A reader wrote to ask me about a book called The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Pinata for the Pinon Tree. It's a new book out this year. She wrote because there is a page with kachinas on it, and she wonders if it is an appropriate use of kachinas.
The review in Publisher's Weekly says the book has "10 kachina leapin'" and the review in School Library Journal says "a wild party ensues with kachina leaping, coyotes yowlin'..."
Based on those reviews and my study of the book cover, this use is way over the line of cultural sensitivity and respect.
Obviously, a lot of people have no idea what kachinas are.
Who messed up in the creation, publication, distribution, and review of the book?
- SLJ Reviewer
- Publisher's Weekly Reviewer
- Editors at Little, Brown
Kachinas are not playthings. They are sacred. They are deities. In their significance to the Pueblo and Hopi peoples, they are of the highest order. Trying to draw analogies from one culture to the next in order to help someone see the significance in another is difficult, and these analogies break down.
Though you can buy a kachina doll when you're out west (or over the internet), your purpose in having it is different from that which a Pueblo or Hopi person. For you, it is a piece of art. For us, kachinas are central to our spirituality and way of life.
I will not say more, because too many charlatans mimic Native spirituality, selling it to desperate people.
For kachinas to be used in a children's book in this way is, in a word, shameful. Their use in this book is evidence that we have a long way to go in helping mainstream America understand who we are.
Note: Thanks to my friend and colleague, Matt Sakiestewa Gilbert, from the village of Upper Moencopi, Arizona. Matt is Hopi, and a historian here at UIUC.