The Native American Hopi tribe perform numerous rituals to positively impact their lives and bless their tribe. The Hopi believe that there is a spiritual essence and a presence of life in everything in the universe, and that it is necessary to interact with these spiritual life forces in order to survive (Wright, 2008). Thus, the Hopi personify these impersonal spirits in the form of kachina dancers and carved, handmade kachina dolls so that they can better interact with and please these powerful spirits in their daily lives.
Hopi members impersonate the some of the ver four hundred different Kachinas in their religious rituals by dressing up in their costumes and masks. The Hopi tribe holds kachina spirits in such high regard because the Kachinas possess supernatural powers that can benefit the tribe including the ability to make it rain and to make their crops grow well. Therefore, kachina dolls and masked kachina dancers are an integral part of Hopi daily life and rituals, and serve numerous vital purposes in the contemporary Hopi community today.
The Hopi tribe performs rituals and ceremonies starting in December that continue until the end of July in order to honor he kachina spirits and mark important occasions in the tribe, such as rites of passage ceremonies. The first of the ceremonies that occur during this time period takes place during the Winter Solstice and represents creation, while the last of the ceremonies, called the “Home Dance” takes place during Summer Solstice to honor the last of the crops being planted and the start of harvest (Glenn, Wunder, Rollings, & Martin, 2008).
These two religious ceremonies and kachina dances are the most important of all the kachina dances the Hopi tribe performs as they are vital to their success as a tribe. During hese ceremonies, male members of the Hopi community impersonate the kachinas and act as kachina dancers in Hopi rituals. The kachina dancers allow the members of the Hopi community to interact and communicate with the kachina spirits during these religious rituals.
Kachina dancers wear the kachina spirits’ masks and costumes in their ceremonies, and when they physically put on the kachina’s mask, it is said that the kachina spirits enter the kachina dancers’ bodies (Dockstader, 1954). The kachina dancers’ costumes and masks are made to personify a specific kachina spirit, and the masks are said to ave the essence of the kachina spirits that the dancers are impersonating (Wright, 2008). Thus, the kachina dancer and kachina spirit become one during the ceremony.
Members of the Hopi tribe truly believe that the masks of the kachina dancers are living spirits that are extremely sacred and possess powers, so during the kachina dance ceremonies, the kachina dancers are constantly offered prayers and blessings. In return, the kachina dancers distribute kachina dolls to female children in the tribe, along with fruits, candies, and other toys such as rattles and bows for boys. These powerful kachina dancer rituals can also bring the Hopi tribe blessings including rain and good weather conditions, fertile soil, crops, and well-being which leads to thriving Hopi communities.
Kachina dolls play an imperative religious role in the daily life of members in the Hopi tribe. In the Hopi tribe, male relatives give female children handmade, carved, wooden kachina dolls made to be replicas of the kachina spirits and to be used as prayer objects (Glenn, Wunder, Rollings, & Martin, 2008). The kachina dolls are only given to female Hopi children because they cannot impersonate nd personify the kachina spirits as a kachina dancer like male Hopi members can, and the doll gives the female members a connection with the spirits.
Thus, the Hopi children are taught the significance of prayer and the importance of the kachina dolls and kachina dancers’ powers from a very young age (Wright, 2008). Members of the Hopi tribe also use these handmade kachina dolls to help teach their children Hopi beliefs, traditions, stories and kachina wisdom, and to help provide the child with future health and well-being (Wright, 2008). The Hopi children who receive the kachina dolls are aught that the dolls are to be treated with respect, and know that the dolls serve as a reminder to the rest of the community that the kachina spirits are always present (Wright, 2008).
The kachina dolls also teach members of the Hopi community about the identities of the kachinas, proper behavior, and even responsibilities. Every single kachina has a different purpose, and these purposes are taught to the members of the Hopi tribe through the kachina dolls and kachina dancers. For example, ogre kachinas teach discipline, chief kachinas teach wisdom, female kachinas teach values, clown kachinas provide musement, and others provide advice, blessings, and warnings (Dockstader, 1954).
Hopi children grow up idolizing and admiring the Kachina, and they are taught that the kachina dancers they see in their everyday lives and in religious ceremonies are real spiritual figures who can positively or negatively impact their lives (Capps, 1976). Thus, the kachina dancers play a significant role in the daily lives of Hopi children and also serve as an important rite of passage for children in the Hopi community. The kachina dancers often visit the children, leave them gifts and warnings, reward or punish them for their ehavior, and provide a sense of security for the children (Gill, 2004).
Hopi families ensure that their children never see the kachina dancers without their masks so that the children continue to believe in the Kachina until they are ready to impersonate the kachinas themselves. Starting when male Hopi children are about seven to ten years old, they go through an important rites of passage ceremony in which they learn the truth about the identities of the kachina dancers. During their initiation to the kachina cult in February, children are invited to a ance in which the kachina dancers remove their masks (Capps, 1976; Gill, 2004).
The children become disillusioned as they learn that the kachina dancers they thought were real spirits are actually their male relatives honoring and impersonating the kachina. Then, the kachina dancer cult is explained to the child by their father, uncles, and older brothers, and the child learns that they will also have the privilege to participate in the kachina cult just as their older male relatives do so that they can honor the kachina spirits (Gill, 2004).
The child is finally reintegrated nto the community as a Kachina dancer themselves, and the child has a new identity and adult status due to their initiation into the kachina cult (Capps, 1976). After their initiation and reintegration back into the community, the Hopi child learns to distinguish between spiritual and physical realities as a part of their newfound status and identity in their community (Gill, 2004). Thus, the impersonation of Kachinas as kachina dancers and the initiation of a child into the kachina cult are essential to Hopi daily life and represent a monumental rite of passage for ale children in the Hopi tribe.
The sacred tradition of carving kachina dolls remained in the Hopi tribe for hundreds of years until outsiders took an interest in appropriating the kachina dolls. In the late 19th to early 20th century, traders began selling kachina dolls and others began collecting them. Thus, some members of the Hopi tribe began to carve kachina dolls specifically to sell because of the traders and collectors’ strong interest in them; some Hopi members are even able to make a living carving kachina dolls to be sold rather than given to Hopi children.
Because of this, there are several types of kachina dolls available: modern kachina dolls that were made specifically to be sold, and older kachina dolls that were made specifically for and used by Hopi children. Most of the kachina dolls available today are the modern kachinas, made by the Hopi tribe specifically to sell, (Wright, 2008). However, because the kachina dolls have been so popular among traders and collectors, they have been even further appropriated and fake replicas of kachina dolls have been created and passed off as real and authentic in order to sell them (Wright, 2008).