Saturday, November 29, 2014


 Jackrabbit, Legend Rock, WY. Photograph Peter Faris.

Black-tailed or desert jackrabbit, Wikipedia.

Mimbres bowl with rabbit in the moon. From Kachinas in
the Pueblo World, 1996, Polly Schaafsma, University of
New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, p. 96.

The rabbit is found in rock art throughout the American West and Southwest. It is a well known fact that most Native American cultures saw the figure of a rabbit on the face of the moon, as on the Mimbres bowl that shows a rabbit on a crescent moon. Given this, a rabbit in rock art is often assigned lunar connotations Assuming, however, that a rabbit image always implies the lunar connotation would be a mistake.

1894 Hopi Petition. Big Falling Snow: A Tewa-Hopi Indian’s
Life and Times and the History andTraditions of His People,
Albert Yava, 1978, University of New Mexico Press,
Albuquerque, page 11.

A wonderful reference into many of southwestern rock art symbols, previously mentioned, is found in the 1894 Hopi Petition, a document from Hopi clan chiefs to U.S. government officials in Washington D.C. urging them to cease the reallocation of Hopi lands into individual holdings, and also to designate official Hopi reservation boundaries. This document “was signed in clan symbols by 123 principals of kiva societies, clan chiefs, and village chiefs of Walpi, Tewa Village, Sichomovi, Mishongnovi,Shongopovi,Shipaulovi and Oraibi.” (Yava 1978:167) In his book Big Falling Snow (1978), Albert Yava illustrated two pages (pages 11 and 14 found between pages 82 and 83) of these signatures with their interpretations. These identified symbols surely provide a useful lexicon for rock art imagery in the Southwest.  

Rabbit Clan symbol, #87, from 1894 Hopi Petition, page 11.

Rabbit track as symbol for the Rabbit Clan,
#92, from 1894 Hopi Petition, page 11.

Rabbit tracks. Photograph Peter Faris.

One of the images from page 11 of the 1894 Hopi Petition is the symbol for Rabbit Clan, #87. Another Rabbit Clan symbol is #92 showing rabbit tracks but conveying the same meaning as a rabbit designation.

Its presence in the Hopi Petition as a clan identification symbol suggests other possible affiliations as well. Many North American tribes include the rabbit in their collection of clan symbols. Among the Hopi Masau’u owned this world and welcomed the Hopis when they climbed into it from below. Masau’u was also their ‘giver of fire.” The ceremonial portrayal of Masau’u includes smearing the head with rabbit blood as part of the costume thus associating the rabbit with Masau’u, creation and even fertility. (Tyler 1964:20)

Rabbit with Barrier Canyon Style figure,
Harvest Scene, The Maze, Canyonlands,
Utah. Photograph, Don Campbell, 1979.

The rabbit serves roles in Native American mythology as well and a rabbit image might have been intended as a reference to one of these stories.

Three Rivers, New Mexico. Photograph
John and Esther Faris, 1988.

Finally, the rabbit was an important food source for Southwestern peoples who held periodic rabbit drives. A youth’s first kill as a hunter was often a rabbit and that was then often the occasion for ceremonial adoption into a male fraternal group, certainly an important occasion and one worthy of recording. Thus, I submit that the image or theme of rabbit has many more possible meanings than just the rabbit in the moon.


Grant, Campbell
1981    Rock Art of the American Indian, Outbooks, Golden, Colorado.

Schaafsma, Polly
1994    Kachinas in the Pueblo World, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Thompson, Marc
1994    The Evolution and Dissemination of Mimbres Iconography, from Kachinas in the Pueblo World, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, p. 93 - 105.

Tyler, Hamilton A.
1964    Pueblo Gods and Myths, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Yava, Albert
1978    Big Falling Snow: A Tewa-Hopi Indian’s Life and Times and the History and Traditions of His People, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

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