Southwest Kachina Figures
The Pueblo people were traditionally farmers, and, even in our contemporary world, some Hopi still raise the same crops as their ancestors - maize, beans, and squashes - using the old techniques that proved successful for farming in an arid and somewhat barren land. Hopi corn is planted in hills of small groups of plants that are widely separated from one another. In this way, there is less competition among the plants for what rain water is available, and each hill can more easily be hand watered when needed. But in this arid land, the Hopi have always known that to survive the erratic nature of the environment, they must also turn to the supernatural world for help. Thus, Hopi religion includes an annual ceremonial cycle that focuses upon maintaining the harmony of the world and the bringing of water and fertility to the people and their crops. The spirit beings known as the katsinam (katsina - singular and katsinam - plural) and the ceremonies revolving around them are the most important element in the Hopi belief system.
The katsinam represent ancestral spirits and the vital forces of life and the universe (including rain, wind, and fire). Some take the form of animals, plants, clouds, stars, and abstract elements. They bring the rain to grow Hopi crops and help keep the world in balance, but the Hopi believe they, the human beings, must carry out an annual round of ceremonies to ensure this. The katsinam home is in the San Francisco Peaks, west of the Hopi mesas. There they live for half the year, but at the winter solstice, or shortly thereafter, the katsinam arrive in the Hopi villages, where they stay until the summer solstice. While among the Hopi, they are the focus of several ceremonies.
Often the most important rituals take place within the kiva, the sacred ceremonial structure of the Hopi. These rituals are hidden from public view, but in the major ceremonies, the katsinam always make their appearance in public dances or dramas. Sometimes carved images of the katsinam are given as gifts to Hopi children and women during ceremonies such as the Powamuya, or Bean Dance, in February. The katsina dolls are known as tihu in Hopi and are carved by Hopi men from the roots of cottonwood trees. Considered as precious representations of these vital spirits, the katsinam, the dolls are cared for by the children and help them to learn to recognize the many different katsinam. More than 300 katsinam are known, although no one community has all of them.
Today some Hopi carve katsina dolls strictly for sale on the art market. These sculptures are not quite perfect representations of a particular katsina, however, for perfectly correct dolls are only given to Hopi children. Illustrated below are several katsinam in the form of dolls carved for sale.