Koshares

Most Pueblos

Koshare figure from Santa Clara Pueblo

Margaret and Luther Gutierrez
Santa Clara
Polychrome jar decorated with Koshare figures and geometric design

Lois Gutierrez
Santa Clara
Black and white jar decorated with a Koshare figure

Emma Lewis
Acoma
 


Among the religious figures in Pueblo societies is an order of "sacred clowns," also known as Chiffoneti. Among the Hopi they are a group of five distinct figures known collectively as Payakyamu. They are also known as Kossa in the Tewa language, Koshare in the Keres language, Tabosh among the Jemez and Newekwe among the Zunis. The terms are a bit generic as each pueblo has its own unique names and those names will vary according to the kiva (confraternity or secret society) they belong to. Each has a unique role in the community year-round (to invoke rainfall in particular) and perform in the annual spring and summer fertility rites.

Among the Hopi there are 5 clown figures: 4 of which are katsinam (personifications of spirit). The fifth is the Koshare, a figure that came to Hopi country with the Tewas who migrated there in the years after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. When a Hopi dancer dons the mask of a katsina it is believed that the dancer's personality abandons the body and that spirit possesses it.

Among the other Pueblo peoples, the sacred clowns don't wear masks. Instead, they present themselves with black and white horizontal stripes painted on their faces and bodies, paint black circles around their eyes and mouthes, and part their hair down the middle and bind it in two bunches which stand upright on either side of their head and trim those bunches with corn husks.

Their function is to help defuse community tensions by offering their own humorous take on their tribe's popular culture, by communicating tribal traditions and by reinforcing tribal taboos.

European courts often used to have a "jester" who offered similarly meaningful and humorous social commentary on activities in the court and the kingdom. Juan Suni was a Hopi Koshare who performed his duties one day in 1656 by impersonating the resident Franciscan priest at Awatovi. He continued living life as a Koshare as he journeyed from Hopi country to Santa Fe, where he was arrested and put on trial in 1659. The Spaniards recounted a number of "offenses" Juan performed on his journey and they sentenced him to 20 years of slavery for his actions. 40 years later, the Hopis destroyed Awatovi, burning the pueblo, tearing down the walls and killing all the residents: Awatovi at the time was the largest pueblo in Hopi country (although most residents seem to have spoken Towa) and was also the site of the only Spanish mission in all of Hopiland.


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