TITLE: Yei Bi Chei Ganaskidi
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Arizona
ETHNICITY: Diné (Navajo)
DESCRIPTION: Ganaskidi Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Yei Bi Chei Dance
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: antelope leather
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; pigment; dyed wool

The Yei Bi Chei (also spelled Yébichai) is a sacred night dance of the Diné (commonly but improperly called Navajo) people of the southwestern United States. The ceremony lasts nine days and has a healing function for tribe members and is generally performed in the winter. The masked dancer personifies the god represented.

Yei Bi Chei masks are always made by skilled medicine men.  In a healing ritual, the patient is sweated, and then songs are sung.  During the singing, the Yei Bi Chei representing the gods treat the patient while calling “wu-hu-hu-hu-u.” The gods represented are speechless and live in sacred caves, mountains and canyons. The male gods wear full leather helmet masks like this one with a ruff of spruce twigs (formerly furs) around the neck.  Female Yei wear square half-masks. Both wear ceremonial regalia and paint their bodies white with clay. On the ninth night, a public dance including six men and six women dance as Yei Bi Chei. There is also a leader, Talking God, and a fourteenth Yei, the Water Sprinkler.  Talking God is distinguished by his white mask with eagle feathers.  The six male Yei carry gourd rattles and spruce twigs or feathers, and make the “hu” call periodically during the dance.

This specific mask represents Ganaskidi, a god of the abundant harvest.

For more on the Yei Bi Chei, see Berard Haile, Head and Face Masks in Navaho Ceremonialism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1996).

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TITLE: Hopi Hon Katsina
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: New Mexico
ETHNICITY: Hopi
DESCRIPTION: Hon (Bear) Katsina Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Katsina
FUNCTION: adult initiation; agriculture; celebration; social control; spirit invocation
AGE: mid-twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: string; wood; feathers; natural pigment

Among the Puebloan nations of the southwest United States, the Hopi people of Arizona and New Mexico are known for their katsina (also spelled kachina) dolls, given to children to help them recognize the spirits that will protect and benefit the Hopi people. These dolls represent masked dancers who have assumed the form of spirits and gods, dancing at ceremonies from the winter solstice (December) to just after the summer solstice (July). The ceremonies especially focus on the planting season and ensuring a fruitful crop.  The katsina dancers perform important religious and social roles in purifying the village, policing Hopi behavior, and in some cases entertaining the audience.  They are also used in adult initiation ceremonies for boys.

Hopi society is infused with religion, in which the katsinam play a major role during half the year.  There are numerous dances and ceremonies involving the katsinam between February and August, including Soyalwimi (winter solstice) and the Powamuya (Bean Ceremony) in February. Some of these ceremonies are complex, involving night visits by the katsinam to regulate village conduct, adult initiation of boys between 10 and 15 years into the Katsina Society, and dances during the daytime to increase the fertility of the crops and wildlife upon which the Hopi depend.

Hopi masks are almost always helmet shaped and are considered sacred objects belonging to the tribe rather than individual dancers.  This mask is a hon, representing the bear, and was made to fit a young dancer, probably newly initiated into the Katsina society.  There are many different animal katsinam, and these typically dance singly or in a group during the summer day dances.

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TITLE: Apache Ga’an
TYPE: hood and mask; accessories
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Arizona
ETHNICITY: Apache
DESCRIPTION: Ga’an Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ga’an Dance
AGE: mid-twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; saguaro cactus rib; mirrors; paint

Among the religiously important figures of the Apache are the ga’an, mountain spirits that protect and purify the village. There are various myth stories surrounding the ga’an.  One is that the ga’an were responsible for liberating the animal spirits locked in a cave where Crow had imprisoned them.  Another is that an Apache boy fell into a cave where ga’an spirits resided. When the boy died, he became one of the ga’an and led them to his village, where the ga’an danced to bless and heal the boy’s people.

