Hopi Kachina dolls
History and background
The Hopi people live primarily on three mesas in Northeastern Arizona, about 70 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. The Hopi believe that the majority of spirits (Kachinas) reside on the Humphreys Peak, approx. 60 miles West of Hopi lands. Each year, throughout the period from winter solstice to mid-July, these spirits, in the form of Kachinas, come down to the villages to dance and sing, to bring rain for the upcoming harvest, and to give gifts to the children.
The Kachinas are known to be the spirits of deities, natural elements or animals, or the deceased ancestors of the Hopi. Prior to each Kachina ceremony, the men of the village will spend days studiously making dolls in the likeness of the Kachinam represented in that particular ceremony. The dolls are then passed on to the daughters of the village by the Giver Kachina during the ceremony. Following the ceremony, the dolls are hung on the walls of the pueblo and are meant to be studied in order to learn the characteristics of that certain Kachina. Edward Kennard, co-author of Hopi Kachinas, says concerning the purpose of the kachina doll, “Essentially it is a means of education; it is a gift at dance-time; it is a decorative article for the home, but above all it is a constant reminder of the Kachinas.”
History of the Kachina doll
Except for major ceremonial dolls, most kachina dolls were invented in the late 19th century. The oldest known doll dates back from the 18th century - it was merely a flat object with an almost indistinguishable shape that suggested a head and contained rudimentary body paint. Kachina dolls are generally separated into four stylistic periods: the Early Traditional, Late Traditional, Early Action, and Late Action periods.
Early Traditional (1850–1910)
The most primitive forms of the kachina doll belonged to the Early Traditional Period. Only one piece of cottonwood root was used to carve the body, although facial features made from varying sources were occasionally glued on. The dolls were no longer than 8-10 inches and only somewhat resembled human proportions. Their surfaces were not as smooth as in later periods, and the paint was made of non water-resistant mineral and vegetable pigments. The dolls in this period were stiff and only meant to be hung on the wall after ceremonies. Starting around 1900, the dolls began to have a more naturalistic look to them as a result of the white man’s interest and trade. The price of dolls in this period was on average about $0.25 (adjusted for today’s currency).
Late Traditional (1910–1930)
During the Late Traditional Period subtle changes began to take place towards the creation of more realistic–looking dolls. They were more proportional and the carving and painting was much more detailed. Eastern tourist attraction to the Hopi reservation increased in popularity from 1910-1920 due to the increased interest in Native American culture. The elders restricted the tourists from seeing the religious Kachina ceremonies, and consequently there was a notable decline in doll production for commercial purposes.
Early Action (1930–1945)
In the beginning of the twentieth century, oppressive agents such as Charles Burton tried to restrict the Hopi’s religious and cultural rights. However, in 1934, due to the Indian Reorganization Act, the Hopi people got back their religious freedom, and this thus renewed their interest in kachina doll carving. The dolls began to have a slightly different look than that of the stiff dolls from earlier periods. The arms were starting to become separated from the body and the heads became slightly overturned, putting the dolls in more of an action pose. Commercial and poster paints were used and the costumes became more organic, as some of the dolls were dressed in real clothing instead of clothing that was merely painted on. The average price of a doll during this period was about $1 an inch.
Late Action (1945 – present)
The Late Action period of kachina dolls contains the most variations of carvings than any other period. Most dolls of this period display realistic body proportions and show movement, which are distinguishing features of this period. The costumes in this period are more detailed and in the 1960s, carvers began to attach bases to the dolls in order to appeal to the tourists who didn’t want to hang the dolls on their walls. In the 1970s the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty banned the selling of Kachina dolls that carried any exotic bird feathers from birds such as eagles, parakeets, domestic fowl, pheasant or quail. As a result, the feathers of the dolls would be carved into the wood, which led to a new brand of Hopi art – the kachina sculpture. As the dolls became more extravagant and the consumer demand went up, the prices of dolls also rose significantly. Prices today range on average from $500 to $1,000, and it is not unusual to see a doll up to $10,000.
Kachina dolls today
Most Hopi manufacturers today that sell dolls do it for trade and do not necessarily make dolls that reflect authentic kachinam. Kachina ceremonies are still held, but have to now be scheduled around the men’s jobs, schools, and businesses and are usually held on weekends. The dolls today are much more exquisite than those of the past and are very expensive. Women carvers are becoming more common, making miniature dolls that are especially popular in the trade.
Kachina doll features
There are four generally accepted forms of the kachina doll; each form is meant to represent a different stage of postnatal development.
- Putsqatihu – these dolls are made specifically for infants; these are simply flat figures that contain enough characteristics of the kachina so it is identifiable.
- Putstihu taywa’yla – these dolls have flat bodies and three dimensional faces that are generally meant for toddlers.
- Muringputihu – these dolls have cylindrical bodies, fully carved heads, and are meant specifically for infant girls.
- Tithu – the traditional, full bodied kachina doll that is given to Hopi girls aged two and up at Hopi ceremonies. These dolls represent the final stage of postnatal development.
In addition to these traditional forms, a modern variation is now being created: the miniature kachina doll. These are mostly created by Hopi women, are only produced for trade, and are not considered kachina dolls in the true sense.
