Trading Post Times
Quite frequently, visitors to River Trading Post are enthralled by our walls of Hopi Kachina dolls.
And quite frequently they will ask, “What are these?”
So we give them a short course on the Kachina doll, that goes a bit like this:
in Hopi are also known as kachina, or katsina dolls. They are typically carved
by the Hopi men (and, against all teachings, just a few women) from cottonwood root, and painted
with natural pigments. They are made as gifts for young girls as teaching tools to instruct them
about the spirit beings known as katsinas or
Although the details of the katsinam are closely held by the Hopi people, in general we know that
katsinas are immortal cloud beings, various parts of nature, spirits of the dead, and intermediaries
between humans and the spirit world.
For six months of the year, they inhabit Humpreys Peak, which
is a short distance from the Hopi mesas in northern Arizona, but
from the winter solstice to mid-July, these spirits, in the form of
katsinam, come down to the Hopi villages to dance, pray and
sing, and to bring rain for the upcoming harvest. The arrival of
the katsinam is a highly anticipated event at Hopi, and is
celebrated with an elaborate 8-day series of rites and dances
called Powamu. During the next six months, there are on-going c
elebrations and ceremonies, which culminate in the Niman or
Home Dance. This final celebration is held to thank the katsinam
for their help with the rain, corn and other blessings during the
season, and to send them safely back home to Humpreys Peak.
Before each ceremony, the men of the Hopi villages create fig-
ures in the likeness of the katsinam represented in the ceremony.
These figures, or kachina dolls, are then given to the daughters of
the village during the ceremony.
After the ceremony, the kachina dolls are hung on the walls of
the home in order to be studied so as to learn the characteristics
of a particular kachina.
Edward Kennard, co-author of
the purpose of the kachina doll is essentially a
means of education, a gift at dance time and a decorative article for the home. But above all, it is a
constant reminder of the Kachinas.
Today, kachina doll carvers may also take a humorous and totally non-traditional approach to their
work. For example, the Mocker Kachina has no personality of his own, but fastens like a leech onto
any person or activity that catches his eye, as did a recent carving by our friend, Ryon
Polequaptewa, in his depiction of a Donald Trump Mocker Kachina (right).
To learn more about Hopi kachina dolls, we recommend reading
Hopi Kachina Dolls with a Key to
by Harold S. Colton. In our opinion this is the very best source available to help understand each of the hundreds of
Hopi kachina dolls.
We also suggest that you visit our River Trading Post website library where you will learn more about Hopi kachina dolls and how to
build your own collection.
Broad Face Kachina
Augustine Mowa III