PREAMBLE: As you may have observed I love the written word – etymology (derivations, explanations of what our words mean and how they sounded years ago) is a constant passion of mine and I get charged when I learn a new one – thus that strange word in the title of this post:
Girls and boys began their ceremonial careers soon after reaching six years of age by being inducted into the Kachina religious tradition. The spirits, or Kachina, came down from the mountains every spring to help the Hopis in all aspects of their lives. The Hopi conceive of the arrival of the Kachinas, as coming with a “gift burden” – every Hopi individual carries the obligation and constant concern to do
the right thing while caring for one another. There are over 200 Hopi Kachinas representing a wide variety of gods, spirits, departed ancestors, and clouds.
During the ceremonies men impersonated the Kachinas dressed in elaborate regalia. Women generally took the role of observers during the public aspects of ceremonies, which is a bit ironic in that the Hopi were a matriarchal society in which land was inherited through the female side of the family and when a man married a woman he went to live with her family.
Hopis are recognized as the first Native Americans to create Kachina dolls in the image of the Kachina Spirits, although other tribes adopted the practice and there are over 500 different types of kachina spirits. Hopi Kachina dolls are usually wood with painted designs. They are carved from cottonwood
roots and can be 1 to 18 inches tall. They can be male or female, shaped and painted to depict
clowns, spirits, the seasons, maidens and braves. They sometimes have eagle feather
headdresses, leather boots and jewelry that has been handed down from previous
generations. Here are my favorites:
KOKOPELLI – my obvious favorite to anyone who knows one of my email addresses (although I had to use “c’s” instead of a “k’s” since the “k” kokopellis were already in use. Not quite sure why this little guy entranced me – although he is known to be a trickster which I guess appeals to my mischievous nature. Kokopelli is the Hopi word for “wooden humped back” which makes sense as the figure is always hunched over as he plays his flute. He was the predominant figure in the religious landscape of the Southwest from 500 A.D. through 1325 A.D. He is considered a fertility deity as well as a lover of music, dance, replenishment and mischief. It is said that he brings the change of season from winter to spring and that the hunch on his back is actually a sack of seeds. His flute was said to be heard in the spring’s breeze, and that the entire Hopi village would sing and dance throughout the night when they heard Kokopelli’s song. And, in the morning, every woman in the village would be pregnant. Seeds, renewal – it all fits together – although this revelry sound very much like a Roman orgy. Ah, Kokopelli, you little devil!
CORN MAIDEN – Keeping the renewal theme, we turn now to the Corn Maiden Kachina. In the Pueblo culture, corn is the very symbol of life. The Corn Maiden brought this gift to the People. As the corn is given life by the Sun, the Corn Maiden brings the fire of the sun into the Peoples’ bodies. Each Maiden brings one seed of corn that is nurtured with love, like that given to a child. so that this one seed could sustain the entire tribe forever (see the similarity to the oil of the Jewish Chanukah or Jesus’ “feeding of the 5,000” or the “miracle of the five loaves and two fish”)? Love it when religions’ and cultures’ theories are parallel shows how similar we all are at the very core.
Back to the Corn Maiden with love and strength from the tribe, the seeds mature and grow tall and strong, offering mature ears of corn and a healthy crop for the People. She is considered the “Grandmother of the Sun and the Light.”
My Corn Maiden Kachina beautifully illustrates the growth of the seed/child in one continuous carved silhouette from the Corn Maiden to Seed to Child – I was very luck to have found such a lovely work of art:
SUNFACE DANCER – Since the Corn Maiden is so closely aligned with the sun it is only fitting that my final piece is the beloved Sunface Dancer who represents the sun’s warmth, and the hope for shelter and a bright future. Representing the spirit of the Sun this Kachina also goes by other names – Tawa is one of the most common, but he also goes by the Sun Shield Kachina. The most prominent features of this Kachina are his head and headdress – a circle of feathers frame his face that has a black triangle mouth and black rectangular eyes.
The Sun Kachina has an important part in Hopi myth, as the Sun God was one of the founders of the Earth. Sun spirits are a recurring theme across many cultures – Egypt’s Ra, or Amun, the Greek Helios who rode a chariot across the sky, causing daytime, the Hindu Surya and so on – we will explore some of these in future posts.
So as Helios wends his way towards the end of the day, I will stop now. Next week: Kwaguilith, Coast Salish, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Yup’ik, Gitxsan – will give you a week to figure out how to pronounce the names of these autochthonous tribes of Pacific Northwest Canada.