The Hopi are a group living in independent villages (Pueblos) located in northern Arizona where they have been engaged in dry farming for over a thousand years. Hopi is a contraction of Hopi-tuh which means “peaceful ones.”
The Hopi migration stories are histories of the Hopi clans. Each of the clans has its own narrative which describes the path that it took to arrive at the place where the people now live. When an area was abandoned, the remains of the Hopi ancestors were left behind. These ancestors are important as the weather patterns—something very important to dry land farmers—are controlled by these spirit ancestors.
Among the Hopi, 19 different varieties of corn were traditionally raised, but no single family raised all of these varieties. Farming was an important economic and subsistence activity. For the Hopi, farming is still intertwined with religion and with spiritual concepts.
Rain is an important focus of Hopi spirituality. There is a short growing season – 133 days – coupled with limited rainfall – an average of 12 inches per year. Thus it is important that the Hopi obtain supernatural help to make sure that there is adequate rainfall at the right time to ensure bountiful harvests. Many of the complex and beautiful Hopi rituals and dances are intended to bring rain.
One of the important spiritual concepts among the Pueblos is the katsina: generalized ancestors who return with the clouds and rains to help the community. The word katsina (also spelled kachina by some writers) means spirit father referring to “one who sits with the people.” These spirits spend part of the year in the Pueblos with the people and part of the year in the San Francisco Peaks.
The katsinas have the power to bring rain and general well-being to the Hopi communities. However, they must be properly petitioned through dramatic ceremonies. These petitions must be given cheerfully without any ill feelings towards other people or toward any aspect of the universe.
During ceremonies, the katsinas are portrayed by dancers. The dancers are men who take on the spiritual aura of the katsina when they don the katsina masks and ornaments. Tom Bahti, in his book Southwestern Indian Ceremonials, writes:
“Since it is only the spirit that is depicted, there is no attempt at realism in the portrayals.”According to Hopi tradition, parrots originally came with the katsinas from the south and they offered their feathers to the katsinas so that they could be used as a part of the headdress decoration. The katsina masks used in the ceremonies are covered with cloth and hung from rafters of the family’s storage room when they are not in use. They are considered as living entities and must be ceremonially fed every day. This task is usually done by the oldest female member of the household.
Among the Hopi, the Katsinas visit the realm of the living from the winter solstice to the summer solstice. They then return to their homes in the underworld. Beginning in December each year, the Katsinas come to live for a while with the people. From December through July the Katsinas will come and go from the kivas (underground ceremonial rooms).
There are several hundred Katsinas, each with its own regalia, style of movement, and distinctive voice. The Katsinas remind both the young and the old about the Hopi way and mediate between the way things are and they way they should be. They remind the people of the way things should be.
To teach the children about the many different Katsinas, the Hopi carve tihu or dolls which represent different Katsinas. These tihu are not dolls to be played with, but hung from a wall or beam as a valuable possession.
The tihu shown above are on display at the Portland Art Museum.