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Hopi Kachina Dolls

High on the mesas in the arid land of northeastern Arizona live the Hopi, westernmost of the Pueblo people. A small, peaceful and friendly group, they have occupied their barren mesa tops and farmed their arid but fertile valleys for many centuries. Clinging tenaciously to their marginal land, they have withstood drought, famine and the onslaught of nomadic raiders. The pressure of Spanish domination, pestilence and, more recently, cultural inundation have diminished but not destroy their traditional pattern of life.

The Hopi are bound together by their religion, a multi-stranded cord uniting them to withstand the hazards of a harsh environment and in rebuffing foreign incursions. Their religion is both their bulwark and the lure that attracts forces that would destroy them (Wright 1). Hopi traditions and lifestyles have not changed significantly over the years. To this day the Hopi Indians are still found where they have been found for many years. The Hopi have withstood great loss and disappointment, but have never lost their faith and union between each other. A major part of the Hopi life is their religious beliefs and ceremonies.

Many of the religious ceremonies that the Hopi Indians perform are still performed to the present day. An important part of the Hopi religion is the Kachina. Along with the religious aspect the Kachina has other meaning to the Hopi. The three main aspects of the Hopi Kachina are the supernatural beings, the dancers who impersonate these beings and the wooden dolls. To the Hopi Indians of Arizona the first aspect of the Kachina is the supernatural beings. The Hopi do no necessarily worship the Kachinas so much as they consider them as a supernatural force to be recognized and worked with.

The supernatural beings of the Kachina are part of the religious beliefs of the Hopi Indians. The Kachina cult has been described as a common denominator in Hopi religion (Wright 11). This cult is something that nearly every Hopi takes part in. So from that it is shown as to why the Kachinas are a much talked about part of the Hopi life. The San Francisco Peaks of northern Arizona are said to be the home of the supernatural beings of the Kachina. For six months of the year the supernatural beings return to the Hopi villages and take part in the seasonal ceremonies.

These ceremonies are said to be able to bring about rain, wind and even sunshine (Wright 12). The Hopi Kachina calendar tells when and what ceremonies take place. The calendar time for how long the ceremonies take place is six months. The Kachina season begins in late December with a ritual opening of the kivas. These kivas are underground ceremonial chambers which are believed to be the entryways to the Spirits of Underworld. There are usually several in each village incorporating most of the men as kiva members. Once the way is opened Kachinas will come and go from the kivas until the path is again closed to them toward the end of July

During this time frame the Kachinas will help in doing many different things for the Hopi Indians. Some of the different things that the Kachinas will do during this time is, they will renew the world and begin to get it ready for the coming seasons crops (Wright 13). The Kachinas will also insure growth and abundance and, as always, bring moisture. They will bring discipline to some and give direction to all in proper behavior, but their greatest gift will be happiness, good health and a long life (Colin 9). These are very important tasks that the Hopi Kachinas accomplish during the six months that they are present.

The way that the Kachinas are able to accomplish these tasks is in a very unique way. Hopi Kachinas embody the spirits of living things and also the spirits of ancestors who have died and become a part of nature. Kachinas are believed to possess powers over nature, especially the weather, but higher gods limit the extent of their powers (Colton 7). While the kivas are open and the Kachinas are present the Hopi Indian males have a lot of things going one. Since the supernatural beings of the Kachina can not be seen, the Hopi costumed impersonators impersonate the different Kachinas during the ceremonies

The second aspect of the Hopi Kachina is the impersonators of the Kachina. When the kivas are open and the Kachinas are present the Hopi men dress in costumes and impersonate the different Kachinas. Even the female Kachinas are impersonated by the men of the villages. The female Kachinas look a lot like the male Kachinas, and can only be distinguished by the things they do and the different Kachinas that they accompany. Although the Hopi are a matriarchy, the women do not have the same degree of contact with the supernatural that the men possess (Wright 6).

So only the Hopi men take on the responsibility of representing the different Kachinas during the ceremonies. The men who participate in these dances believe that when they are wearing the costume, body paint and mask that they lose their personal identity, and received the spirit of the Kachina they are supposed to represent (Bahti 10). The Hopi Kachina dancers have many different purposes. One of the main reasons for the Kachina dancers, is to bring the clouds. With the clouds comes the rain that is much needed for their crops.

