In a land of limited water resources, the Hopi people have developed an elaborate system for attracting rain. The need for water is at the heart of the Hopi ceremonial system—drinking water in the springs and cisterns, rain for the fields, and snow to renew the earth. Before running water was available at a few of the Hopi villages, hauling water in large, ceramic containers was one of the major daily tasks in the life of a Hopi family.
Hopi people play an active role in bringing rain. Both as a community and as individuals, the people are responsible for attracting water, thereby turning the cycle of agriculture. When everyone comes together during the ceremonies and everything is done in the correct way, it rains. Otherwise, there is no rain.
Katsinas and the dolls that represent them, or tihus, wear the clouds and the rain. On their heads are stacks of clouds. Embroidered rain falls from their colorful dance kilts. On the rain sashes each knot is a cumulus cloud from which long fringe swishes like pouring rain. Some tihus illustrate water in special ways, holding a lightning bolt or wearing a water board on their backs. Bull roarers, with their whirring sound, attract the wind, which in turn brings the rain. Everywhere there is the prayer for rain.
Katsinas deliver the rain to the people, but they also give much more.
When the Water Comes
In the past, hauling water was one of the major daily tasks in the life of a Hopi family. Women carried water in large, globular pottery canteens that they transported in cloth carriers slung over their backs. Hopi women preferred this method to balancing pottery jars on their heads as the women at Acoma and Zuni did. When metal buckets became available, the Hopi were quick to appreciate their light weight and durability.
Hopi people were ever prepared to utilize the rains that came in July and August. Women collected water from hollowed-out cisterns on the mesa top or from springs at the base of the mesa. They stored the water in canteens or poured it into larger pottery jars at home. Today many of the mesa top villages are still without running water.
The idea of bringing water, well, that’s part of it but it’s not the whole picture…. We also regard the katsinas as friends…. When they bring gifts – bows and arrows or produce, vegetables or whatever, to give to people – they have somebody in particular in mind…. Somebody behind you will invariably say, “This katsina wants to make friends with you by giving you this gift.”…. So it’s a way of keeping the whole thing together…. You have an opportunity to create this perfect friendship with something that’s coming from a very different world from your own…. Katsinas have the powers to bring water and life to the Earth and to sustain life.
Hartman Lomawaima, Hopi, 1996
Cloud and rain motifs are frequent designs on all Hopi arts. Rain clouds are regularly depicted as stylized terraced triangles, often with vertical stripes of rain showering from them. Painted and sculpted birds, butterflies, flower blossoms, and the sun all represent those things that appear after a rain shower and signal a fruitful growing season.
Hopi peoples, Arizona, ca. 1904
Pine? (Pinus sp.), commercial and mineral paints, laundry blueing, commercial leather, tanned deer? hide (Odocoileus sp.), commercial cotton, unidentified large owl feathers, cotton (Gossypium hirsutum); W 49.0 x H 44.0 cm; 3165-301
Hopi teenage girls wear these headdresses in the autumn Butterfly Dance. Their young uncles and nephews make the tabletas, which the girls keep as mementos of their youth.
On the top of this headdress are birds and sunflowers with a terraced cloud in the center. Two sun Katsinas flank towering clouds and falling rain. On the reverse side are sun and sunflower designs. All of these elements are associated with summer rains.
Hopi peoples, Arizona, ca. 1900
Clay, mineral paints; L 28.0 x W 25.0 x H 21.0 cm; 1946-59
A smallpox epidemic following a drought and famine caused numerous Hopi families to flee to Zuni Pueblo in the 1860s, where they remained for several years. When they finally returned home, Hopi potters brought with them Zuni pottery designs, which they applied to their own pottery.
Cumulus Cloud Katsina: Omawkatsina
Hopi people, ca. 1904
Cottonwood (Populus sp.), commercial and mineral paints, unidentified songbird feathers, unidentified down feathers, laundry blueing; H 13.8 in. (13.0 W x 35.0 H cm); 3165-147
Omawkatsina has towering thunderclouds with falling rain on his tableta (headdress) and mask.
Hopi peoples, Arizona, ca. 1900
Clay, commercial cotton, unidentified resin; L 33.0 x W 37.0 x H 29.0 cm; 1946-99999d
This plainware canteen was made for everyday use and held several gallons of water. It was wrapped in cloth and carried up the steep mesa on a woman's back. The canteen and the water together weighed over thirty-five pounds.