The katsina dolls meaning is deeply rooted in the traditions of the Hopi people of Arizona. Katsina dolls are wooden representations of the katsinam, rainmaking messengers from the spirit world who visit the Hopi in the months between the winter solstice and the midsummer monsoon season. Although legend says that the katsinam once arrived in bodily form, they now appear as the clouds that bring life-giving rain, in the form of dancers at tribal celebrations and as katsina dolls.
The katsinam are not gods. They are human-like representations of the ideas and objects that define the Hopi worldview. They can be forces of nature including the sun, wind and rain; plants, animals and insects; even concepts such as creativity or power. Some katsina venerate esteemed ancestors. There are clowns to entertain the people and ogres to frighten children into good behavior. While the Hopi do not worship the katsina, they do offer them gifts to encourage new growth, plentiful rain and successful harvests. The Hopi are an agricultural people who live in a harsh natural environment. Their survival depends on the kindness of the elements.
There are several hundred varieties of katsina. Some are uniquely Hopi and others have been adopted or modified from other Pueblos. The Hopi people have been crafting katsina dolls by hand for over 150 years. The dolls are traditionally carved from the root of the cottonwood, an important tree in Hopi culture. Originally the intricate costumes of the dolls were created from natural materials and painted using only vegetable dyes. Contemporary versions produced for the open market take advantage of modern carving techniques, materials and paints. Individual katsinam are easily recognized by their distinctive coloring and clothing, and by the tools and weapons they carry.
Katsina dolls are given to infants of both sexes at birth and to young girls and women of marriageable age during the festivals. They are also sometimes given as gifts from husband to wife. Katsina dolls are treasured by their owners and take pride of place in Hopi homes. Katsina dolls are used to teach important lessons about proper behavior, the seasons and farming – everything that encompasses Pueblo life. Both katsina dancers and dolls play an important role in seven yearly festivals and are integral parts of Hopi religious belief.
Ultimately, the katsina dolls meaning lies in the worldview of the Hopi people, a philosophy that embraces the spirit in every living thing.