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The Kachina Doll

What is a Kachina?


Hopi Kachina Doll

Hopi Kachina Doll

(c) Judy Hedding

The world famous Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona has a most extraordinary collection of dainty, colorful, and fantastic Kachina dolls. There are hundreds of them on display. No two of them are alike. One can't help but wonder about the motivation and the artistry that went into the creation of each individual figure.

The best of them, and the majority of them, are products of the Hopi Indian craftsmen. Why, when, where did the inspiration come from? What do the dolls represent? The answers to these questions are elusive. They are buried deep in the ancestral past.

In the earlier history of human existence, families, clans, tribes, joined together for protection against common dangers and for various other aspects of communal survival. Soon it became clear that there were forces that simply could not be controlled. They had to be appeased. Or maybe they could even be persuaded to be helpful. In order to establish lines of communication with the powerful unknown, native people created symbols for the various aspects of needs and wants, endowed them with a combination of divine, human and spiritual qualities, worshiped and honored them with gifts and ceremonies. The Kachina mythology too seems to originate in such mystical, unrecorded time.

The ancestors of the Hopi Indians, the Anasazi, were a highly developed civilization that lived in parts of Northern Arizona and New Mexico more than a thousand years ago. The elements and the changing fortunes were unkind to them, and over a period of time they diminished. However, some of their descendants and legacy survived. The Kachina culture evolved and was practiced by a number of Indian tribes. By the time of the Spanish encroachment in the mid 16th century, the native Indians of the region were well established. The Hopi (Peaceful) Nation lived on the three mesas between the San Francisco Hills and the Painted Desert. The missionaries found it hard to reach them. When they did, they found resolute resistance. The missionaries could not penetrate the deeply rooted, pervasive legacy of the ancients and eventually the reformers were "neutralized." Hence the Hopi culture was not adulterated by the missionary "zeal" as were some of the other tribes.

The Kachinas are the personal and spiritual bases of the Hopi belief, a complex mixture of myth, legend, ritual and ceremony. It has never been codified, as the Hopi have no written language. These beliefs have been handed down through oral tradition from generation to generation. As the spoken language does not readily lend itself to translation, the rituals do not allow literal interpretation. Scholars disagree on aspects of their meaning. Still, the basic tenets are clear.

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