Published on July 29, 2011 by Amy
Why a festival that honors bean sprouts? The Hopi believe that bean sprouts represent fertility. Because the Hopi rely strongly on the Katchinas to bring rain (and other good weather conditions) essential to the growth of their crops, bean sprouts also symbolize the approaching spring too.
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The men who impersonate the Katchinas wear masks which vary from year to year. A few of the masks will, however, remain the same. Before the dance, the masks are repainted and refurbished. They are made to fit closely over the head, hiding it totally. There is also a ruff of feathers, fur or spruce at the neck. The face on the mask usually resembles a bird, a beast, a monster or a man or a combination of all of these. Those who wear the Katchina masks usually also carry an object associated with the being they are suppose to represent (i.e. bow and arrow, a yucca whip or feathers.)
The female Katchinas (who are not really women but are impersonated by the men) wear wigs or long hair styled in flat swirls over the ears known as squash blossoms. This hair style represents virginity.
The Soyokmana is a witch-like creature that carries a crook and a bloody knife. She goes along with the Katchinas as they go from Hopi village to another visiting their kivas. This group also goes from house to house demanding food, receiving gifts and presenting bean sprouts. When the food they are offered does not meet their requirements, the Katchinas get upset and make hooting and whistling noises and refuse to leave until they have been properly fed! (This sort of reminds me of trick or treating on Halloween.) Sometimes that mean ol’ Soyokamana will use her crook to hook a child around the neck and hold him or her there, screaming in terror. Parents tell their children that this is a punishment for being naughty.
Up until a Hopi child is 9 or 10, they believe that the Katchinas are superhuman. So when Hopi children, who have been seeing the Katchinas at many ceremonial dances grow up, they are told that the real Katchinas no longer visit the earth, but are merely impersonated by men wearing masks.
The price for this sudden wisdom is to participate in a ritual flogging or whipping ceremony. Now, the children are NEVER struck hard enough to cause serious injury or pain! This ritual is not intended to be cruel. In fact, sometimes a child who is really frightened, isn’t flogged at all but has a yucca whip whirled over his or her head. Occasionally, an adult will be flogged too, which is believed to promote healing.
For four successive mornings, the child who has been flogged is taken to a special place on the mesa where he or she can man an offering at a shrine and casts meal towards the sun. During the first 3 days of this 4 day period, the child is not allowed to eat salt or meat. But, on the fourth day, these rules are lifted. And, from this time on, the child is now allowed to look at the Katchinas without their masks and at other sacred objects in the kiva without incurring any punishment.
The flogging ceremony symbolizes the revelation of the secret of Hopi life: the knowledge that the Katchinas are not really spirits but men dressed to represent them.