Active Project

Walpi Village

First Mesa, Arizona, United States
Did You Know?
Perched on a narrow finger of First Mesa in the heart of the Hopi Nation in northwest Arizona, Walpi is the mother village of eleven surrounding Hopi settlements.
A Closer Look

Walpi Village


Perched on a narrow finger of First Mesa in the heart of the Hopi Nation in northwest Arizona, Walpi is the mother village of eleven 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, and grew over the centuries.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 walls are still hand-plastered by local women. During the 1880s and 1890s, the inhabitants began migrating to more contemporary houses in the nearby village of Polacca, and the permanent population of Walpi 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. Walpi is a significant Native American site that represents traditional Hopi architecture and identity. 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. The Hopi community would like to restore the site using traditional materials and methods.

How We Helped

Following its inclusion on the 2012 Watch, WMF and the Walpi community organized two heritage workdays to draw attention to the basic maintenance practices required to keep the site in good condition. Community volunteers cleared trash from the base of the cliffs on which the village is perched (whereas prior to the twentieth century most trash was biodegradable, Walpi, like all places in the world, now must deal with increasing amounts of non-biodegradable materials that accumulate quickly and deface the surroundings).

Early in 2013, WMF and the Walpi Village Administrator developed 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 replaced with contemporary plywood-and-tarpaper roofs that have now reached the end of their functional lives. The contemporary roofs will be replaced with traditional roofs by a team of four local trainees led by Herschel Talashoma, a Walpi tribe member familiar with traditional construction techniques. In preparation for the work WMF assembled a group of experts in early June 2013 to document the two houses, assess their condition, and develop a conservation plan.

Why It Matters

Walpi Village is a vital community embodying unique the traditional Hopi way of life. The village has retained its historical integrity, avoiding the introduction of running water and electricity. 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. Walpi Village leads the surrounding First Mesa villages in religious rituals and is also the residence for the Kikmongwi, the village leader. Tourism began at the site in 1985 and, as tourism at Walpi continues to develop and becomes an important income stream for the community, its protection and conservation are essential for community members as well as providing visitors with an important living illustration of Hopi rituals, architecture, and history.

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