"Ko-ko-pel-li (kô kô pel´ lê) n. {der. Hopi "kokopilau" (koko = wood, pilau = hump)} the humpbacked Flute Player, mythical Hopi symbol of fertility, replenishment, music, dance, and mischief."

Kokopelli has been a sacred figure to Native Americans of the Southwest since prehistoric times.

His exact origin and meaning remain a mystery because of the many legends about him.

He could be...

  • A hunchbacked flute player with a gift of fertility
  • A seducer of women
  • A wandering minstrel with a sack of songs on his back
  • A repeller of evil to assist in childbirth
  • A minor god who brought rain and food
  • A traveling salesman who used his flute as a notice that he came in peace.

Among the archetypal images that have survived their ancient beginnings as powerful mythic beings is the humpbacke flute player of the American Southwest. Kokopelli is the most well-known of American rock art images. His Hopi name is "Koko" for wood and "Pilau" for the hump containing the bag of seeds or songs he always carried.

Idolized by the ancient Native American tribes of New Mexico, Kokopelli was known as "The Joy Bringer." Kokopelli the flute player was the symbol of happiness and joy. It is said his flute had power over the animals, and even Mother Earth herself. Kokopelli is often pictured with a hump-back, although many believe that it was actually a basket, with which he carried away our troubles. From the time of the Anasazi to the 1700s,

Kokopelli has been carved or painted in many forms on rock walls and boulders. He also appears on Hohokam and Mimbres pottery and kiva murals and is popular in the ceremonies, dances, songs, and stories of the Pueblo Indians.In ancient Indian legends, the flute player was the symbol of happiness and joy, a fertility god, and a traveling prankster. Kokopelli embodies everything pure and spiritual about music.  He talked to the wind and the sky. His flute could be heard in the Spring breeze, bringing warmth after the winter cold.

According to some, he traveled north from Mexico, stopping at many southwestern villages, spreading news, music and happiness.  He was thought of as a fertility god and. He would visit villages playing his flute, carrying his songs on his back.Everyone would sing and dance the night away.  In the morning, when he left, the crops were plentiful and all the women were pregnant.

There are many stories of Kokopelli.  One is that he is responsible for the end of winter and the coming of spring.  Native American legend has it that when the Kokopelli comes playing his flute the Sun comes out, the snow melts, the green grass grows, the birds come out and begin to sing, and all the animals gather around to hear his songs. Kokopelli and his flute bring the Spring out of the Winter.

Hopi Kokopelli kachina dolls were traditionally carved with an enlarged phallus, until the Anglo missionaries and widespread commercialization discouraged the sexual connotations of Kokopelli's role as fertility symbol. His influence has now spread far beyond Native Americans of the Colorado Plateau. He can be found on any object representing the Southwest or native Americans, from earrings to lamps.

The Trickster                         

Of  course the ancient Greeks were not the only peoples to understand and honor the spirit of the "trickster."In  the United States all the many Native American tribes have their own unique  versions of this trickster spirit.

One of these tricksters has become quite popularized in recent years. His name is Kokopelli, the hunchbacked flute player. Another of his other  nicknames is the "Casanova of the Cliff Dwellers."

The reasoning behind his nickname is not immediately recognizable from the modern depictions  of Kokopelli such as the one here..

So, roll your mouse over this next picture of Kokopelli to reveal an ancient petroglyph  located in a cave on the Pajarito Plateau (west of Santa Fe, New Mexico,  USA). Maybe that will help illuminate his reputation as the Casanova of the Cliff Dwellers.


It's felt that Kokopelli's image was "cleaned up" over the passing of years due much in part to the influence of the many Catholic priests who came to the American Southwest to Christianize the "heathen" natives.

Kokopelli's hump was said to be full of seeds. These were seeds he scattered on all his journeys, and symbolized the semen of the male principle to be laid to rest in the earth.

Kokopelli's flute music soothed the good earth, and made it ready to receive his seed...And BTW - the flute which Kokopelli played was a nose flute.

Ancient Symbols