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The Hopi Indians celebrate the Niman Katchina (or Kachina) every July. It is also referred to as The Niman Festival, The Going-Away of the Gods, or Going Home Ceremony.  The origin of this ceremony goes back to the Katchinas, who are their ancestral spirits. The Hopis believe that these spirits leave their home in the mountains and for six months visit the tribe, bringing health to the Hopi and rain to their crops.  The arrival of these spirits is celebrated in January or February with the Powamu Festival.  Their departure (six months later) in July is observed with the Niman Katchina Festival.  The celebration is in the form of ceremonial dances that takes place in all four of the Hopi pueblos.  These dances are the last in a series of dances that have taken place throughout the six months that the ancestral spirits have been present in the pueblo.

The Hopi Indians have a katchina dance each month (except June) starting in as follows:

January = Pamuya

February = Powamu March = Anktioni April/May= Soyohim July = Niman
August = Snake or 
               Flute
September = Marau October = Oaqole November = Wuwuchim December = Soyala

 

Masked dancers represent the katchinas.  These dancers perform in an area called the plaza. The dance consists of pounding of feet in a rhythmic nature, as well as chanting and sprinkling sacred meal on the ground.  Their arms are filled with green cornstalks, that symbolize the crops that the tribe is so thankful for.  Some dancers carry musical instruments made from hollowed out gourds that are painted yellow and green. Notched sticks are laid across these gourds and the shoulder blades of deer serve as bows for these fiddle-like instruments.  The dance is repeated at intervals throughout the day.

There is a large underground room called the kiva.  During the dance, a procession of men and woman emerge from this room.  These are the Hopi priests and priestesses.  One of them carries an ancient water bowl. From this bowl the dancer (using an eagle feather) will fling drops of water, symbolizing rain. Another dancer has a ceremonial pipe and blows smoke from it to symbolize clouds.  The women place meal in each dancer's hand, to symbolize gratitude for a good harvest.

The dancers also hand out gifts to the children such as gourd rattles, bows and arrows (for boys) and katchina dolls (for girls). They also pass out baskets, bowls and wash pans filled with foods symbolic of the harvest such as corn, peaches, melon and other first fruits.

All the young Hopi women who have married during the year are barred from observing any ceremonial dances until the Niman Katchina.  This is because everyone is required to be at this ceremony.  The newly married Hopi women all wear pure white wedding blankets made by the grooms from native cotton and wool.  This blanket is worn at all ceremonies after the wedding and when a Hopi woman dies, it then serves as her burial shroud.

The katchinas don't actually depart until the second morning of the festival.  A brief ceremony takes place at sunrise that involves throwing meal, pouring water and other symbolic acts. The priest stands at the top of the ladder that leads down into the kiva (the underground ceremonial room, remember?) and offers a prayer.  All the masked katchina dancers leave the village going west. Thus, they disappear just as the sun appears over the horizon.

Katchina means "spirit."  The word applies to both the ancestral spirits that arrive and depart as well as to the men dancers who wear masks and impersonate the spirits.  All of these have spirits that are personified as katchinas: Men, animals, plants, stones, mountains, storms, the sky and the underground. All come into the modern world carrying legends of the Hopi past.  There are a number of legends concerning the origin of the Katchina.  The main legend states that they chief katchina was a badger who came from the underworld.

The katchinas themselves are not gods. But, they do act as intermediaries between mortals and the Hopi gods.  Prayers are made to them for more sun, rain, and children in belief that they will relay these appeals o the god's attention.

Katchina also applies to the dolls that are carved out of cottonwood and painted, dressed and feathered to look like the Katchina Dancers.  Hopi children play with these dolls.  They can be seen presented on special altars also around the time of the festival.

Many of the ceremonies featuring katchinas are done in a language so ancient that many of the participants do not understand it today.

The most distinguishing feature of the Katchina Dancer is their ceremonial helmet (mask). The face of this mask may represent a bird, beast, monster or man (or a combination). Many color variations are used also.  The masks usually have symbols that represent clouds, rain or rainbows because the Niman Katchina Festival takes place at the time of year when rain is apt to be scarce.  The male katchinas often carry an object associated with the spirits they represent such as a bow and arrow, yucca whip, pine branch or feathers.  The women katchinas also called katchinamana, are represented by the men.  The men wear wigs with the hair styled in flat swirls over the ears known as squash blossoms. This hairstyle represents virginity.

Before the last katchina dance, the masks are repainted and refinished with a ruff of feathers, fur or spruce at the neck.  According to the Hopi Indians, spruce has a magnetic attraction for rain.  The remainder of the costume consists of white ceremonial kirtle (kilt) and sash, with a turtle-shell rattle under the knee, moccasins and jewelry.  A fox skin hangs from the rear of the belt or sash.  

Visit our other Hopi Ceremony Pages!
(Information only. No cartoons  except on the Niman Katchina page.)

Niman Katchina

Powamu Ceremony

Wuwuchim Ceremony

Soyaluna Ceremony

Flute Ceremony

Snake Dance Ceremony

 

Return to our July Holidays Page for more celebrations.

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003

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