Pueblo Clowns

Pueblo Clowns

Pueblo Clowns (sometimes called sacred clowns) is a generic term for jester or trickster in the Kachina religion practiced by the Pueblo Indians of southwestern America. There are a number of figures in the ritual practice of the Pueblo people. Each has a unique role and belongs to separate Kivas (secret societies or confraternities), and each has a name that differs from one mesa or pueblo to another.

They perform during the spring and summer fertility rites. Among the Hopi there are five figures who serve as clowns: the Payakyamu, the Koshare (or Koyaala or Hano Clown), the Tsuku, the Tatsiqto (or Koyemshi or Mudhead) and the Kwikwilyak. With the exception of the Koshare, each is a kachinam or personification of a spirit. It is believed that when a member of a kiva dons the mask of a kachinam, he abandons his personality and becomes possessed by the spirit. Each figure performs a set role within the religious ceremonies; often their behavior is comic, lewd, scatological, eccentric and alarming. Among the Zuni, to enter the Ne'wekwe order, one is initiated "by a ritual of filth-eating"; "mud and excrement are smeared on the body for the clown performance, and parts of the performance may consist of sporting with excreta, smearing and daubing it, or drinking urine and pouring it one another".

Anthropologists, most notably Adolf Bandelier in his 1890 book The Delight Makers, and Elsie Clews Parsons’s Pueblo Indian Religion, have extensively studied the meaning of the Pueblo Clowns. Bandelier notes that the Koshare were somewhat feared by the Hopi as the source of public criticism and censure of un-Hopi like behavior. Their function can also include defusing community tensions, re-enforcing taboo and communicating tradition.

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