Sikyatki Polychrome Bowl Depicting Katsinam

Sikyatki Polychrome Bowl, Ancestral Hopi/northern Arizona, dating to as early as 1425 CE
See more images in the slideshow below

Sikyatki Polychrome Bowl, ca. 1425–1629 C.E. Ancestral Hopi Hopi Indian Reservation, Northeast Arizona. Height: 4.9 in (12.5 cm), Maximum diameter: 10.1 in (25.7 cm). Dr. Joshua Miller Collection, Gift of the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society, 1917 (ASM Catalog No. 4141). Photos by Alanah Tupponce.


 

Dr. Patrick D. Lyons analyzes pottery from Point of Pines Pueblo (San Carlos Apache Reservation, southeast Arizona).
Text by Dr. Patrick D. Lyons, November 4, 2010, then Head of Collections, now Director (as of June 2013)

This bowl depicts five human-like figures, two abstract symbols, and what appears to be a plant of some kind. Two of the human-like figures are identifiable as females based on their “butterfly whorl” hairstyle (poli’ini in Hopi), which was traditionally worn by unmarried Hopi women. Based on similar painted designs on other ancient pottery vessels and images pecked into sandstone cliffs, this hairstyle was present in the U.S. Southwest as early as 200 C.E.

Kelley Hays-Gilpin and Jane Hill have linked this distinctive way of dressing the hair to an ancient ideological system they call the “Flower World.” Flower World imagery reflects the concept of a brilliantly colorful, flowery afterlife; the association of hearts, souls, fire, blood, strength, and spirituality with flowers; and the notion that this world and the spirit world can affect each other through flower world imagery in speech, song, and the arts.

These religious ideas are shared by many native groups who speak Uto-Aztecan languages (such as the Hopi, the Akimel and Tohono O’odham, the Yoeme, and the Aztecs), as well as neighboring groups in the US Southwest and Mesoamerica. Important symbols of the Flower World include flowers, butterflies, colorful birds, and rainbows. Hays-Gilpin suggests that butterfly whorls represent the reproductive potential of young women.

One of the figures not wearing butterfly whorls holds a crook (ngölöshoya; an object shaped like a walking cane), indicating that the painted scene is part of a ritual observance. Crooks used in the public portions of Hopi ceremonies are like badges of ritual office. Depictions of crooks in the rock art of the Four Corners region date back as early as 500 C.E. and wooden crooks like those used by the Hopi today have been recovered from archaeological sites dating to the 600s C.E.

Hopi wedding sash, ASM Catalog No. 19188

The “rain sash” (or wedding sash; wukokwewa, literally “big belt”) worn by one of the female figures identifies the ritual observance as a katsina ceremony and the human-like figures as katsinam rather than living people. This is because an unmarried Hopi woman, wearing butterfly whorls, would not wear this item of clothing.

Traditionally, the Hopi bride changes her hairstyle to that of a married woman (torikuyi; pigtails on the sides of the head, wrapped with string) near the beginning of the sequence of wedding rituals that culminate many days or weeks later with her being presented her wedding clothes, including the rain sash. Female katsinam wear rain sashes even if they are unmarried “maidens” (maamánt, plural; maana, singular). The rain sash is distinctive because of its long fringe and the “flower balls” (sipölo) that adorn it. The earliest evidence of this garment comes from murals in kivas (subterranean ceremonial structures) at the ancestral Hopi village of Awat’ovi dating in the 1400s C.E.

Katsinam are Hopi ancestor spirits who return to this world between the Winter and Summer solstices to ensure the productivity of crops and to teach the living how to behave appropriately. Because three of the figures painted on the bowl carry burden baskets (hòo’apuho’apu, singular) with tumplines (ngaat’angat’a, singular), they can be identified as Ogre katsinam (Sooso’yoktSo’yoko, singular). This group visits the Hopi villages during Powamuya, in February. They urge boys to be good hunters and girls to be good grinders of corn.

The plant depiction and the abstract designs—a solid hourglass shape (formed by two triangles that meet at their apices) and a grid—can be interpreted in the context of Ogre katsina ceremonies. The plant is likely a portion of a Douglas Fir (salavi), a tree associated with katsinam and especially the observances of Powamuya. The hourglass is an ancient puebloan symbol associated with war, hunting, and destructive or dangerous forces.

