Monday, April 20, 2009

All About Zuni Fetishes

Today I thought I would give a little information on Zuni fetishes. I first thought about diving right in and talking about the Buffalo and its importance in carvings and fetishes, but I think it best to first give some information on fetishes and carvings in general.
You can see some fantastic examples of Zuni fetishes at Turquoise Canyon,

In the traditional sense, Zuni fetishes are small carvings made from various materials by the Zuni Indians. These carvings serve a ceremonial purpose for their creators and depict animals and icons integral to their culture. As a form of contemporary Native American art, they are popular worldwide.

Zuni fetishes depict animals such as the wolf, badger, bear, mountain lion, eagle, mole, frog, deer, ram, and many others. There are many more animal subjects used by today’s contemporary carvers that may include insects, non US native animals such as lions, or even animals of the oceans such as sharks; these would be considered non-traditional. Other animals, such as the horse, were carved mainly for trade. The Zuni was not a horse culture but their horse carvings were considered by the horse cultures to the north as having great power for the protection of their herds

Traditionally, the materials used by carvers were often indigenous to the region or procured by trade. The most important of these materials was turquoise which is considered by the Zuni as the sacred stone. Jet, shell (primarily mother-of-pearl), and coral are also frequently used. These materials and their associated colors are principle in the Zuni sunface, a cultural symbol which is present in Zuni jewelry and fetishes and represents their sun father. Other materials used are Zuni rock, fishrock, jasper, pipestone, marble, or organic items such as bone and deer or elk antler.

Each animal is believed to have inherent powers or qualities that may aid the holder. The Navajo, for example, treasured and bartered for figures of horses, sheep, cattle or goats to protect their herd from disease and to insure fertility. The Zuni hunter was required to have his fetishes with a "Keeper" and practice a ceremony of worship when procuring a favorite or proper fetish to aid in a successful hunt.

On the subject of feeding, it is believed from tradition that the fetishes require a meal of cornmeal and ground turquoise periodically. Fetishes may be kept in a clay pot as it is the tradition, although collectors usually like to keep theirs somewhere where they can be admired. Any but the very delicate fetishes could be carried by the owner in a pocket, pouch or bag.

The artist's styles are as unique as the artists themselves, and there are many whose works are highly sought after by collectors. Some collectors prefer a figure that is more realistic in appearance, while others prefer the more traditional styles that are intrinsic to Zuni belief. The traditional belief of the Zuni is that the least modification of the original material maintains, or heightens, the power of the fetish as a "natural concretion".

Besides being made from various stones and other materials (each material has unique properties), the contemporary fetish may carry an offering of a smaller animal or a prayer bundle of carved arrowheads with small beads of heishe. It may be adorned with a heishe necklace, feathers, etchings representing ancient petroglyphs, or an etched or inlayed heartline. These small items, although colorful to the eye, are intended to protect and feed the fetish itself.

This article (and many other good ones) can be found at Wikipedia.

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