It is a bit of a misnomer to call Kachina figures dolls at all. These stylized icons are a tangible way to teach Hopi children about their religion, and have been serving this purpose for many generations of Hopi Indians. Authentic Kachina dolls are made from cottonwood root and painted to depict one of the 400 mythical beings in the Hopi religion. The Hopi children took great care of Kachinas, and were instructed not to play with them, contrary to the uses of other dolls in their culture. It is also important to note that only the Hopi Indians made the authentic Kachina dolls, and figures made by Navajos and Mexicans, while very beautiful, are not actually Kachina dolls (regardless of their labels).
Traditionally, Kachina dolls were given to uninitiated girls by their uncles during the Bean Dance, or Spring Bean Planting Ceremony, or the Home Dance in the summer. Hopi dancers would dress up like Kachinas during religious festivals and are said to embody the same qualities of the religious beings they represent. Some Hopis give Kachina dolls to children during other important ceremonies, in addition to the Bean and Home festivals.
There are only a few Hopi carvers who create these intricate Kachina dolls; these artisans have dedicated their entire lives to learning this craft. Their training includes intensive religious study and master carving; which means that it takes effort to seek out qualified Kachina carvers. If you are looking for genuine Kachina dolls, you will likely need to visit a native craft shop, where they will either carry the dolls or be able to connect you with a Hopi Kachina carver. Beware of imitators, who may carve beautiful dolls, but who are not trained in Hopi religion and do not have the mastery of this type of spiritual artistry.
More on this subject: Kachina Dolls
Related Article Links
Disclaimer: The American Indian Heritage Foundation or Indians.org do not personally endorse or support any of the comments made within the writings of this article.