TAOS UNLIMITED SPECIAL FEATURE: Multi-Cultures: Native Americans: Zuni Fetishes

A nice example of a animal fetish made by a member of the Zuni Indian Tribe.
Native Americans: Zuni Fetishes

Traditionally, Zuni fetishes are small carvings made from various materials by the Zuni Indians of the Southwestern United States. These carvings serve a ceremonial purpose for their creators and depict animals and icons integral to their culture. But as a form of contemporary Native American art, they are sold with “non-religious” intentions to a growing number of collectors worldwide.

The Zuni “world” is made up of six regions or directions. At the center of each region is a great mountain peak that is a very sacred place: yellow mountain to the north, blue mountain to the west, red mountain to the south, white mountain to the east, the multi-colored mountain above, and the black mountain below. Each direction is represented by a "prey god" or guardian animal, and those are as follows: north, the yellow mountain lion; west, the black bear, south, the red badger; east, the white wolf; the sky or upper, the multi-colored eagle; and the underground or lower, the black mole. These guardians are considered to have protective and healing powers. They are held by the priests of the medicine orders as if "in captivity" and act as mediators between the priests and the animals they represent.

Typically, Zuni fetishes depict animals such as the wolf, badger, bear, mountain lion, eagle, mole, frog, deer, and ram. 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 are often indigenous to the region or procured by trade. The most important of these materials is turquoise, which is considered by the Zuni to be a sacred stone. Jet, mother-of-pearl, and coral are also frequently used. 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."

A fetish may be signed by the carver, or not. Often a Zuni carver feels that their own unique style is readily identifiable and that will be enough to identify them. Most carvers come from a centuries-old family tradition, and having learned their skill from parents, grandparents, or siblings, have passed the art on to their own children, as well.

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