The kachina (or Katsina) tradition originated with the Hopi, a tribe of Native Americans that reside in Northeastern Arizona. There are approximately 500 different kachina spirits --- commonly depicted through ceremonial dance and small figurines --- with the first doll on record dating to the late 1850s. Artisans craft the figurines out of cottonwood root, which is referred to as paako in the Hopi language. Each kachina doll is sculpted and painted to portray the spirit's distinctive characteristics.
The kachina tradition is used to educate the children about the various Hopi spirits. Kids are not taught to idolize these spirits, but to understand their attributes and folklore. Young boys only receive two kachina dolls, the Putsqatihu and Putstihu taywa'yla. Afterwards, they're taught about the spirits through various ceremonial dances, using masks and costumes. The Muringputihu and Tithu are only given to young girls, who receive all four types of kachina dolls throughout their childhood.
Putsqatihu is first kachina doll a Hopi child receives, as it's a symbol of protection for newborn babies. This doll is comprised only of the kachina's face, with just enough features to make the spirit identifiable. To create this kachina doll, the artisan sculpts the doll's face out of a piece of circular wood before it's painted. The finished Putsqatihu doll is hung from the infant's cradle board.
As Hopi children become toddlers, they're introduced to their first full-body kachina dolls, called the Putstihu taywa'yla. This kachina stands about 6 to 8 inches tall and has a flat body, arms and legs. The face of the Putstihu taywa'yla is carved to depict the spirit's features and it's painted with symbolic colors. This doll is also used as a symbol of protection and to bestow blessings on the Hopi toddler.
The first fully carved figurine is the Muringputihu, which is intended for Hopi girls when they're about 18 months old. This kachina doll has a cylindrical body and a face with three-dimensional features. The eyes are painted in half moons or round orbs, while the mouth of the figurine is either triangular or crescent shaped. Other painted symbols include horns or feathers, plus basic costuming, such as a plain kilt-like skirt.
The final doll given to a child is the Tithu, which a Hopi girl receives at the age of 2, marking her final stage of postnatal development. The kachina doll is usually handed to the child by a masked kachina dancer during the rites of passage ceremony. The Tithu is painted, adorned with real horns or feathers and is dressed in a traditional costumes --- from feather skirts to fox skin. Additionally, the Tithu is marked with various colors and symbols from the Hopi culture, including phallic symbols and warrior markings.
- "The Hopi Approach to the Art of Kachina Doll Carving"; Erik Bromberg; 1986
- "More Than Moccasins: A Kid's Activity Guide to Traditional North"; Carlson; 1994
- "Hopi Kachinas"; Edward A. Kennard; 2002
- "Native Peoples of the Southwest"; Trudy Griffin-Pierce; 2000
- Kachina.us: Guide to Hopi Kachina (katsina) Dolls
- Dick Luria/Photodisc/Getty Images