What Is a Kachina?
Heard of the Kachina dolls of the Hopi/Pueblo indians? Here is a great description of what they are and how they fit in to the religious system of the indians written by Harold Colton in 1949.
Ever since J. Walter Fewkes, of the Smithsonian Institution, wrote his first illustrated report on Hopi kachinas, in 1894, a growing number of people have become interested in the Hopi Indians and their delightful carved and painted kachina dolls. For years collectors have treasured these small representations of Hopi supernatural beings without being able to learn much about them. Since many people do not know about either kachinas or kachina dolls, we will diverge a little to explain what they are. In the northern parts of the states of New Mexico and Arizona are a number of compact Indian villages with flat-roofed houses built of stone or adobe. Because these Indians lived in villages, the Spanish word for which is pueblo, they are called Pueblo Indians. They are known to be descendants of the prehistoric people who lived in northern Arizona and New Mexico fifteen hundred years ago. Since that time they have developed a rich culture which, in certain aspects, because of their innate conservatism, has withstood the white man’s efforts to supplant it with his own. Although most of the Pueblo Indians live in the Rio Grande Valley, near Albuquerque and Santa Fe, a chain of villages extends to the west-ward across the high plateaus and ends with the Hopi Indians who live on three mesas in northeastern Arizona. Many of these Pueblo Indians, particularly the Hopi and have ceremonies in which masked men, called kachinas, play an important role, and it is of these masked characters of the Hopi that we_are going to speak. And so you will say, “Ah, yes, a kachina is a masked character, but who is he, what is he, and what is his significance?” A Hopi Indian will tell you that a kachina is a supernatural being who is impersonated by a man wearing a mask, and he will add that they live on the San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff, Arizona, and on other high mountains. A kachina has three aspects: the supernatural being, as he exists in the minds of the Hopis; the masked impersonator of the supernatural being, who appears in the kivas and plazas; and the small dolls carved in the same likeness. The first two aspects are termed kachinas and the latter, kachina dolls. Since kachina dolls, with which we are primarily concerned, depend for their significance upon the masked impersonations, we must consider kachinas first.
The yearly calendar of Hopi religious ceremonies is divided into two parts, from winter solstice to mid-July marking the first half, and from mid-July to winter solstice the second half. The first half, which extends perhaps a month past the summer solstice, is marked by kachina ceremonies. A group of about thirty “official” kachinas, called Mong Kachinas, takes part in five major ceremonies held during this period: Soyalang-eu (Winter Solstice Ceremony) in December, Pamuya in January, when the sun appears to move north again, Powamtiya (Bean Ceremony or Bean Dance) in February or March, and the Niman Kachina (Home Dance Ceremony) in July, when the sun appears to move south. The major ceremonies last nine days, and mostly are held in the kivas, where only the initiated may witness them. Some, like Bean Dance, Niman Kachina, etc., have parts which are witnessed by the Hopi public, either in the kivas or in the plazas. During this first half of the Hopi year, there are also held one-day ceremonies, called ordinary or regular kachina dances, in which the kachinas dance in the village plazas. In these ceremonies a group of twenty to thirty kachinas, all identically masked and dressed, may take part, or it may be “Mixed Kachina Dance,” where each costume is different. Any ceremony, whether of nine days or one day duration, is a social occasion for the village, for friends and relatives come from the neighboring towns to see the “dance” and partake of the feasts that are always prepared. During the second half of the year from July, when the Niman Kachina takes place, until the following December, no ceremonies are held in which masked impersonators take part. There are a number of ceremonies like the famous Snake Dance but the participants do not wear masks. The Niman Kachina is called the Home Dance, because it is the lilt appearance of the kachinas before they return to their homes on the San Francisco Peaks.
