Rethinking Hopi Katsina Tithu.

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science Annals, an admirably open-access journal, devoted an issue (Number 2, April 15, 2011) to Rachel E. Maxson, Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, and Lee Wayne Lomayestewa, “Lost in Translation: Rethinking Hopi Katsina Tithu and Museum Language Systems” (pdf); here’s the Abstract:

Museums collect and care for material culture, and, increasingly, intangible culture. This relatively new term for the folklore, music, dance, traditional practices, and language belonging to a group of people is gaining importance in international heritage management discourse. As one aspect of intangible cultural heritage, language is more relevant in museums than has been previously acknowledged. Incorporating native languages into museum anthropology collections provides context and acts as a form of “appropriate museology,” preserving indigenous descriptions and conceptions of objects. This report presents the ways in which Hopi katsina tithu—popularly known as kachina dolls—are outstanding examples of objects that museums can recontextualize with Native terminology. The etymology, or a word or phrase’s use history, of each katsina tihu’s name documents the deep connection of these objects with Hopi belief, ritual, and history. Without including the complex practices of Hopi naming, documentation of these objects in museum catalogues is often incomplete and inaccurate. Using contemporary Hopi perspectives, historic ethnographies, and the Hopi Dictionary to create a database of Hopi katsina tithu names, this project demonstrates how museums might incorporate intangible heritage into their collections through language and etymological context.

As you can imagine, I find that an admirable project, and I hope more museums are following their lead; after the article itself (the first 49 pages) there’s a long Appendix: Hopi Katsina Tithu Names from Provisional Database, followed by a bunch of gorgeous illustrations.

I got to it by googling the pleasing word “qöqlö” from this Harry Stephen Keeler tweet:

[“Qölö” means “hole.” The plural is “qöqlö,” holes. The katsina associated with holes is named “Qööqöqlö.” If several of them come to town, their plural is “Qööqöqlöm.” They bring gifts during Powamuya, bean dance season.]

Thanks, graywyvern!

Incidentally, when I checked the mailbox today I found a cardboard mailer obviously containing a small book; I assumed it was the cheap paperback copy of Tolstoy’s Воскресение [Resurrection] I recently ordered, but when I opened it, to my astonishment and delight it turned out to be a completely unexpected copy of this Gaito Gazdanov collection, containing the novels Призрак Александра Вольфа [The Spectre of Alexander Wolf] and Возвращение Будды [The Buddha’s Return], both from the late 1940s, as well as three short stories. Added to his first novel, Вечер у Клэр [An Evening with Claire], and his final three, I’ve now got quite a respectable hard-copy Gazdanov shelf. My heartfelt thanks to whichever LH reader (there was no slip in the package) chose that long-wished-for book from my wishlist and sent it to me!


  1. Glad you liked the book from your wishlist. Longtime reader, never commenter, Clay from Brooklyn.

  2. I did indeed — thanks, Clay, and give my regards to Brooklyn, one of my favorite boroughs!

  3. i just finished the story Панихида [Service for the dead], which might as well have been called “The Death of Grigory Timofeevich”; it’s about Russians in Paris in the frigid winter of early 1943, and it’s very powerful — what a writer Gazdanov was! The plain text of the story is here, and there’s a version with photos of Paris (and the painting mentioned in the story) here. That site, like most online references I’ve seen, dates it to 1962, but the ever-dependable Лаборатория Фантастики correctly has it as 1960; you can download a pdf of the entire issue (#59) of Новый журнал here (it’s the first story in the magazine, pp. 9-19).

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