We believe they (Kachina Dolls) are personifications of the katsina spirits, originally created by the katsinam in their physical embodiment. …”
– Alph H. Secakuku
To understand the meaning of the kachina dolls, it is necessary to understand Hopi culture, because one does not exist without the other. It has been found that the Hopi’s main ancestors were the Anasazi, a group of people who at about the time of Christ came to depend on agriculture. They represent various beings, from animals to clouds. They are believed to be in some form of hierarchy, a form of kingdom.
Kachina dolls are depictions of masked men impersonating supernatural beings that predominate the Hopi, Zuni and Pueblo Spirit dances. These Spirits are believed to be descendants of a prehistoric people. They have lived in the Northern parts of New Mexico westward into Arizona near Flagstaff for some fifteen hundred years. To honor them they have many sacred dances throughout the year.
The dolls which contain the kachina spirits are often given to children to remind them of their heritage and of their Gods. However, the Kachina Dolls are not just toys, but objects to be treasured and studied. Through these dolls they learn about Kachinas as part of their religious training and background.
In Pueblo Indian religious practice, any of more than 500 divine ancestral spirits who act as intermediaries between man and god. They will allow themselves to be seen by the community if the men properly perform a traditional ritual while wearing kachina masks. The spirit painted or carved on the mask is thought to be actually present with the performer, temporarily transforming him into a Kachina spirit.
The identity of the spirit is depicted not by the form of the doll, which is usually simple and flat, but primarily by the applied color and elaborate feather, leather, and, occasionally, fabric ornamentation of its mask. Also the identity of a true Kachina doll is depicted and then carved of cottonwood root. One of the purposes is to help bring the rain for the crops to grow and since the cottonwood is always found near water, the Kachinas are carved from its roots. The roots from which the dolls are carved are chosen with care, since they are seen to draw life and precious moisture from the earth.
Very few dolls were carved out of a single piece of wood. The arms and legs and head were carved separately and glued to the torso. During the last decade, the style of carving has evolved with focus on intricate detail and skilled artistic techniques. Today, Kachina carvers make their dolls out of one piece of cottonwood and spend several months on a single piece of art often working on two or three dolls at a time. Now carvers will even use woodburning instruments and other modern tools to achieve an incredibly life-like effect. The Kachinas offered through Native American Fine Arts are unique works of collectable art, incomparable in workmanship and symbolic beauty from renowned artists whose works are currently featured in museums, galleries, and publications from around the world. Kachina dolls may be made only by Hopi men who have been initiated.
It seems that the Kachina doll that I have chosen to write about is either, not a popular Kachina or maybe its in the photograph is turned around. The reason I say this is because there is a protrusion coming from back side of the head which points to the right. If that is actually the face, then the doll depicted here is the badger spirit. The badger Kachina is usually depicted by its black feathers on top of the head and the long snout which, both seem to be present on this Kachina. The Badger is known as the best doctor, who knows all of the herbs and roots. The Badger is also thought to bring good luck for the harvest. However, I believe that this Kachina is most likely the mudhead warrior (or mudhead clown) Kachina. The color of the head on this doll is the color of southwestern soil and also, this Kachina is usually found wearing a dark colored dress-styled outfit with a sash tied or drapped over the shoulders. The confussion with the head also leads me to believe that this may be the mudhead warrior. The mudhead warrior is said to have many faces or personalities. The mudhead warrior is known to dance with children, be a fierce fighter, and also is part of the chorus during dances. Sometimes this Kachina will even be the only drummer during other dances.
Excerpted from “Following the Sun and Moon: Hopi Kachina Tradition” by Alph H. Secakuku in cooperation with The Heard Museum, published by Northland Publishing, Flagstaff, Arizona.
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