[Reminiscence from Alex Nibley]
In the spring of 1973, Dad decided we should take advantage of Conference weekend for a jaunt to visit the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona. He had heard that the Hopis were going to perform one of their sacred dances for the last time, and he wanted to see it before it vanished from the earth.
It was a strange crew: Dad, my brother Mike, BYU basketball star Kresimir Cosic, an Okinawan woman who was a convert to Mormonism, and seventeen-year-old me. We all piled into our aging Plymouth. Kreso coiled his seven-foot frame into the front seat and Mike and I shared the back seat with the Okinawan, who was maybe five feet tall in high heels and a classic east Asian lotus blossom. Dad said she was some kind of princess in her own country; I’m not sure exactly why she ended up in that back seat of our Plymouth driving through the desert subject to heat (Dad was always suspicious of air conditioning and wouldn’t turn it on even when we had it in a car) and the merciless teasing of the grinning Croatian in the front seat.
I really wish I could find a way to fit the seven-foot Yugoslavian basketball star and the diminutive Okinawan princess into the story in a way that makes sense — the two of them going back and forth in their respective accents almost unintelligible to the Americans in the car much less each other. The Croat caustic, rude — every word a jibe or a sarcastic retort all in broken English. The Asian with impeccable Japanese manners and equally broken English who, even when she understood his words, had no clue what the giant in front of her was saying, since sarcasm in Japanese doesn’t work like Croatian sarcasm translated into very bad English. I guess I feel a need to mention this odd pair because it contributes to the felliniesque nature of my memories of that trip. Like an image in a dream it was something I could never make up in my conscious mind.
But the story is not about them.
On the day before the dance, which was to be on Easter Sunday, we visited an old Hopi man whom Dad had known for decades. Dad used to buy kachina dolls from him. When we went to his house below one of the mesas, Dad asked him if he was going to the dance the next day. No, the man said. He had joined a Christian church, and his pastor had admonished him against participating in the old Hopi rituals. His religion wouldn’t allow him to attend the Hopi dance.
It’s hard to remember Hugh Nibley getting angry in a discussion about religion. Usually he took attacks in stride and found them stimulating rather than making him lose his tempter. I had certainly never seen anything provoke such an immediate and negative response from him than the old Hopi telling him that his preacher wouldn’t allow him to attend the dance.
“Don’t you know,” Dad said, getting right in the old Hopi’s face, “these are the same danced Jesus did at Easter time!”
But the old Hopi still wouldn’t go to the dance.
Forty years later I still remember fox skin aprons and the feathers the dancers wore and their sense of purpose, their clarity and simplicity in repeating the exact movements their ancestors had made generations before. I can hear in my mind the melody and rhythm of the song the Hopis sang as they danced. I remember how moved Dad was by the dancing and how connected he felt to this land and this people who were so far removed from his Edwardian upbringing in Los Angeles.
What the sarcastic seven-foot Croat and the diminutive princess from Okinawa thought of it all I can’t say.