Hopi Katsina (Kachina) Dolls

Hopi katsina dolls, called tihu in Hopi, are carved representations of the katsinam, the spirits essences of ancestors, plants, animals, clouds, and, indeed, everything in the Hopi universe. They are carved from the root of the cottonwood tree and traditionally given to young girls by the katsimam at the time of the ceremonial Bean Dance (Powamuya) in February and the Home Dance (Niman) in late July. When katsina dolls are presented, they are given as prayer gifts for the girl to grow, be happy, strong, and healthy; to have a long life, and in turn, have children of her own.

Shop Katsina Dolls Now

The Museum of Northern Arizona’s Museum Shop has a fine, authentic selection of all three styles of katsina dolls: flat, traditional and contemporary. Our knowledgeable staff will be happy to answer your questions about this traditional Hopi art form.

Background

The Hopi Indian people live in a series of twelve villages in the high mesa country of northeastern Arizona. Although this region is rugged and arid, the Hopi people have lived here for centuries, traditionally subsisting on such staples as corn, beans, and squash, wild greens, and hunted animals. Farming on this land requires great skill and an intimate understanding of the environment. To live and farm here the Hopi have traditionally depended on water from their springs and from rain and snow. The Hopi also look to their ancestor spirits, the katsinam, who return in the form of clouds to nourish all living things with life sustaining moisture. These katsinam appear in physical form in the Hopi villages in a series of ceremonies from the winter solstice to a month past the summer solstice, from late December to late July. It is at these ceremonies that tihu, katsina dolls, are given to little girls by the katsinam. These dolls, as the katsinam themselves, represent the spirit world of the Hopi: ancestors, animals, plants and everything that makes up the Hopi universe. They can take hundreds of forms. The way in which the doll is painted, particularly the markings on the face, indicate which katsina it is.

Laguna Corn Kachina Corn Boy Kachina Doll Turkey kachina doll Dragonfly Kachina Doll

Infant girls receive their first doll in the form a flat or “cradle” doll (putsqatihu) that represents Hahay’wuuti, the “mother of the katsinam,” who is said to embody all the qualities of a good mother. In some villages, infant boys may also receive this flat doll, although they then receive no other. Little girls receive these cradle dolls for several years and then when they are older they begin receiving katsina dolls with arms, legs, and carved bodies. When young girls receive katsina dolls, either they play with them or hang them on beams or the walls of the home.

The oldest known katsina dolls date to the early eighteenth century though it is likely that the form is more ancient in Hopi culture. The earliest dolls are flat, like the infant dolls of today, with a simple cut defining the head from the body. The earliest examples of painted katsina dolls reveal that the head was painted with the characteristic markings of the particular katsina. The most important part of the katsina doll is encoded in the face, which bears the most important identifying information about the katsina

From the late 19th through the 20th century, a market for katsina dolls evolved. In response to influences from non-Hopi traders and collectors, carving became more elaborate through time. Today more katsina dolls are carved for non-Hopi collecting than are carved for Hopi use and this has changed the style. Many katsina dolls carved for the non-Hopi market, labeled “contemporary dolls,” are now carved with high tech tools, painted with acrylic paints and stains, and are placed on a base for easier display. They also tend to be more sculptural, often carved in action poses characteristic of a particular katsina. The most elaborate carvings are sometimes referred to as katsina sculpture.

Traditional katsina dolls made for Hopi use however, are usually still carved with simple tools such as knives and rasps, and painted with vegetal and mineral pigments. Most importantly, they are carved to represent the spirit of the katsina in subtle poses that often capture the essence of the katsina’s movements. In most cases traditional style dolls do not include a base.

Terms:

Kachina or katsinaMany people are confused by the different spellings of “kachina”. Kachina is the English form of the word. The Hopi language does not have the “ch” sound and the proper Hopi pronunciation, and spelling, is “katsina”.

Katsina: A spirit being representing ancestors, plants, animals, clouds, and all things in the Hopi universe. Katsinam, plural. Katsinam come in physical form to the Hopi villages from late December, at the winter solstice to late July, a month past the summer solstice.

Tihu: katsina doll, tithu, plural.

Putsqatihu: Flat or “cradle” katsina doll.

Source: Hopi Kachina Dolls, Robert Breunig and Michael Lomatuway’ma, Plateau Magazine, Museum of Northern Arizona, 1982.