History, Department of


Date of this Version

September 2008


Published in Hopi Nation: Essays on Indigenous Art, Culture, History, and Law, edited by Edna Glenn, John R. Wunder, Willard Hughes Rollings, and C. L. Martin (Lincoln, NE: UNL Digital Commons, 2008). Copyright © 2008 the Estate of Edna Glenn, Willard Hughes Rollings, Abbott Sekaquaptewa, Barton Wright, Michael Kabotie, Terrance Talaswaima, Alice Schlegel, Robert H. Ames, Peter Iverson, and John R. Wunder. All images and artwork are copyright by the individual artists; for a listing see pages 9-14.


“Life is the highest good; in an environment where survival requires constant effort, . . . the richest blessing is abundance of food and children.”

Kachina dolls, those representations of the dancers who impersonate the supernatural kachinas, have captured the fancy of many art lovers for their colorfulness, the skill with which they are frequently made, and the variety of kachina forms they represent. To the collector, they are art objects, to be appreciated in terms of color, design and quality of craftsmanship. To the historian or museum curator, they are representative of the kachinas; as such, they are classified and their history and distribution are traced. The dolls have become the object of study in this regard by such authorities as Colton (1959), Erickson (1977), Fewkes (1894), and Wright (1977). But rarely has the doll been analyzed as a symbolic object in a gift exchange between two types of kin, going from father to daughter. This analysis is not concerned with the doll as an art form or as a representation of particular kinds of kachinas; rather, it will observe the doll as an artifact and attempt to answer two questions: Why is it the duty of a father to give the doll to his daughter? And why is the gift a representation of a kachina rather than something else?

Let us first look at the circumstances of the gift. Dolls are usually given indirectly by fathers to daughters. The father arranges for a kachina dancer to present his daughter with a doll. The relationship between giver and recipient can be any of the father-daughter relationships that exist in the Hopi social world: the “real” father of the female, any man of his clan whom the female addresses as father in the clan sense, or any man who is addressed as father because he is the brother of a ceremonial mother, a woman who has sponsored the female through an initiation into a ceremonial society. The term female has been selected because it is not just a girl who receives dolls; she is given her first doll shortly after birth and can go on receiving them throughout her entire life.

The dolls are kachina representations, and they are most frequently given at the two great kachina ceremonies: Powamu, or Bean Dance, and Niman, or Home Dance, the last dance of the kachinas before they go “home” to the San Francisco Peaks and to their dance cycle in the underworld. Both of these ceremonies have agricultural connotations: The Bean Dance anticipates the planting season, with the forced sprouting of beans a foretaste of the good crops to come; while the Home Dance anticipates the harvest as the kachina dancers bring melons and other foods into the plaza to distribute among the onlookers.

With these two facts in mind, the relationship of giver and recipient and the nature of the gift, an exploration of the father-daughter relationship and the special meaning of kachinas for females becomes more significant. In addition, the gift itself—its derivation and content must be analyzed.