Fooling Around

Harvest Dance with Koshare, courtesy Library of Congress

Harvest Dance with Koshare, Santo Domingo Pueblo, 1910, courtesy Library of Congress

Native Americans were like most cultures, and used clowns and fools to make serious points through their absurd behavior. Koshare (a general term for clowns) were sacred fools who helped maintain fertility, rain, good health, and crops. Their antics also taught proper behavior, typically through their bad example. For instance, the Lakota Nation’s heyoka was a sacred fool who did everything backward.

Hopi Pointed Clowns, 1912, courtesy Museum of American Indian, Heye Foundation

Hopi Pointed Clowns, 1912, courtesy Museum of American Indian, Heye Foundation

Chifonete Pole, Taos, NM, 1902, courtesy Library of Congress

Chifonete Pole, Taos, NM, 1902, courtesy Library of Congress

During feasts and celebrations in New Mexico, painted Koshare would frighten and amuse their audiences with wild antics, culminating in a climb up a chifonete pole which had prizes like a slaughtered sheep, fruits, and bread at the top.

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