The Ute Mountain Trading Company is proud to offer a wide range of kachina dolls made here in Cortez, CO by our Native American artists. There are over 400 different kachina spirits in existence, so it is difficult to create a comprehensive guide to cover all aspects of kachinas and kachina dolls in Hopi culture.
Kachina Dolls – Historical Background
The word kachina (or katsina in Hopi) is the preferred term to refer to any of the hundreds of spiritual beings that are central to traditional Hopi beliefs. Today, kachina dolls are made of a number of different materials, but were traditionally crafted and carved from the roots of cottonwood trees. The roots of cottonwood trees, or paako in Hopi, retain a special significance in Hopi culture, as they were able to find abundant sources of water in unlikely places. Cottonwood trees were once quite abundant on Hopi lands, but populations have significantly decreased in recent decades. This shortage has led some traditional artists to have to substitute cottonwood for other, more readily available materials. Kachina dolls have been used by the Hopi and surrounding tribes for centuries, and were first recorded by European settlers as far back as the 16th century. Beginning in the 20th century, the Navajo began to also make kachina dolls, with design additions from their own culture. Here at Ute Mountain Trading Company, we feature mainly dolls made in in the Hopi tradition, but also feature a number of Navajo kachina dolls as well.
19th Century Kachina Dolls – Photo courtesy of 1stdibs.com
Kachina dolls serve as religious icons, representing the kachinas (katsinam in Hopi) that instructed the Hopis on how to survive on earth after their emergence. Kachinas provide guidance to the Hopi throughout life, and protect them from harm. The Hopi, Zuni, and Apache tribes found great solace in the rain deity kachina as the spirit responsible for bringing rain to the area. As previously mentioned, there are over 400 kachinas, and therefore different kachinas tend to represent different aspects of life. The Soyoko Kachina, for example, makes sure that children behave properly and do all of their chores on time. The Bear Dancer and Badger Dancer Kachinas are also said to have the power to cure the sick.
Although nowadays kachina dolls are mainly sold as works of art, they still retain their significance in Hopi rituals and educational practices. The dolls are generally given to Hopi children, beginning at a very young age. They help to instruct children about Hopi beliefs and community responsibilities, and are a constant reminder to maintain proper behavior.
Photo courtesy of americanindianoriginals.com
Crafting and Style
While kachina dolls are still crafted using traditional methods, advancement in technology over the last 200 years has lead to significant changes in the styling and carving methods. In the past, the dolls were made from a single piece of wood that was carved, smoothed, and then painted to represent a particular kachina. Today, kachinas are often made with more intricate carving designs, and are often assembled from several different pieces. The artist may choose to carve adorning objects or even the head of the doll separately from the body.
The Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ places the styles of kachina dolls into three distinct categories. One method of carving tends to represent the kachina dolls in a very similar way to how they looked in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but adding a little flare from the artist’s personal style. Another style represents the kachinas as they would appear and move in a ceremony. This method gained popularity in the 1970’s with the introduction of new carving technologies, and has led to kachinas being represented with more intricacy and in an array of action poses. The third method presents the kachina in sculptural form, often in a manner that represents a particular story.
Variety of Kachina Dolls in different styles – Photo courtesy of galerieflak.com
Ute Mountain Trading Company is proud to offer a large selection of kachina dolls reflecting the Hopi and Navajo traditions at our location in Cortez, CO. Stop by to see our ever-changing selection!