Southwest: The Kachina Cult
Once again we will visit the spiritualism of the Pueblo but we will now focus more on the religious societies or cults of the Pueblos. The main focus of this will be on the Kachina Cult and its place in the Pueblo society. I mentioned the kachina monster in the last post which is a cautionary tale told to children to basically scare them. The kachina actually is many different things good and evil just like the wakan that were also mentioned in the last post.
Kachina actually means “father of life’ and are supernatural beings that possessed the many powers like the power to give abundant harvests. Kachinas were also known as the “cloud people” who live half of the year in the world below and half on earth in accordance to the Winter and Summer Solstices. The kachinas were thought to have visited in person long ago and that in current times possess impersonators. These impersonators were believed to become the actual spirits once they put on the costumes and masks. In fact the masks themselves were to be treated with the utmost respect or the dancers would be killed. Theses masks were considered living entities and were even fed with corn (Rochete 2010).
Most children believed the dancers were actually the spirits themselves so when they reached the age of around eight or nine they were initiated into the Kachina Cult. It was at this point that it was revealed to the children that their ancestors were kachinas but they were sworn to secrecy about it. This whole process was supposed to give the children a higher understanding so that they wouldn’t reject the beliefs (Rochete 2010).
During their annual ceremonies men roamed the pueblos dressed up like various kachina spirits. Only the men in the societies were allowed to dress up as the kachinas and it wasn’t until puberty until they could enter into the secret societies that impersonated the kachinas. In this society they were all about the society’s past and the power of nature as well the job of the kachina which was to entertain and discipline the crowds (Rochete 2010).
There were over 300 types of kachinas that made appearances during the annual rituals. There are even 200 more of them that make even more sporadic appearances. This system though was not the same for each village since many were added and dropped by each individual pueblo. The kachinas had their own personalities and qualities and even had their own associated masks, colors and markings. For example there was the kachina named kwahu who was an eagle kachina who had a beaked face and feathers on his arms (pictured above). Kwahu was a fixture in Febuary during the Powamu ceremony which was a Hopi ceremony to promote crop fertility. The Powamu was also known as the bean dance for the dancers prepared the ground by sprouting beans in soil that they took from the kivas (Rochete 2010).
Kachina dolls made out of word and painted by men were very popular and were given to children. What is important to realize though is that these were not toys but used to teach children about the kachinas, beliefs and values. They represented the sacred so they were said to hold tremendous power. Now a days you can buy kachina dolls on reservations since most reservations want to increase revenue. It was thought though back in the day that if the kachina doll was sold that the power of the kachina was diluted (Rochete 2010).
2010. Anth 146 Lecture for October 14, 2010.
The Pennsylvania State University.
Picture Courtesy of carolebourdo.com