Kachina: Also known as “katsinas”, kachinas are spirits that are said to look after certain Native American tribes. There are many different kachina spirits, each representing a different aspect of life that it protects. The name “kachina” alone means “spirit father” or “life father”. This relates especially relates to the kachina that I found to be the most common; this was a spirit that was said to bring rain to the Native American peoples. These spirits are found in various Native American cultures (Hopi, Pueblo, Zuni, Apache…); however, the one where they are the most prolific would be in the Hopi tribe. In fact, the other name, “katsina”, is used because in the Hopi language, there is no “ch” sound.
The kachina spirits are represented in two major ways, the dancer and the doll. At traditional ceremonies and dances, members of the tribe will dress up as kachinas. These kachina representations are a very important part of religious ceremonies. The people will dress up in costumes and masks, and occasionally have a rattle or other object.
The kachina dolls are another way that the kachinas are represented–also known as “tihu”. These dolls are handmade from cottonwood roots. They are made to look much like the kachina dancers, and can portray any spirit from the corn maiden to the ogre. The dolls are given to younger girls and are said to teach and guide the child into adulthood. Whatever the meaning, the dolls are extremely sacred to the tribes, and are something to be handled carefully.
This is a photo I found on the Smithsonian Institution website. The author was unknown. Shown is many different kachina masks, as well as some kachina dolls at the bottom.
Another picture of a kachina doll can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/2612155970/