Bear, or Ho'nauuh in the Hopi language, is a powerful supernatural being. Throughout the Puebloan world he is recognized as a principal prey god of the hunt. Among the Zuni he is one of the gods of the six regions and within the creation cycle he was admired by Po-shai-an-k'ia, the Father of the Medicine Societies.
"Then said Po-shai-an-k'ia to the Bear, 'Black Bear, thou art stout of heart and strong of will. Therefore make I thee the younger brother of the Mountain Lion, the guardian and master of the West, for thy coat is of the color of the land of night.' (1988. 17)
Puebloans often ascribed to powerful supernaturals and their animal counterparts both the ability to confer disease as well as to cure it. Bear, however, is typically seen as a curer, and was commonly beseeched through prayer to alleviate illness. Among the Hopi, the sucking doctors, or YaYa, petitioned Bear for his support. Bear, because of his prowess, was also associated with the warrior society and various of their rites. The bear paw seen upon the face of this early (c. 1900) Katsina doll connotes both the Bear Clan symbol and the presence of Bear Medicine and curative powers.
Bear was seen as one of the pets of the twin war gods the Pyuukonkoya. In one particular ceremony of the Snake Society, the Chu'a yunya, various adventures undertaken by the snake youth Ti'yo in his travels in the underworld are dramatized, and the Bear Katsina appears before the initiates of the society and with whirling motions of his hands imparts sacred knowledge to the novices. Sho'amu, the Grandmother who oversees the ceremony, confers upon Bear and other warriors the Na'somp,i or hourglass symbol, which protects the part of the wearer's body upon which it is painted from arrows or other weapons.
Most intriguing were the comments of Wi'nuta the Bear Chief to Stephen in 1892 concerning the power of the Bear to confront and overcome the power of the God Masau'wu (Death).
"We celebrate this feast for cloud and rain, of course, but I tell you for surety it is to remind Masau'wu that the Bear Chief overthrew him and won this land and these prayer-sticks commemorating the fact and will prevent his entering our village for another year." (page 814)
This handsome doll presents Bear in all his strength and finery. The carving style is indicative of the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Characteristic is the oversized helmet-shaped head sporting peg-attached ears, protruding eyes, and serrated mouth. The compressed central torso has rudimentary defined arms unseparated from the body which flex at the elbows inward to embrace the stomach. These traits, along with the massive knee-bent legs, also date the piece. The bunched hair skirt and clay pigment wash of the body give this sculpture an animal vibrancy which is quite charming. This excellent figure was collected by M. L. Woodard in the late 1950s and was exhibited in their Gallup, New Mexico, art gallery until recently.
Dr. Edwin Wade Museum of Northern Arizona