Kachina Dolls are effigies made of cottonwood that embody the characteristics of the ceremonial Kachina, the masked spirits of the Hopi Native American tribe. According to the Hopi, Kachina dolls are objects meant to be treasured and studied, and are not to be considered idols of worship or children's toys.
The Hopi people live primarily on three mesas in Northeastern Arizona, about 70 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. The Hopi believe that the majority of spirits (Kachinas) reside on the Humphreys Peak, approx. 60 miles West of Hopi lands. Each year, throughout the period from winter solstice to mid-July, these spirits, in the form of Kachinas, come down to the villages to dance and sing, to bring rain for the upcoming harvest, and to give gifts to the children.
The Kachinas are known to be the spirits of deities, natural elements or animals, or the deceased ancestors of the Hopi. Prior to each Kachina ceremony, the men of the village will spend days studiously making dolls in the likeness of the Kachinam represented in that particular ceremony. The dolls are then passed on to the daughters of the village by the Giver Kachina during the ceremony. Following the ceremony, the dolls are hung on the walls of the pueblo and are meant to be studied in order to learn the characteristics of that certain Kachina. Edward Kennard, co-author of Hopi Kachinas, says concerning the purpose of the kachina doll, “Essentially it is a means of education; it is a gift at dance-time; it is a decorative article for the home, but above all it is a constant reminder of the Kachinas."