One of the most recognizable art forms in Native American culture, Kachina dolls serve as a tool to teach Native children the traditions, culture, and history of their heritage. The Kachina doll pays homage to a specific Kachina spirit. Depending on the tribe, these spirits are powerful deities that can represent the forces of nature, act as messengers of the Great Spirit, or even represent the ancestors of the Native American people themselves.
Kachina spirits typically hide their true identities under masks. Many of their masks are made to reflect a specific animal and embody that animal’s traits. In many Native American rituals and ceremonies, the members of the tribe will impersonate these figures and wear the masks of the powerful Kachina figures to tell the history and legends of the Native American people. In this way, they teach the next generation and keep their culture alive and thriving.
For example, the Bear Kachina is a spirit that is both wise and strong, the perfect role for a leader within the tribe to play during certain ceremonies.
There are even hierarchies of the kachina that showcase their temperaments. There are warrior Kachinas, who have a stern personality and take their responsibilities within the tribe seriously and the clown Kachinas that have a playful nature and usually entertain the children with tricks and games during ceremonies.
Depending on the artist creating the piece, Kachina dolls can be quite complex, featuring fine details, limbs, and even carved scenes to go with them. Traditional Kachina dolls are typically made of a single piece of carved wood and have a cylindrical shape to them.
Creating artistic Kachina dolls become popular as more and more Americans became enamored by the concept and Native artists sought to promote both their art and culture to the general public at the same time. Since this time, Kachina dolls have continued to evolve in complexity and some Kachina dolls are stunning when made by talented hands.