Hopi Kachina dolls: Meaningful art
How is everyone doing in this wonderful Spring time? I hope you are able to enjoy sunshine and nature blooming wherever you are 🙂 I know I am enjoying it on the Canadian West Coast. I have been thinking about what I could be writing about. And Hopi Kachina (Katsina) dolls popped in my mind. Yes weird things pop in my mind 😉 I have posted pictures of Kachina dolls on this site’s Facebook page in the past and I just find them so beautiful. And as we will see, they are also meaningful and spiritual.
So let’s take a look at the Hopi Kachina dolls, their origins, meaning and their beauty.
Kachina or Katsina dolls?
Well, in the Hopi language, Katsina (Kahts-ee-nah) is the preferred and correct spelling and pronunciation. But what are katsinam (plural of katsina)? Katsinam referred to the many spiritual beings at the core of the Hopi culture and spiritual life. We are talking hundreds of katsinam, each with a different meaning. Each a spirit that is highly respected and associated to a belief.
So although they are considered art, objects of art, the Hopi kachina dolls have a spiritual role (some say a religious role but I prefer to say spiritual). Those human like dolls also had and still have an educational purpose. They educate the children in the Hopi ways of life, in the traditions and beliefs. They remain very significant in ceremonies when they are passed down to children.
The original role of the Kachinas
So as we discussed, the kachina spirits are worshiped by the Hopi people and are seen as sacred spirits to guide the people. But why? Well for that we have to go back to how the Hopi people came to be on Earth, according to the tradition.
For that, we have to talk about kivas. Basically, a kiva is a room, a round chamber, in which sacred ceremonies and rituals take place for the Hopi and Pueblo people. Nowadays, the room could be squared but it is typically underground. The belief is also that for the Hopi people, life began in the kivas. Life begins in the underworld for the Hopi people. And the first people to emerge on Earth, left the underworld and climbed from the kivas to the light, the world as we know it. Further, for the Hopi people life begins and ends in the underworld, therefore they return to it at death.
Ok but what about the Kachinas you ask? Well you see, the Kachinas or Katsinam were the spirits who helped and taught the Hopi people how to live on earth, in the physical world after emerging from the kivas. They are the spiritual attribute or property of everything in the world. They are life in this world as “Katsina” literally means “Life Bringer” in the Hopi language. I don’t know about you but knowing the tradition and story, I would say the meaning of the word is more than appropriate. And each Katsina has a particular meaning, which we will explore a bit later.
How is a Katsina doll made?
Kachina dolls are both representative of traditions and art. They tell a story and they are just artistic masterpieces as well. So how are they made? They are typically carved out of the roots of the cottonwood trees, trees that were once everywhere on Hopi land. In reality, the Hopi word for cottonwood is “paako”, which means water wood. As the cottonwood trees had the ability to find water, life for them, anywhere. Just like the Katsinam do for the Hopi people (they help them survive and live).
Today, however, cottonwood is not as abundant as it used to be. So carvers need to be resourceful by either buying the wood from outsiders, using the branches instead of the roots or simply using another wood altogether. But carvers use similar tools to remove the bark, smooth the wood and make the smaller additional pieces such as headpieces or a rattle or a bow for example. As you can see from the pictures here, some dolls can be quite elaborate with big headpieces for example (paint and beads can be added). At times then, arms, legs, headpieces were carved as separate pieces and then attached to the body. Nonetheless, it is preferred by collectors if the katsina dolls were carved from a single piece of wood (as challenging as that might be).
Fun fact: The first Kachina doll was acquired from the Hopi people in 1857 by Dr. Palmer, a US army surgeon. The details and realism of the dolls have also improved significantly over time. Movement is often added, action, as though the doll is moving. Which makes it more realistic looking. And an object of fine arts coveted by savvy collectors.
Meaning of Hopi Kachina dolls
I have included in this article pictures of different kachina dolls and each one has a different meaning, or significance. I thought I would cover a few here but for a more complete coverage, see this wonderful site.
First off though, I would like to make it clear that Katsina dolls are not toys. Even if they are given to children. They are teaching tools and spiritual objects. From the time they are one year old until they are 10, Hopi girls will receive 2 dolls a year. Why 2? Because each one represents a kindhearted spirit that lives with the Hopi for a six month period every year. The spirits arrive in February and return to their spiritual home in July. What a beautiful concept and belief to live with! That one is visited and surrounded by kind and warm spirits 🙂
Although, according to the tradition, Kachina dolls were given, they are now collected by many. Collectors are always on the lookout for them. I have mixed feelings about this, as I feel the spiritual meaning might be lost now but at the same time, the beauty of the dolls and the Hopi people is shared across the world. In case you wish to buy a Kachina doll, I am including a picture and link to one that is for sale on Etsy. Get the one below here. And see more Kachina dolls for sale on Etsy here.
Cloud Kachina doll: You can see it above. It represents clouds in the sky which represent rain and moisture for the crops, thus plenty of food.
Corn Maiden Kachina doll: You can see a picture of one if you scroll up. The Corn Maiden Kachina doll purifies and cleanses. It purifies the women who grind the corn used in ceremonies so that no negativity goes in the corn. The corn maiden is a powerful figure in the Hopi culture, often associated with prayers for rain.
Deer Kachina doll: The deer Kachina ensures that everyone has plenty to eat. How? By dancing to make sure his kind is plentiful.
Eagle Kachina doll: The doll represents strength and power. As we know the Eagle is our connection to the spirits. It is respected and honored. The Eagle dancer or the Eagle Kachina provides a sought after performance.
Kokopelli Kachina doll: I am sure you have seen figurines or drawings of the Kokopelli. A dancer, a seducer, a hunched back flute player. His music used to be heard with the arrival of Spring, bringing warmth in the air. Thus, many stories depict the Kokopelli as the one responsible for the coming of Spring. He is a symbol of joy and happiness but also a prankster who likes the seduces the women he encounters. It is said that when he would visit, everyone would sing and dance to his songs. When he left, the crops were plentiful and the women were pregnant.
Sun Kachina doll: Also known as Sun Face Kachina doll or Tawa. You can see one at the top of this article and below. The Sun Face Kachina is present in many stories for the Hopi people. It represents warmth and brightness. It represents shelter for older people and playfulness for the younger generations.
So there you have it, a few Katsinam and their meaning. I do hope you found this article interesting and enjoy the beauty and meaning of the Hopi Kachina dolls as much as I do. Does anyone own a Kachina doll? Anyone wants to share what they think of the dolls featured here and their meaning? Comment below and I will respond back 🙂
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