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96. Kuwan Heheya Katsina

A katsina spirit is generally understood to be a being that acts as an intermediary between the spirit and human world (Adams 1991:8). Katsina (also spelled as kachina, or kacina; but katsina is now considered closer to how the word is pronounced in Hopi) is a word covering several meanings: the spirits; the impersonators of the spirits; and the "dolls" (a misnomer), which are small sculptures that represent spiritual Southwest Puebloan figures. While the Hopi are best known for their katsina performances and carved figures, the Zuni still have katsina dances, and there is evidence that katsina cults and dances were practiced by most pueblos before Spanish intervention (Adams 1991:3+).

Especially important in the complex system of Hopi culture is the katsina cult, into which everyone over age 10 is initiated (Wright 1977:2). Katsinas take corporeal form and interact with the Hopi in the season from around December to July (Wright 1977:7; Adams 1991:8). The combination of the colorful regalia, rhythmic dancing, singing and drumming must be a powerful sensation. Katsinas are very sacred partners of the Hopi; their spirits are invested in the Hopi men who don katsina regalia to take their roles in society (perform duties, rituals and dances) that enforce discipline and balance, and communicate need for rain and a good growing season (Wright 1977:4-5).

In the past, wooden katsina figures, tihu, were made exclusively by the male members of Hopi and usually gifted to infants and young girls (Wright 1977:6). This practice has been interpreted in a variety of ways. It has been thought that the figures were given primarily to Hopi children as part of their religious training, to familiarize them with the appearance of different katsinas. As there are well over 300 katsina spirits, each identified by its particular characteristics, such an explanation is not without merit. Yet other observers find this interpretation at odds with the fact that katsinas are most frequently gifted to young girls and women. Alternatively, it has been postulated that such presentations are a means of sharing the benefits of benevolent spirits with those barred by their gender from fully participating in the katsina rituals (Wright 1977:6). Despite such interpretational variance, what is certain is that these figurines are never treated merely as toys, but as objects to be respected and treasured (Wright 1977:6).

Due to the deep religious significance that katsinas hold for the Hopi, in the past there was debate about the ethics of selling katsina dolls. Gregory Schaaf determined that, sometime in the late 1890s, Chief Wilson Tawaquaptewa first permitted some Hopi carvings to be sold to collectors, as long as various features of katsinas were combined into a secular object (Schaaf 2008:26-27). In the 1930s, carvers began to sign their sculptures (Schaaf 2008:30). Yet Manfred Susunkewa remembered drawing a katsina in elementary school in the late 1940s and being warned by Hopi elders that he would consequently be disciplined by an ogre katsina (Wallis 1992:46).

One of the most fundamental conventions of katsina doll-making is that the figure must be carved from the root of a cottonwood tree. Cottonwood is symbolic because of the root's ability to seek and find water, an aptitude that mirrors the ability of the katsinas to do the same for the Hopi people (Wright 1977:9, 10). Along with the material used to construct the katsina doll, the design and dress of the katsina also are of great significance. Masks are the most important part of the doll because they identify which particular katsina the figure is meant to represent. There are five types of masks for the dancers: a face mask made of leather, a half-mask covering the upper half of the face, a circular mask, a spherical sack mask and a case or helmet mask ("Hopi Masks and Kachina Personalities" 2009). The various masks are painted in the directional colors of the Hopi: yellow for the north, blue-green for the west, red for the south and white for the east. All of the above colors taken together or, alternatively, gray, refer to the "nadir" or "down," and black refers to the "zenith" or "up" (Wright 1977:12).

Despite deep-rooted traditions, the approach to carving katsina dolls has evolved. Whereas in the past dolls were carved as static plank forms, in the 1960s more emphasis began to be placed on realism and anatomy, and there developed a new class of representational "action" figures (Fig. 4; Wright 1877:18). Several decades later, appreciation rebounded for the traditional carving style seen in this Manfred Susunkewa katsina figure.

Born and raised on ancestral Hopi land at Shungopavi on Second Mesa, Susunkewa won a prestigious Rockefeller scholarship to study art at the University of Arizona in the early 1960s through the "Southwest Indian Project" (Schaaf and Yan 2008:295). In 1964, he graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe where, he recalls, "I was exposed [for the first time] to what was ‘art' for the westerner" (Wallis 1992:46). During his initial career he worked for Lloyd Kiva New in Scottsdale, Arizona, focusing on creating printed fabrics and jewelry. As early as the 1960s, Susunkewa began carving katsina dolls in the newer "action" style (Schaff and Yan 2008:295). However, in the 1970s he was one of the first carvers to revive making the traditional "Old Style" dolls (Schaaf 2008:31). Susunkewa explains that:

I feel that the people in the past were involved more in the spiritual purpose of the kachina than the precision of the carving. They were using symbolism. Proportions were exaggerated. They were very abstract-just like Picasso's work.

I try to be authentic with how I create the figures-it is what you say about them, how you treat them that I feel is most important.... For me, it is an issue of respect and of honesty for the kachina. Its tradition and my identity both come from the Hopi belief system. (Wallis 1992:48-49)

Susunkewa's circa 1985 carving is an excellent example of the revival of the old style katsina. The abstracted figure features a blocky, pale turquoise mask (the color of the west) decorated on the cheeks with cloud motifs painted in the colors of the cardinal directions. The case type of mask has upright, real feathers placed on top of the figure's head to form an impressive and symbolic headdress. This katsina was identified by Barton Wright in June 25, 2009, correspondence as a Kuwan Heheya (Colton 1971:29, number 34). Wright wryly notes, "It only has fifteen other names. The Colorful Farmer Kachina seems to be the gist of these many names. The T nose and snout make him a Heheya. The zigzags on the forehead are rainbows and the clouds, of course, are a prayer for rain" (Wright 2009). We sincerely thank Barton Wright for his assistance.

Katsina doll-making today involves both tradition and artistry. Artists like Susunkewa continue to demonstrate how these two tendencies in katsina art can coexist to the greater benefit of the art form as a whole.

-Morgan Gale (Augustana 2012) AR-343, and Tiffany Chezum (Augustana 2008)







Manfred Susunkewa (b. 1940, Hopi, Arizona), Kuwan Heheya Katsina, old style revival with pale turquoise case mask, cloud motifs on cheeks, painted embroidered kilt, ca. 1985, Plant and mineral paints on carved wood, feathers, The Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection, Augustana College, (56-148 HOP) 2005.1.58