Hopi Masks – Kachina Personalities

Published on May 15, 2014 by Amy

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Hopi Masks
Hopi Masks

Hopi Masks and Kachinas…

On the Kachina page, I go into detail on the basis, traditions and the “now” of Kachinas, but did not dig very deeply into the Hopi masks worn by the men as they portray the Kachina spirits.

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The Hopi masks of the Kachina dancers are a very important part of the Kachina dances held by the Pueblo tribes. The masks are vastly more potent than Kachina dolls…the masks are living spirits.

From December through July, Kachina ceremonies are held to honor the spirits, for instance those who bring rain and the harvest. The male dancers put on their masks and elaborate costumes and transform into the spirits that have sustained the group for thousands of years.

The Masks…

Masks are the focal point of the Kachina regalia…they are sacred and have power. They are treated with reverence. When they are not used, they are stored behind muslin screens so they can breathe, and are ritually “fed” corn pollen.

There are five (5) types of Kachina masks:

  • a leather face mask
  • a half-mask for the upper part of the face
  • a circular mask
  • a spherical sack mask
  • a helmet mask – the most characteristic of the Kachina masks
  • Most had feather headresses. The painting differed from one type to the next. The paint color, though, is very important – it is symbolic and indicates from which direction the Kachina came…

  • Yellow refers to the North/Northwest
  • Blue-green refers to the West/Southwest
  • Red referes to the South/Southeast
  • White refers to the East/Northeast
  • All the colors above on the same mask refers to the Zenith or “UP”
  • Black refers to the Nadir or “DOWN”
  • Symbols on the Hopi masks were used to help identify the Kachina. The main symbols…

  • Animals and bird tracks
  • Celestial symbols such as clounds, lightening, sun, moon, and stars
  • Fegetable symbols: corn, flowers, cacus, tec.
  • Vertical lines under the eyes represents a footprint of a warrior
  • An inverted “V” over the mouth indicates certain Kachina officials
  • Phallic symbols represent fertility
  • Now…

    These masks are considered living spirits. The Hopi have allowed their religious dances to become tourist attractions and freely sell Kachina dolls and masks to non-Hopis. However, like the Iroquois, the Hopi leadership is against any public showing of a mask and are seeking to have masks returned to the from museum, collectors, etc. The Zuni Indians have traditionally been much more secretive about their religious practices.

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