Feather Art



Zuni Fetishes

The definition of a  “fetish” is an object that is given intrinsic value or religious significance by the person using it.  The “original” fetishes (called we-ma'-we) are said to have been beings borne through the umbilicus from the past world into the present one when all living things were created, but were cast back into the earth by the Creator because they were preying on His most prized creation, the humans.  The wemawe had natural shapes suggesting creatures or Beings that had been turned to stone.  Most ancient fetishes are thought to be of predatory animals and were likely used ceremonially to bring the ability of that animal when hunting or other requested benefits.   Over 400 years ago, these “found” objects began to be altered by human hands into "power animals" and other beneficial figures.  The carvers saw themselves as uncovering the wemawe trapped within the stone, wood, shell, antler, bone, or other material; thus releasing it to help those of this world.  The fetish allies could then be called upon to ensure fertility, protection, hunting prowess, adequate rainfall, abundant crops, and other requested benefits.

350 years ago, the Zuni Nation of the four corners region (New Mexico) emerged as the premier carvers of their time.  Their skillful craftsmanship earned them the respect of neighboring tribes who willingly traded for the prized fetishes.  Zuni fetishes have been excavated from ancient cultural sites far away from their origin of the desert southwest, some as far away as the Ohio and Missouri river regions, and even in southern areas of Mexico.  The fetishes were believed to contain great power and beauty.

In modern times, the art of Zuni fetish carving has become more detailed as collectors began asking for specific animals and collecting them as art forms.  The art of Fetishes is enjoying a revival.  Individual artists are becoming quite well-known, and fine pieces are highly collected.  The art of carving is a generational tradition within the Zuni nation.  A child is taught to carve at a very young age and many are quite accomplished by their young teens.  Wemawe (fetishes) are used within the tribal religious practices, and they are used to decorate Zuni homes to guard from evil and bring blessing to all who enter.

Each tribe had its own interpretation of the meanings for each fetish.  The below list is the meanings as seen from the Zuni traditions and perspectives.  This is not a complete list.  There are many other animals and even plants that are honored through carving.  Please note the six animals with asterisks (*) are considered to be “directional protection beings” and are used to communicate with the spirits of the indicated direction.  Particular colors are also associated with these animals.

The Zuni believe that each human has a seventh directional that guides their personal path in life.  Only the individual can determine their personal seventh directional. Zodiacs do not apply to Native belief systems.

Badger*                    Tenacity, Stamina, Passion  (South - yellow)
Bat                             Transition, Change, Movement
*                          Introspection, Strength, Healing, Bringer of Rain Clouds  (West - blue
Beaver                       Industry, Adeptness, Skill
Buffalo                      Power, Endurance, Abundance
Butterfly                   Transition to Afterlife, Beauty, Protector of Young Girls
Corn Maiden           Keeper of the “Secret of Life”, Guardian of Good Crops, Sustenance
Crow                         Intelligence, Humor, Mischievous
Coyotes                   Teacher, Independence, Humor, Prankster
Deer                          Agility, Speed, Gentleness
Dragonfly                Communication, Messenger of the Ancestors, Sign of Water
*                       Fore Vision, Clarity, Communication with Creator  (Sky  -  multi-colored)
Frog                          Fertility, Sound (use of), Renewal, Regeneration
Hawk                        Nobility, Inspiration, Illumination
Horse                       Courage, Speed, Safety in Travel
Hummingbird         Joy, Beauty, Thankfulness
Lizard                       Relaxation, Wisdom, Silence
*                        Self-Acceptance, Grounding   (Underground - black)
Mountain Lion
*      Leadership, Boundaries, Agility  (North - white)
Otter                          Playfulness, Dexterity, Nurturer, Parenting Skills
Owl                            Wisdom, Foresight, Stealth, Transition to Afterlife
Rabbit                       Tact, Gentleness, Surrender
Raven                        Mystery, Change, Control, Watcher for Medicine Keeper
Winged Serpent     Guardian of Unborn, Protector of Underworld, Medicine
Snake                        Transmutation of Energy, Change, Lightning, Sign of Rain
Spider                        Legend Keeper, Guardian of Young Children, Patience 
Squirrel                     Planning, Trust, Friendship
Turtle                         Longevity, Loyalty, Peace, Keeper of Knowledge
*                          Commitment, Friendship, Teacher of Social Skills, Stamina  (East - red)




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