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“Katsinam”

Southwest Crossroads Spotlight

Petroglyphs on rocks, pottery decoration, and kiva murals show that the katsina (the plural is katsinam) religion has been an important part of life at Hopi and Zuni for hundreds of years. The origins of the katsina religion are mysterious. In the 1200s and 1300s, the religion flowered throughout the pueblos of the Southwest. Finally, almost everyone in the region practiced its rituals. Anthropologists don’t know whether the religion developed among the Pueblos themselves or began in Mexico and came north with traders and migrants.

On the Hopi Tribal website [www.hopi.nsn.us], Hopi tribal staff members describe the katsina ritual in the following way:

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“Katsinam...are our friends and visitors who bring gifts and food, as well as messages to teach appropriate behavior and the consequences of unacceptable behavior.”

Katsinam are Hopi spirit messengers who send prayers for rain, bountiful harvests, and a prosperous, healthy life for humankind. They are our friends and visitors who bring gifts and food, as well as messages to teach appropriate behavior and the consequences of unacceptable behavior. Katsinam, of which there are over two hundred and fifty different types, represent various beings, from animals to clouds.

During their stay at Hopi, the katsinam appear among Hopi people in physical form, singing and dancing in ceremonies. On Third Mesa the katsinam arrive in December, while at the First and Second Mesa they arrive in February at the Bear Dance Ceremony. Night dances are held until the end of March, followed by day dances from May to July. Niman (Home Dance), which takes place in July, is the last katsina dance of the cycle. At the end of this day-long ceremony the katsinam return to their spiritual home at the San Francisco Peaks, Kisiau and Waynemai.

In the 1600s, Spanish priests established mission churches. They attempted to suppress traditional beliefs and ceremonies among the tribes of Zuni Shalako Dance“Zuni Shalako Dance,” Fred Kabotie (Hopi) (Artist) the Southwest. Because both Hopis and Zunis lived farther from Spanish settlements than the other pueblos, they were better able to keep their religious practices, including katsina rituals, alive.

Each year the katsinam appear at a winter solstice ceremony, when Hopi men ask the sun to return so that the crops will grow. The katsinam stay at Hopi and participate in many ceremonies with the people until they leave to return to their mountain home at the summer solstice.

On the Hopi Tribal Website [www.hopi.nsn.us] the Hopis say:

“We Hopi are a deeply religious people. We follow divine instructions and prophecies received from the caretaker of this world, Maasaw. Our religion teaches us a lifeway of humility, cooperation, respect, and earth stewardship. We practice our religion with different ceremonies throughout the year which are timed according to phases of the moon and solstices of the sun.

“Our religion teaches us a lifeway of humility, cooperation, respect, and earth stewardship.”

Many of our ceremonies seek to maintain and improve our harmony with nature, enhance our prospects for good health and a long, happy life, and are supplications for rain. Through our dances we celebrate the renewal of our life pattern, ancient migrations, and a spiritual connection with our ancestral sites. This, together with our farming tradition, ties us both physically and ceremonially to our ancestral land, the sun, and the cycle of the seasons.

Ceremonies are held throughout the year, with the location and date determined according to custom and tradition. Our ceremonial calendar consists of katsina dances from February to July and social or other non-katsina ceremonies for the rest of the year”