Native American Dolls & Kachinas

Native American dolls kachinas and the likes have been used by the Native American Indians since prehistoric times up to the present. The earliest dolls excavated and collected from caves are believed to be either children’s toys, hunting charms, fertility charms, or figures used in ceremony.

Most of the Native American dolls kachinas and other doll figures made in historic times were children’s play toys. Doll making was not a profession except in Hopi. It was practiced by the women. Some doll makers went to great details with the toys while others were crudely made. Some were probably made by children themselves. Dolls and toys taught all phases of skills needed by adults. Therefore, plains Indian girls often had small tipis with all the furniture and dolls to play at adult village life. Materials ranged from sticks, river reeds, cornhusk, buckskin, bark, cloth, fur, pottery and stone, wood and beads, etc.

Among the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico, all had kachina spirits and dances. But only among the Zuni and Hopi were kachinas carved. These dolls were not prayed to, as a Catholic Saint image would be. They were teaching tools to help the Pueblos identify their kachina spirits. There are over 3000 kachina spirits. At the kachina dances, it is determined by the priests in the Kivas which dances will be performed each season. So a hummingbird kachina dancer may not be seen in the plaza at a dance for 30 years.

Thus, the kachinas help the people to remember and identify what the spirits look like so they will recognize them. At certain times during a childs life cycle, kachinas are given to the Hopi and Zuni children. The kachinas are traditionally carved only by Hopi and Zuni men. They are not play toys. Originally they were made to hang from the Pueblo rooms rafters. But due to their popularity with collectors, the more elaborate sculptural Hopi kachina doll standing on a base developed.

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