North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

Corn: We are Rooted in Our Corn Fields

Corn KatsinaCorn in the Americas

The Hopi live on land that is both beautiful and majestic, but the environment presents enormous problems for those dependent on farming. The Southwestern region is extremely dry with little water. A number of permanent springs in the area provide the people with drinking water but do not supply enough water to irrigate fields. No permanent rivers or streams flow through Hopi territory.

Erosion and overuse of the land has diminished the region's plant life. The land of the Hopi now mainly consists of dry grasslands and mesas. The land supports a variety of plants adapted to extremely dry areas, while the canyons, punctuated with springs, washes, and occasional streams, support cottonwood, willow, and cattails.

Rain is the only source of water for the Hopi farmlands, but rain alone cannot support the Hopi. Annual rainfall averages less than 10 inches per year. In some years, drought causes the crops to fail. In other years, torrential summer downpours drown the young and growing plants. The people hope for a season of balanced precipitation.

The Hopis' survival has been inextricably bound to favorable weather conditions. In the scattered areas of fertile soil, the Hopi grow corn, pumpkin, beans, chile peppers, peaches, gourds, watermelons, and squash, looking to the katsinas to favor them with rain.

Image: Corn Katsina: Ahulani/Kä-e Tihu
Merrel Yaira, Hopi, 1996
Tihus, commonly called katsina dolls, are wooden sculptures of katsinas. The introduction of the tihu with the body of an ear of corn is relatively recent. Such dolls may have a head that represents any katsina, thus katsinas and corn become linked together in this carving.

Katsina is the spelled preferred by the Hopi, although kachina is the spelling most often found in the English literature.
Unidentified wood, commercial paint, commercial cotton cord; H 30.0 cm x D 9.0 cm; 36177-6

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