Native American Kachinas
Just the mere word "Kachina" conjures up vivid images of masked figures dancing and chanting on ancient mesas. Well it should, because that is part of what a Kachina does. A Kachina is a God to the Hopi and Pueblo tribes. The Hopi have over 300 different Kachinas which are part of their daily culture. The actual "Gods" are believed to live high atop the San Francisco peaks outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, and near the Hopi Reservation. Each God has a job to do and a lesson to teach. The Kachinas arrive at the Hopi Mesas in February in the form of a Hopi man dressed in traditional attire to represent a certain Kachina. The arrival of the Kachinas in February for Powamu or the Bean Dance starts the cycle of Kachina appearances. They appear regularly through harvest time in the fall ending with the Niman Dance or Home Dance, whence the Kachinas return to their ancestral home on the San Francisco peaks.
In actuality, there are three "forms" of kachinas; first there are the mystical deities who reside high upon the San Francisco peaks. Second, there are the masked dancers and performers who are actually men of the tribe portraying their Gods in their ceremonies, and third there are kachina dolls or carvings. These were originally carved to be passed on to the children by a Kachina during a ceremony as a remembrance and teaching aid. Each Kachina has an important role in the daily lives of the Pueblo people. Ogres teach discipline, Chief Kachinas teach wisdom and have powers comparable to that of a religious elder. There are Kachina women, who with the exception of only one Kachina, the Pachavuin Mana, are portrayed strictly by the men of the villages. The "women" teach values such as a mother would. There are cloud spirits called Shalakos who bring rain. There are also clown Kachinas whose primary function is one of amusement during pauses in Kachina dancing or as leavening for the seriousness of a major ceremony. "Borrowed" Kachinas are deities which have traveled from one Pueblo to another at an earlier date and have since been "adopted" by that Pueblo.
As mentioned earlier, the Kachina "doll" was originally carved as a gift and learning tool for the child to learn about its many Gods. Today they are highly sought after sculptures in wood, but are still carved traditionally by hand, out of cottonwood root, and painted with earth tone colors as well as rainbow hues. The early Kachinas were quite simple in appearance, entirely of wood, with simple or little adornment. The 1950's through the 1980's brought changes in appearances with feathers, fur, shells, leather, yarn etc. being popular accents. The 90's Kachinas returned to a simpler all wood carving without the bright feathers, paints, etc. We offerseveral styles of Kachinas to choose from. We have the original older style, the Kachinas of our generation with their many adornments and also the currently carved revised older style being done by many artists today. All Kachinas shown are one of a kind hand carved Pueblo Kachinas, unless otherwise noted. We do carry a few Navajo carvings depicting a Kachina. Prices will vary according to age, carvers, and detail. We hope that with this explanation of what a Kachina actually is, that you will make your purchase with the knowledge and understanding that an item as important as a Kachina deserves.
(Jill Holmes, © 2007)