The word "Hopi" literally means the "righteous people," or the "correct people." To other native Americans the Hopi embody these terms as they have been more successful than almost any other tribe in the United States in preserving their traditions. To the Hopi people one the of most sacred aspects of their life is their religion, the Kachina religion. The Hopi live in the southwestern part of the United States. To protect themselves from others, they built their homes high atop the mesas where there they were protected on most sides by cliffs. To this day the Hopi still live on the mesas (List 414).
According to Sam Negri author of the article, "Kachina Carving, Artistry in Wood," "the Kachinas are the spirit essence of everything in the real world"(15). The Hopi believe that these Kachinas possess a large amount of wisdom and power comparable to a religious elder. There are many different categories of Kachinas. Some examples include the chief Kachinas, guard Kachinas, and clown Kachinas.
Chief Kachina - A chief Kachina belongs solely to a particular clan. The Chief Kachinas are considered to be the most important class of Kachinas (Wright 29). An example of a chief Kachina is Alohi, pictured below.
Guard Kachina - The guard Kachina protects the tribe and enforces rules (Wright 38).
Clown Kachina - Clown Kachinas provide amusement during Kachina ceremonies. Many times the actions of the clowns is meant to portray a lesson on improper behavior apparent in a tribal member. Below is a picture of a carving of Kachina clowns.
These Kachinas live in or around Flagstaff, Arizona. According to Dorothy Washburn author of the article "Hopi Kachina: Spirit of Life," these supernatural Kachinas unknowingly dispense "spiritual and physical favors to deserving Hopi" (48).
During Hopi ceremonies the men of the tribe wear costumes and masks that closely resemble the Kachina that is being honored. To the Hopi, these men serve as an "intermediaries between the spiritual and natural worlds" (Jacka 61). In the eyes of the Hopi, the Kachina dancers become the human personification of the spirits (Negri 15). The ceremonies involving the Kachinas are extremely sacred. The Hopi believe that these ceremonial acts serve many purposes, such as bringing good weather and bountiful crops (Washburn 49). Participation in ritual ceremonies is vital to the Kachina religion, as a prayer or an observance isn't enough (List 414). The majority of the ceremonies are held in kivas which are underground ceremonial sites.
There are three main ceremonies during the year that involve Kachinas. From December to July the Hopi villages come to life with different Kachina ceremonies. The first major ceremony is Soyal. During this ceremony Kachinas emerge from the kivas slowly as though they have been sleeping for a very long time. The dancers perform rites that are meant to strengthen the Hopi tribe for the upcoming harvest.
The second major ceremony occurs in late February. This ceremony is referred to as the Powamu, or the Bean Dance. The significance of this ceremony is the hope for a successful germination of the crops to be planted later in the spring. During this ceremony dancers distribute bean sprouts that have been grown in heated kivas prior to the ceremony (Wright 5-6).
The third ceremony occurs in late July when the first maize of the season is ripe. This celebration is called the Home Dance. Following this ceremony the Kachinas return to their winter home in the mountains. This ceremony is a way for the Hopi to give thanks to the many Kachinas who have assisted them with their crops. During this ceremony corn, melons, and fruit are carried by the dancers as proof of a bountiful harvest (Washburn 52).
From about one-year old until they are ten, Hopi girls receive two dolls each year. Above is a picture of a Kachina dancer and the doll form of the Kachina dancer. They are presented to them during the Bean Dance and the Home Dance. The dolls are only given to the women because the women of the tribe do not possess the same degree of contact with the supernatural as the men of the tribe do. Therefore, the men who dance and impersonate the different Kachinas carve small wooden replicas of themselves and present them to infants and girls (Wright 6).
Another purpose of the dolls is to familiarize the children with the different Kachina spirits. They also help to "keep kids in line," as is represented in the Ogre Woman Kachina. This Kachina goes door to door before the bean dance demanding food. She leaves the Hopi girls a couple grains of corn and says that she will be back, and if she isn't given food she will take the children. When she comes back she asks the children if they have been bad. Sometimes she will begin to pull the children by their feet to give them the idea that she is going to eat them. Before she can take them away a relative appeases the Ogre by telling her that the child has learned her lesson, and that it will never happen again. The moral of the story is that children learn that they must work hard and do all they can to contribute to the food supply (Negri 16).
Over the years other Indians and many non-Indians have begun carving and selling Kachina carvings and dolls. Kachina dolls produced by non-Hopi usually sell for less than authentic Hopi pieces. Nonetheless the practice is looked down upon by the Hopi, and they continually stress that there is no religious connection to the "fake" Kachina dolls and the Hopi religion (Negri 17).
1. Jacka, Jerry. Art of the Hopi. Flagstaff, Az. northland Press, 1998.
2. List, George. "Hopi Kachina Dance Songs: Concepts and Context." Ethnomusicology 41.3 (1997): 413-419.
3. Negri, Sam. "Kachina Carving Artistry in Wood." Arizona Highways May 1993:15-17.
4. Washburn, Dorothy. "Hopi Kachia: Spirit of Life." American Indian Art magazine Summer 1980: 48-52.
5. Wright, Barton. Kachinas Flagstaff, Az. Northland Press, 1977.