Alexander Stephen reported that this hourglass symbol represents the hömsoma (literally, “hair tie”), the traditional Hopi man’s hairstyle (hair tied in a knot at the nape of the neck, forming a “club”) and that a vessel used to hold medicine water for the initiation of Hopi hunters was decorated with this motif. The grid is a simple way to represent the rows of kernels on an ear of corn. The hunting symbol and the corn motif recall the urgings of the Ogres, that Hopi children learn to be industrious lest they be carried off in the monsters’ burden baskets to be eaten.

Girl dressed in traditional manta, Walpi, First Mesa, Hopi Reservation, Arizona. Forman Hanna, photographer, c. 1920
Girl wearing butterfly whorls, Walpi, First Mesa, Hopi Reservation, Arizona. Forman Hanna, photographer, c. 1920

ASM came to have this vessel in 1917 when the collection of Dr. Joshua Miller was purchased for the Museum by the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society. Miller moved to Arizona in 1883. He soon became a collector of crafts produced by the tribes of the state and through this activity became concerned about their health and wellbeing. He also became president of the Arizona Antiquarian Association.

He eventually spent his summers providing free medical care to people on the Hopi Indian Reservation. Between 1890 and his death in 1901, Dr. Miller treated the great Hopi-Tewa potter Nampeyo for trachoma (an eye disease). He was sometimes given gifts by his patients, including Nampeyo. These objects, as well as materials he purchased or excavated, accumulated over the years and by the end of his life numbered more than 2,300 specimens. The entire collection was sold, by Miller’s widow, for $500. The money was raised largely through the efforts of former ASM Director (1915–1938) Byron Cummings.

This bowl is a specimen of Sikyatki Polychrome, a type in Jeddito Yellow Ware. This identification is based on its yellow color, the fine texture of the clay used to produce it, the vessel’s hardness (due to a high firing temperature made possible through the use of coal), the appearance of the paints used to decorate it, and its shape. Jeddito Yellow Ware was made by Hopi and ancestral Hopi groups between the 1300s and the late 1600s C.E.

The use of yellow as a background color marked a significant change in the Hopi ceramic tradition and is likely related to Flower World ideology, as yellow is the quintessential color associated with flowers by Uto-Aztecan speakers. Hopis associate yellow with the northwest, where the passage between this world and the spirit world (the sípàapuni) is said to be located (in the Grand Canyon). Hopi potters revived yellow pottery during the late 1800s and continue to produce it today.

I chose this vessel because, although there are many examples of ancient katsina depictions, it is very difficult in most cases to determine the particular katsina or ceremony that is represented. Dating as early as 1425, this bowl likely represents the earliest and richest prehispanic depiction of Hopi Ogre katsinam available for study. Objects like this highlight the continuity of the region’s cultures over many centuries.


 

Sikyatki Polychrome Bowl, ca. 1425–1629 C.E. Ancestral Hopi Hopi Indian Reservation, Northeast Arizona. Height: 4.9 in (12.5 cm), Maximum diameter: 10.1 in (25.7 cm). Dr. Joshua Miller Collection, Gift of the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society, 1917 (ASM Catalog No. 4141). Photos by Alanah Tupponce.


 

Links

Rainmakers from the Gods, an online exhibition from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, provides an excellent introduction to the Katsina religion, its calendar and ceremonies, including 36 annotated illustrations of katsina dolls.

Ancient Jeddito Yellow Ware bowl with an image of the Hopi Stick-Swallower (Mòmtsit) ceremony from the Anthropology Department of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History,

Drawings of Hopi Ogre katsinam: Awatobi Soyok Taka and Awatobi Soyok Wüqti and Soyok Wüqti from the website of Dr. Rodney Frey, University of Idaho.

1893 photograph of katsinam associated with the Powamu Ceremony (note the rain or wedding sash on the katsina in the middle of the image) from the Singing Desert website.

1900 photograph of a Hopi woman dressing hair of unmarried girl from the National Archives.

Early 20th century photographs of Hopi girls with butterfly whorl hair styles by Adam Clark Vroman from the collections of the California Museum of Photography: Portrait One and Portrait Two.

Early 20th century photographs of Hopi girls with butterfly whorl hair styles by Adam Clark Vroman from collections of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: Portrait OnePortrait TwoPortrait ThreePortrait FourPortrait FivePortrait Six.

Traditional Hopi hairstyle for women from the First People website (child friendly site about Native Americans and members of the First Nations).

Nampeyo and her pottery on the ASM website.


References

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