Zuni fetishes are small stone animal carvings that are made by the talented artisans of Zuni Pueblo. In the Zuni culture, the fetish carvings represent the animal spirit thought to reside in the stone. Initially fetishes were likely found stones that had the rudimentary shape of an animal. Arrowheads were placed on the stones with a prayer that the hunter’s arrow would find its mark and in gratitude for the animal giving its life for the sustenance of the hunter and his family.
The Zuni have used fetishes for many purposes: to enable hunters to catch game, to make game more plentiful, and also for curing ceremonies. Fetishes may protect individuals as well as the community. The Zuni believe that animals are more like the deities and have more power than man. They also believe that both practical and spiritual power reside in their fetishes.
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 the Zuni regard as the sacred stone. Jet, shell (primarily mother-of-pearl), and coral are also frequently used. Other materials used are travertine or “Zuni rock”, fish rock, jasper, pipestone, marble, or organic items such as fossilized ivory, bone, and deer or elk antler. Even artificial substances such as slag glass are used. Historically the most-used stone has been serpentine, a local soft stone found abundantly in the Zuni Mountains. 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 Heishi. It may be adorned with a Heishi necklace, feathers, etchings representing ancient petroglyphs, or an etched or inlaid heart line. These small items, although colorful to the eye, are intended to protect and feed the fetish itself.
Collecting Zuni fetishes is a satisfying experience on so many levels. Not only are you able to enjoy the artistic value of a Zuni fetish, the beauty and exotic nature of many of the Zuni fetish carving materials is breathtaking. Zuni fetish carvings represent the connection many of us feel to both nature and the spirit world. And lastly, collecting Zuni fetishes supports the Zuni community by allowing these talented artisans to support their families and continue their rich cultural heritage and traditions begun by their ancestors.
The above information is adapted from A Guide to Zuni Fetishes & Carvings, Volume I: The Animals & Carvers by Kent McManis, Treasure Chest Books, Tucson, Arizona, 1995, 1998.