National Geographic : 1957 Aug
Kachinas: Masked Dancers of the Southwest Messengers of the Gods Mark Spring's Coming with Age-old Rites, Rewarding the Good and Punishing Evildoers 219 BY PAUL COZE With Photographs by the Author T HE Kachinas were coming! A masked dancer, mounting a rooftop, signaled that the Hopi gods were about to visit the village of Shungopavi. Cars and pickup trucks loaded with Indians ground to a halt. An expectant hush, broken by the whine of a cruel February wind, settled over the village. Dogs slunk into corners; women gave up their happy chatter and sought vantage points in doorways and on rooftops. The 16-day Hopi Bean Festival was ap proaching a climax. Masked Gods Bring Blessings Out of the desert beyond the village marched 70 figures-weirdly masked, garishly painted, verdantly draped in evergreen branches, and attired in a veritable wardrobe of other sacred symbols. These were the Kachinas, the supernatural ones, incarnate lesser gods, ancestors, messengers of the gods, bringing blessings and happiness to the peo ple. Some marched as solemnly as bishops; others scampered and tumbled, ran or hopped. A medley of noises shattered the silence. Sleigh bells and shells tinkled on the dancers' bodies, drums beat like magnified hearts, and rattles imitated the clatter of rain. The gentle coo of birdcalls mingled with growls and shrill whistles. Old men, simple priests in long hair and ceremonial blankets, led the procession, but no two moved in concert; each Kachina danced his own steps and called his own 4 Crow Mother, in Crow-wing Mask, Watches Ritual from a Kiva Roof Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico ven erate a multitude of spirits ranking just below the major gods. They call these supernatural beings Kachinas, from the Hopi words meaning father of life. At festival times the Kachinas make visits to the pueblos, bringing the blessings of rain and fer tility, teaching discipline, and rewarding good. Here the Crow Mother, impersonated by a member of the opposite sex, holds a bough of evergreen, sym bol of eternity. The deerskin mask is never doffed during a ritual. Ladder pole clutched in hand leads into a kiva, or ceremonial chamber. © National Geographic Society signals. Other Kachinas, serving as police men, moved into the crowd, pointed yucca leaf whips at men, and ordered them to take off their hats. Ogre Kachinas directed traffic and cleared the dance grounds. Still others moved in rhythmic procession around the kishonvi, the ritual plaza. No one dared to speak to the Kachinas or to touch them. But the spectators felt a sense of tremendous emotion, as if a ripple of life had suddenly flooded this dusty village in northeastern Arizona's Hopi Indian Reser vation. Ecstasy lit their faces. My own comfortable white man's world seemed to dissolve. Could this be 20th-cen tury America? Pueblo People Older than History The Hopi number some 3,000 of the approximately 22,000 Pueblo people-Hopi, Zufii, and Rio Grande tribes-who have lived in the Southwest since prehistoric times. These tribes are successors of the primitive Basket Makers, who came into this region before the time of Christ.* All are related culturally, but not linguistically; some speak a tongue akin to that of the Aztec. They live in Arizona and New Mexico reservations, alongside some 85,000 Navajo and Apache whose ancestors migrated into the Southwest at a later time. The Pueblo people believe that man's life and blessings-the cycle of seasons, rain, and crops-are gifts of Kachinas (a Hopi word). Archeologists recently unearthed near Monti cello, New Mexico, wooden carvings and murals dating the cult back at least 600 years. The Hopi believe their Kachinas live in the snow and ice of the high San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona. Borrowing the bodies of living men, these lesser gods visit the villages to distribute presents and receive prayers to the gods. He who wears the mask of a Kachina believes he loses his personal identity and assumes that of the spirit. * See "Indian Tribes of Pueblo Land," by Matthew W. Stirling, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, Novem ber, 1940.