This ceramic figurine is a Hopi representation of a kachina, a spiritual being in Puebloan religions commonly referred to as kachina cults. Kachinas are messengers for the Hopi, delivering prayers and offerings to gods for fertility and health. There are several hundred different kachinas which can each be identified by their unique mask and costume. Every kachina has a specific purpose. The iconography providing evidence for the first kachinas is found in the archaeological record in northeastern Arizona, dating as far back as 1300 C.E.
Historically, kachina dolls were carved out of cottonwood by uncles in the Pueblo, to be given to their nieces during ceremonial dances. During these ceremonies, men of the pueblo wear kachina masks, fully embodying the kachina spirit itself rather than merely dressing as the kachina. The Powamuya, or Bean Dance, is an example of such a ceremony and serves as a rite of passage for young girls. The dance ensures good health for the girls and fertility for the bean seeds, which are then planted on the last day of the ceremony. For a period of sixteen days, the kachinas maintain a large fire to keep the seeds warm as they walk around inspecting, blessing and guarding the bean seeds. This continues until the sixteenth day, when the germinated seeds are distributed in a public ceremony and planted by participants, in hopes of a successful harvest.
Kachina dolls are still used today as an educational tool, telling stories to convey their role as messengers between the earth and the spirit world. Furthermore, it is now acceptable for men to give kachina dolls to children and adults alike, both male and female, and regardless of familial ties. Today, contemporary Hopi artists combine time-honored conventional techniques with personal creative license, creating modern interpretations of the tradition of crafting Hopi kachina dolls. Click here to watch a video about how kachina carving techniques have changed during the past century!