There are two types of kachina doll eyes: painted eyes, which can be round, rectangular, pot-hooks, or half-moons, and pop eyes, which are carved of wood and then attached to the doll.
Additionally, there are two types of doll mouths. The first is the painted mouth, which can be either rectangular, triangular, or crescent shaped. The other is the carved mouth, of which there is either a horizontal mouth with a wide or narrow beard, a beak that is turned up or down, a tube or a short snout.
On the doll’s head one will find either bird wings, ears (which are typically large and red), corn-husk flowers, hair, feathers, or horns. The horns can either be pseudo horns or real animal horns.
The noses are rarely realistic-looking, except when they are carved into the wood. Some kachinas also have beards of feathers or red-dyed horse hair.
Costumes and accessories
There are several common costumes on kachina dolls. Typical male costumes include:
- A white kilt, brocaded sash, belt, fox skin, and no shirt
- White shirt and kilt
- Kilt and ceremonial robe
- A “white man’s” suit
- Velvet shirt, white trousers, red leggings
- Fox skin hanging from belt
Common female costumes include:
- Ceremonial robe worn as a dress and a shawl
- Navajo dress
- Eagle feather skirt
- Black woolen dress, red belt, and a white shawl with red and blue bands
Kachina dolls can also carry accessories that are associated with what their respective Kachinam will carry during the ceremonial dances. Dolls are portrayed with accessories including hand rattles made from gourds, bows and arrows, branches of Douglas fir, staffs, scissors, crooks with children, and colored corn. Sometimes, to hide the space between the body and the mask, ruffs made of fox skin, juniper branches, Douglas fir, or cloth will be worn. In addition, headdresses are sometimes worn on the heads of the dolls. Common doll headdresses include maiden-whorls on the sides of the head, an eagle feather on the mask, or a tripod of sticks worn on top of the head.
Symbolism and color
Every symbol, color, and design on a Hopi kachina doll has definite meaning in connection with Hopi religion, custom, history, and way of life. Animal tracks, bird tracks, celestial symbols, and vegetable symbols represent those particular spirits. Other symbols and their meanings are as follows:
- A pair of vertical lines under the eyes symbolizes a warrior’s footprints.
- An inverted “V” signifies certain kachina officials.
- Phallic symbols represent fertility.
Certain colors on the kachina dolls also have significant directional meanings:
- Yellow = north or northwest
- Blue-green = west or southwest
- Red = south or southeast
- White = east or northeast
- All the colors together = Zenith (heaven) and above
- Black = Nadir (the underworld) or down
Determining an authentic Kachina doll
This first sign of a fake kachina doll is if it is “garish or crudely made." An authentic kachina doll will have proper proportioning of the body and excessive detail. Hands must have separated fingers rather than tightly closed fists. Details in hair and accessories should be meticulously fashioned. The most valuable dolls are made from only one piece of wood; signs of glue on the figure indicate a poorly made doll. The price will usually reflect the quality, so if a doll seems inexpensive, there is a good possibility it is not a true Hopi kachina doll.
Popular Kachina dolls
There are well over 200 types of kachina dolls; however, almost no one can identify every single one, as each carver has a different idea as to the appearance and function of each Kachina. There are several popular ones with tourists and Hopi, however. Some of the more popular dolls are the Tasapkachina (Navajo Kachina), Angakchina (Long hair), Hote, and animal dolls such as Bear, Bird, and Mouse.
- Wright 3.
- Branson iv.
- Hunt preface.
- Wright 19.
- Bromberg 49
- Teiwes 40.
- Teiwes 41.
- Bromberg 18.
- Teiwes 30.
- Teiwes 43.
- Loftin 77.
- Loftin 79.
- Teiwes 45.
- Bromberg 18.
- Teiwes 47.
- McManis 9.
- Bromberg 54.
- McManis 10.
- Bromberg 18.
- Colton 11.
- Teiwes 30.
- Bromberg 12.
- James 173.
- Teiwes 39.
- Teiwes 79.
- Colton 14.
- Colton 14.
- Colton 15.
- Colton 15.
- Colton fig. 12.
- Colton fig. 15.
- James 172.
- Colton 5.
- Branson iv.
- Colton 14.
- Colton 13.
- Branson iv.
- McManis 42.
- James 169.
- Colton 6.
- Earle 12.
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- Branson, Oscar, T. Hopi Indian Kachina Dolls. Tucson: Treasure Chest Publications, 1992.
- Bromberg, Eric. The Hopi Approach to the Art of Kachina Doll Carving. West Chester: Schiffer Publishing, 1986.
- Colton, Harold S. Hopi Kachina Dolls. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 1959.
- Earle, Edwin. Hopi Kachinas. New York: Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation, 1971.
- Hunt, W. Ben. Kachina Dolls. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1957.
- James, Harry C. The Hopi Indians, Their History and their Culture. Caldwell: Caxton Printers, 1956.
- Loftin, John D. Religion and the Hopi Life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.
- McManis, Kent. A Guide to Hopi Kachina Dolls. Tucson: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2000.
- Teiwes, Helga. Kachina Dolls: The Art of Hopi Carvers. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991.
- Wright, Barton. This is a Hopi Kachina. Flagstaff: The Museum of Northern Arizona, 1965.