Driving through the Southwest, you’re bound to see billboards advertising Native American Indian kachina dolls at various Indian art stores. But kachina dolls have a more solemn and spiritual significance to the Hopi Pueblo people than mainstream advertising would suggest.
History of Hopi Kachinas
Original kachinas are not dolls but supernatural spirits and beings who lived among the Hopi Indian people. Kachinas taught the Hopis basic skills to ensure well-being and harmonious living with Nature: hunting, tool making, how to bring rain and make the ground fertile, healing, discipline and spiritual gratitude.
The kachinas left the Pueblos but bestowed their gifts on people who practice their arts and skills. These people would become living symbols of the kachina spirits during ceremonies and dances when they would don masks and costumes that represented the “ancestral beings.”
Kachinas could take the form of nearly anything, but common “characters” included maidens, clowns, animals and disciplinarians. Over time, the likenesses of these kachina spirit figures were symbolized by carved wooden dolls. These dolls are sacred to the Hopi people.
Traditional Hopi Kachina Dolls
Traditional Hopi kachina dolls are carved from a single piece of cottonwood tree root. These dolls were originally made to be teaching tools for Hopi children. During one ceremony between the Winter Solstice and mid-Summer, kachina dolls were presented as gifts by the elders as a way to learn about and preserve their stories.
Today, there are more than 250 spirits represented by Native American Indian kachina dolls. Common figures include Crow and Priest Killer.
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Navajo Kachina Dolls
The Hopis are not the only Native American Indians creating kachina dolls. The Navajo tribe assimilated this part of Hopi culture into their own. However, the solemnity with which the Hopis treat the spirits-as-dolls has faded in the Navajo tradition.
As a result, kachina dolls created by Navajo artists are often more whimsical than those of their Hopi neighbors.
Native American Indian Kachina Dolls at Palms Trading Company
Whether you believe that kachina spirits are truly imbued in the dolls or just appreciate the cultural tradition and skill required to craft these pieces of Native American Indian art, kachina dolls are a wonderful addition to any collection.