katsina_-_hopi_22wakas_22_male_cow_by_chester_poleyestewa_kcp23-06The Katsina Dances on the Hopi Mesas start in winter and continue into July when the Kachina spirits (Katsinam) go to their home until the following year. At Third Mesa, where Chester Poleyestewa is from, the dances begin when the Katsinam arrive on the Mesa in December. At First and Second Mesas, they arrive in February.

Dances are held nearly every week on one of the Mesas until July, when the Niman (Home Dance) is held, and the Katsinam return to their homes in the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Chester has been carving Hopi dolls since he was first initiated and is one of the most knowledgeable people on the meaning of the different dolls, which represent the actual spiritual beings and the Katsina dancers. These dolls were initially carved so that the young women of the tribe, who are not allowed to participate in the Kiva ceremonies, could learn the religion. The girls' brothers, uncles, and fathers are responsible for carving dolls, giving them to the young girls, and explaining their meanings.


Chester's dolls are carved and painted with natural pigments, much like the original dolls. They will stand on a shelf, but in the Hopi culture, they were intended to hang on the wall over the girl's bed.

Katsina's change over time and occasionally disappear from the dances. As Chester explains, sometimes the people grow old, and they haven't passed the songs or the masks of the Katsina along, and it changes. In some cases, the look of the Katsina changes, but the songs are the same.

An example is the Badger Katsina, which represents a doctor or healer. He is sometimes called the Curing Katsina. This Katsinam has a vast knowledge of the herbs and medicines that occur in nature. Initially, according to Chester, after the Hopi came to the mesas from South America (that's what he said), he had a blue mask and was very simple. He was the Old World Badger Katsina and appeared for several thousand years.


A couple hundred years ago (he wasn't sure how many a couple hundred actually was), the Badger changed appearance, and the Brown Badger appeared. His clothing was more ornate, and his mask had a different design. He still functioned as the healer, and the meaning of the dance was still the same.

And then, around one hundred years ago, his appearance changed again. He arrived with an even more elaborate mask that was black with turquoise and white markings. He became the Black Badger. When will the Badger change again? "Whenever the Katsinam want to change," according to Poleyestewa.


He emphasized that this Katsina was from Third Mesa and would be different from the same Katsina at First or Second Mesa.

Chester Poleyestewa is an American treasure and one of the most knowledgeable people on the religion and culture of the Hopi people. He is over 80 years old and shared his knowledge of the Katsina religion in lectures at major colleges and universities across the United States. During the Pandemic, he gave a Zoom lecture to a class from the gallery at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City.

Watching the rapt attention on the faces of these graduate students sitting in their homes in one of America's largest cities as he shared his wisdom and stories was beautiful. Talk about two different cultures!

You may note that in this email, I use the term" Katsina" rather than "Kachina." The Hopi Tribal Council officially adopted the term "Katsina" years ago, saying that was the traditional name. However, many carvers we work with use "Kachina" and feel that this is the name that has been given to the dolls for centuries.

The Zuni always use "Kachina" to describe their dolls. So what do you do? I chose to defer to the maker. Since Chester wants his dolls to be called Katsinas, that's what I call them. If the carver chooses "Kachina," that's what we call them. The important point is that we want to respect the maker's wishes!

See All Katsinas in the Gallery

Chester brought in a great collection this week in addition to the three Badgers. You can see them all here!