Kachina dolls, also knowns as katsina dolls, are symbolic and ceremonial Native American gifts. Traditionally given to Hopi girls during infancy and as they grow up, the dolls are a significant aspect of Native American culture. Understanding the history, meaning, and value of these dolls is an important part of really appreciating their beauty.
The Meaning and History of Kachina Dolls
Kachina dolls are not toys. Instead, they signify an important connection between Southwestern Native American tribes and the powers of nature. The oldest known figure is from the 1700s. They were sold to tourists beginning in the 1800s and continue to be a very collectible type of Native American art.
What Do Kachina Dolls Symbolize?
The word "kachina" comes from the Hopi word "kachi," which means "spirit." Kachina dolls symbolize Ketsinam, or spirits of nature. Tribes of the Southwest believed that aspects of nature could be personified by Ketsinam. These include rain, crops, animals, ancestors, and more. Men of the tribe would dress up as these Ketsinam during ceremonies and perform dances, and the carved dolls symbolize the various Ketsinam.
What Tribes Used Kachina Dolls?
The main tribe using Kachina dolls is the Hopi; however, other tribes also use them. The Aguna, Zuni, and Laguna Pueblos include Kachina dolls in their cultural heritage. Today, the Navajo also carve these dolls.
Identifying Kachina Dolls
You can identify a Kachina doll by its materials and the symbols associated with its clothing, decorations, and headdress. This can help you determine which Kachina it is and whether it is authentic.
Kachina Doll Materials and Characteristics
Kachina dolls are made of cottonwood root, since cottonwood trees are known for their ability to find water even in dry climates. This symbolizes the conduit the Kachina doll become between the people and the spirits. The cottonwood root is also easy to carve, and most of the oldest dolls were carved from a single cottonwood root. Today, the dolls are often made from multiple pieces of cottonwood. After they are carved, the dolls get the following decorations:
- Overall whitewash
- Detailed painting of decorations and facial features
- Clothing that is painted on or created from fabric
- A ruff around the neck
- Jewelry that is painted or made of metal and other materials
- Handheld objects or props, such as rattles, knives, and tools
- Decorations of fur or feathers
Kachina Doll Types
Many dolls are carved in the position of dancing or action, according to the Katsinam they represent. They often hold the tools or props associated with their Katsinam. According to Pueblo Direct, there are more than 250 different types of Kastsinam with associated Kachina dolls. These are some of them:
- Hoop dancer - This entertainer holds hoops and amuses audiences.
- Eagle - This doll represents the ruler of the sky and features feathered wings.
- Black ogre - This Kachina threatens naughty children, and his doll features a black head with large eyes and spikes or feathers.
- Deer - Symbolizing abundant food, the deer Kachina doll has a headdress with antlers.
- Crow mother - Watching over children in their play, the crow mother has a headdress with crow wings.
- Buffalo - This powerful Kachina can kill bad thoughts and wears a buffalo headdress.
How Much Is a Kachina Doll Worth?
According to Kachinadolls.com, an ancient Kachina doll sold for $250,000. The best contemporary fine art examples can sell for as much as $50,000. However, most Kachina dolls are worth $100 or less. The key to a valuable Kachina doll is intricate carving and decoration with quality materials, as well as age.
Sample Kachina Doll Values
Even though many Kachina dolls are not especially valuable, some are worth a lot. You can get a sense of value by looking up your type of Kachina doll and determining what similar dolls fetch at auction. You should always look at sold prices, rather than dolls currently for sale. Here are some example Kachina doll values:
- A stunning fire god Kachina doll carved by artist Woody Sewemaenewa sold for over $1,500.
- An intricately carved and painted wasp Kachina doll sold for $400 in 2020.
- An antique miniature Kachina doll sold for just over $200.
Kachina Doll Appraisal
The best way to find the value of your Kachina doll is to have it appraised by a qualified professional. Some organizations offer antique appraisals online, but you'll get a more reliable value if you choose a local appraiser. One of the best ways to find someone who specializes in Kachina dolls or Native American artifacts is to contact local museums. Stay away from appraisers who offer to purchase your Kachina dolls, since this represents a conflict of interest.
Learn About Hopi Beliefs
The beliefs of the Hopi helped to shape the design for Kachina dolls, as well as other aspects of Native American culture. If you choose to collect Kachina dolls, learning about these beliefs is an important part of understanding the cultural significance of the art and artifacts you own.