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A kachina (//; also katchina, katcina, or katsina; Hopi: katsina /kətˈsiːnə/, plural katsinim /kətˈsiːnɨm/) is a spirit being in western Pueblo cosmology and religious practices. The western Pueblo, Native American cultures located in the southwestern United States, include Hopi, Zuni, Tewa Village (on the Hopi Reservation), Acoma Pueblo, and Laguna Pueblo. The kachina religion has spread to more eastern Pueblos, e.g., from Laguna to Isleta. The term also refers to the kachina dancers, masked members of the tribe who dress up as kachinas for religious ceremonies, and kachina dolls, wooden figures representing kachinas which are given as gifts to children.
Kachinas are spirits or personifications of things in the real world. A kachina can represent anything in the natural world or cosmos, from a revered ancestor to an element, a location, a quality, a natural phenomenon, or a concept. There are more than 400 different kachinas in Hopi and Pueblo culture. The local pantheon of kachinas varies in each pueblo community; there may be kachinas for the sun, stars, thunderstorms, wind, corn, insects, and many other concepts. Kachinas are understood as having humanlike relationships; they may have uncles, sisters, and grandmothers, and may marry and have children. Although not worshipped, each is viewed as a powerful being who, if given veneration and respect, can use his particular power for human good, bringing rainfall, healing, fertility, or protection, for example. One observer has written:
The central theme of the kachina [religion] is the presence of life in all objects that fill the universe. Everything has an essence or a life force, and humans must interact with these or fail to survive.
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Kachina was the most widespread and practiced religion by the Pueblo two hundred years or so before the Spaniards came to the West.
The Zuni believe that the kachinas live in the Lake of the Dead, a mythical lake which is reached through Listening Spring Lake. This is located at the junction of the Zuni River and the Little Colorado River.
Among the Hopi, kachina dolls are traditionally carved by the uncles and given to uninitiated girls at the Bean Dance (Spring Bean Planting Ceremony) and Home Dance Ceremony in the summer. The function of the dolls is to acquaint children with some of the many kachinas.
In Hopi the word is often used to represent the spiritual beings themselves (said to be connected with the Fifth World, Taalawsohu), the dolls, or the people who dress as kachinas for ceremonial dances, which are understood to all embody aspects of the same belief system. Among other uses, the kachinas represent historical events and things in nature, and are used to educate children in the ways of life.
Hopi clowns are an integral part of Hopi Kachina ceremonials where they participate in sacred rituals as well as unique clown performances—some with direct contact with the spectators. The clown's performance centers on humor and entertainment, but also they monitor the assembled crowd and provide policing activities over both the Kachina performers and the audience. Mockery is a tool used to warn spectators of non-Hopi behavior, and generally long remembered by the recipient of clown attention.
The clown personages play dual roles. Their prominent role is to amuse the audience during the extended periods of the outdoor celebrations and Kachina Dances where they perform as jesters or circus clowns. Their more subtle and sacred role is in the Hopis’ ritual performances. The sacred functions of the clowns are relatively private, if not held secret by the Hopi, and as a result have received less public exposure. When observing the preparations taking place in a Kiva of a number of ‘’Pai’yakyamu’’ clowns getting ready for their ceremonial performance, Alexander Stephen was told, “We Koyala [Koshari] are the fathers of all Kachina.”
The Hopi have four groups of clowns, some are sacred. Adding to the difficulty in identifying and classifying these groups, there are a number of kachinas whose actions are identified as clown antics. Barton Wright’s Clowns of the Hopi identifies, classifies, and illustrates the extensive array of clown personages.
Their performance as buffoons and comics in the outdoor celebrations is more easily recognized by the spectators and followers of the Kachina cult because clown skits and comic actions speak an international language. These antics when captured in Kachina doll carvings and Hopi paintings of clowns reach a far greater audience than the limited audiences that see kachina ceremonies.
The most familiar clowns, the Koshare (Koshari or Koyala), part of the ‘’Pai’yakyamu’’ group, are common to the Rio Grande Pueblos. They were introduced to the Hopi at the time of migration of the Tewa people to First Mesa where they established the village of Hano.
The Koyemsi, commonly called the Mud-head are widely known and easily identified since their body is covered with earth-colored clay, and their heads are covered with buckskin masks stained with the same earth-colored pigment. Several knobs or sometimes sausage-like projection decorate their mask. The Koyemsi descend from the Zuni and at Hopi serve many functions beyond those considered clowning.
The most important of the kachinas are known as wuya. These are some of the wuyas:
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