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

Children: Learning to be Hopi

Katsina Mother Beginning with the very first days of their lives, Hopi children are integrated into Hopi society through a number of special occasions.

A newborn baby spends the first nineteen days of its life secluded indoors, where it is cared for by the elder women of the family. It is wrapped in a blanket alongside one or two ears of perfectly formed corn, which are referred to as its Mother and Grandmother. On the twentieth day the baby receives its Hopi name in a sunrise naming ceremony.

Everything in the Hopi world—plants, animals, forces of nature, human beings—has a spirit. The Hopi strive for a peaceful and harmonious existence by honoring the spirits of all beings, thereby entering into the right relationship with these spirits and making the world harmonious, balanced, and peaceful. The manifestations of spirits, the katsinas, are of supreme importance to the Hopi. Whether katsinas appear as hilarious and outrageous clowns or as beautiful butterfly katsinas, all are powerful spirits who connect the Hopi with the reality behind the everyday, visible world.

As the child grows, the katsinas bring gifts to introduce the child to his or her lifelong pathway. The most special of these gifts, tihu, are dolls made in the images of the katsinas, and are considered to be a form of the spirit itself. Girls receive the tihu, which they play with just like baby dolls, while boys receive bows and arrows. Infants still being carried by their mothers receive the flat tihu.

Children learn lessons from the katsinas. The frightening giants come to teach correct social roles and behavior as they go from house to house looking for naughty children. Children are expected to provide the food that their parents give to the monsters in exchange for their offspring. From this experience Hopi children learn not only correct behavior but also their roles as future Hopi women and men.


Image: Katsina Mother: Hahay'iwuuti Putsqatihu
Manuel Chavarria, Hopi, 1996
The flat tihu is the type given to infants. With its red stripes, it is a prayer for growth and full development of the child.
Cottonwood (Populus sp.), unidentified feather, mineral paint, commercial cotton; W 9.5 x H 22.0 cm; 36177-5

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