Native North American Mythologies

Native American Spirits and Creators

Who are the kachinas and the yeii?

Indians of the American Southwest—particularly the Pueblo peoples and the Zuni and Hopi—have spirits known as kachinas (katsinas). The Hopi say that the kachinas come from their home in the San Francisco Peaks, above Flagstaff, Arizona, to visit the Hopi villages for important ceremonies, such as dances to bring rain. The kachinas are also spirits of the dead who can become clouds. Kachinas are highly individualized and are represented not only by masked Indian dancers in the ceremonies, but by doll figures used for purposes of religious instruction and/or tourist trade. Some Hopi believe that the fertility goddess Hahaiwutti is the “mother” of the kachinas, a idea that fits with the role of the spirits as clouds that produce rain. Some Hopi say that both Hopi ceremonies and the world itself will end when a kachina removes his mask in a dance.

The Athabaskan peoples we know as the Navajo (Dine) and Apache (Tinde) have somewhat similar figures to the kachinas. The Navajo call them yeii, the Apache hactin. Led by Talking God, the yeii, who are often depicted in sand paintings, participate in ceremonies as masked dancers. They are embodiments of natural powers and they figure importantly in creation myths.

Kachina dolls have become commonplace items in gift stores of the American West, but the kachinas are important spiritual icons, especially among the Pueblo, Zuni, and Hopi peoples.


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