The southwestern United States and adjacent regions of Mexico are a large arid desert. For the people living in this area, hunting and gathering was the primary subsistence until sometime during the first few centuries a.d. when a dramatic shift in subsistence occurred. The people placed more reliance on domesticated plants such as corn, beans and squash. Sedentary communities with masonry architecture developed. The people in these communiites are thought to be the ancestors of today's Puebloan peoples.
Among Pueblo groups, religion and cosmology are linked with the agricultural cycle and fertility. Kachinas are visual representations of the spiritual realm. These benevolent anthropomorphic beings are associated with rain, crops, and healing of the sick.
Kachinas visit the various Pueblos during the ceremonial season (from the winter solstice to the summer solstice) for important ceremonies and dances. Hopi society recognizes over 250 different kachinas. They can be either male or female and represent a host of animals, plants, and natural phenomena. They are the spiritual counterparts to everything in the real world. Kachina dancers are male, however, even if they represent a female kachina.
A great deal of variation in kachinas occurs from village to village. Kachina figures, called "tihu" by the Hopi, are carved to imitate the dancers. Kachina dancers give the figures to children to help them learn about the different kachinas and what they represent. Kachina figures are not toys but rather effigies of the kachinas they represent and are treated accordingly.
This online exhibit presents kachina dolls from the Kolbe collection. The Kolbe Collection contains late-20th century Southwestern Native American art donated by Donald Arthur Kolbe, Jr., in the 1980s. Included is an extensive collection of Hopi kachina dolls, as well as pottery, basketry, and textiles, many by prominent Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo artists. Much of this collection is on display in the Museum exhibit hall.
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