About Kachina Dolls

The Kachina doll was and is made for Native use by Hope fathers and uncles to give to their daughters or nieces; primarily the doll is hung on the wall or from the rafters of the house so that it may be seen at all times. The purpose is to teach their children about the different Kachina masks, their outfits, and body painting. Therefore, the doll has to be as perfect as possible, and certainly so in mask features. This may explain in part why the earlier dolls were accurate and detailed outline, often with more suggestions of arms and legs.

The term “Kachina” refers primarily to the masked dancer in the pueblo village, or to the spirit, which the dancer impersonates. Among the pueblo these spirits are intermediaries between man and the gods, they are spirits of the dead, if not dead themselves. They are spirits, which bring water, or the clouds from which rain comes. Another tribe pictures the Kachinas as gathering above the clouds tipping their great jars so that waterfalls upon the earth below. All Hopi boys are introduced to the Kachinas at the Powamu ceremony after they are initiated and may perform in the Kachina dances.

Indeed it is difficult to define “Kachina.” Although the complex concept and the dancers have to do with spirituality of the Puebloan, the dolls are not religious objects. They are not idols. The Hopi do not worship Kachina dolls.

Puebloan groups believe that Kachina live under lakes (Zuni), or rivers, or on mountain tops (Hopi). The Hopi believe Kachinas live on the San Francisco Peak of Northern Arizona or on the other peaks for six months of the year, and then they live in the villages of this tribe for the remainder of the year. They appear in dances from time to time of their arrival at the end of an initiation ceremony (the Powamu) in late February to their return to the mountains at the Niman Ceremony, or “Home Dance” in July. During their period of residence with the villages, they perform at various times in dance groups. The dancers are, of course, Hopi men wearing masks and impersonating the spirits.

The main material used to create Kachina dolls are cottonwood roots: not branches. Natural earth pigments and come commercial paints, and legal feathers were added to the dolls. Yes, Kachina carvers once used feathers, furs, and leather to decorate their carvings. In 1972 a law was passed by Congress called the Migratory Bird Law, it listed many endangered fowl. Such as eagles, owls, hawks, certain small birds, sparrows, woodpeckers, etc. From that point on carvers began to do away with using feathers, fur and leather. The Kachinas dolls are now made of just wood.

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