Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Although they are not technically kachinas, the shalakos dance in pueblo ceremonials like the kachinas. Resembling giant birds, the Zuni shalakos are up to ten feet tall. While dancing rhythmically, they clack their beaks. They dance until near sunrise. The tall, conical, and long-necked for of the shalako with their long beaks was probably derived from the sandhill crane.

Zuni Shalako, p. 102, Hopi Indian Kachina Dolls
by Oscan T. Branson, 1992,
Treasure Chest Publications, Tucson.

Rock art depictions of the shalako kachina can be dated back to the 14th century but its recent history is more complex. In her book Kachinas In The Pueblo World Polly Schaafsma described the loss of much of the Kachina cult at Hopi. First through the efforts of the Spanish after their conquest of the southwest to eradicate native religions and supplant them with Christianity. This was conducted by the destruction of religious items and shrines, even religious leaders on occasion. Among Pueblo peoples this was manifested by burning kachina masks, costumes, and dolls, and outlawing the dances and ceremonies. Then in the nineteenth century Hopi was swept by smallpox epidemics which killed many of the elders who possessed the ceremonial knowledge necessary for the rites.

Zuni Shalako, by Fred Kobotie, plate 36,
Kachinas in the Pueblo World, Polly
Schaafsma, 1994, University of New
Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
This was apparently the case with the Hopi shalako. Its first recorded appearance at Hopi was in 1870 and its second was in 1893. At the 1893 reappearance a Hopi informant stated that their Shalako ceremony had not occurred for over 30 years. This Hopi shalako was based on the Zuni Sia Shalako, but the ceremony was Hopi based upon reconstructions from memories. Shaafsma relates this story on pages 142-3 of her book. She also related how the lost Hopi Shalako returned to Second Mesa through the efforts of the great Hopi painter Fred Kobotie who painted a reproduction based upon two tablitas he found in the basement of the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, and he recognized them as belonging to the Hopi Shalako based on his memories of descriptions by his grandfather.

Shalako petroglyph, West
Mesa, Albuquerque, NM.
Photo: 1988, Peter Faris.
Shalako petroglyph, Galisteo Dike,
NM. Photo: 1988, Peter Faris.
Shalako petroglyph, Galisteo Dike,
NM. Photo: 1988, Peter Faris.
Shalako mask pictograph, Village
of the Great Kivas, Zuni, NM.
Photo: Teresa Weedin.
Shalako depictions are found in rock art in the area of the Western pueblos near both Hopi and Zuni, and are also found in the Rio Grande area. The examples shown here are petroglyphs of shalakos from west of Albuquerque and from Galisteo Dike east of the Rio Grande and south of Santa Fe, and a beautifully painted contemporary pictograph of shalako from the panel of kachina masks at the Village of the Great Kivas near Zuni.