The ga’an ceremony is performed to drum and song, and begins with the white ga’an, or “messenger,” using a “bull roarer,” or whistle on the end of a string, to create an ethereal sound announcing the start of the dance.  All dancers except the messenger carry wood or yucca spike “swords,” usually with symbols painted on them (shown in the first photo).  The ga’an mask must be prepared by a shaman with great care, and the patterns, glyphs and colors on the crown all have symbolic significance. The messenger’s mask is usually smaller than the others and uses white cloth instead of black.  The mirrors on the crown, a recent addition, flash as the ga’an dance, adding to the dazzling effect.  The small wooden slats that dangle from the mask create a clicking sound characteristic of the ga’an.  The dance is performed at na ih es (girl’s adulthood initiation ritual), to influence the weather, heal the sick, and to purify the village of evil spirits.

Video of the Apache Ga’an Dance, performed in 2019 in Arizona.

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TITLE: Apache Ga’an
TYPE: hood and crown mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: Arizona
ETHNICITY: Apache
DESCRIPTION: Ga’an Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Ga’an Dance
AGE: mid-twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed cotton cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; saguaro cactus rib; mirrors; paint

Among the religiously important figures of the Apache are the ga’an, mountain spirits that protect and purify the village. There are various myth stories surrounding the ga’an.  One is that the ga’an were responsible for liberating the animal spirits locked in a cave where Crow had imprisoned them.  Another is that an Apache boy fell into a cave where ga’an spirits resided. When the boy died, he became one of the ga’an and led them to his village, where the ga’an danced to bless and heal the boy’s people.

The ga’an ceremony is performed to drum and song, and begins with the white ga’an, or “messenger,” using a “bull roarer,” or whistle on the end of a string, to create an ethereal sound announcing the start of the dance.  All dancers except the messenger carry wood or yucca spike “swords,” usually with symbols painted on them.  The ga’an mask must be prepared by a shaman with great care, and the patterns, glyphs and colors on the crown all have symbolic significance. The messenger’s mask is usually smaller than the others and uses white cloth instead of black.  The mirrors on the crown, a recent addition, flash as the ga’an dance, adding to the dazzling effect.  The small wooden slats that dangle from the mask create a clicking sound characteristic of the ga’an.  The dance is performed at na ih es (girl’s adulthood initiation ritual), to influence the weather, heal the sick, and to purify the village of evil spirits.

Video of the Apache Ga’an Dance, performed in 2019 in Arizona.

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TITLE: Hopi Koyemsi Katsina
TYPE: hood mask
GENERAL REGION: North American
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: New Mexico
ETHNICITY: Hopi
DESCRIPTION: Koyemsi (Mudhead) Katsina Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Katsina Dance
AGE: mid-twentieth century
MAIN MATERIAL: linen
OTHER MATERIALS: cloth wadding; string; clay

Among the Puebloan nations of the southwest United States, the Hopi people of Arizona and New Mexico are known for their katsina (also spelled kachina) dolls, given to children to help them recognize the spirits that will protect and benefit the Hopi people. These dolls represent masked dancers who have assumed the form of spirits and gods, dancing at ceremonies from the winter solstice (December) to just after the summer solstice (July). The ceremonies especially focus on the planting season and ensuring a fruitful crop.  The katsina dancers perform important religious and social roles in purifying the village, policing Hopi behavior, and in some cases entertaining the audience.  They are also used in adult initiation ceremonies for boys.

Hopi society is infused with religion, in which the katsinam play a major role during half the year.  There are numerous dances and ceremonies involving the katsinam between February and August, including the Powamuya (Bean Ceremony) in February and talangva (summer solstice). Some of these ceremonies are complex, involving night visits by the katsinam to regulate village conduct, adult initiation of boys between 10 and 15 years into the Katsina Society, and dances during the daytime to increase the fertility of the crops and wildlife upon which the Hopi depend.

Both the Hopi and Zuñi nations use the koyemsi katsina. Koyemsi translates roughly to “mudhead.” The character has slightly different meanings to different nations. To the Hopi, the koyemsi represents the first being to emerge onto the earth from a sipapu, which is why he is covered in mud. Unlike other katsinas, he does not represent a god spirit.  The koyemsi appears in most dances and plays multiple important social roles, from policing behavior to clowning. The koyemsi may drum, dance, play games with the villagers, or award prizes for the races and guessing games they organize. For example, a koyemsi leads the Hototöm (racing katsinam), who challenge village men and boys to races in early spring, and he carries food prizes wrapped in a blanket for the winner. Koyemsimu also organize groups of singers, who sing to other katsina groups and bring them gifts.

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