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#CollectionHighlight: Katsina

This katsina (kachina) likely represents Mongwu, a Great Horned Owl katsina who appears during the summer katsina day dances of the Hopi. Katsina (or kachina) figures, known in the Hopi language as Tithu or Katsinthithu, are still used to teach the young about katsinas or Katsinam, the immortal beings that bring balance to the world and act as messengers between the spirit and human worlds. These beings are represented in religious ceremonies and dances throughout the Hopi ceremonial calendar.

Mongwu is a warrior katsina who is in constant war against the clowns, another group of Hopi katsina. During the summer katsina day dances, the clowns will act in behavior that is in opposition of traditional Hopi values and culture. Mongwu will watch the clowns and their inappropriate behavior each day of the dances until confronting the clown chief. At the last performance of the dances, Mongwu is joined by the other warrior katsinas who help him to attack the clowns for their misbehavior.

In Hopi and other Pueblo cultures, katsinam are considered to be ancestral spirits. There are over 500 of these spirits and they serve as intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds. Tribes have their own katsinam who reside with the tribe during half of the year, between the winter solstice and summer solstice. In Hopi culture, if men properly perform a ritual dance while wearing a katsina mask, then the katsina can be seen in the community. During the dance, the dancer is temporarily transformed into the katsina he is portraying.

Katsina dolls such as this one from the collection, in the form of small, wooden dolls, are common tourist items and are traditionally carved and decorated by men, however in more recent years women have also taken up this art form. Hear Cecil Calnimptewa, Hopi Katsina Carver, talk about his work and the carving tradition in the video below.

Additional Resources:
  • Wright, Barton. Kachinas: A Hopi Artist’s Documentary. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2014.
  • Bates, Bryan. “Ancestral Hopi Calendar at Wupatki.” YouTube Video, 22 minutes 47 seconds, September 21, 2020.
  • Jacka, Lois and Jerry Jacka. Art of the Hopi: Contemporary Journeys on Ancient Pathways. Flagstaff: Northland Publishing, 1998.
  • Teiwes, Helga. Kachina Dolls: The Art of Hopi Carvers. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991.