The Kachina Story
A kachina (/kəˈtʃiːnə/; also katchina, katcina, or katsina; Hopi: katsina /kətˈsiːnə/, plural katsinim /kətˈsiːnɨm/) is a spirit being in western Pueblo religious beliefs.
The western Pueblo, Native American cultures located in the southwestern United States include the Hopi, Zuni, Tewa Village (on the Hopi Reservation), Acoma Pueblo, and Laguna Pueblo. The kachina concept has three different aspects: the supernatural being, the kachina dancers (masked members of the community who represent kachinas at religious ceremonies), and kachina dolls, small dolls carved in the likeness of kachinas given as gifts to children.
Kachinas are spirits or personifications of things in the real world. These spirits are believed to visit the Hopi villages during the first half of the year. A kachina can represent anything in the natural world or cosmos, from a revered ancestor to an element, a location, a quality, a natural phenomenon, or a concept. There are more than 400 different kachinas in Hopi and Pueblo culture. The local pantheon of kachinas varies in each pueblo community; there may be kachinas for the sun, stars, thunderstorms, wind, corn, insects, and many other concepts. Kachinas are understood as having humanlike relationships; they may have uncles, sisters, and grandmothers, and may marry and have children. Although not worshipped, each is viewed as a powerful being who, if given veneration and respect, can use his particular power for human good, bringing rainfall, healing, fertility, or protection, for example.
The exact origin of the kachinas is not completely known, but according to one version of Hopi belief, the kachinas were beneficent spirit-beings who came with the Hopis from the underworld. The underworld is a concept common to all the Pueblo Indians. It is a place where the spirits or shades live: the newly born come from there and the dead return there. The kachinas wandered with the Hopis over the world until they arrived at Casa Grande, where both the Hopis and the kachinas settled for a while. With their powerful ceremonies, the kachinas brought rain for the crops and were in general of much help and comfort. Unfortunately, all of the kachinas were killed when the Hopis were attacked by enemies and their souls returned to the underworld. Since the sacred paraphernalia of the kachinas were left behind, the Hopis began impersonating the kachinas, wearing their masks and costumes, and imitating their ceremonies in order to bring rain, good crops, and life's happiness.
Another version says that in an early period, the kachinas danced for the Hopis, bringing them rain and all the many blessings of life. But eventually, the Hopis came to take the kachinas for granted, losing all respect and reverence for them, so the kachinas finally left and returned to the underworld. However, before they left, the kachinas taught some of their ceremonies to a few faithful young men and showed them how to make the masks and costumes. When the other Hopi realized their loss, they remorsefully turned to the human substitute of kachinas, and the ceremonies have continued since then.
In many ways the Kachina Cult and its ritual are the most important ceremonial observances in the Hopi religious calendar. Within Hopi religion, the kachinas are said to live on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona. To the Hopis, the name primarily refers to the supernatural beings who visit the villages to help the Hopis with everyday activities and act as a link between gods and mortals. These spirits are then impersonated by men who dress up in costumes and masks to perform ceremonial dances throughout the year. Wooden carvings of these spirits are also made to give to the children to help them identify the many kachinas. Overall, the kachinas can generally be said to represent historical events and things in nature, and are used to educate children in the ways of life.