What is a Kachina?
I have recently joined the team at Adobe Gallery, and through this, have been granted the wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in the history and culture of the Southwest. What a better way to do so than through our miraculous inventory of art! One question I am asked is, “What is a Kachina?” I would like to take the time to answer this question for those of you who, like me, are new to the spirituality of the Pueblo people and may be unfamiliar with their Kachina cult.
This question arises as clients view our inventory of Kachina dolls, however this is only one of three ways Kachinas are expressed. They are also and originally the supernatural deities themselves, and the masked dancers who represent Kachinas at religious ceremonies.
The dolls are really teaching tools, and are carefully carved by the Pueblo men and gifted to young girls, two per year, until she is of marrying age. The boys are given bows and arrows but are included in sacred Kachina ceremonies in the kivas to inaugurate them into the spiritual cult.
Each Kachina has a different meaning and purpose. Chief Kachinas teach wisdom, female Kachinas teach values, ogres teach discipline, and clown Kachinas provide amusement paired with lessons. Others provide advice, warnings, and blessings. Each Kachina is seen as a powerful being who is not worshipped but if given admiration and respect, will use its particular power for the good of the people.
According to the Kachina myths, the Kachinas themselves first taught the people how to hunt, heal sickness, make tools and how to live off the land by planting crops and collecting plants. At some point in history, wars occurred and the Kachinas were killed off. Or, according to another version of the mythology, the Kachinas returned to the underworld when the people began to take them for granted. Before they left or were killed, they taught a select few men of great faith their ceremonies complete with instructions on how to make the affiliated sacred masks and costumes.
The Kachinas are not with the people year round, they have a six month season that begins just after winter solstice. During this time the Kachinas (in the form of tribe members dressed in Kachina regalia) reside with the tribe and bring the people messages through participating in dances and ceremonies. Men portray both male and female spirits with the exception of only one Kachina- the Pachavuin Mana.
Each dance tells a story and serves multiple purposes. The regalia worn by the tribe member is not only designed to portray a specific Kachina, but also is believed to contain the spiritual essence of the actual Kachina.
These ceremonies are social occasions attended by friends and relatives of neighboring villages and consist of prayers and thanks for rain and health of the crops. Furthermore, these ceremonies are believed to maintain the harmony and balance between the Pueblo people and their spiritual Kachinas.
I can attempt to imagine myself, as a young girl, being administered to and ever watched by the careful and loving eye of my Kachina carvings, bestowed by the Kachinas themselves to me on very exciting occasions. There is a lot to learn and thus, a lot to share on the topic of Kachinas. Absorbing this information has helped to give me a stronger appreciation for the beauty that surrounds me every day at Adobe Gallery and, of course, an ever growing thirst to learn more about the mystical and magical world of Kachinas.
Source: Legends of America website
Note: there is no "ch" sound in the Hopi language. So, a closer pronunciation should be KATSINA (with a "T"). Therefore, you sometimes see both spellings. Here at Adobe Gallery, we say Kachina if we refer to the dolls made for tourists oftentimes seen on a stand. Katsinas are the original dolls given to the Pueblo girls and would not be presented on a stand.