American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Katsinas

Katsina, also spelled Kachina or Katcina, is a Hopi word that has three definitions: (1) a spiritual "friend," one of more than 300 deities who help keep the world in balance; (2) a ceremonial dancer who represents one of the spiritual "friends"; (3) a wooden carved doll used to teach children about the spiritual world.

The Katsina Society is a religious organization of both men and women who carry on the spiritual function of their religion. Perhaps 1,000 years ago, the Katsina Clan, a group of extended families, moved from Mexico into the American Southwest. They are believed to have walked with the Parrot Clan upstream along the Rio Grande into central New Mexico. They visited many hundreds of Keresan- and Tewa-speaking pueblos, where they established their religious societies. Their religion still exists in the Rio Grande pueblos, although they are hidden in secret societies. Reference to them is whispered as the "K Society." Only rarely do they emerge from their kivas, religious chambers that symbolize the womb of Mother Earth.

Members of the Katsina Clan and Society spread westward to the Acoma, Zuni, and Hopi pueblos. The Acoma Katsina Society is secret, like those along the Rio Grande. At Zuni, the Katsina Society is very revered, even as they come out of the kivas and dance in the plazas. The largest Zuni ceremony is called Shalako; it occurs during the winter solstice when eight-foot-tall spiritual deities are fed at designated homes. At Hopi, the Katsina Societies remain very strong and well attended. Each village sponsors a Katsina Society where children are initiated during the spring Powowmu, or Purification Ceremony. At the end of summer, hundreds of Katsinas gather in the plazas for the Home Dance, a beautiful and awe-inspiring ceremony. The Katsinas then depart for their winter home atop the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona.

In 1894, Smithsonian anthropologist Jesse Walter Fewkes published the first of three major studies on Katsinas. Thousands of people began attending the Katsina dances. Among the throngs were individuals who were excited to collect Katsina dolls, as well as paintings, baskets, pottery, and other Hopi arts and crafts. The finest Katsina dolls now sell for more than $100,000 at Sotheby's and other international auction houses.

In 1906, a split occurred at Hopi over the issue of whether children should be removed from homes to attend government boarding schools. At Old Oraibi, the dispute resulted in a tug-of-war. The traditionals lost and were forced to establish a new village. At the boarding schools, Hopi children were forbidden to speak their language. However, when some teachers secretly allowed Hopi children to paint freely, they created colorful paintings of Katsinas and sacred clowns. Fred Kabotie, Waldo Mootzka, Raymond Naha, and others became successful fine art Katsinas painters.

In 1959, Harold S. Colton first published a book that allowed collectors to identify hundreds of different Katsina figures by name and attributes. He described the unique features and color combinations that distinguish each Katsina doll. The book became a best seller by Indian art standards, being reprinted over and over again.

In the 1970s, two distinctive styles emerged: traditional dolls with or without feathers and realistic dolls featuring finely carved wooden sculptures of Katsinas. Walter Howato, Jimmy Koots, and Orin Pooley were among the most popular traditional doll makers. Cecil Calnimptewa, Ronald and Brian Honyuti, Dennis Tewa, Loren Phillips, and Ros George emerged as popular realistic carvers. They studied books of Michelangelo's sculptures and Gray's Anatomy to perfect their renditions of the human form. To demonstrate their mastery of carving, top artists began to make "one-piece dolls." A new category was created for them at Indian Market in the Heard Museum Show in Santa Fe, Phoenix, and at the Hopi Show at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. The prize ribbons won by top Hopi carvers attract major collectors who compete with passion for the best dolls.

Gregory Schaaf


Further Reading
Colton, Harold. 1987. Hopi Kachina Dolls: With a Key to Their Identification. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.; David, Neil, Sr., et al. 1994. Kachinas: Spirit Beings of the Hopi. Albuquerque, NM: Avanyu Publishing.; Fewkes, Jesse Walter. 1897. "Tusayan Katcinas." In the Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Report. Vol. 15. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.; Secakuku, Alph. 1995. Following the Sun and Moon: Hopi Kachina Tradition. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press.; Wright, Barton. 1977. Hopi Kachinas: The Complete Guide to Collecting Kachina Dolls. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press.
 

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