Regular or ordinary kachina dances take two forms. In one form, which we can call the Hopi pattern, the kachina dancers, in single file, walk rapidly into the plaza and form a line an one side. Keeping time with their feet, with tortoise shell rattles fastened to their legs, and rattles in their hands, they sing one verse of the kachina song. Then the line moves w an adjacent side of the plaza, repeating the same verse of song, and then to a third side where the verse is sung at it once more. With the completion of the song, kachinas distribute presents to the children and retire. After a rest of one-half hour, they return to the plaza and sing a new verse, repeating the performance as before. This routine they will maintain from about noon until nearly sunset, singing about six to eight verses of the song. In the second form of dances, built on a pattern borrowed from the Rio Grande Pueblos, a chorus of old men, accompanied by a drummer, supplies the music and songs for the line of dancers, who do not sing. The dancers form a line on one side of the plaza, and progress around it in the same manner as described above. In the intervals when the kachinas are resting, with their masks removed, somewhere below the mesa rim, clowns enter the plaza and afford comic relief to the spectators. They mimic certain spectators and act out little skits, sometimes, we must admit, not in the best taste, according to our way of thinking, which, after all, is quite different from the Hopi way. When a Hopi man places a mask upon his head and wears the appropriate costume and body paint, he believes that he as lost his personal identity and has received the spirit of the kachina he is supposed to represent. Men, never women, take the part of male and female kachinas. As far as we can determine, the Hopis believe that, through a priest, usually an old man not in costume the prayers of the people are given to the kachinas to carry to the gods. Therefore they play a role somewhat similar to the saints of the Christian religion, and some, like saints, are supposed to be the spirits of very good men. However, not all kachinas are good spirits; some are demons or ogres. In addition to the kachinas, the Hopis recognize about thirtytwo major supernatural beings who might be called deities. The most important of these are Sotuqnangu, the god of the sky, sometimes called “the heavenly god”; Masao, the god of the earth; Kwanitaqa, the one-horned god who guards the gate of the Underworld (he might be compared to St. Peter, for the Underworld is the Hopi Heaven); and Alosaka, the two-horned god of reproduction of man, animals, and plants, sometimes called “the germ god.” Although a few of the deities may be impersonated as kachinas or represented by figurines, the majority are never impersonated or represented by dolls. Hopi children believe in them just as our children believe in Santa Claus. In a kachina ceremony, the children are not supposed to recognize their fathers, uncles, or parents’ friends who are disguised by masks and elaborate costumes. As Santa Claus comes at a certain season, bearing gifts to the children, so certain kachinas bring to the children kachina dolls, miniature bows and arrows, sweets, fruits, and other Lood. Hopi children enjoy a whole series of Christmas delights during the period from late December to July. Kachina dolls are given to the children not as toys, but as objects to be treasured and studied so that the young Hopis may become familiar with the appearance of the kachinas as part of their religious training. Prior to a kachina ceremony, the fathers and uncles of the village children are busily occupied in making dolls in the likeness of the kachinas that will take part in the ceremony. On this great day, the kachinas give to each child, standing in solemn awe, the dolls made especially for him by his relatives. The dolls are taken home, where the parents hang them up on the walls or from the rafters of the house, so that they may be constantly seen by the children of the family and their playmates. In this way Hopi children learn to know what the different ones look like. Thus we see that Hopi kachina dolls are neither idols to be worshipped or icons to be prayed to, but only objects for use In the education of the child. The Hopi recognize over two hundred kachinas and frequently invent new characters. One Hopi we consulted believed that, except for the kachinas that officiate at the major ceremonies in the annual cycle of religious observances, large number were invented in the last half of the nineteenth century. Certain kachinas are believed to be the spirits of departed Hopis. Thus the Cross-Legged Kachina is though to be the spirit of a very kind Mishongnovi man who die about seventy years ago. The names by which the kachinas are known may be descriptive and such names can be translated into English, a Left-Handed Kachina and Long-Haired Kachina. The Hopi name for the Crow Mother, a dour creature with wings on the side of her head like a Valkyrie, is translated “Man with Crow Wing Tied To.” Many kachinas are named for bird and mammals, like the Rooster, Eagle, Bear, and Badge Kachinas, while others take their names from the peculia calls that the kachina utters such as Hu-Hu, Aholi, and Soy oko. Others have definite names which have no relation to their description or call and have no English equivalents. Some have been borrowed by the Hopis from other Pueblo Indians, and their original names have bee retained in the Zuni, Tewa, or Keresan language, as the case may be. Kachinas are difficult to classify, not only because the Hopi have rather vague ideas about their appearance and function but because these ideas differ from mesa to mesa, pueblo to pueblo, and clan to clan. However, we can recognize a number of classes of kachinas even if there is not complete agrees ment among the Hopis. The lack of a clear system of classification is not surprising, for Hopis do not feel it necessary to pigeon-hole their information as we do. They do not think of things as members of classes of objects but as individual items.
