are essential for community members as well as in providing visitors with an important living illustration of the tribe’s rituals, architecture, and history.