Along with clouds and rain, a successful dance will bring other important effects to the Hopi community. Some of those effects being, … promotes harmony in the universe and ensures health, long life and happiness for the people. The Hopi Indians believe … that the prayers of the people will be conveyed by the Kachina to the gods (Bahti 42). 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 (Colton 6). These spirits that the Hopi men represent can either be a good spirit or an evil spirit.

Since it is a spirit that the Hopi men are impersonating there is no attempt at realism in the impersonations. The Hopi people believe that through a priest the prayers of the people are given to the Kachinas to carry to the gods. The priest who carries these prayers to the Kachinas is usually a old man not in costume during the ceremony (Bahti 11). From these Hopi males that impersonate the Kachinas the Kachina doll is formed. The third aspect of the Hopi Kachina is the Kachina dolls that look like the male dancers who impersonate the Kachina spirit.

According to Comptons Encyclopedia Online, it stated that the Kachina doll is one of the oldest dolls in America. This shows as to how it is not only important to the Hopi Indians, but also to the American people. The main reason for Kachina dolls to the Hopi people is to give them to children. Hopi children believe in Kachinas just as our children believe in Santa Claus…. 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 food (Colton 6).

This comparison shows the connection between the Hopi children and children who celebrate Christmas and Santa Claus. The difference is that Santa Claus brings children toys and the Kachinas do not. 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 (Colton 6). The Kachina dolls that are given to the children are hand made by Hopi men. The making of a Kachina doll is a very long process, and not an easy one. First, the maker of the Kachina must search for his supplies.

The Kachina is made from the dried roots of the cottonwood tree. The roots are found in either washes or on the banks of the Little Colorado River. Once the roots are found the process of carving begins. The tools that are used in the process of carving the Kachina are procures penknife, wood rasp and a piece of sandstone (Colton 9). After the Kachina doll has been carved from the dried roots of the cottonwood tree the Kachina doll is then ready to be painted. When a Kachinas mask is painted a color it is very symbolic. The different colors mean different things to the Hopi Indians.

The color is symbolic and indicates the direction from which the Kachina came. The Hopis have six directional colors…. These colors are yellow, blue-green, red, white, black and a mixture of the colors excluding the color black. …. Yellow refers to the North or Northwest. Blue-green refers to the West or Southwest. Red refers to the South or Southeast. White refers to the East or Northeast. All the above colors taken together refer to the Zenith or up. Black refers to the Nadir or down (Colton 13). After the Kachina dolls are painted with the symbolic colors they are then decorated.

The Kachina doll is then decorated with …. right feathers of small birds, which represent the feathers of eagle, parrot, turkey, or other large bird feathers found on a full-sized Kachina mask (Colton 10). After the little details of the Kachina face are complete, the Hopi man making the doll must decided what the Kachina doll is going to wear for a costume. Although a few Hopi Kachinas were distinctive costumes, most fall into about thirteen costume classes. Probably half of all are dressed alike (Colton 15). After the costume is selected body paint and accessory objects are then selected.

Some of the objects that may be carried by the Kachia dolls are bows, arrows and knives (Colton 16-17). As shown there is a lot of time and effort that must go into making each and every part of a Kachina doll. The Hopi Indians of Arizona take great pride in their Kachina dolls and it shows in their finished product. The Hopi Indians of Arizona are a very religious group of people. They are bound together by their traditions and religion. They are people who are able to overcome problems and move on to great accomplishments. The religion of the Hopi Indians is very complex, but also very interesting.

One aspect of their religion is dealing with the Kachina. The Kachina plays a key role in not only the religion, but also part of everyday life. The Kachina in the Hopi religion represents the supernatural beings which are spirits that embody both living things and also ancestors that have passed on. The Kachina dancers are males who impersonate the spirit of the Kachina. Lastly, the Kachina doll is a hand carved doll that represents both the Kachina spirit and the Kachina dancer. The Hopi Kachina is a very important part of life for the Hopi Indians of northeastern Arizona.

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