For hundreds of years the native populations in North America have followed the Kachina system of beliefs. Several of the so called pueblo people of the "Four corners" in the southwest of the continent adhered to it, but the Hopi & Zuni are maybe the ones that are most closely associated with rituals based around the Kachinas.
A Kachina is a spirit that can refer to anything in the universe. It can be an animal or a being of some sort, but they can also represent something abstract like a concept. These spirits, which occupy a fog-like parallel universe to ours (like in the smoke of a burning object or the steam of exhaled air), were given figurative features so that the humans could interact with the forces they represented. It was believed that when a person died their spirit would travel to the west to become a Kachina and then return as a cloud, a conviction that led to the practice of putting wet cotton in a cloud-like manner on the face of the dead.
Zuni Kachina "Salamopea Kohana Ansuwa"
The kachinas are said to live on the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona. They would spend half of the year in the mountains and the other half they would come down to dance with the people in the villages and bring them rain. The number of actual Kachina spirits is hard to pin down since the characters are in a constant flux, but the number is probably somewhere between 200 and 400 with some of them occupying a more permanent and important position.
Pethla She Woha
Besides representing the Kachinas by dressing up as them during dance ceremonies, the Hopi would illustrate the different spirits by carving them out of cottonwood root. Although they are refereed to as Kachina dolls, and would be given by the Hopi men to the young girls of the tribe, they would not be played with as toys. Today these decorative figures are popular collectors items and have been sadly diluted into a sea of reproductions and tourist souvenirs.
For the past two meeting BTWC has let it self be inspired by the Kachinas. We are uncertain if there has been any contact made with the spirits in the San francisco peaks, but we know for sure that there is kindred souls down in the town. Derek from the Curiosity shop on Valencia Street in San Francisco has opened a new chapter of the whittling club; Bleeding Thumb Whittling Club SF. We thank him greatly for taking interest in the club, for bringing more whittling to the world and hopefully providing a new home for two of our whittlers, Brian & Neet, who have just left us (they are not dead, just took the plane) this week to go and live in the west.
The Photographs above are from the collections of Brooklyn Museum.
Lemon wedge Kachina by Meave & Ben T
Hair Kachina by Jack