Celebrations of Life: Katsina Ceremonies
"As we know, we need water to exist in this life. So basically all Katsina dances are promotion of rain--rain and the blessings of spirits."
--- Ernest Moore, Jr., Hopi artist
For the desert farmers of the Southwest, rain is the key to survival. To the Hopis, rain clouds are Katsina spirits which can be summoned by the proper thoughts, rituals and songs. Ceremonial societies perform ritual dances to draw the clouds from their homes in the mountains. Singing to the clouds of the four directions, Katsina dancers are embodiments of Katsina spirits.
To work properly, rituals must be performed according to precise rules and with a "good heart," as both mind and mood directly affect the natural world. Major ceremonies are held before and during the growing season to sing and dance the plants into new life and growth. Mental peace and meditative harmony creates balance and health in the outer world as well.
A Katsina Dance Scene
These figures by Hopi artist Ernest Moore, Jr. depict a Palhikwmana Katsina dance. Moore calls the ceremony "a celebration of life, of good life. It represents happiness, creation, goodwill, good thoughts, good feelings, prosperity."
The four figures wearing large, colorful tablita headdresses portray the "Nectar-drinking Butterfly Maiden," or Palhikwmana. Each is escorted by a Leenangw, or Flute Katsina. Patrolling the line with yucca whips are two Sipikniitaqa, or Warrior Guard Katsinas, who make sure that the audience behaves appropriately.
A choir of eleven Kooyemsi, or "Mudhead" Katsinas, supplies music and clownish behavior; their pouches carry food and gifts for the audience. The two figures painted yellow are Payatamhoya clowns. The man in the red shirt is the katsinna, "father" of the Katsinas, who directs the music and dancing; he is an ordinary human, not a Katsina spirit.