Anthropologists studying the Hopi people of the southwestern United States often characterizeHopi society between 1680 and 1880 as surprisingly stable, considering that it was a period of diminution in population and pressure from contact with outside groups, factors that might be expected to cause significant changes in Hopi social arrangements.
The Hopis' retention of their distinctive sociocultural system has been attributed to the Hopi religious elite's determined efforts to preserve their religion and way of life, and also to a geographical isolation greater than that of many other Native American groups, an isolation that limited both cultural contact and exposure to European diseases. But equally important to Hopi cultural persistence may have been an inherent flexibility in their social system that may have allowed preservation of traditions even as the Hopis accommodated themselves to change. For example, the system of matrilineal clans was maintained throughout this period, even though some clans merged to form larger groups while others divided into smaller descent groups. Furthermore, although traditionally members of particular Hopi clans appear to have exclusively controlled particular ceremonies, a clan's control of a ceremony might shift to another clan if the first became too small to manage the responsibility. Village leadership positions traditionally restricted to members of one clan might be similarly extended to members of other clans, and women might assume such positions under certain unusual conditions.