The following classes of kachinas may be recognized: (1) About thirty official or Mong (Chief) Kachinas take the principal parts in the major ceremonies, which last nine days, like the Soyalangeu (Winter Solstice Ceremony) in December, Pamuya in January, when the sun appears to move north again, Powamuya (Bean Ceremony) in February, Palolokonti (Water Serpent Ceremony) in February or March, and the Niman Kachina (Home Dance Ceremony) in July when the sun appears to move south. The Mong Kachinas are probably quite ancient and have their roots deep in the traditions of the people. Although most of the Mong Kachinas are beneficent beings, there are also among them demons and ogres who threaten the children, and so force them to conform to the Hopi culture pattern. (2) Clowns of several types afford comic relief in the intervals of serious ceremonies. (3) About seventeen different kinds of Wawarus, Runner kachinas, run races with Hopi men in the early spring. These masked figures challenge a man to a race. If the man wins, the kachinas give him a present, but if he loses, the kachinas, depending upon the kind of Wawarus, may strip off his clothes, plaster him with mud, cut off his hair with a pair of scissors, or whip him with a yucca leaf whip. The Wawarus make it worth while for Hopi boys to train to be good runners. (4) There are a large number of kachinas that appear in pairs in the kachina parade at the Bean Ceremony, and in the so-called mixed kachina dances of the spring nd early summer. (5) By far the greater number of kachinas appear in corn ceremonies of fifteen to thirty, with six or eight female kachinas (kachin-manas), in one day ceremonies. At these ceremonies, ordinary or regular, kachina dances as they are called, have no fixed dates and are put on by some fraternity or kiva group when the spirit moves them. Among the kachinas that appear in the one day ceremonies are some ill-defined sub-classes. Hopi informants often refer to Kwivi Kachinas. Kwivi is translated as proud or sporty and means that the kachinas wear a lot of ornaments. Another group is referred to as Kuwan Kachinas. This word means “elaborated with more color” or beautiful. It appears that any kachina can be known as Kuwan if the costume is very elaborately made. Another group is known as Rugan Kachinas. This means that the female kachinas that accompany the kachinas perform on a musical instrument consisting of a wooden rasp rubbed with a sheep scapula, with a dried pumpkin shell for a sounding board. (6) Besides the male kachinas are many female kachinas called kachin-manas, which are always impersonated by men. Although a few have distinctive characteristics, the majority look much alike, wear the same kind of costumes, and can only be distinguished by the things they do and the kachinas they accompany.
Making a Kachina Doll
When a Hopi man plans to make a kachina doll, he searches along one of the numerous washes near the Hopi mesas or the banks of the Little Colorado River for the dried roots of dead cottonwood trees. Sawing off roots with a diameter of three to four inches, he carries them home. For tools he procures penknife, chisel, wood rasp, and a piece of sandstone. With the saw and chisel he roughs out, from a length of the cottonwood root, the doll that he has in mind, whittles it into shape with the penknife, smooths it with the wood rasp, and sands it carefully all over with the sandstone. The doll is then ready to receive the additions of snout, nose, horns, and tableta or ears, which are also whittled out of wood and fastened to the doll with tiny dowel pins, little larger than toothpicks. Glue is sometimes used now. When the carving is completed and the accessories added, the doll is ready to be painted, but before the color is laid on, the craftsman covers the figure with a layer of kaolin as an undercoat. As this undercoat is not bound to the wood, it may peel off, which makes old kachina dolls have a shabby appearance. On the white kaolin surface the artist places his colors; for green or blue he uses copper carbonate, malachite; for black he procures soot or corn smut, a fungus that grows on corn plants and which has a religious significance; for red, ground hematite (iron sesquioxide); for yellow, limonite (iron hydroxide); for white, kaolin. These are the same substances that the Hopi use as body paints. Today many men prefer to use poster paints, which are often available, which adhere better, and are much brighter, but fade more quickly, than the old native paints which lack a satisfactory binder. The doll, when painted, is further adorned with the bright feathers of small birds, which represent the feathers of the eagle, parrot, turkey, or other large bird feathers found on a full-sized kachina mask. We have described the manufacture of a kachina doll from a rounded piece of wood, but Hopis make another kind of a doll for infants. These dolls are crudely shaped out of a piece of flat board about three and one-half inches wide and eight inches long. In these dolls little attempt is made at realism; they are not well finished, the painting is crude, and few feathers are used, yet enough is given so there is never a doubt as to the particular kachina represented. These dolls are particularly valuable because they show only the essential characters. When a Hopi is carving a doll, like any other sculptor, he simplifies. He leaves out unessential details and stresses those characteristics that he deems important. For example, he may not make a clear distinction between a case or a sack mask, nor does he always indicate the kind of a ruff or even show a ruff at all. Therefore, when we compare a doll with a kachina in a dance, we must look for many differences, but the essential features by which the kachina is identified are never omitted. No one knows how many kachina dolls the Hopi make as gifts each year, but it is probably not less than five hundred nor much more than one thousand. The youthful recipients of the kachina dolls often take them to the trading stores where they procure sweets, pop, gum, etc., in exchange, and the dolls end up in curio stores in towns and cities of the Southwest. A few Hopis manufacture dolls for the trade, but many of these do not represent authentic kachinas. In addition, some curio shops sell spurious kachina dolls that Hopis say are made by white men. During the past few years a new class of kachina dolls has been produced. These differ from the traditional dolls by portraying the kachina in action, as if in a dance. Some are very well carved and finished. All are produced for the tourist trade.