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A SHORT HISTORY OF NATIVE AMERICAN KACHINAS

To understand Hopi Kachina dolls, one must understand something of their purpose. The Kachina doll of the Hopi, which so many of us admire and collect, is the representation of a Hopi spirit or deity. Kachina dolls originally were, and still are, made to be given away as gifts to Hopi children so that they may learn the different Kachinas and the stories and religious significance attached to them. Kachinas are holy spirits that live upon the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona and other sacred mountains in the Southwest. During the period beginning with the Winter Solstice and extending to about mid-July, masked dancers initiated into the various clans of the Hopi Pueblos impersonate these spirits. Men portray both the male and female spirits and when an initiate wears the mask of his Kachina, he becomes that spirit personified. During the open dances, the Kachinas dance in the plaza or from kiva to kiva distributing the Kachina dolls, toy bows, rattles, fruit and sweets to the children between dances. Kachinas can be spirits of deities, animals, and even deceased members of the Pueblo known for special kindness or prowess. One such Kachina, He-e-wuhti, wears the black face of a warrior. She is powerful and terrible to behold. She holds a bow and her hair is tied up on one side onto the wooden form used to create the “Whorl” hair design of a Hopi maiden. Her hair is down and flowing on the other side, the aspect in which she was found as her mother was preparing her hair when an enemy attacked the Pueblo. The men were tending their fields and the young maiden jumped up to take her father’s bow and lead the women in a valiant defense of the Pueblo until the men could join the battle and defeat the enemy. This Kachina is so powerful that Whipper Kachinas stay the spectators from her path to keep them from being harmed by her spirit. The Kachina impersonators give the spirits a form that can interact with the human and can be seen as intermediaries between the Hopi Pueblo and the spirits themselves. While the Kachinas are present, they are constantly offered prayers by spectators who sprinkle the dancers with corn pollen as they pass or are encountered. In this way the blessings between the Kachinas and the people can be exchanged before the Kachinas return to their mountain homes in the summer. Plaza dances were at one time open to all, but because of the ignorant and sometimes reprehensible behaviour of increasingly large groups of tourists, all dances are now closed to the public.