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Saturday, February 26, 2011

HOPI KACHINAS

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We put in the video below not just because it
contains a number of works of art depicting kachinas,
but also because the music is a good audio background for
looking the post over.  There are a small number of photos
related to the Hopi Snake Dance here as well.  The Snake Dance
is not a kachina dance.  Kachinas have masks.
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Kachinas are supernatural beings,
who during periods when their dances are held,
are believed to visit the Hopi.
When this season is over,
they withdraw to their homes in the
San Francisco Mountains or elsewhere.
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They are represented in the dances
by men who are masked and painted to
correspond to the traditional conception of
the appearance of each Kachina.

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Small wooden images, carved, painted,
and decorated with feathers, are also used
to represent them.
After the ceremonial dances are held
these dolls are given to the children
to play with.
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From a Santa Fe Railway brochure, 1948
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From the Introduction to Masked Gods by
 Frank Waters
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They began dancing.
Shaking their rattles at the cringing children.
Glaring at the stolid missionary.
Crying at the pipe-chewing trader.
Dancing back and forth before the rapt boy
seeing them for the first time.
No longer man nor beast nor bird,
but embodied forces of earth and sky
swirling across the sea of snow from the
blue montains on the horizon,
shaking this remote and rocky island,
stiring awake the archaic wonder and
mystery and pristine purity of man's
apperception of his cosmic role.
Dancing as gods have always danced before
their people. Masked by the grotesque,
but commanding that comprehension of the heart
which alone recognizes the beauty within. .

Suddenly it was over.
"Humph!" muttered Bruce, the trader. "Let's go."
The boy silently followed him down the trail
to the wagon. The missionary mounted his grey nag.
They plodded homeward to the trading post
and Bruce put on a pot of coffee.
The missionary stood in front of a shelf
looking at a row of small figures carved out of
cottonwood and painted to resemble the dancers.
"Idols," he said disapprovingly, new to the country.
"Dolls!" muttered Bruce tersely
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The boy still held his tongue.
This was the first time he had
ever seen a kachina dance, and it still
held him in a strange spell he
could not shake off.
"You say these carved wooden idols
or dolls are called kachina,"
persisted the missionary.
"But you called those masked dancers kachinas too.
Now I can understand that all these images
represent a pagan anthropomorphic
god called Kachina.
But when an ethnologist tells me
the spirits of the dead, of mountains, clouds,
trees, and animals are all kachina,
I'm confused. I simply don't understand."
"Why the the hell should you?"
demanded Bruce, gruffly.
I don't know anything about Indians,
even after forty years."
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The remarks about the kachinas
were confusing to the boy.
It did not matter. For, as years of comprehension
slowly crept upon him, he began to understand.
Life is a mystery play. It's players are cosmic principles
wearing the mortal masks of mountain and man.
We have only to lift the masks which cloak us
to find at last the immortal gods who
walk in our image across the stage.
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