Kachina figures, known as the clown Kachina, or Koyemsi, are called Mudhead Kachina. Seen in most Hopi ceremonies, the Mudhead Kachinas play the role of entertainment and laughter at the Hopi dances. They drum, dance, play games and may act as announcers for events. They often give prizes or rewards for the races and guessing games they organize. The term “mudhead” comes from their masks which surround their heads and have mud applied to them. The Mudheads look like something that Star Wars found on a distant planet, but they are all Southwest US!
Hooper Family Connection
Our dad had the quirky knack of giving his children nicknames. Often without rhyme or reason, he dubbed the child with a name that stuck, even if it were offensive and made little sense. The louder the protest, the more likely he was to repeat the name. He called me George, which was always a mystery to me. He offered one of his unusual nicknames as the nomdeplume for our sister, Millie. She first spotted the Koshare Mudhead Kachina while attending a dance at the Zuni Pueblo. Perhaps her letters home from summer camp visits to New Mexico and Arizona fueled the nickname fire. Dad’s odd sense of humor dictated that she be nick-named Mudhead. As if alliteration counted for more than anything, she became Millie the Mudhead.
Back to the Kachina
Most of the time in Hopi dances, the Mudhead accompany other kachinas. Koyemsi play games to the accompaniment of rollicking tunes. These games with the audience are generally guessing games that they create when the other dancers are resting or getting ready for the next dance. They also get the audience to attempt to balance objects; if successful the Mudheads hand out prizes of food or clothing.
The Mudhead Kachinas sometimes appear as a chorus on First Mesa and possibly other villages. Their songs are sung in Zuni. Should a dancer not have the proper mask for the dance or if he is late in arriving, he can easily become a Mudhead by donning that earthy mask.
Mudhead drummer and seven dancers at Zuni Pueblo (c. 1899)